Sunday, October 15, 2017

"To get better, it must get much worse."

Reading some more from Michael Dirda's essays for The American Scholar, I came across an account of his visit to a second-hand bookstore and his acquisitions that day. One was a book by Ross Thomas, an author who has never disappointed me. Haven't read this one for a while. Dirda:
The Fools in Town Are on Our Side, by Ross Thomas. Years ago, I traded my mint first of this crime thriller to my friend David Streitfeld—and regretted it almost immediately. In my years as a book editor, I used to call up Ross Thomas to review mysteries and spy novels, and, a consummate professional, he was always at his desk. Like his contemporary Charles McCarry, happily still with us, Thomas never quite received the acclaim he deserves, though his fans are legion. In a Times Literary Supplement survey, of 25 years ago or more, Eric Ambler chose this novel as a neglected classic of its genre. The title, by the way, comes from Huckleberry Finn. Along with Chinaman’s Chance and The Seersucker Whipsaw, which I’ve read, The Fools in Town are On Our Side is probably Thomas’s most admired novel.
From the description on the back of my paperback edition:
Lucifer Dye was born in Montana and raised in Shanghai's most distinguished bordello. Recently dismissed from Section Two, a secret American Intelligence Agency, he heads for San Francisco to be debriefed. Dye and Section Two are parting company....

Unemployed, armed only with a passport, a severance check, and his wits, Dye is approached by a man named Victor Orcutt. Orcutt's vocation is the cleaning up of corrupt cities through the application of Orcutt's First Law: "To get better, it must get much worse."

Orcutt proposes a $50,000 fee. Dye's assignment: to corrupt an entire American city. ....
The American Scholar: Wonder Books - Michael Dirda