Now and then some of us will sit around at some mystery convention somewhere and ask the age-old question: "Why didn't Ross Thomas ever become a best-selling writer?" I was asking myself the same thing the other day when I was re-reading The Fourth Durango.
I think that when Otto Penzler signed Thomas to Mysterious Press, both of them probably had the idea that it was time for Thomas to "break out," as they say these days. For years Thomas had gotten rave reviews, and no wonder. He was one of the best writers around. His style was sophisticated without being literary, his plots were clever and twisty, his characterization was the best in the business, his dialogue was top-notch, his humor always seemed to click, his wit was sharp, his backgrounds and facts always seemed absolutely on the money, his worldview was a little jaded but never depressing. So why didn't Thomas break out?
Don't ask me. Writers who couldn't carry Thomas's ballpoint pen (No, I'm not naming names. [James Patterson, John Grisham, Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum.]) sell billions of copies, while a guy like Thomas sells only adequately. Maybe he was too good to be a best-seller. I suppose that's possible. It's also a shame. If you haven't read one of Thomas's books, you should. It'll be a real treat, whether it's one he wrote under his own name or as "Oliver Bleeck." I believe that the ones under his name are currently being reprinted in paperback by St. Martin's, which is a real public service.
I'd like to add here that when I picked up the first Oliver Bleeck book, many years ago, I'd read no more than two pages before I knew that Thomas had written it. I'm not usually that perceptive. (It's happened only two other times.) But Thomas was so good that I knew nobody else could have been the author.