The Pequod Review:
Ross Thomas’s fifth mystery novel is one of his best, a witty and well-plotted variant on Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest. Lucifer Dye is an unemployed ex-intelligence official who is brought in to a corrupt Texas town with the objective to increase the corruption. (“To get better, it must be much worse.”) He is mostly successful in manipulating the local power structure, and much of the story stretches out to become a perceptive character study of the cynical and amoral Dye.
The book is a stylish delight, with superb writing and interesting characters. Here for example is Thomas’s description of the corrupt former police chief Homer Necessary:
Almost fat, I thought. Overweight by twenty pounds, at least. Perhaps thirty. Around five-ten, probably forty-five or forty-six, but possibly a dissipated forty-two. The brown suit wasn’t shabby, just unpressed, and his black shoes needed a shine. The collar of his white shirt was too small and its points stuck up in the air. He wore a blue and purple striped tie and for a moment I wondered if he were color blind. When he was about twenty feet from me, I turned and watched him approach. He walked on his heels, bringing them down hard on the sidewalk. If his body was overweight, his face wasn’t. It was all planes and angles with a set of dark brown eyebrows that looked as if they should be combed… Underneath the fuzzy brows was a set of eyes that regarded me fixedly as he approached. When he drew near enough I could see that one was brown and one was blue and neither of them contained any more warmth than you would find in a slaughterhouse freezer.
Thomas continues like this throughout, rarely a lazy sentence anywhere. The book suffers slightly from a weaker second half, in which the narrative threads don’t fully come together. But overall, with the possible exception of Chinaman’s Chance, this is Ross Thomas’s most fully realized novel, and an excellent place for new readers to start.