Miskatonic University Press

Ross Thomas and the Library of Congress


Ross Thomas’s Wikipedia entry doesn’t nearly live up to how good a writer he was. I can’t recommend him highly enough. Tony Hiss’s 1996 Atlantic article Remembering Ross Thomas is a fine introduction, and this puts it nicely:

There are actually two kinds of escape reading, and only one has to do with snuggling into a book just to take a break from your problems for a few hours. Put down a Thomas book, like a Chandler book, even on a dark night of the soul, and you’re never quite back where you were before you began reading. Something, I’ve always found, has been subtly strengthened and enriched in the meantime. It might be a sense that you can now look awful situations in the eye without dissolving. Or merely a replenished sense that good cheer can still bubble up into the world, and that there’s enough on hand for all of us to make it through another season. It’s certainly the kind of feeling that again and again makes one glad that Ross Thomas found he had to take up writing.

Ethan Iverson’s Ah, Treachery! is a full portrait and describes all his books.

Crime. Politics. Cons. Scams. Schemes. Ross Thomas knew.

I just finished The Brass Go-Between (1969), the first of his short series of books about Philip St. Ives that he wrote under the pseudonym Oliver Bleeck. St. Ives is acting as a middleman between people who stole something from a museum and the museum management who want to pay the ransom. Things go wrong. Late in the book there’s this passage, where St. Ives is in Washington and figuring out what’s going on.

When they had gone I picked up the green telephone book and looked up a number. I dialed and when it answered, I said, “What time do you close?”

“At ten o'clock,” a woman’s voice said. “The stacks close at seven forty-five.”

I said thank you and hung up and went to the window to see if Fastnaught had told the truth about the the rain. He had so I left my raincoat hanging in the closet, took the elevator down to the lobby, and flagged a cab from the sidewalk. After I was in, the driver turned and gave me a questioning look. He wanted to know where I was headed so I said, “Library of Congress, please.”

If you had enough time and enough patience, I suppose you could find out all about everything at the Library of Congress. I spent two hours in its periodical section, guided in my search by an elderly gentleman with a hearing aid who didn’t mind scurrying back and forth bearing back issues of some rather esoteric and extremely dull publications. When the periodical room closed at 5:45 I went to the main reading room and spent another hour with the bound back issues of some more tedious publications which looked as if no one had leafed through them in 20 years. When I finished at 7:30 I had acquired a sizable chunk of information and some if it might even prove useful.

It does.

If you want to try Ross Thomas, I’d recommend Briarpatch or Missionary Stew or Out on the Rim to start.