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The Ultimate Good Luck

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  535 ratings  ·  40 reviews
In this novel of menace and eroticism, Richard Ford updates the tradition of Conrad for the age of cocaine smuggling. The setting is Oaxaca, Mexico, where Harry Quinn has come to free his girlfriend's brother, Sonny, from Jail and, ideally, to get him away form the suavely sadistic drug dealer who suspects Sonny of having cheated him.

"His prose has a taut, cinematic quali
Paperback, 208 pages
Published May 12th 1987 by Vintage (first published 1981)
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Average rating 3.38  · 
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 ·  535 ratings  ·  40 reviews

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Jul 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mysteries, fiction
A Viet Nam vet, Harry Quinn thinks the way to get through life is to be lucky by being careful. Except he commits himself to do something that tests his luck and his carefulness: His girlfriend asks for his help in releasing her brother from a Oaxaca prison, where he is serving time for dealing cocaine, and being threatened by the drug dealers who think he stole from them.

Harry has secured the services of a local attorney named Bernhardt to serve as an intermediary. For a while, it actually loo
Allan MacDonell
Jun 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There's no plausible explanation for why The Ultimate Good Luck is the first Richard Ford book I've ever read other than that no one had ever moved out of town and left any copies of his novels behind. I picked through a discard pile and picked up this story of a Vietnam veteran who an estranged girlfriend beseeches to fly into Mexico and negotiate the release of her drug-smuggling brother from prison. The hero accepts the mission, and everything goes to hell. At first, I felt that I was reading an ...more
Confirmed that Ford is a favorite, but as I age, I think I'm less impressed with styles that have many of the hallmarks of maleness. OTOH, I'm not sure a style choice cancels what is so obviously good/great in something, so it's just a personal issue. And it's corrective, I think. I fell (feel) for ALL the macho tricks as a reader in my 20s, so maybe it's an inevitable part of growing up.
Oct 23, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
2004: never thought I'd say this - got a bit bored.
Aug 01, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book excelled in setting but lacked narrative direction. Similarly, the characters were masterfully sketched and yet seemed unconvinced of their own motives. Perhaps in either case this was the intent; nevertheless both these criticisms seem too closely related to create the necessary tension for supporting an atmosphere of either directionless mystery or apathetic conundrum. Further there is a subplot of Mesoamerican violence that inadvertently manages to become more interesting than the m ...more
Aug 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A stunning and haunting book. I have Ford's later, more well-known books (next to read is his story collection: Women with Men), but this early work is masterful as well. It
I want to note the NY Times review by C. D. B. Bryan:
<< ''In the war,'' Quinn tells us, ''you maintained your crucial distance from things and that kept you alive, and kept everything out in front of you and locatable.'' Richard Ford keeps the crucial distance in his writing, too. His prose has a taut cinematic q
Richard Moss
Mar 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
My love affair with Richard Ford continues! It may be more plot-driven than the character-centred Bascombe novels, but The Ultimate Good Luck is as tightly-written, atmospheric and steeped in melancholy as his most celebrated work. It just adds some hard-boiled thrills.

One reviewer said they could imagine Bogart and Bacall in the movie version, and there is the whiff of The Maltese Falcon here. The maguffin is some missing drug money in Mexico. The ultimate question though is not whe
May 30, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ford is a favorite author, but I didn't enjoy this as much as his later books. I kept wanting a map of the area so I could follow where the characters were going. The dialog was choppy and never a direct line; a question was asked and never directly answered; a conversation started but never followed-through. It always seemed like the answer or the result was around the corner, but I never quite got there.
What is the purpose of Mexico in English literature? Reading books like this, one might surmise that its primary function is as an exotic locale, so different from the "normalcy" of Anglo societies - its cruelty and capriciousness, its blunted indifference to poverty and misery standing in stark contrast to the systematised affluence, the fundamentally pleasant predictability of say life in the US or the UK. One also can't help but wonder about the degree of subliminal prejudice that goes into t ...more
Benjamin Kahn
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
Meh. This book started well enough, but it then began to feel familiar and quickly became annoying. Bernhardt's cryptic conversations with Quinn seemed to have no real purpose and didn't really go anywhere. Neither Quinn nor Rae seemed to care that much about Sonny, so the whole exercise began to seem pointless. And I didn't really care for either of them that much. None of the character's motivations made any sense. And most of the dialogue was uninspired - people talking at each other, not to ...more
Tyler Jones
Aug 03, 2017 rated it liked it
It has been years since I read this book, although at the time I probably would have rated it much higher than I do now. This because at the time I read it, The Ultimate Good Luck was a favourite among those whose literary taste I admired and, to be honest, copied. Now that I have decades of reading under my belt I feel less dependant on others to form my opinions, and I strongly suspect the book was kind of derivative of the writing of Robert Stone mixed with a strong impulse to bring that manly st ...more
Aug 07, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very early book by an author I appreciate greatly - except, it turns out - not his earliest work. Quinn, a veteran of Vietnam (and this was written very shortly after the end of the war) is in Mexico trying to rescue his girlfriend's brother from prison. Nothing goes as planned, people are killed, people are stoned, people steal, no one can count on anyone's honesty. As is usual with Ford, there is not a wasted word, everything is said as straightforward as possible, but in this early ...more
Eric Kirkman
May 14, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2018
Reminded me of the film The Counselor. Bad plot. Bad dialogue. Bad characters. Boring. Only Ford's excellent writing style gives this book any real value and even that is butchered by the book's numerous failures.
Tom Baker
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have read many of Ford's novels. I couldn't really enmesh myself into this one. The characters were nicely drawn and the setting was well felt. The aimlessness of the characters did not draw me in. too much inaction until the very end climax, was not satisfying.
Nov 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bleak...absolutely bleak
Khris Sellin
I loved his Frank Bascombe series and decided to go back to his earlier work. Mistake! Shades of misogynistic and rambling Hemingway and Kerouac. Just depressing and dark and soulless.
Shawn Conner
Wanted to like this more than I did. At its best it reminded me of 70s neo-noir movies like Night Moves and The Long Goodbye. But I found myself lost in too many grimly abstract sentences, and confused when something was actually happening. Seems more like a stylistic exercise the author couldn't fully commit to than a successful noir, and ultimately unsatisfying because of that.
May 03, 2011 rated it it was ok
With finishing The Ultimate Good Luck, Richard Ford's second novel, I've read all of Ford's novels, and I can definitively say that he has gotten better with age. While in no way do I think The Ultimate Good Luck stands up to Ford's Bascombe novels (The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land), it is, in my opinion, better than his first novel, A Piece of My Heart.

The Ultimate Good Luck follows Harry Quinn, a Vietnam veteran, in Mexico as he works to get his wife's br
Tom Kern
Jun 25, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
you can tell this is an early novel as it wears it's influences on its sleeve (a bit too much).
The Hemingway comparisons abound almost everywhere.
However you can't deny the brilliance of the writing which in places truly is like a red hot crystal rock perfectly symmetrical and radiating a searing white light.
The opening chapter is such an example.

Still it seems Ford has a hard time sustaining that kind of energy and existential angst for 200 pages.
At times the
This was about 3 stars but I cannot really say I 'liked it', much as I have enjoyed Richard Ford's later Bascombe novels (Independence Day and the Sportswriter, for example). It is a sort of literary noir, using good old untamed and lawless Mexico as the backdrop to young Americans working out their dark issues (sounds familiar, for some reason). Here we have Quinn, a Viet vet no less, and his hippyish girlfriend/wife Rae down south in order to get her brother Sonny out of jail (Mexican jail mea ...more
Sep 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Weird book. At least for Ford, going from later to earlier through his catalogue. Most everything he's great at is kind of there--the brilliant little moments of dialogue, killer insights from out of nowhere, the painful ways relationships pan out--but it's like it's been dropped into a Robert Stone novel, or something. The blurb on the back cover describing it as a "detective-less detective novel" seems quite apt. The protagonist tries to rekindle a relationship with a woman while freeing her d ...more
Patrick McCoy
I was inspired to read some early Richard Ford after reading an essay about him by Elizabeth Hardwick. I’d previously read the Frank Bascome novels: The Sportswriter and Independence Day, but haven’t read anything by him in probably 10 years or more. I really enjoyed The Ultimate Good Luck. It had a sense of foreboding menace throughout but it was also a fast moving thriller. It's about a Vietnam vet who goes to Mexico to try and help his estranged wife, Rae, get her drug mule brother, Sonny, ou ...more
Enid Wray
Feb 22, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I've never read any Richard Ford so I decided it was about time. A bunch of his books were on sale a while ago (e-book versions) so I bought a few, since we were living away from home and I was trying not to accumulate anything. E-books it was for most of my reading this past year.

Completely randomly, this is the first one I chose to read. Not a stellar choice. I struggled to finish it. I never found myself either liking - or caring about - any of the characters, and really, neither the storyli
We were in Oaxaca and I wanted to read a Oaxaca novel and Ford is a good writer so I picked this up. It felt very Tarantino-esque in a way, with drugs and violence and moody gangsters still written about at a high literary level. But in the end I found it somewhat lacking. I think partly I felt too large a disconnect between the Oaxaca he writes about and the one I experienced -- which isn't surprising given that I ran in mathematical circles rather than drug-smuggling circles and 30 years had e ...more
Jo Stafford
Meh. This novel started promisingly but I couldn't fully engage with it. It has a terrific plot of the sort that would normally have me turning the pages to find out what happens next, but it lacked tension and drive. I found it unsatisfying.

I agree with The New York Times reviewer that Ford's prose here is taut and cinematic, but that wasn't enough to lift the book for me.
Apr 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Richard Ford is a 5 star writer. I could tell this was an early work and that his style was evolving. Still -- a great, dark story and detailed character development in the main male, Quinn. Can't wait to plow through more Ford
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Richard Ford belongs to my favorite authors, but this novel differs remarkably from his other books. It reads like a fast-paced thriller, and while the main character is an American, the action takes place in a menacing environment in southern Mexico.
Dec 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
Read this several times now. It's not a Bascombe book by any stretch but still very good.
Aug 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Action packed. Great ending!
David Robinson
Feb 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reads like a cross between John Steinbeck's Simple minimalism style and James lee Burke's dark humanity.
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Richard Ford, born February 16, 1944 in Jackson, Mississippi, is an American novelist and short story writer. His best-known works are the novel The Sportswriter and its sequels, Independence Day, The Lay of the Land and Let Me Be Frank With You, and the short story collection Rock Springs, which contains several widely anthologized stories. Comparisons have been drawn between Ford's work and the ...more