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The Cold War Swap (Mac McCorkle #1)

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  402 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
At the height of the Cold War, two Americans are runnng a bar called Mac’s Place in the West German capital. One of the pair, Michael Padillo, isn’t around a lot; he keeps disappearing on “business trips.” McCorkle, his partner, wisely doesn’t ask questions; he knows Padillo has a second job—he’s a (reluctant) US agent. But McCorkle is ready to answer a call for help from ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published May 16th 2003 by Minotaur Books (first published 1966)
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Lance Charnes
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
The setup's familiar: hard men, a bar, partners who keep secrets from each other, moral ambiguity, double- and triple-crosses, fedoras, cigarette smoke, shadows. Only this time around, we're not in prewar San Francisco or postwar L.A.; we're in Germany, the concrete's still setting on the Wall, and the hard men are spooks, not shamuses and gunsels.

If Raymond Chandler wrote spy novels, they'd have been like The Cold War Swap.

Our narrator is Mac McCorckle, an American ex-soldier who never left Eur
Mal Warwick
Sep 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
It was the era of the Cold War, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, John Le Carre, Don Draper’s Mad Men, and, of course, nonstop consumption of alcohol. The Berlin Wall was new, and the capitals of divided Germany — Bonn and Berlin –teemed with spies. “It was like postwar Vienna in the movies,” Ross Thomas writes in The Cold War Swap, “where Orson Welles went around muttering so low and fast you couldn’t understand what he was saying except that he was up to no good.” Swimming in this cauldron of in ...more
Craig Pittman
Apr 15, 2017 rated it liked it
This was Ross Thomas' first novel, written when he was 40 years old, and he won an Edgar for it from the Mystery Writers' Association. Reading it now, 51 years after it was published, the book feels very dated in some ways, particularly its stereotyping of the two gay defectors. Still, Thomas spins quite a yarn and I read the last few chapters in a rush to find out what happened.

The narrator is Mac MacCorkle, an ex-soldier who did a little clandestine work during World War II but now is content
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: espionage
My second Ross Thomas book is his first effort and I enjoyed it. A quick paced Cold War spy tale that keeps the reader from start to finish. I wasn't overwhelmed by his first but I read it at a different time in my life. This is making me think I need to read more.
Oct 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pulp, history, politics
The Cold War Swap was the first novel by Ross Thomas, a former soldier, political flack and reporter. It's a doozy.

It's a cracking yarn set in 1960s Bonn at the height of the Cold War, replete with un-named American three-letter-agencies, Stasi, KGB, and MI-x excitement, politics, alcoholism, and everyone smoking too much. Ross Thomas wrote more than 20 novels, most of them wonderful examples of political intrigue. His eye for detail was that of a skilled journeyman reporter - the kind who's re
James Robb
Aug 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of Ross Thomas' Best

Couldn't stop reading. I loved the characters. The plot was ever twisting and turning. My favorite book from my favorite author.
Jul 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
It's back-to-school time, and each year the newspapers run the story about what the incoming freshman college class "knows." For example, the freshman class of 2012 was likely born around 1994, so in addition to having Pierce Brosnan being their first James Bond and only seeing "Cheers" in reruns, these kids missed the fall of the Berlin Wall. It's difficult to explain to them the bizarre West Berlin situation - how to describe the dizzying clash of East Versus West in such a glorious city.

Jun 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: loanable, novels
I picked this up on the recommendation of one of my favorite crime writers (George Pelecanos) and found it to be a funny, fast-paced, Cold War caper. In it, we meet McCorkle and Padillo, the American co-owners of a bar in Bonn, Germany, circa 1966. After serving in the Army, McCorkle opened the place with Padillo in 1952 as a typical American bar and grill, making it a novelty in Cold War Germany. However, for the multilingual Padillo, co-ownership is merely a cover for his real job as an Americ ...more
Jan 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, noir
I am in the process of re-reading any of the Ross Thomas books I can still find, but I have concluded that this one, sadly, doesn't stand the test of time. Not because it is his first novel - it's still damn good for a first book. And not because it has as its backdrop the Cold War in all its sublime pointlessness - that is his point, and there is plenty here that is still relevant in the age of Guantanamo and the so-called war on terror. The reason I found myself cringing over and over was beca ...more
Mar 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Written in 1966, this was Thomas' first novel, but it shows a sure hand at work. I had read a number of Thomas' books (but not this one) some years ago; none are currently available in physical form but fortunately some are available as ebooks.

Much like Charles McCarry, who works the same ground as this book, Thomas writes in something of a lean style. Unlike too many contemporary mystery and suspense writers, he doesn't pad his work with unnecessary detail. When the main character flies from Bo
Timothy Hallinan
May 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Ross Thomas, now unjustly neglected, is a delight: a brilliant plotter, creator of unforgettably eccentric and dangerous characters, and a guy writer nonpareil. His books are about guys: guys in trouble, guys who are friends, guys who operate on the fringes of espionage, guys who love women but, in the end, would probably just as soon hang around with the guys. I bought a whole shelf of out-or-print paperbacks in the book room of the Left Coast Crime convention and have been drowning in Thomas e ...more
Jan 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I am really picky about the kinds of stories I read. I figure there are more books out there than I will ever get to read so I don't have to read stuff I don't want to. Having said that, I am going to retract at least a piece of it now. I've heard people say that if an author is REALLY good, the subject matter doesn't matter. The photo by that explanations must be The Cold War Swap. I have no interest in the cold war, little interest in spies and less interest in books set outside of the U.S. Bu ...more
Nov 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: page-turner
If you liked Hitchcock's Torn Curtain, this novel will enchant you. It's quite entertaining and very exciting. For me as a German it was especially funny to see how the Americans see us. You might be slightly surprised but "Auf Wiedersehen" and "Ein Bier, bitte" aren't the only things we can say. Also, the German names were very amusing. Mac's girlfriend is called Fredl and - by all means!!- I've never heard that name in my life. It as horrible and old-fashioned as Heidi (sorry, Mrs. Klum!!) and ...more
Aug 26, 2012 rated it liked it
this book is a really fun cold war, spy-noir. sort of a combination of raymond chandler, elmore leonard, and allan furst. the main characters are two american expats living in germany a few years after WW II. They both fought in the war. One is still in the CIA while the other owns a bar and wants to live a quiet, peaceful life. They get caught up in a plot to bring somebody over the border from east germany. the pacing moves along quickly and the narrator, the bar owner, has a great phillip mar ...more
Ronald Koltnow
Jan 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Ross Thomas's debut novel has all of his characteristic wit and intelligence. It resembles one of Lionel Davidson's books, esp. NIGHT OF WENCESLAS, where the plot revolves around escape. It is a bit dated (others have commented on the treatment of homosexuals in the novel) but Thomas's wonderful characters are out in force -- the phlegmatic McCorkle, his enigmatic partner Padillo, and the oleaginous Maas (or is it Klein?). It is a novel of its time, and a pretty good one. Try to compute how many ...more
Jun 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is the first book I read of this author, and it is also the first book written by the author, and I am amazed that this author was unknown to me until I started reading this book, and now I'm helplessly hooked; I must read his other books. I was told though, that 25 of his 26 books are now out of print.
I liked this book a lot. It was written in 1966 during the cold war, and it is obviously about the same. This author could write. This book won the Edgar Award for being the best mystery of 1
John Kues
Mar 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a fast read. I agree with Stuart Kaminsky's (one of my favorite authors) foreward, comparing the characters to those in Casablanca. I can well see Humphrey Bogart reciting some of these lines. I don't know how I missed knowing about Ross Thomas. This book was written in 1966, was his first book and won an Edgar. There were a few typos, but nothing that hindered the reading. I really liked his writing and will be following up with others, I think he wrote 19.
Mark Rathaus
Dec 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Very impressive for a first novel. With hard-boiled but breezy dialogue, it reads like a noir mystery illuminated by spotlights. The short action scenes race to viscous conclusions and the lengthy sections between them, are elaborate descriptions of imaginative characters or complex exposition. it's a great first effort, but clearly, not Thomas at his best.
Sean Brennan
Jun 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: thriller
Although there is nothing wrong with this story, is nicely paced and readable it just lacks the complexity of the British Spy thriller during this period. For me the whole point of a really great espionage thriller is for the reader to be completely baffled, not to know who is who? until the whole story is explained to the reader in the last chapter! This was just far too simple!
Marty Fried
Apr 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my second book by Ross Thomas. I read "The Fools in Town are on Our Side " a few week before this, and enjoyed it enough to seek more. Both had interesting stories, humorous dialogs, lots of twists and turns, and people having bad days in general.

I will most likely read more by this author.
Jan 01, 2012 rated it liked it
This book was 3/4 fun and 1/4 frustrating, not because of Thomas but because the subject matter that Thomas is satirising (cold war politics and intrigue) irritates me so much. I had a lot of sympathy for most of the characters, and the sense of place was great, but I wish he had not been so horrible to the homosexuals.
Gary Mesick
Oct 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A marvelous book that really should put Thomas in the same league as Le Carre. Granted, he wouldn't win the playoff, but he belongs right up there. Thomas has the great advantage over Le Carre in that he knows how to be funny.
Ted Kendall
Oct 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
For an old book--one written in the 1960s--this has all the makings of a timeless classic in the spy/thriller genre and would make a great Bourne-like movie. Reading it was like watching a classic Connery Bond movie.
Jon Spoelstra
Mar 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I had read this years and years ago and was wondering if I still felt that Ross Thomas was one of the all-time mystery writers. No more wondering. I'm only about 25% through The Cold War Swap and there's no doubt. Ross Thomas is one of the all-time greats.
Sean O
Jul 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read this book in literally one sitting. It was a perfect read for a transatlantic flight. Typical Ross Thomas political thriller, set in the Cold War 60s.
Aug 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
I was sucked right into this spy novel set in divided Germany. I will read more about McCorkle.
Aug 30, 2010 rated it liked it
Thomas' first book, a cold war thriller, won awards when it first came out. I enjoyed it but it seems quite dated now.
Joaquin Peloso
Jun 27, 2013 rated it liked it
Not so bad. If anyone is fluent with Spanish, I might recommend the author Alvaro Lozano as well for a quick review of the cold war.
Mar 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: thrillers
Spies, fast cars, friends, and a bit of 'action' make up The Cold War Swap - all-in-all a great story.
Jul 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Good one . Ross Thomas' first novel not ukp to the standard of his later works but miles ahead of thrillers being written today.
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Ross Thomas was an American writer of crime fiction. He is best known for his witty thrillers that expose the mechanisms of professional politics. He also wrote several novels under the pseudonym Oliver Bleeck about professional go-between Philip St. Ives.

Thomas served in the Philippines during World War II. He worked as a public relations specialist, reporter, union spokesman, and political strat
More about Ross Thomas...

Other Books in the Series

Mac McCorkle (4 books)
  • Cast a Yellow Shadow (Mac McCorkle, #2)
  • The Backup Men (Mac McCorkle, #3)
  • Twilight at Mac's Place (Mac McCorkle, #4)

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