Saturday, March 21, 2009

James Hadley Chase: collected mini-reviews

Over at James Reasoner's blog, there's been some discussion on the British crime writer James Hadley Chase. I've reviewed several of his novels here and I thought I could gather them in one posting, edited, of course.

James Hadley Chase's Shock Treatment from 1959. It was more sane than some other Chases I've read, but still nothing memorable - just another James M. Cain imitation with a surprisingly flat ending.

The Dead Stay Dumb by James Hadley Chase. It's an early Chase, from 1939, and while it's pretty wild, it's also somewhat moronic. There's no real plot, no real characters - all the killings and counterfeits just happen almost out of nowhere. Maybe it's surrealism. (I know that the French are enthusiastic for Chase.)

The Flesh of the Orchid, James Hadley Chase's sequel to his debut, No Orchids for Miss Blandish, is absurd and implausible, but you never know if it's because Chase was a poor writer or because he wanted it to be so. There's a ridiculous thing about having a law according to which if you escape from the mental institute and manage to not get caught in fourteen days, you get to go free. What the fuck? If you manage to forget all this, I guess the book could be enjoyable. There are some genuinely chilling moments and Chase has a knack for outrageous violence, but in the end it's a rather empty book. The French director Patrice Chereau made a film from this in the early eighties (or late seventies?). It emphasized the dream-like quality that I think is involuntary in the book and is a much better work of art.

James Hadley Chase: Eve (1945; no American publication that I know of) - basis for a famous film by Joseph Losey (1962), but of little interest as a thriller, Chase doesn't really know how to make American settings plausible, this has characters Clive, Carol, Rex etc., which doesn't ring true; a Cainish story, but not enough plot.

What's Better Than Money? (1960) is one of the best Chases I've read, even though there were many implausibilities and some of the scenes were just plain stupid, but in this Chase was able to build suspension. The ending was flat, though.

In Knock, Knock, Who's There (1973) Chase has switched to Mafia stories that were a fad in the early seventies due to the Godfather movies. It's a story about Johnny Bianda, the bagman for a small-time mafioso. Bianda decides to get off the boat and robs the money he's gathered on his daily racket round. The book focuses on him trying to stay one step ahead of the Mafia guys. It's a bit weak in the middle, but all in all one of the better Chases. The ending is very cynical and not so flat as in the some other Chase novels I've read so far.

I Hold the Four Aces (1979) is strictly mediocre. It has a nice scam plot, but Chase is not very good at describing a female lead and there's a stupid butler character involved. The climax is also not violent enough.

This must be one of the best James Hadley Chase novels - at least of those I've read. In The Sucker Punch (1954) he spins the story of the man caught in the web of fake love, greed and seven million dollars quite well. There's just that it never feels like it takes place in the US. If someone gave it to me without covers or any other identifications and took out the half dozen references, mainly to California, from the text, I'd say it takes place in England. This makes the novel seem pretty empty, without any real content. I haven't really checked, but I believe the book was first published as by Raymond Marshall, one of Chase's pseudonyms.


Frank Loose said...

Juri ... Thanks for sharing these. I see that you are not impressed with his books. At least the ones you read. I suggest: In A Vain Shadow (takes place in England), The World in My Pocket (heist story a la Lionel White), The Wary Transgressor (American in Europe caught up in murder). I found these to be several cuts above the titles you reviewed and did not like.

Juri said...

Yes, put in a series like that it really seems I'm not impressed with his books. I though I'd given more positive view on them, but then I looked again... Thanks for suggestions, though! I think I've read THE WORLD IN MY POCKET, but I'm not sure. There's also a spy thriller I remember reading and liking, but I didn't find its review.

I've been doing a book on British paperback crime fiction for, say, six years now and reading Chase has been part of that project, but it's been on a hiatus for quite a while now. All in all, I favour American writers to their British counterparts.

phantomlover said...

Uhhh.. not a very positive impression of Chase? I shall be obliged if you visit my megasite on Chase at: and offer your comments. Cheers!!

Juri said...

Phantomlover, yes, I know my view on Chase is not positive, but it's also an honest one. One might say, though, that the Finnish translations are bad (and some of them surely are), but I read EVE in English and it wasn't any better.

phantomlover said...

It seems that you have tackled the wrong novels of JHC, which had an adverse impact on your judgement. I myself feel that EVE was one of the worst of JHC novels. Anyway, you can go through my site and pick up a few, for which I have given good ratings. Maybe your opinion will change for the better :-)

Juri said...

Yes, I intend to read more books by Chase, and thanks for the recommendations!

Unknown said...

Hey guys, it's been a while since I read one of James Hadley Chase's novels but there is a particular one the name of which I've been trying to rememeber for a long time.

In the plot the hero, whose name I don't remember, is blackmailed by a gang of robbers who threaten to show photos of him and his lover to his wife unless he helps them to rob a postal van. His job was to disable the alarm system of the van in which his best friend was the driver/guard. I believe the best friend's name was Harry. One of the robbers' name was Berry, and the hero's wife was Ann.

Do any of you remember this book and it's name?

Thank you

CashCar said...

Donovan... the name of the novel is The Things men do.