Wednesday, October 7, 2020 9:24 am
By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
The request from my reader was short and sharp: “Let’s have your piece on James Hadley Chase all over.”
The reader was so insistent that I could not but have a total recall on James Hadley Chase, the most popular thriller writer of my teenage years.
The real name of James Hadley Chase was Rene Lodge Brabazon Raymond. Born on December 24, 1906, he died on February 6, 1985.
A Londoner, he used to sell books of literature and children’s encyclopedia.
It was after reading many celebrated thrillers written by American authors that the Englishman felt he could write better than the lot, and thus penned his own thriller which he entitled No Orchids for Miss Blandish.
Never having visited the United States of America, he used maps and an American slang dictionary to write the book.
When the manuscript got to the Hutchinson publishing house, the half-mad chairman of the board, Mr. Walter Hutchinson, needed two positive readers’ reports for the book to be published.
Jim Reynolds, an editor in the publishing house, forged the two reports that convinced Mr. Hutchinson to publish the book.
An advance of £30 was paid to Rene Raymond who had adopted the magical penname of James Hadley Chase.
The highly prolific thriller writer had other pseudonyms such as James L. Docherty, Raymond Marshall, R. Raymond, and Ambrose Grant, but it was as James Hadley Chase that he conquered the world.
At about the beginning of the Second World War, that is in 1939, No Orchids for Miss Blandish was published, and quickly sold a staggering half-a-million copies.
Before the end of the war in 1945, James Hadley Chase had published eleven successful thrillers.
In his lifetime James Hadley Chase published about 90 thrillers bearing such titles as The Vulture is a Patient Bird, Believed Violent, The Way the Cookie Crumbles, An Ear to the Ground, Miss Shumway Waves a Wand, Strictly for Cash, Coffin from Hong Kong, The Dead Stay Dumb, The Guilty Are Afraid etc.
About 50 of his thrillers were turned into movies, especially in France where he was so loved. He lived for a time in France before settling in Switzerland with his wife.
He was seen as “the king of thriller writers” and had plot twists that could twist the neck of the reader this way and that.
James Hadley Chase’s celebrated characters include: Dave Fenner, Vic Malloy, Johnny Farrar, Vito Ferrari, Mark Girland, Frank Terrell, Tom Lepski, Dirk Wallace, Poke Toholo etc.
In his first thriller, No Orchids for Miss Blandish, the beautiful heiress, Miss Blandish, is kidnapped. Ransom is paid but the kidnappers, Riley and his gang, have disappeared into thin air. Dave Fenner is hired to solve the matter but Miss Blandish has now been seized by Ma Grisson and her bloodthirsty son, Slim, who cannot do without women – especially the beautiful new catch.
You’re Lonely When You’re Dead tells the thrilling story of how ace detective Vic Malloy is hired by a millionaire to keep an eye on his wife who is suspected to be a kleptomaniac. Complications manifest as Vic Malloy’s operator is assassinated while the millionaire’s wife disappears, and the millionaire claims he never hired Vic Malloy in the first place – and forbids him from reporting to the police.
In The Paw in the Bottle we learn this wisdom: “Have you ever heard how they catch monkeys in Brazil, Julie? Let me tell you. They put a nut in a bottle, and tie the bottle to a tree. The monkey grasps the nut, but the neck of the bottle is too narrow for the monkey to withdraw its paw and the nut. You would think the monkey would let go of the nut and escape, wouldn’t you? But it never does. It is so greedy it never releases the nut and is always captured. Remember that story, Julie. Greed is a dangerous thing. If you give way to it, sooner or later you will be caught.”
The memorable lines from The Sucker Punch are: “It’s when a guy gets full of confidence he’s wide open for a sucker punch. I’ve seen it again and again in my racket. Some guy commits murder. He takes a lot of trouble and thought to cover it up, fakes himself an alibi or maybe makes it look like it’s been done by someone else. Then he imagines he’s safe, but he isn’t. And, wham, he’s flat on his back…”
There is of course the guy with his ear to the ground, Al Barney, the beach drunkard of Paradise City in Florida, who tells the Esmaldi necklace heist story of An Ear to the Ground.
Poke Toholo of Want to Stay Alive teaches that fear is the key that unlocks the wallets of the rich.
I read the whole lot of James Hadley Chase when I ought to be reading my schoolbooks.