Saturday, October 17, 2020

James Hadley Chase - Hardly Chased Today

 I cannot remember which I first read: a Raymond Chandler or a James Hadley Chase. Both write racy thrillers. However, while Chandler has received significant literary attention, posterity has not pursued Chase.  All I can proffer from memory is that, while Raymond Chandler had exquisite constructions which live on in the mind, the James Hadley Chase novels have not left much lingering.

Except for one story. It was in my early undergraduate years that I finally found my sort of friend. I lost touch with her after she left town to pursue studies in a big city. And I never quite found that kind of friendship later. But it was she who told me about Miss Shumway Waves Her Wand.

Naturally, a story about a bandit who becomes a sausage because of a curse and who is then eaten by a dog which then turns into a talking pooch is bound to fascinate. Well, let's admit that I have a taste for humour, for one thing. And, for another, whacky wit is irresistible to me. But it's not really everyone's cup of tea.  Most prefer the sensational tales of money hungry men and women and the bitter ends they meet.

That is what Chase basically offers (aside from the abovementioned sausage story). 

But who is Chase, you ask. Now, that is a charming story!

Like today's Lee Child, Chase was British. Like Child, Chase wrote about American gangsters. But how he came to do it is yet another fascinating tale. A salesman for books, Chase discovered that a particular novel was so well borrowed at the local library that it was always off the shelves. This gem was The Postman Always Rings Twice.

So Chase decided to pen some purple prose on his own and thus was born No Orchids for Miss Blandish

No Orchids for Miss Blandish (film) poster - Fair Use

And then he churned out one pot boiler after the other. Some were made into films but no one seems to rave about those. 

His novels were devoured around the world - India had or still has faithful fans. However, the Americans were not at all amused that a Brit made money out of their lurid lives. Oddly, the French have a fancy for Chase, it is reported. Which brings us to the similar phenomena with Harlan Coben. Whatever the je-ne-sais-quoi of a Hadley Chase, we must admit that the French have good taste.

At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. So why not nibble at a James Hadley Chase today? I bet you won't be able to stop till you devour the book and that you might not stop till you've munched through any Chase that you can find. 

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