Showing posts with label James Hadley Chase. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Hadley Chase. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Come Easy - Go Easy

For a guy with over 90 novels to his name, British author of American thrillers James Hadley Chase (real name: Rene Raymond, 1906-1985) had a remarkably-good batting average. As such, his 1960 femme-fatale heist noir novel, Come Easy - Go Easy, seemed like a good choice for an effortless and quality read.

Our narrator is Chet, a locksmith specializing in safes. One night he’s dispatched to a service call at the home of a rich jackass who lost his key. Chet pops the lock and sees a half-million bucks in cash just sitting in the safe. That’s the kind of thing that gets a guy thinking…

Chet mentions it to his co-worker Roy, and the guys start scheming. Anyone who reads a lot of heist novels will see that their plan is harebrained and riddled with pitfalls. And, of course, the whole thing goes sideways in the most delightful way possible. I won’t spoil it for you here, but these guys find themselves in a fabulous mess.

The book becomes a man-on-the-run novel and then the author channels Gil Brewer or Harry Whittington for the heart of the novel as Chet hides from the law in a small town among a benevolent boss with sexy young wife driving Chet to more bad decisions.

It’s a heist novel - two, in fact. It’s a prison break novel. It’s a femme fatale novel. It’s a man on the run novel. It’s everything that’s good about noir paperbacks from the 1950s and 1960s. It also the best novel by Chase - by far - that I’ve ever read. If you like the best work of Gil Brewer and Harry Whittington , this is up there with it. Don’t skip this one. I’m dead serious.

Come Easy - Go Easy has been reprinted a bazillion times over the past 60+ years, but you should buy the Stark House version which also includes his novel In A Vain Shadow and an intro by Rick Ollerman. Buy that version HERE.

Monday, November 15, 2021

You Find Him - I'll Fix Him

James Hadley Chase was a popular pseudonym of U.K. Author Rene Raymond (1906-1985) for over 90 thrillers. You Find Him - I’ll Fix Him was a 1956 novel originally released under his Raymond Marshall pen name and later re-released as a Chase title. The lean noir paperback was also adapted into the French film Les Canailles in 1960.

Our narrator is Ed Dawson, an American newspaper bureau chief working in Rome. He’s appropriately terrified of his boss, Mr. Chalmers, who is back at the home office in New York. One day Mr. Chalmers calls the trembling Dawson to ask a favor. The boss’ college-age daughter Helen will be arriving in Rome tomorrow and needs a ride from the airport to her hotel. At this point I thought, “I bet the daughter is a real dish, and this airport pickup is about to get way more complicated.”

Not so fast! Helen is a bookish, Plain Jane, and the hotel drop off was uneventful. However, weeks later when Ed runs into her at a party, the ugly duckling has become a swan. She’s wearing a slinky backless cocktail dress with hair and makeup eliciting a 1956 va-va-va-voom from our horny hero. They begin dating and planning a one-month secret getaway to a remote Italian villa in Sorrento. As long as the boss back home in New York doesn’t find out that Ed is banging his barely-legal daughter, everything is cool, right?

Upon arriving at the villa, Ed finds Helen floating face-first in the water at the bottom of a cliff and very, very dead. The whole thing looks like foul play causing Ed to face an early-novel predicament: Call the cops or not? A police report might make him a suspect, ruin his reputation and cost him his job. As they say in Italy, “Non buono.” The other option is to hightail it back to Rome and hope that no one ever finds out he was there in the first place. Ed chooses the coward’s route and skedaddles back to his urban bachelor pad.

The author does a fabulous job dissecting the ways we rationalize our bad behavior. The character of Ed is a rationalization gold medalist riding the Bad-Choice Express all the way to Noirville. Of course, Helen’s body is found. Of course, it turns out she was murdered. And of course, Ed’s lies land him deeper and deeper in hot water until he has no choice but to solve the murder himself to save his own hide. As a mystery, the novel works marvelously as clues pile up to a logical conclusion and climactic finish.

As usual, Chase is a good writer who knows how to move a story forward with his economical, no-frills prose. It’s always interesting to read a Brit author writing American dialogue because he can’t help but slip U.K. idioms into the prose that Americans would never use. Some readers find these “mistakes” annoying, but I’m always charmed by them. I’ve read several of his novels, and You Find Him - I’ll Fix Him is by far my favorite of his work. It’s a paperback that would have fit in nicely with Fawcett Gold Medal 1950s releases like Gil Brewer’s The Vengeful Virgin and other works in the femme fatale hit parade.

Bottom line: We have a winner. If you can scare up a copy of this one, buy it and read it. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

Tiger By the Tail

Tiger by the Tail was a 1954 paperback by James Hadley Chase, the popular pseudonym of Rene Raymond (1906-1885). The book was originally published by Harlequin before the imprint was exclusively romance novels and is often cited as being his finest novel.

Bank teller Ken Holland’s wife Ann has been visiting her sick mother for the past five weeks, and Ken is getting restlessly horny. His wandering eye is becoming more and more burdensome, and all he needs is a willing wonton for a few hours to blow off some steam. He gets the name and number of an escort (a “hostess”) named Fay who will let you take her out in the town for a couple bucks with an opportunity for more action if the spirit moves you.

After much hand-wringing, Ken calls Fay and sets up a date. Arriving at her apartment, Ken is pleased to find that Fay is gorgeous and charming with a killer body. They hit a nightclub and have a lovely time together. As they’re heading back to her place together, an astute reader of classic paperback thrillers just knows that something is about to go horribly awry. Sure enough, someone lurking in her apartment stabs Fay to death in her apartment with an icepick and leaves Ken with her dead body and the murder weapon.

The bad thing about being at the wrong place at the wrong time in a vintage crime fiction novel is that you’re almost certainly going to wind up the prime suspect. This forces Ken into a position where he needs to either lay low or solve the killing himself to save his own bacon and ensure that his wife never finds out he was catting around.

Meanwhile, the cops are also working to solve the murder, and this becomes a major focal point of the paperback’s second half. The police procedural sections dive headfirst into changing perspectives of the dysfunctional local department under the control of a sociopathic political boss. The rivalry among the local political factions becomes a bit convoluted as the novel progresses, but the author regularly brings things back on track by returning to Ken’s adultery-murder dilemma.

Tiger By the Tail is an extremely well-crafted crime novel by an author with real chops. It’s currently out of print, but the paperback has been through countless re-releases since 1954. You shouldn’t have trouble finding a copy. It’s certainly worth your time. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Goldfish Have No Hiding Place

James Hadley Chase was the thriller fiction pen name of British writer Rene Raymond (1906-1985) who authored around 90 novels under the Chase pseudonym with a career spanning from 1939 to 1984. He’s a European author whose books primarily take place in the U.S., and his paperbacks usually feature cheesy covers with uninspired photos of sexy 70s babes. Is it possible that the quality of the story inside surpasses the nondescript cover?

“Goldfish Have No Hiding Place” is a 1974 novel taking place in the upscale suburb of Eastlake. Steve Manson is a 38 year-old magazine editor with an anti-corruption mandate who is married to Linda, a glamorous social climber with expensive tastes. He’s spread thin financially largely because Linda has no sense of money or how much shopping one can justify on a $30,000 per year salary. As the novel opens, he has a $3,000 overdraft in his checking account and a wife who won’t stop spending.

Steve’s personal problems go from bad to worse when he is visited by the owner of a local boutique. It seems that the store’s new security system recorded a video of Linda shoplifting a bottle of perfume. The proprietor threatens to go to the cops unless Steve pays the man $20,000 in cash the next day. Normally, Steve would go to the police to report the blackmailing, but he’s in the process of exposing the chief of police for suspected corruption in his magazine. He rightfully fears that his complaint may not have a sympathetic audience with the suburban police.

The book’s title is a metaphor used early in the novel by Steve’s boss. The idea is that if Steve is going to attack the corrupt and dishonest in his magazine, he will be like a goldfish in a glass bowl and must live with unimpeachable ethics and total transparency regarding his personal behavior. Needless to say, Steve and his wife have trouble living up to this ideal, and Steve’s problems compound considerably as the story unfolds.

Giving away any of the twists and turns in “Goldfish Have No Hiding Place” wouldn’t be fair, but there are plenty of great surprises along the way - particularly when the blackmail story becomes a murder mystery. Although this was a 1974 paperback, it was written in the exact same style and plot structure as a 1950s Fawcett Gold Medal crime novel. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this tidy suburban noir written with competence and confidence by an author who has done this before. Put this one in the win column. Highly recommended. Buy this book HERE.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Like a Hole in the Head

The king of European thrillers might be an unrecognizable name: Rene Lodge Brabazon Raymond. That's reality, but better recognition would be the fictitious name of James Hadley Chase (1906-1985). In fact, Raymond utilized Chase, James L. Docherty, Ambrose Grant and Raymond Marshall pseudonyms to write 90 novels. Using the sound strategy of picking at random, my first Chase novel is 1970's “Like a Hole in the Head”. 

Protagonist James Benson is a Vietnam veteran and former Army sniper. With a distinguished career of 80+ kills, the retired Benson and his wife Lucy are now settling into their new home in Miami, Florida. Benson has purchased a derelict gun range in hopes that his post-military career will be a lucrative one. With only a handful of students and overwhelming repairs, the two are scraping to make ends meet.

Benson is approached by savvy businessman Savano with a rather interesting proposal. Savano claims that he is in a half-million dollar wager that his son, Timoteo, can outshoot a rival's son. One would assume Timoteo is a decent marksman, right? The fact is that Savano was a little inebriated when making the wager – his son can't even lift a rifle much less make a tremendous display of shooting. The offer is for Benson to train Timoteo to shoot. The issue is that the competitive shooting takes place in just nine days. Benson, learning that Timoteo isn't a trained shooter, refuses the job. It's a good move on his part...until money talks.

Savano is a convincing man and soon introduces Timoteo to Benson. Immediately, Benson refuses the job again knowing that Savano's son is a sissy. The boy has a sense of entitlement and a spoiled lethargy that makes him detest guns. After the meeting, Benson refuses the job...AGAIN. Savano, stating that money can perform miracles, offers Benson $25K to train Timoteo. Benson AGAIN refuses and the offer is doubled. Now, Benson knows there's just too much at stake to refuse the deal. Benson must make Timoteo his equal on the range in exchange for $50K. That's a story the reader can't put down.

But, like all of these action-thrillers, the story isn't all that it seems. In fact, this story really becomes entwined with Savano's empire and a wager that is soaked in blood instead of money. Is Savano telling the truth about the wager, or is there something way more dangerous on the line? With Lucy being used as a bargaining chip, the story takes a number of twists and turns that left me reeling. I couldn't put this book down.

I'll repeat that this is my first foray into the world of James Hadley Chase. The man is way more talented than what these sultry (trashy) covers suggest. With an enticing plot development, the author rides these characters to the grave, screaming from the hearse long after the last shots are fired. It's these characters that Chase toys with, placing ordinary people into extreme circumstances to see what will break. That's “Like a Hole in the Head”. This is a must read for action fans...but with fair warning: This book will evaporate your day.

Buy a copy of this book HERE