James Hadley Chase — pseudonym for René Brabazon Raymond; wrote also as James L. Docherty, Ambrose Grant, Raymond Marshall.
London-born former children's encyclopedia salesman and book wholesaler, who was inspired by the works of hardboiled American crime writers, and wrote NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH (1939). It became a huge success and is still claimed to be one of the bestselling mysteries ever published. Although Chase produced around 40 thrillers and gangster stories set in the United States, he only went there on short visits.
— ‘It cost a lot of money’, Slim said, watching her closely to see if she was listening.
— ‘But money means nothing to me now. I can buy you anything I fancy. I have all the money in the world. Look - what do you think this is?’ He pushed the parcel towards her, but Miss Blandish ignored it. Muttering, Slim put his cold, damp had on her arm and pinched her flesh. She didn’t move. She grimaced and closed her eyes.’ (from No Orchids for Miss Blandish)
James Hadley Chase was born in London as the son of an army officer. He was educated at King's School, Rochester, Kent. He left home at the age of 18 and worked in several jobs before devoting himself entirely to writing. After reading James M. Cain's novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) he decided to try his own hand as a mystery writer. He had read about the American gangster Ma Barker and her sons, and with the help of maps and a slang dictionary, he composed in six weeks No Orchids for Miss Blandish. During World War II he served as a pilot in the RAF, ultimately achieving the rank of Squadron Leader. From this period dates Chase's unusual short story ‘The Mirror in Room 22’, in which he tried his hand outside the crime genre. In was set in an old house, occupied by officers of a squadron. The owner of the house had committed suicide in his bedroom and the last two occupants of the room have been found with a razor in their hands and their throats cut. The wing commander tells that when he started to shave before the mirror, he found another face in it. The apparition drew the razor across his throat. ‘The wing commander nodded. ‘I use a safety razor’, he said. ‘Otherwise I might have met with a serious accident - especially if I used an old-fashioned cut-throat’. The story was published under the author's real name in the anthology Slipstream in 1946.
Chase published some 80 books. A number of his books, such as I’LL GET YOU FOR THIS (1946) and YOUNG GIRLS BEWARE (1959) were attacked for their violence. Although many of his stories are located in the US, he paid there only two brief visits, one to Miami and one to New Orleans. Most of the author's knowledge of America has been derived from encyclopedias, detailed maps, and slang dictionaries. Chase's series characters include a corrupt ex-commando Brick-Top Corrigan, Vic Malloy, a Californian private eye, a former CIA agent Mark Girland, millionaire playboy Don Miclem, and Helga Rolfe. Vic Malloy appeared in YOU’RE LONELY WHEN YOU’RE DEAD (1949) and FIGURE IT OUT FOR YOURSELF (1950), and Mark Girland in THIS IS FOR REAL (1965) and YOU HAVE YOURSELF A DEAL (1966). Corrigan stories were written under the name Raymond Marshall, among others MALLORY (1950) and WHY PICK ON ME? (1951). Don Miclem had his adventures in European setting in MISSION TO VENICE (1954) and MISSION TO SIENA (1955).
In several Chase's stories the protagonist tries to find his place in the sun by committing a crime - an insurance fraud or a theft. But the scheme fails and leads to a murder and finally to cul-de-sac, in which the hero realizes that he never had a chance to keep out of trouble. Women are often beautiful, clever, and treacherous, who kill unhesitating if they have to cover a crime.
— ‘The jury will love your legs’, Adams said comfortingly. ‘You’ll only get twenty years. You’ll be out of all the misery that's coming when they drop the H-bomb. You don’t know yet, but you’re a lucky girl’.
— Gilda turned and ran. She took five swift steps before she reached the big, curtained window.She didn’t stop. She went through the curtains, through the glass and out of the window.
— Adams heard her thin, wailing scream as she went down into the darkness, and the thud of her body as it struck the sidewalk, sixteen stories below’. (from Tiger by the Tail, 1954)
In THERE's ALWAYS A PRICE TAG (1956) the author turns inside out the old plot, in which a man commits murder and then attempts to make his crime appear to be a suicide. In the story the protagonist attempts to make a suicide appear to be murder in order to lay his hands on the victim's insurance money. But there is no escape in Chase's world: ‘I looked out of the car window at the traffic, the people moving on the sidewalks, the shop windows and the blue of the sky. It seemed to me that it was imperative to store up in my mind the sight of these familiar things. I had a feeling I wouldn’t see them again’.
In TELL IT TO THE BIRDS (1963) Anson, a gambler and an energetic insurance salesman, knows that he has never been able to hold onto money but still thinks of a robbery: ‘This is it, he thought. There is a time when everyman worth a nickle must make up his mind what to do with his life. I’ve put off my decision long enough. I’ll never get anywhere without money. With Meg to help me and with fifty thousand dollars to get me started, I’ll reach up and take the sun out of the sky’.
Chase lived retiring life and details of his personal history are uncertain. Also sadistic treatment of women in a number of his stories got Chase into trouble with critics and the authorities. Feminists could say much about Chase's views about sexual roles, but on the other hand his books do not offer anything new in the discussion: ‘Anson looked searchingly at her. His eyes moved over her body. He thought: you meet a woman and she starts a chemical reaction in you. You think there is no one like her in the world, the something happens, and it is finished. She means less to me now than the used plate after a good meal, and how little can that be?’ (from Tell It to the Birds)
No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1939): Written in six weekends during 1938, the thriller was Chase's first novel. In the story a rich young heiress, Miss Blandish, is kidnapped by a mob of depraved killers. She fells in love with a one of the kidnappers, who lives in awe of his Ma - prefiguring James Gagney's role as Codie in the Raoul Walsh film White Heat (1948). Dave Fenner, the reporter turned private eye and hero of the story, also appeared in TWELVE CHINKS AND A WOMAN (1940). In 1944 George Orwell defended the book, which was considered Fascist and against all the values that England fought for in the World War II. The novel sold half a million copies during the wartime paper shortages, and was read more than any other title by serving members, men and women, of the British armed forces. Orwell wrote, that ‘it is not, as one might expect, the product of an illiterate hack, but a brilliant piece of writing, with hardly a wasted word or a jarring note anywhere.’ In 1942 the play of the book, written by the author and Robert Nesbitt with additional dialogue by Val Guest, toured Britain from 1942 until 1949. The principal players were Robert Newton, Linden Travers, Hartley Power and Mary Clare. In 1961 Chase revised No Orchids, paying particular attention to the dialogue.
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