No Nigerian schoolboy of my time (don’t ask what year o) can forget James Hadley Chase. He was the most popular author in the land. In short, he was an addiction!
James Hadley Chase is not even a real name. It is actually the made up penname of Rene Brabazon Raymond. He was born on December 24, 1906 and died on February 6, 1985. He was an Englishman who used to work as a bookseller.
After reading many celebrated thrillers written by American authors the wannabe yank felt he could write better than the lot, and thus penned his own thriller which he entitled No Orchids for Miss Blandish. He used maps and an American slang dictionary to write the book, that is, without visiting the United States!
He then sent off the manuscript to Hutchinson publishing house, then under the chairmanship of the half-mad “Mr. Walter” Hutchinson.
Two positive readers’ reports were needed for the maverick publisher to agree to publish the book. An editor in the publishing company, Jim Reynolds, forged the two reports that convinced Mr. Hutchison!
Rene Raymond was paid an advance of £30. The newly-minted author adopted a magical penname: James Hadley Chase. He 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.
No Orchids for Miss Blandish was published in 1939, at about the beginning of the Second World War, and sold a staggering half a million copies quickly!
James Hadley Chase published 11 thrillers before the end of the war in 1945!
This astonishing marketability enabled James Hadley Chase to write about 90 thrillers in his lifetime 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 etc.
I read the whole lot!
Fifty of his thrillers were turned into movies, especially in France. He was so loved in France that he decided to live in the country before settling in Switzerland with his wife where he eventually died.
Crowned the “king of thriller writers,” James Hadley Chase had plot twists that could twist the neck this way and that! One could hardly turn his pages fast enough.
Let’s make a fast voyage around James Hadley Chase’s many titles – and characters like Dave Fenner, Vic Malloy, Johnny Farrar, Vito Ferrari, Mark Girland, Frank Terrell, Tom Lepski, Dirk Wallace, Pock Toholo etc.
It’s cool to start from the beginning, that is from No Orchids for Miss Blandish in which 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.
In You’re Lonely When You’re Dead 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!
The Paw in the Bottle teaches 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 Sucker Punch gives us these lines: “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…”
Who can ever forget the guy with his ear to the ground, Al Barney, the beach drunkard of Paradise City in Florida that tells the Esmaldi necklace heist story of An Ear to the Ground?
Let’s learn in conclusion from Poke Toholo of Want to Stay Alive who teaches that fear is the key that unlocks the wallets of the rich.
James Hadley Chase was the recreational drug of my generation.