Friday, November 30, 2018

Forgotten Books: No Business of Mine - James Hadley Chase



The main weakness in the American-set thrillers by British author James Hadley Chase is that occasionally the settings and especially the dialogue don’t quite ring true. The very popular Chase, whose real name was Rene Raymond, comes up with a smart way to avoid this minor pitfall in NO BUSINESS OF MINE, a novel originally published in 1947 under the pseudonym Raymond Marshall. Even though the novel features an American narrator/protagonist, two-fisted reporter Steve Harmas, it’s set in post-war England and so Chase can write more about people and places he knows. And for that matter, Steve Harmas is a pretty believable American, too.

Harmas spent most of the war in London as a war correspondent, and he’s back now, a couple of years later, to write a series of articles for a New York newspaper about conditions in post-war England. While he’s there, he intends to look up an old girlfriend of his named Netta Scott. When he does, though, he discovers to his shock that she committed suicide just the day before by gassing herself in her flat. Harmas doesn’t believe she would do such a thing, so he starts poking into her life since he saw her last. Naturally, things do not go well.

The first few pages of this novel are kind of slow as Chase sets things up, but once Harmas discovers Netta’s death and starts his investigation, boy, things really rocket along after that! Almost right away, Netta’s sister winds up dead, too. Hearses are hijacked and bodies disappear! The morgue goes up in flames! Gangsters beat the crap out of Harmas! The cops warn him to stay out of their investigations or go to jail! A fortune in jewels is missing! Throats are cut, skulls are bashed in with fireplace pokers, and everywhere Harmas turns, somebody’s either lying to him or trying to kill him! Thank goodness there are a few beautiful blondes and redheads to comfort him along the way.

It seems that Chase went into this book with the goal of springing a major surprise on the reader every thirty or forty pages. He succeeds in doing that, too. I certainly wasn’t expecting some of the twists. That makes for an incredibly complicated plot, but as far as I can tell, it all holds together pretty well, although Harmas has to take the last fifteen pages of the book to explain everything. He’s a hard-nosed but likable protagonist, quick with his fists and with witty banter, too, and the book has a lot of other vividly depicted characters (mostly villainous) as well.

NO BUSINESS OF MINE is one of the most entertaining James Hadley Chase books I’ve read so far. It’s just been reprinted by Stark House in a double volume with another early Chase novel, MISS SHUMWAY WAVES A WAND, and if you’re looking for a tough, fast-paced, hardboiled action novel, I give it a high recommendation. I really enjoyed it.

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