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Sunday, 24 April 2016

Book review - The Things Men Do

James Hadley Chase wrote this fast-paced crime novel in 1953 using the pen-name Raymond Marshall. My paperback was published in 1970 (having been published also in 1962, 1963 (3 times), and 1965. (It has an uninspiring cover, but doubtless one of a sequence following a visual theme at the time). A very popular author, indeed, Chase wrote 90 mystery novels under five names, beginning his writing career with No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1939) .

It’s a first person narrative with mid-Atlantic vocabulary – car hood for bonnet, for example - though it's set in early 1950s London. Garage owner Harry Collins gives a lift to an attractive woman, Gloria when she was stranded. A typical manipulative femme fatale, she wantonly insinuates herself into his thoughts even after they’ve parted, though he loves his wife Ann. Harry’s business isn’t doing so well, so when Gloria turns up at the garage with a suggestion for him to make a little money by hiring out an area for storage, he jumps at the chance – not least because it means he can see more of her. His guilt is evident, too: ‘Ann hadn’t seen her, sheltering as she had been under the umbrella. I suddenly noticed Tim’s head poking out from under the car. He looked at Ann, then at me. I felt like a pickpocket caught in the act.’ (p30)

The book blurb gives away too much plot for my liking, so I won’t mention a couple of salient interesting incidents that crank up the suspense. Suffice for me to say that there are nefarious reasons for Harry renting out garage space to Gloria's pals... 

The narrative is slick, drawing the reader in, knowing that Harry is heading for a fall, yet he can’t avoid it. It’s a page-turner, with hardly any words wasted in its 150 pages. Chase is a visual storyteller: ‘Tim came in, pushing his bicycle. He was wearing a yellow mackintosh cape, and his tow-coloured hair was plastered flat by the rain.’ (p23)

There’s a sordid aspect, as you’d expect from the set-up, yet Chase doesn’t go in for graphic violence or explicit sex, that’s left to the reader’s imagination. Double-cross, deceit, unstinting love, poignant murder – it’s all there, in what is in effect a moral tale, well told.

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