In the footsteps of James Hadley Chase

If we randomly choose an outdated thriller from a few decades ago, there is a good chance that we will come across a James Hadley Chase (1906-1985). This British author, son of a colonel in the Indian army, was initially destined for a scientific career. However, he discovered his vocation as a writer by going door to door to sell books. He realizes that there is a strong demand from the public for stories of intrigue and suspense. He was particularly influenced by the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, a thriller released in 1934 by American James M. Cain. In this book, the hero tells his story in the first person. He falls under the bewitching charm of a femme fatale married to an opulent man. The lovers build a solid and sordid plan to get rid of the troublesome husband and thus appropriate easy money. However, the scheme does not work as expected and the protagonists find themselves entangled in an inextricable gear. Chase said the following in one of his rare interviews: “I was struck by the extraordinary success of the book which has become a classic. I read it and thought I might try writing something like that myself. »

Chase’s first novel, No Orchids for Miss Blandish, was published in 1939. It was a smash and resounding success that prompted the author to deliver books with metronomic regularity. A brief interruption occurs during the Second World War. He served with distinction as a pilot and squadron leader in the Royal Air Force (RAF). He also became the editor of the RAF Journal, a bi-weekly publication of the British Air Force. Notoriously, the writer uses other pseudonyms than James Hadley Chase to sign his books, namely Raymond Marshall, Ambrose Grant and James L. Docherty. The reason why he identifies himself under various identities is practical: paper is scarce in England at war. Each new identity allows the author to appropriate an additional ration of the precious paper.

Chase’s stories are frequently (but not always) set in an American setting because, in the aftermath of World War II, the United States is in vogue in Europe. Moreover, Gallimard presents Chase’s books as being translated from the American and not from the English. This is all the more absurd since Chase does not know the United States “firsthand”. He only visited the country very briefly in 1965. His reliable sources on the American underworld are indirect, namely dictionaries of American slang, encyclopedias, reference books and detailed geographical maps. However, it is clear that Chase depicts in a very relevant and intelligent way the tribulations and frustrations of an individualistic and materialistic American society, prey to decadence and decline.

It would be fundamentally wrong to believe that Chase’s books are vulgar commercial products intended for mass consumption. Unquestionably, he is an extraordinary writer. His writing is remarkable and his verve is inexhaustible. The enigma is sublime without languor or torpor. There is density and intensity, creativity and ingenuity, love and humor, cadence and consistency, action and passion. The vocabulary can be raw and tough, but without ever sinking into vulgarity or incivility. The protagonists can be sympathetic or unsympathetic, but never inspire indifference or indolence. Several illustrious authors have praised Chase, including Graham Greene and George Orwell. In addition, many filmmakers have been inspired by his novels to produce films. However, the passage of the Chase books to the big screen is far from satisfying the author who declares the following thing: “It’s quite curious, but the people of the cinema have never succeeded in rendering the atmosphere of my books or in reconstruct the dialogues. But that’s what makes them popular. »

Chase’s books are read in one go and with delight, whether in English (the original version) or in French (the translation). By reading them, we would risk having a sleepless night. Moreover, the translation made by the “Serie Noire” collection (Gallimard editions) faithfully and completely preserves the cold climate and the heavy atmosphere so specific to Chase’s novels. It must be said that the quality and simplicity of his works leave little room for possible slippages in translation.

Besides the quality and virtuosity of his writing, Chase offers us an analysis of human character that is rich and nuanced. For example, he demonstrates in a subtle way that the genesis of psychopaths is based on a childhood tainted by rejection from society. This unfortunate phenomenon engenders a pernicious evil, in this case an evil of living and therefore an ardent desire for revenge. Individuals first sink into a frightening silence before taking deafening action. Analyzing the mass killings taking place in Uncle Sam’s country today, it is fascinating to see the accuracy and similarity of Chase’s psychoanalysis, especially in terms of profile, motivation and background. behavior of murderers.

One question worth asking is, what kind of character is author James Hadley Chase? The author’s photo is typically displayed in small black and white format on the back of his books. We see a man with a forehead as wide as a shore, slightly graying hair and carefully combed with the parting on the right, intense eyes which sink under the crease of the eyelids, an opulent mustache which falls in walrus teeth to cover the upper lip, a willful chin with a graceful dimple and a penetrating look that gives him a serious and mysterious air. His portrait does honor to his character, because the man is discreet and reserved. Indeed, Chase does not like the glow of the spotlight or the din of the marching bands. Remarkably, Chase only granted five interviews in the space of thirty years.

Finally, very little is known about Chase’s private life. Besides, few people know that Chase is a pseudonym. His real name is René Brabazon Raymond. We can however deduce that the writer felt affection for his wife to whom he dedicated his book Cade (1966) in the following way: “For Sylvia, my wife, my secretary, my cook, my interpreter, my driver and my right arm – plus thirty-three years of kindness and understanding. Marie-Caroline Aubert, editor at Éditions du Masque, offers this precious testimony which is the result of an impromptu meeting with the writer towards the end of the 1960s when he was living in Paris: “With his beige raincoat and his felt tip, I thought it was Philip Marlowe! Above all, I have the memory of an extremely courteous and very classy man. »

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If we randomly choose an outdated thriller from a few decades ago, there is a good chance that we will come across a James Hadley Chase (1906-1985). This British author, son of a colonel in the Indian army, was initially destined for a scientific career. However, he discovered his vocation as a writer by going door to door to sell books. He realizes…

In the footsteps of James Hadley Chase