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I’m busted

August 10, 2013 9 comments

You Never Know with Women by James Hadley Chase. 1949. French title: Garces de femmes.

Close your eyes and imagine. Azure blue sky. Air 30°C (86°F). Sapphire blue sea at 28°C (82°F). Since I’ve changed from my business suit to my swimsuit, the only thing I’ve been working on is my tan. The only bottom line I’ve worried about is the net result of the above mentioned swimsuit and tan. *contented sigh* Is there any better moment to read a good James Hadley Chase?

Chase_WomenFloyd Jackson just decided to quit his job as a PI in San Luis Beach, California. He’s run out of money; the Lieutenant of the Police Redfern wants him in jail. Floyd is both a PI and a crook. He’s been involved in blackmail in another state and Redfern knows it. Floyd is about to drink goodbye to his office when a man shows up to propose him a job. His name is Gorman and he’s an agent who sells the services of strippers to moneybags for their private parties. One of his girls, Veda Rux was at Linsday Brett’s house the night before. During the party, Brett showed off an antique Cellini dagger, so precious it is kept in a safe. Gorman relates that Veda Rux walked in her sleep, opened the safe, took the dagger but left her compact in the safe. Gorman wants to return the dagger and have the compact back but he doesn’t want to involve the police. He proposes one thousand dollars to Floyd to do the job: enter Brett’s house, open the safe and make the exchange. Floyd sniffs that Gorman’s story is phony but he needs the cash too badly to be picky.

Of course, the job isn’t as simple as it seemed and when Floyd accidentally meets Veda Rux in Gorman’s garden while preparing for the job, her big blue eyes fry his brains and after a searing kiss, his decision making process crashes. Veda Rux is living trouble and Floyd heads there straight on. I won’t tell more about the plot. You’ll find the usual femme fatale, gunshots, punches, whiskey, gambling joints, rotten policemen, millionaires, powerful friends and a well-knitted intrigue.

Floyd narrates the whole story and we know things didn’t turn right for him. When he starts his story, he presents himself as a loser and he’s disappointed with himself. As the plot unravels, he’s confronted to circumstances that push him to question his motives and his set of values. He discovers that his values are stronger than he imagined and that he’s not as disillusioned with life as he thought he was:

I drew a line at murder. Even if no one ever found out, and the betting was that they wouldn’t, I still had to live with myself and although I hadn’t been very fussy the way I had acted in the past, I was changing my ideas now. I was going to walk upstairs instead of down for a change, and see if I liked myself any better for doing it. I thought I should.

He hopes for a better future but can he escape from his past? Will Veda be his redemption or his fall?

You Never Know with Women is a classic of the genre and it was a great read. It’s lighter than No Orchids for Miss Blandish because Floyd is a more likeable character than Slim Grisson who is positively a sick vicious man. Floyd reminded me of the characters in Johnny Cash’s songs from the album At Folsom Prison. Weak men, making the impulsive wrong decisions for a woman or for money.

The title You Never Know With Women comes from Floyd’s assessment of women, which comes early in the book when he first meets Veda:

I’ve been around and I’ve known a lot of women in my time. They’ve given me a lot of fun and a lot of grief. Now women are funny animals. You never know where you are with them—they don’t often know where they are with themselves. It’s no good trying to find out what makes them tick. It just can’t be done. They have more moods than an army of cats have lives, and all you can hope for is to spot the mood you’re after when it turns up and step in quick. Hesitate, and you’re a dead duck, unless you’re one of those guys who likes a slow approach that might get you somewhere in a week or a month or even a year. But that’s not the way I like it. I like it quick and sudden: like a shot in the back.

I leave you with that piece of male philosophy about the other sex.

With blandishments from Slim Vicious.

January 16, 2011 28 comments

No Orchids for Miss Blandish, by James Hadley Chase

It starts with a Baghdad Café picture:

It began on a summer afternoon in July, a month of intense heat, rainless skies and scorching, dust-laden winds.

At the junction of the Ford Scott and Nevada roads that cuts Highway 54, the trunck road from Pittsburgh to Kansas City, there stands a gas station and lunchroom bar: a shabby wooden structure with one gas pump, run by an elderly widower and his fat blonde daughter.

For a European, this is the mythical America: a gas station and a lunchroom in the middle of a incredibly hot nowhere. Very cinematographic.

 

A gang of little yobs, Bailey, Old Sam and Riley hang around, broke and up to no good. They desperately need to find a way to “scratch up some money”. When Bailey meets Heinie, the local gossip journalist who also feeds the local gangs with useful tips, he learns that Miss Blandish, the daughter of the richest man of the country, will be given a fifty grand diamond necklace for her 24th birthday. Riley decides they should grab that necklace, though it seems too big a job for them. The grand theft turns wrong and Bailey kills Miss Blandish’s boy-friend. The grand theft becomes a kidnapping.

 

Taking gas on their way to a hiding place, they encounter Eddie and Flynn, members of a rival gang, directed by Ma Grisson. Miss Blandish is so lovely that she catches Eddie’s eye. He enquires after her. Not buying the lies Riley tries to sell him, Eddie tells Ma Grisson about the incident. She recognises Miss Blandish and quickly understands what Riley is up to, though Flynn thinks it highly improbable as Those cheap hoods wouldn’t have the nerve to snatch a purse let alone the Blandish dame!

 

Ma Grisson orders her men to double-cross them and snatch Miss Blandish. Greedy as she is, she immediately imagines how much money she can make out of it, in selling the necklace and cashing the ransom. Orders are promptly executed, Riley’s gang eliminated. Ma Grisson’s gang spread the noise that Riley kidnapped Miss Blandish to lead the Feds in the wrong direction. Heinie tells the cops about his discussion with Riley. He seems the perfect scape-goat.

 

Things look pretty good for Ma Grisson but for two problems. The first one is Anna, Riley’s girl-friend who can’t accept that Riley disappeared and left her behind. The second one is Slim Grisson, the dangerously unbalanced son of Ma Grisson who falls for Miss Blandish. And Slim is vicious. Here starts Miss Blandish’s agony. This book was published in 1939, so the writer is not very explicit on the relationship between Slim and Miss Blandish, but you can guess it is violent and destructive.

 

Three months after the kidnapping, Mr Blandish hires Dave Fenner, a former journalist recently settled as a PI, to find his daughter. And I won’t say more about the plot.

 

I enjoyed reading this book. The characters are well drawn. Of course, Miss Blandish is incredibly beautiful. She does turn men’s heads. She is not seductive though. Her beauty is her fate but it’s hard to decide if it is a gift or a curse. She has more in her than she appears at first sight and her reaction may be mysterious.

 

The Grisson gang made me think of the Daltons, probably because its head is Ma Grisson. She has no compassion or love for anyone but her son Slim. He is her Achilles’ heel. He is what we call now a psychopath. He is unbalanced, has no moral rules and loves killing. Unpredictable and highly dangerous. Eddie thinks It’s women and money that make the world go round and that tells everything your should know about him. I would have thought they make the world go crazy. Flynn, Woppy and Doc are less developed.

 

As a PI, Dave Fenner is a funny, nice and clever fellow. I enjoyed his witty exchanges with his secretary. I’ve seen on Wikipedia that James Hadley Chase only wrote one other book with Dave Fenner as the detective. Too bad, he would have deserved to be developed.

 

The translation dates back to 1946 and uses old fashioned argot words. For me there is a difference between colloquial, slang and argot languages. Colloquial would be spoken language and slang is vulgar. Argot is more a flowery parallel language used by the underground of pimps, small delinquents, whores… It sounds like dialogues of films with Jean Gabin, told in a throaty voice. It fits the genre. However, like for the Bukowski I’ve read recently, the translation is a bit inventive and exaggerates on argot words. Translating “boy friend” by “coquin” instead of “petit ami” sounds strange. Or “nothing” by “nib”, “Get going” by “Décarre!” What kind of words are those? The English doesn’t sound outdated and the French does.

 

Sometimes, the words used sound ridiculous. Here’s an example: “How’s tricks? You look kinda low” is translated by “Et les affaires, ça boume? T’as pas l’air bien brilliant”. I’m not sure a translator would have used “ça boume” nowadays. And I’d rather not speak of changing or translating names. The Lincoln has become a Packard and the Golden Slipper the “Chausson d’Or”.

 

I’d like to read more of James Hadley Chase, but I’ll read him in English. It feels like I’m at a turning-point regarding Anglophone literature. I’m more and more dissatisfied with reading it in translation and yet it does take more time and effort to read in English. Perhaps I should accept to read less books for a while and read in English. I should give myself the time to progressively improve my English vocabulary and later be able to read faster.

 

PS: I’d be grateful, if someone could explain the title of this book to me. Orchids are the symbol of love, luxury and beauty. That’s what Miss Blandish is. An orchid who withers under Slim’s blandishments. It’s the only explanation I found.

 

 

 

 

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