This pair of ultra-hardboiled thrillers were the first two books published by James Hadley Chase following the huge success of his controversial gangster story No Orchids for Miss Blandish (which I recently reviewed right here). Well, actually, He Won’t Need it Now originally appeared under the one-off pseudonym, ‘James L. Doherty’ before being reprinted as by Chase in 1943. These are now re-presented in a single volume by those very, very nice people at Stark House Press.
I submit this review for Bev’s 2016 Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt; and Friday’s Forgotten Books meme hosted today by Todd Mason at his fab Sweet Freedom blog.
“I feel,” said Sam, “that you’re going to run into trouble so fast we ain’t going to have any time to stick to you together again.” – from He Won’t Need It Now
He Won’t Need it Now is set in New York and features Bill Duffy, a newspaper photographer who becomes the fall guy when rival gangs start warring over the city’s dope racket. Having just been fired from his newspaper job, he gladly accepts a slightly fishy assignment from a man named Morgan – to take photos of his wife, who is being blackmailed. He gets the shots, but a few minutes later the blackmailer is killed, the camera is stolen at gunpoint and it turns out that the woman is not Morgan’s wife but the daughter of a politician running on a reform ticket that gangsters are trying to smear. Duffy soon realises that the daughter, Annabel English, is decidedly unstable, but only after he has compromised himself by hiding the body of the dead blackmailer. He then heads home and gets the hell beaten out of him by Morgan’s men, who are desperate to get the photos back. And then the bodies start to stack up …
Her body struck him with her full weight, and he went back, reeling, off his balance. Her hand shot out and gripped his throat. He could feel the hot burning pain as her long nails dug into his flesh. – from He Won’t Need It Now
In reading this violent extravaganza, one is again reminded of the fuss that would be made several years later over the Mike Hammer and James Bond books (there is even a supercharged, gadget-filled Buick that one suspects Fleming might have enjoyed) – there are some very calculatedly nasty bits of business here as various characters get stabbed, shot and stomped on, leading to a surprisingly bleak and nihilistic finale that is certainly reminiscent of Blandish in its reach for some sort of tragic apotheosis. The hard-drinking Duffy is not very bright and a bit of a sap, the kind of Noir protagonist that would later be immortalised in the post-war era by the likes of David Goodis. But at least there is some heart here too, in the shape of Duffy’s two best friends, Sam and Alice, and it is only right that the story concludes with them, the only characters not corrupted by money and lust for power.
“Gimme a glass of water.” Dillon’s voice was deep and gritty.
George said, his face hostile, “We don’t serve water here.”
“But you’ll serve me an’ like it,” Dillon said. “D’you hear me, punk? I said water.” – from The Dead Stay Dumb
The Dead Stay Dumb originally appeared in the US under the wonderfully lurid title, Kiss My Fist (and with a really offensive cover to match – I am including the slightly milder Harlequin reprint here) and tells the story of Dillon, a ruthless Kansas City gangster who starts small time and tries to make it big. Compared with the much more linear He Won’t Need It Now, the narrative is a bit episodic and can feel somewhat unwieldy as a result. Dillon, with his cronies Nick and Myra, makes some dough fixing boxing bouts and then undertakes some heists before joining a mob and moving on to the big time. But several murders later, Dillon is on the run and hiding out in the middle of nowhere. He then gets interested in a farmer’s daughter …
Almost immediately Dillon stumbled over a body … – from The Dead Stay Dumb
This is the story of the rise and fall of a would-be criminal kingpin, very much in the mould of WR Burnett’s Little Caesar (1929) and Armitage Trail’s Scarface (1929), though as you would expect with Chase the approach here is much more violent and sexually outspoken. It is also, as was so often the case, told with very few chapter breaks – in fact, there aren’t any, the books just being divided into three parts entitled ‘The Roughneck and the Shopkeeper’s Daughter,’ ‘The Boss, the Molls and the Mob’ and ‘Wholesale Murder,’ which very much attest to its tabloid, slightly overdone, near-parodic sensibility (I particularly liked Myra’s plan to corrupt the youth of American but installing smut movie slot machines in candy stores near schools). The world it depicts is cold, cruel and deterministic and ultimately completely lacking in any sort of hope. Not for the faint-hearted and certainly does make you wonder what Brits like Chase and Peter Cheyney, whose already established success with American-set crime fiction clearly inspired him, really thought of life in American at the time.
“Don’t kill me! …” she implored. “Don’t… do… it!…” Her voice went shrill. – from The Dead Stay Dumb
Incidentally, this book got a couple of nice and unexpected name checks in Sekelani S. Banda’s Dead Ends (2000) and in Colin Bateman’s The Day of the Jack Russell (2009) too. If you are interested in looking at some of the covers that have adorned various reprints of the novel, you should definitely check out Steve Holland’s Bear Alley.
He Won’t Need It Now / The Dead Stay Dumb
By James Hadley Chase
ISBN: 978-1-944520-07-6 (paperback), 284 pages, $19.95
I submit these two reviews for Bev’s 2016 Golden Age Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the ‘hand holding weapon’ category (for the Stark House edition of He Won’t Need it Now) and ‘damsel in distress’ (for the Harlequin edition of The Dead Stay Dumb):