I just finished reading More Deadly Than the Male by James Hadley Chase, the story of a lonely guy in London who tries to impress the people around him with stories of being in the mob in America, stories he’s read about but has as much chance of having experienced as bedding Veronica Lake. And therein lies his problem. The poor chap has never been with a woman. So when he falls in with a con man and a dark-haired woman introduced as his sister, he’s ripe to be taken for a serious ride. And that’s just what they do.
Cora is just about the baddest femme fatale you are likely to meet between two book covers. She leads our hero, George Fraser, by the nose and other extremities until he’s fit to be tied, always promising him something she has no intention of delivering, badgering him, taunting him, denying him. Until he commits murder.
I only mention all this because More Deadly Than the Male such a fascinating book for Chase to have written. George Fraser is constantly reading about American gangsters, imagining himself doing the things that he can only read about. And Chase himself, an Englishman in love with all things American, became a writer who wrote almost exclusively about American criminals, setting most of his books in a fictionalized Florida.
It’s as if Chase took a good, hard look in the mirror, decided he didn’t like everything he saw, and decided to write a book about a poor schmo who has all his obsessions, but none of Chase’s talent and drive. George Fraser has no idea how to be a success. James Hadley Chase was a monstrous success with his very first book, No Orchids for Miss Blandish. Fraser lacks confidence and, where Cora is concerned, all common sense. Chase, on the other hand, parlayed his storytelling skills over 90 books, flipping off his critics whenever he got the chance.
I’m a sucker for Chase. I don’t mind admitting it. Chase is my guilty pleasure. He’s no Hemingway. He’s no Goodis. But I find it damn impossible to pick up one of his books and not get hooked within the first couple pages.
More Deadly Than the Male was actually a bit of a pace change from the usual Chase thriller. The momentum is built more leisurely, the plot sneaking up on you rather than announcing itself in the first chapter. You might even call it a bit depressing considering that you’re following the story of a grown man who makes a total fool of himself over an uncaring woman—until he finally finds himself becoming the very hardguy he’s been reading about.
This was the only book Chase published under the name “Ambrose Grant,” so he was playing a bit of hard-to-get right off with this one. It was only his twelfth published novel, coming out in 1946, and not published under the Chase name until 1960. And I could be wrong, but I don’t think it was ever published in the U.S. Closest we ever got over here to this one was a Canadian paperback back in ’48.
It’s an interesting little treasure. Stark House might pick it up some time, but there are no plans for it. In fact, outside of recommending James Hadley Chase’s thrillers in general, this isn’t the first book I’d suggest if you’ve never read him. But having said all that, I loved it. And it made me jump right into another Chase book, Tiger by the Tail, so maybe there will be more Chase at Stark House at some point. From my guilty pleasure to you.
Publisher, Stark House Press