Wednesday, January 15, 2020

5. Tiger by The Tail by James Hadley Chase

I picked up three of Chase's books at the Concordia Book Fair.  I started with this one as it was the latest published of the three and I wanted to see how his style had evolved.  I went into it with some trepidation.  Despite quite enjoying No Flowers for Miss Blandish, I now have this slight feeling that he is "fake".  This is totally unfair as a writer is a writer and if they are good in other elements, the authenticity of the setting does not have to be that big of a factor.

I was aware of some bias going in, particularly as the set up was revealed to me in the early pages.  Ken Holland is a head bank teller whose young wife is away for a few days with her sick mother.  He is starting to feel antsy, staring at attractive girls on the street.  But he's a good guy and a good husband and just wants her to get home.  However, his workmate Pete, is a party guy and keeps egging Ken on, wanting to live vicariously through him in his temporary bachelor state.  He gives Ken the phone number of a girl who will show him a good time.  Ken doesn't want it, rips it in half, but then on a super hot night after a few drinks while avoiding mowing the lawn, he gives in and calls. The way the temptation is set up and the way it sucks him in is all quite well done.  The girl is easygoing, friendly in a way that surprises him and he ends up spending the evening with her.  They get it on at her place (this is done offstage and felt strangely not American in its frankness), then go out to a club, where he learns she used to be a dancer there.  His gut tells him to end it there, but he can't say no to an invitation back to her place.  Here is where things go wrong.  She goes to her bedroom to get changed and then doesn't come out for a long time.  When he calls to her, the power goes out, somebody runs out of her bedroom and then her apartment.  When he goes to her bedroom he finds her stabbed to death with an ice pick.

This is the first two chapters, so I am not giving too much away as the book really starts here.  I felt slightly let down, as it felt like a less interesting Highsmith, where innocent Ken has to figure out how to play it.  However, my initial pessimism was unfounded as the book quickly expands to bring in a much larger cast of players.  The town itself is run by a shadowy crime boss, with high-ranking corrupt police officers and politicians doing his bidding.  His reign is on a shaky foundation and the murder of this girl and the possible exposure that she was living in an apartment full of call girls risks to bring it all down.  It ends up being a convoluted and exciting adventure.  Parts of it are a bit awkwardly plotted and there is even a glaring continuity error (when O'Brien the big boss calls a fixer to move out all the girls from the cat house and move in innocent people, he calls the same guy back ten minutes later, though several cross-scenes, and congratulates him on the job well done when there was no time and no way he could have known it was done at all) that suggests he and his editors cranked this one out.  Also, it does have an ersatz feel.  This is an anonymous American city (though at one point it gets a name in California) that though being small enough that the murder is the first one in a long time, has several night clubs, a wharf district with a seedy boardwalk, several cat houses, an opium den and guys who kill cops on the regular.  It's like Gangster City off of the RKO lot in print.  But that's okay because it is a lot of fun, with some good action and fun characters and doesn't take itself too seriously (though he can be hell of rough on some of those characters).  The ending made me chuckle.  Good stuff.

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