The canon of James Hadley Chase, comprising more than eighty-five books, has earned for him a reputation as the king of thriller writers in England and on the Continent. In France he is even compared with Fyodor Dostoevski and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. (Such hyperbole, however, must be attributed to the ephemeral popularity of the films based on his novels.) At the other end of the spectrum are those judgments by Julian Symons and George Orwell, who write, respectively, that Chase’s work ranges from “shoddy” to “secondhand James M. Cain” and that it is filled with gratuitous sadism, brutality, and corruption, “a daydream appropriate to a totalitarian age.”
Chase’s own comment that he wrote “for a good read . . . for a wide variety of readers” comes closest to a true analysis of his work. In many ways, his works resemble the James Bond thrillers of Ian Fleming . Yet they are thrillers usually without the plot complexity and climactic endings, the sophistication in the main characters, and the well-chosen detail in description characteristic of Fleming. Chase’s work typically involves violence wreaked on the innocent and weak as well as the guilty and strong, frequent though nongraphic sexual encounters, the hyperbolic machismo of the private investigator, and a tone of danger, excitement, and suspense.