“What did she have in it, shamus, that tempted you to kill her?” he demanded finally.
There was never anything subtle about Retnick. But there’s plenty neat and sublime about Mr James Hadley Chase. And with A Coffin from Hong Kong, JHC delivers one of his very best.
Private eye Nelson Ryan tries to resolve the murder of a Chinese girl at his private office but ends up getting framed for this murder. Things turn interesting when Ryan visits Hongkong to sort things out. A series of twists and turns, riddles and double crosses keep the readers gripped till the very end. Standard PI stuff, huh? Not exactly.
What’s So Good:
Like a typical Hadley Chase novel, A Coffin from Hong Kong features sharp dialogues. Particularly, the dialogues between Ryan and Inspector Retnick are neat and snappy with a twisted sense of humor.
Most JHC novels usually have a standard story line – the protagonist commits a crime, tries to get away and is brought to judgment. This simple frame is presented in an extraordinary way. A Coffin from Hong Kong is an exception with a quite intricate and multilayered plot, which keeps the readers guessing till the final pages. Much like Sheldon’s thrillers, it leaves you hanging off a cliff.
This thriller again deviates from the standard JHC approach with its dexterous characterization. While most of Chase’s characters seem to be talking alike, the ones here are different. The police fella Retnick has to be one of my favorite JHC characters. The protagonist seems macho, confident with a cheesy sense of humor. This isn’t Jane Austen stuff but it’s more than acceptable.
The thriller is brilliantly action packed, seductive and detailed. And yes, JHC has a nose for titles. A Coffin from Hong Kong is straight from 1980s B-grade world.
What’s Not So Good:
The sleazy, semi moral protagonists: you either love them or you hate them. Aren’t they pulpy? The soft porn cover reinforces the feel. But then, isn’t that the point?
Faint trace of racism. Grrrrrrr ….
Should you read or skip it
This was the very first JHC thriller I read so my review could be a bit biased. But personal feelings aside, along with No Orchids for Miss Blandish, this is a first rate thriller from Mr Chase. Is it a timeless noir classic like Maltese Falcon? Definitely not. But it holds you like a magnet and leaves a considerably long lasting impression, which is so deliciously satisfying. Highly recommended.
Download PDF: A Coffin from Hong Kong by James Hadley Chase
Cover art: Panther Books, April 1964