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Book Review: A Coffin from Hong Kong by James Hadley Chase

Book Review: A Coffin from Hong Kong by James Hadley Chase

“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.

The Story:

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.

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Cover art: Panther Books, April 1964 Continue reading

Reviews / Thriller / Crime Fiction

Book Review: Solomon’s Vineyard by Jonathan Latimer


Jonathan Latimer’s Solomon's Vineyard

Genre: Crime/Hardboiled/Detective Fiction

Did you think Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest was the most shocking piece of crime fiction you ever read? Try Jonathan Latimer’s Solomon’s Vineyard. Horrific animalistic motives, gruesome events, creepy characters and unapologetic sex will smoke Hammett to ashes.

The Story

A noir tale. A classic example of hardboiled detective novel.

A private dick comes to town to rescue a wealthy heiress and avenge the death of his partner. He stumbles upon a cult group whose leader, long dead, seems to rule from his grave. Our dick fights a bloody war with a mob boss and crosses path with a femme fatale.

The Style

Latimer, quite clearly, is a no-nonsense writer. He gets down to business right away without wasting time. Graphic violence, ethnic slurs, moral ambivalence, booze and guns combine together to form something outrageously offensive. And for this very reason, the story becomes diabolically entertaining. Not for the faint-hearted.

Rating ****

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The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy

Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

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Reviews / Thriller / Crime Fiction

Book Review: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The maltese falcon Dashiell Hammett.

The Maltese Falcon, widely regarded as the mother of all noir novels, has been immortalized by the classic Humphrey Bogart flick. If you have seen the movie but haven’t read the book, you are missing more than you can imagine.

The Story

The Maltese Falcon features Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett’s self-serving San Francisco detective. When Sam’s partner is murdered, the cops put the blame on the detective. Things get super complicated when a gorgeous woman begs for Sam’s help, bad guys demand a payoff from Sam, and a mystery develops around a priceless gold statuette of a falcon.

The Style

The coolest thing about the book is Sam Spade himself. He talks, fights, and flirts with inimitable style. Hammett’s style is pretty much straight forward and without too much description. The focus is more on action; the story is high on murder, betrayal, and sex. The plot, as you may guess, is highly intelligent and intricate.

The Maltese Falcon is a solid proof of the fact that even pulp/crime fiction can be a classic. It stands the test of time and the plot makes as much sense today as it did in 1930. For most readers, The Maltese Falcon will be even more appealing than even Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Farewell, my Lovely.

Similar Books:

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Solomon’s Vineyard by Jonathan Latimer


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Opinion & Featured Articles / Reviews

Top 10 Spy Novels of All Time

vintage cover art

Are you a dedicated collector of espionage novels? If yes, check out the following list to make sure you haven’t missed the classics of the genre.

the spy who came in from the cold john le carreThe Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre (1963)

The Story of a British agent who is about to end his professional career, but is sent to one final assignment. While Ian Fleming pampers his hero with sultry seductresses, fast cars, and vodka martini, John Le Carre offers you believable characters and stories where spies act like spies.

From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming (1957)from russia with love ian fleming

Bond takes on Russia’s counter-intelligence agency SMERSH, who plots to kill the MI5 agent in the context of a carefully contrived scandal. The hugely successful 1963 film adaptation (starring Sean Connery) has turned this novel into a cult espionage book.

the secret agent joseph conradThe Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (1907)

Mr Verloc, a secret agent, gets involved in an anarchist conspiracy, but things go horribly wrong. The Secret Agent stands for everything that James Bond is not. Conrad makes a fine synthesis of politics, spying and moral anarchy to write an atypical spy classic that has multiple layers of meaning.

The 39 Steps by John Buchan (1915)the 39 steps john buchan

On the eve of WWI, Richard Hannay — a bored London guy — gets entangled in an intricate web of codes and homicide. Buchan piles improbability upon improbability and brings about nothing profound. Read simply because it’s a brilliant story, brilliantly told. Check out the classic Hitchcock film too.

dashiell hammett red harvestRed Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (1929)

More a hardboiled piece than a spy novel, Red Harvest tells the story of the Continental Op, who takes on an entire town to avenge the murder of an honest citizen. A gushing, violent masterpiece of crime fiction and the best Dashiell Hammett novel without question.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré (1974)tinker tailor soldier spy john le carre

George Smiley is assigned to identify and destroy a double agent in British Intelligence. A really tricky novel where office politics and international espionage are hardly distinguishable. It’s unlike anything you get to read in spy fiction. Watch the film version starring Gary Oldman.

the bourne identity robert ludlumBourne identity by Robert Ludlum (1980)

Jason Bourne wakes up to find that his memory is gone. Why someone wants him dead? What are his secrets? Who is he? A great dose of adventure, action, and conspiracy with some surprising twists. The film adaptation, though pretty good, differs from the book.

The Man Who was Thursday By G.K. Chesterton (1908)the man who was thursday gk chesterton

This classic spy story is about a detective who infiltrates a group of anarchists. The Man Who was Thursday is part mystery, part philosophy, and part fantasy. This is an allegorical tale, which needs multiple reading. Recommended for readers with a taste for thought-provoking books.

impossible virgin peter o donnellThe Impossible Virgin, Peter O’Donnell (1971)

Modesty and her lieutenant, Willie Garvin take on Brunel — the savage killer — in Central Africa and fight for the secret of the Impossible Virgin, a key to enormous wealth. Incorrect political attitudes, quirky characters, and lots of hand-to-hand combat make this action-adventure novel too much fun.

Guns of Navarone, Alistair MacLean (1963)the guns of navarone Alistair maclean

Five men sent to silence the Guns of Navarone. Can they do what an entire navy could not? A tense WWII thriller that was made into an equally good movie starring Gregory Peck. Detailed military strategies and plot twists will keep you guessing till the end.

What’s your favourite spy thriller? Continue reading

Reviews / Thriller / Crime Fiction

Book Review: The Omnibus of Crime by Dorothy L. Sayers (Editor)

A memorable trip for readers of the crime/mystery genre. Not all mysteries are human though; there are horror elements as well. You should be mildly ecstatic about this book because you don’t get to read stories like this anymore. More importantly, The Omnibus of Crime comes from our favorite editor Dorothy L. Sayers — an authority on detective fiction. I’d happily sell my new ipad to attend a lecture on detective stories by Mrs. Sayers.

The most attractive part of this epic collection is the Introduction itself. Sayers correctly says that The Omnibus of Crime has a little bit of everything in it. The stories mainly range between 1800s and 1920s (there is one Scottish legend as well), and they give you a bird’s-eye view of the subject. And I agree with Sayers when she writes “Every tale in this book is guaranteed to have puzzled or horrified somebody; with any luck at all, some of them may puzzle and horrify you.” Unfortunately, the collection doesn’t have a story by Sayers, who was quite a writer herself.

The Omnibus of Crime is replete with fascinating old tales; you’ll find haunted stamp albums, a professor being hunted by the last of the Furies, voyage to Mars and lots more. If this doesn’t sound appealing, it’s probably not for you.

Contents: Continue reading