Monday, 12 August 2013

The Vulture is a Patient Bird by James Hadley Chase (1969)

He married because he wanted a son to carry on his name. He got his son: Max Kahlenberg. There was a real mystery about the birth. No one except the doctor and the nurse saw the baby. There was a rumour it was a freak...some even said it was a monster.

A replica of my copy of the book
The vulture is a patient bird. It does not kill its prey. It waits for another predator to kill and then swoops down on what is left of the carcass.

Max Kahlenberg is the vulture in Chase’s forty-sixth thriller. He is rich, reclusive, unscrupulous, crazy, and a compulsive art thief. He has a network of thieves who steal the finest art works from the world’s greatest museums including the Vatican. His ill-gotten treasures are stored in his secret underground museum in the hostile Drakensberg mountains in South Africa. He lives above the museum, in a sprawling mansion surrounded by 100 square miles of jungle and guarded by Zulu warriors.

The wheelchair-bound Kahlenberg has another secret that no one knows: a grotesque deformity below the waist that compels him to live by the remote from the time he wakes up in the morning.

The human vulture waits patiently for the three men and a woman who are on a secret mission to his house to retrieve a famous poison ring he stole from a rival collector.

The only thing common between the three men is that they have served a number of years in prison.

Garry Edwards is clearly the main hero. He is a tall and powerfully-built 29-year old helicopter pilot and car expert, currently out of work.

Kennedy Jones is a safari and wildlife expert from Johannesburg. Like Garry, he is a rather nice fellow with straggly moustache, long sideboards, and a pleasing smile.


Lew Fennel is the most vicious of all. He is short and heavily built like Rod Steiger with white hair, grey shifty eyes, and thin lips. An expert safe-breaker, Fennel is notorious for robbery, violence and unpremeditated murder, currently on the run from an underworld leader he betrayed.

The woman is Gaye Desmond, a sensuous and beautiful American freelance model employed by Armo Shalik to carry out secret operations. She is the Trojan horse.

The four ‘agents’ have been hired by Shalik to steal the ring from Kahlenberg. Of Armenian or Egyptian descent, he is a small, fat man with chubby hands and beady eyes, who undertakes difficult assignments for the high and mighty—from corporate barons to Arabian princes, art collectors to Texas oil millionaires, and shipping tycoons to powerful industrialists.

James Hadley Chase
The secret ‘operatives’ don’t know that Kahlenberg is expecting them with Hindenberg, his fully-grown cheetah, and the fierce Zulu warriors by his side. Nor do they know that he has a distorted sense of humour and has planned a little game for the thieving quartet.

The Vulture is a Patient Bird is not exactly a crime story that most Chase novels are famous for. Rather, the plot is a red herring in the mould of a Frederick Forsyth story. However, the story is unconvincing as the experienced combine of Garry, Jones, Fennel, and Gaye walk into a trap they ought to have suspected from the start. The suspense is tame and the style not as absorbing as some of Chase’s other novels.

There is a fair amount of humour, mainly due to the lighthearted Jones, and some tense moments as the wicked Fennel lusts after Gaye who in turn lusts after Garry, handsome in a rugged way. But that’s about as much sex as you’ll find in a Chase book notwithstanding the semi-nude women on the covers in particular editions of his novels.


Chase’s characters are usually not as intense or powerful as you might find in, say, a Mickey Spillane or Dashiell Hammett hardboiled novel. They’re often ordinary people leading ordinary lives, the kind you might find in a Harold Robbins pulp novel. The narrative is simple and the plot unsophisticated. A Chase novel is entertaining and can be read in less than two hours.

Born René Lodge Brabazon Raymond, English writer James Hadley Chase was a bestselling author, especially in Third World countries like India, from the 1960s through 1980s. In fact, he was the son of a colonel, a veterinary surgeon, in the colonial Indian Army. I read all his novels in college. Many of these had cops as main characters and the line “I gave him my cop look” was made famous by Chase. He was a prolific writer churning out a novel a year, sometimes two in a year.

You might want to read this book only if you’re a James Hadley Chase fan.

11 comments:

  1. Prashant probably one I will pass on. I have a couple of his books which I haven't yet read - No Orchids - being one of them, but I don't think I will read more than that. Thanks,

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    1. Col, you're welcome. One can skip this book and miss nothing. NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH and A CAN OF WORMS were the first two Chase novels I read. I remember this much though I don't remember the stories. In fact, Chase doesn't stay with one for long.

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  2. Really enjoyed this review Prashant because I was just thinking of re-reading some of the Chase books. I read several in my teens, including this one I think, but it's been a good 20 years since I tried again. I had no idea he was so popular in India though I knew he was appreciated alot more in France than he was in the UK (well, critics were very sniffy about potboilers in the American mould being writing by a brit I suppose and it didn't help that he got caught plagiarising Raymond Chandler not once but twice!). You made this sound a lot better than i remember it chum - thanks!

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    1. Sergio, thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm usually flattering about the books I read or the films I watch and it might help to take the anti view more often than I do. This one is below average. I hadn't read JHC in years either and I'm not sure I'll pick another one soon. I used to like them in my teens though they no longer hold up as well now. Chase and Gardner were extremely popular in India and a lot of people from grandparents downward read their books, which are now being badly reprinted. I didn't know he was caught for plagiarising Raymond Chandler—that is news to me and I wonder why he did that.

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    2. Gardner? John Gardner.....I have his Boysie Oakes books to look forward to,

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    3. Col, I was referring to Erle Stanley Gardner. I should have been more specific. I'm glad you mentioned John Gardner, the British spy author, as I'd completely forgotten about him. I have read only two of his books, THE SECRET GENERATIONS and one of the MORIARTY novels. I'm not familiar with the BOYSIE OAKES books but I'll look them up— thanks.

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  3. Interesting and detailed review, Prashant. I, too, have been thinking of reading James Hadley Chase, but have none of his books at this time. I am glad to get your opinion of this one. Nice title and cover. The comments on John Gardner are interesting, also. I have read one book in a recent series set in World War II in London. the first one is Bottled Spider. I am also interested in trying the Boysie Oakes series someday.

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    1. Thank you, Tracy. The review turned out longer than I expected. Half this length should have sufficed. Chase has a way of telling stories but after a while they sound predictable. I no longer find his novels as gripping as I did in my teens, a period when one is easily impressed, and his characters, in spite of being thieves, murderers, gamblers, and charlatans, are mild. I'm glad Col mentioned John Gardner for I hope to read some of his war and spy related fiction.

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  4. Really One of the Great Chase Stories.I rate this One (Vulture is a patient Bird) along with mallory,Tiger by the Tail, Safer Dead, You find him, I'll fix him and The Guilty are Afraid as some of the Great Chase novels brimming with Suspense , thrills and excitement. No wonder he is often called as "The Master of deception"

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    1. Aroon, thanks for visiting and writing. I read a lot of Chase novels in college though I don't remember which ones were better. This story is almost similar to Richard Connell's classic short story THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME which spawned many spin-offs.

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  5. i am also a big fan ofJames Hadley Chase . i read a few novel but want to read more. can you suggest me where to get them ?
    rajneesh

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