Friday, 20 March 2015

No Orchids for Miss Blandish by James Hadley Chase, 1939

Another week, another review for my “First Novels” challenge and for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

Like The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933), the first novel by Erle Stanley Gardner I reviewed last Friday, No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1939), the first novel by James Hadley Chase does not require a full-scale review. Most readers, and especially fans of crime and mystery, have read both these hardboiled novels featuring some very hardnosed characters of mid-20th century noir fiction. Both these novels set a trend in terms of characterisation and plotting, for a lot of crime fiction that followed.

I can’t help thinking that both Gardner and Chase wrote their first novels as something of an experiment and in spite of much success and acclaim, they changed tack—Gardner, in his characterisation of Perry Mason from a gruff and tough lawyer-detective to a suave and smart attorney, and Chase, by toning down the vileness and violence in his stories. Either way, it worked for both the authors.

In No Orchids for Miss Blandish, also known as The Villain and the Virgin, Chase takes the immoral high ground in his stark and brutal depiction of a high-profile kidnapping and the villainous characters behind it. The abductors of the beautiful and diamond studded Miss Blandish, the daughter of a Kansas City millionaire, are both small-time thugs and big-time gangsters, although she spends months of drugged existence in captivity of the latter, namely the Grisson gang led by the fat and repulsive Ma Grisson and her knife-wielding psychopathic son, Slim, who takes a wicked shine to the girl.

Unlike in The Case of the Velvet Claws where Perry Mason is around to fight for his client, Eva Belter, there are no heroes for Miss Blandish in this novel; at least not until much later when her father, John Blandish, frustrated by the failures of the local police and the FBI, hires underworld reporter turned private investigator, Dave Fenner, to look for his daughter. Dave is tough and street smart but he’s just a good guy who knows the gangsters inside-out. His investigation finally leads him to the nefarious gang and the horrible truth behind the girl’s abduction.

As you read through Chase’s gritty and fast-paced narrative, you can’t help agreeing with John Blandish, that his drugged and deflowered girl, even if found alive and rescued, is better off dead.

There are no major characters in this story. There are only a handful of bad guys and good guys whose fate, one way or other, revolves around the one person who says and does the least—Miss Blandish herself. This gripping novel has an imaginative plot, plenty of drama, and some clever writing by James Hadley Chase.


Recommended


Note: J. Kingston and Keishon have posted excellent reviews of No Orchids for Miss Blandish over at their blogs Rap Sheet and Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog, respectively.

20 comments:

  1. I've read plenty of James Hadley Chase crime novels. NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH is his most famous book, but there are plenty of JHC books worth reading.

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    1. George, I'm confident of having read nearly every James Hadley Chase in my teens. I remember my first JHC novel was A CAN OF WORMS.

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  2. I can see I'm well behind on my noir history.

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    1. Charles, I'm not familiar with noir history; I have only managed to read a few hardboiled novels.

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  3. When I re-read it recently I found it pretty compelling in its sordid way. It's not a fun read (especially in the original, uncut version published in 1939) but I think powerful and thought-provoking.

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    1. Sergio, I don't know which version I read but the one I did was gritty and "pretty compelling" too, almost to the point of making you squirm in your seat.

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  4. Not for me, Prashant. Just the sort of thing I cannot read anymore if I ever did. :) But thanks for your review. It's always interesting to find out what everyone out there is reading.

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    1. Yvette, I understand. I read all sorts of books and mostly without method or consistency in terms of authors and genres.

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  5. Of the two, Gardner and Chase, I easily prefer Gardner.

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    1. Richard, I agree with you. With Gardner, you knew where you stood or what to expect. With Chase, it was anything. I don't think he had a common protagonist in any of his novels.

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  6. This is one I need to read, but not sure I will enjoy. Very interesting post, Prashant.

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    1. Tracy, thank you. I think you should give it a try. I think you might have read grittier stuff than this.

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  7. Not tried it yet, but I will some day - its in the tubs!

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    1. Col, you'll read it one day and review it the next! I hope you do. I'd like to know what you think of it.

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  8. I read this years ago, and found it depressing and off-putting. So I probably will leave it at that....

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    1. Moira, it can be "depressing" and "off-putting" though most of Chase's subsequent novels are not as hardboiled as this one is, at least I don't think they are.

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  9. I like both authors, but I've read more Gardner.

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    1. Oscar, I'm with you and Richard about Gardner. He was better of the two.

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  10. Sordid, depressing, off-putting, offensive - Chase's work would embody all of those things but still, it's his storytelling skills that keeps me reading him. Thanks for the link Prashant.

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    1. Keishon, you're welcome. I enjoyed your review. I read and reread Chase for the same reason you mentioned—his storytelling skills. I particularly liked his novels where a cop was the lead character.

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