FORGOTTEN CRIME: ONE BRIGHT SUMMER MORNING By James Hadley Chase
James Hadley Chase (pseudonym of Rene Lodge Brabazon Raymond) was a British crime and thriller writer probably best known for his tough, fast paced novels that initially tried to imitate American gangster novels. During a career that spanned forty five years from 1939 to 1984, and nearly 90 novels, Chase covered a variety of styles and had several recurring central characters, including California private eye Vic Malloy and free lance, Paris-based, CIA agent Mark Girland.
I tend to prefer Chase’s international thrillers, such as the Mark Girland books and Believed Violent, over his crime novels, which could be a bit derivative. Nevertheless, I recently acquired a tatty copy of One Bright Summer Morning and thought I would give it a go.
First published in 1963, One Bright Summer Morning is essentially a tough crime novel about kidnapping and murder. The set-up is pretty straight forward. Successful dramatist Victor Dermott rents an isolated ranch-house in the Nevada Desert for himself, and his wife and young baby, as an escape so that he can finish a play that he is working on. All is going fine, until he wakes one morning to find their servant gone, his dog and guns missing and the telephone line cut. The story then flashes back three months to a retired gangster, Big Jim Kramer, who suddenly discovers that he has been ripped off by his now dead accountant and is flat broke. In desperation he cooks up an elaborate kidnapping scheme involving the daughter of billionaire, a motley collection of cheap crooks and the unlucky Victor Dermott. It is a well thought out scheme, but in typical 1960s crime fiction fashion things start going wrong from the beginning, and bloodshed and betrayal follows.
Things That I Liked: the pacing is brisk and there is a real gritty feel to the story. The characters are thinly sketched, but they are an interesting assortment and the various relationships build to a crescendo of violence in the final chapters. Very early on you get a good sense of where the story is going, but the journey there is interesting, and surprising at times
Things That I Did Not Like: Chase could be a lazy plotter, and coincidence unnecessarily plays a big part in the unfolding of the plot, especially around the early involvement of the FBI. Also, like a lot of male crime writers from the period, Chase was not always very good at portraying female characters, who often behave in unlikely and cliched ways.
Things That Surprised Me: After reading a lot of contemporary suspense novels, it is sometimes surprising to go back and realise how gritty early 1960s crime books could be. There are very few, if any, light moments in the story and the violence is brutal at times. Interestingly, two of the principal crooks are a brother and sister, and Chase makes it clear that their relationship is incestuous at times, which seemed a bit risqué for the early 1960s to me.
Overall: I really enjoyed it. It is a good, quick read, that happily filled in a few hours. After a lot of bloated contemporary crime novels with pages of angst and relationship problems, it is nice to read a sharp, straight to the point, crime novel. Of course, like most 1960s crime novels, the language and the attitudes are very much of their time and need to be read in that context.
Covers: Chase’s novels were regularly reprinted and enjoyed a variety of covers. From the late 1960s onwards, publishers tended to prefer photographic covers featuring semi-naked or bikini clad girls in poses which had little relevance to the story. I read a slightly more worn version of the book above, which had a pretty standard photographic cover for a 1970s Chase novel. The earlier Panther covers were much more interesting and often featured disconcerting close-ups and bleeding inanimate objects. The one for One Bright Summer Morning, which I don’t have, featured a blood soaked bicycle chain on the cover, which was attention grabbing to say the least!
I am planning on doing quick capsule reviews of old crime and thriller titles on a weekly basis. One Bright Summer Morning is the first, and I am thinking of doing Owen Sela’s The Bengali Inheritance next week.
Here are some links to earlier articles on James Hadley Chase books and covers: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/trashy-tuesday-james-hadley-chase-the-panther-covers/