Created by James Hadley Chase
Pseudonym of Rene Brabazon Raymond
Other pseudonyms include Raymond Marshall, Ambrose Grant & James L. Dougherty
“Once, on a sultry June evening, Steve Harmas accidentally stops at the entrance to a luxurious Hollywood club, looking for an empty table, and just at that moment a tall man in a tuxedo flies out through the open door…”
— There’s Always a Price Tag
Yet another of James Hadley Chase’s seemingly endless stream of American-style hard-boiled detectives is, depending on the book, either a reporter or, more likely, an insurance investigator. Or he’s two different guys with the same name.
But it’s Chase, so just go with the flow. Consistency is not one of the author’s strong suits. Nor is knowledge of American law, culture, speech, customs or geography–although almost all of his books are set there.
A notable exception is No Business of Mine (1947, written by “Raymond Marshall”), which features tall, broad-shouldered STEVE HARMAS, a hard-rockin’ reporter for the New York Clarion, who actually travels to London, theoretically Chase’s home turf, hoping to rekindle a war-time romance that had blossomed a few years earlier when was based there as a foreign correspondent.
But he arrives too late–his inamorata had stuck her head in a gas oven just the day before (coincidence, I’m sure). Then her sister turns up dead as well, and we’re off to the races–a race full of blonde bimbos, brutal thugs, gangsters, Scotland Yard cops–both good and bad–and the usual suspects, all at full gallop. Not bad, as far as Chase goes. Maybe it’s the home game advantage.
But by the sequel, Double Shuffle (1952), we’re back in the U.S.A. (or at least Chase’s version of it), and Steve, without any explanation, is a “special” investigator for the mammoth National Fidelity Insurance Corporation. He’s the guy his boss, Maddux of the Claims Department, calls in when something looks a little hinky.
This being Chase, of course, they’re always hinky. And often kinky. There are babes, including a few strippers, stolen jewels, betrayals, safecrackers, trapeze artists, dirty secrets and, of course, lots and lots of insurance fraud.
Steve (and Maddux, as well as the rest of the National Fidelity gang, including Steve’s wife–who used to be Maddux’s secretary) returned in There’s Always a Price Tag (1956), Shock Treatment (1959), Tell It to the Birds (1963) and An Ear to the Ground (1968). Steve and Maddux aren’t always the stars of the show, although they do seem ro eventually make appearances.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Of course, British author Chase is best known for writing the notorious No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1942), a publishing sensation which sold over half a million copies in Great Britain alone, and may have kickstarted the whole post-war mushroom jungle. It may have been deemed vile and sick by some upon its release, but the British, then undergoing constant bombardment by the Nazis, lapped it up; a “phenomenon, George Orwell suggested, “brought about by the mingled boredom and brutality of war.”
It sure wasn’t authenticity they were getting, mind you. Almost all of his work was set in the U.S.A., although Chase himself only made two brief visits to that country, and then only relatively late in his career. Instead, he relied on atlases, encyclopedias and slang dictionaries, and some of the gaffes are true howlers. He also leaned heavily on other writers’ novels, and charges of plagiarism and lifting passages verbatim or almost verbatim from other writers dogged him throughout his career, eventually prompting Chase later in his career to publicly apologize to Raymond Chandler.
But if Steve Harmas isn’t enough Chase for you, the prolific author offered up a slew of other private eyes and the like, including Bart Anderson, Floyd Jackson, Vic Malloy, Ryan Nelson and Dirk Wallace.
- No Business of Mine (1947; by Raymond Marshall) | Buy this book
- The Double Shuffle (1952) | Buy this book
- There’s Always a Price Tag (1956) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Shock Treatment (1959) | Buy this book
- Tell It to the Birds (1963) | Buy this book
- An Ear to the Ground (1968) | Buy this book
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.