Knock! Knock! Who’s There?
by Devarsi Ghosh
This was my first James Hadley Chase book. I got it for 30 bucks from a second-hand book store in Free School Street (now Mirza Ghalib Street). I got to know about the place just a week ago and it has the most oddball collection of books I’ve ever seen anywhere, in any book shop. There’s actual Russian Dostoyevsky, there’s Philip K Dick, there’s a bunch of cheap pulp paperbacks by writers I have never heard of. There was even a 1st Edition copy of Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’. Anyway I got this book for two reasons – 1. I was looking to buy a really cheap but good book. Didn’t have much cash but couldn’t really resist going into the place and walking out with something and 2. I got fascinated by ‘James Hadley Chase’ when I saw the protagonist reading a Chase book in Johnny Gaddar. Apparently, the 2007 pop culture pastiche was an homage to cheap pulp crime novellas like Chase’s books (among other things like Johnny Mera Naam and R.D Burman).
So the book. I won’t say it was gripping. Particularly because the characters were all one-note. They were all caricatures whose only job was to do exactly the things that were needed for the plot to progress and the story to reach its predestined conclusion. They didn’t seem to have a mind of their own and whatever personality they had were just means to an end. But I guess that’s how this kind of books are.
But from what I read about Chase and his style of work from Wikipedia, Knock Knock! pretty much matches the description of a typical Chase tale.
“In several of Chase’s stories, the protagonist tries to get rich by committing a crime” – check.
“But the scheme invariably fails” – check “and leads to a murder” – check “and finally to a cul-de-sac, in which the hero realizes that he never had a chance to keep out of trouble.” – check.
“and the final denouement echoes the title.” – Check! And while reading this part, I was mentally grinning to myself wondering how exactly the man wrote his stories. He clearly thought of the title first and then cooked up a really steady plot that would inevitably reach the conclusion he had in mind, the conclusion which inspired the title of the story – or to be precise, it was the title that inspired the story. Wikipedia also says his books were misogynist which was a big reason the American market didn’t warm up to him. Well, I have no reason to argue. The women in this book are horny and only want to fuck. Each of the male characters, at least once, refer to them as ‘whores’. They are pushed about, threatened, slapped, insulted, even raped (of course, she likes it and praises her rapist for being ‘all man’) – you get the idea. But in spite of the one-note characters and the clichés, I really did have a fun time reading it. I am looking forward to reading some more Chase books.
Oh and I was pleasantly amused by how admirable an homage Johnny Gaddar is to Chase. If you have seen the film, you will know how its story matches Chase’s style to the tee.