Chase, Gardner & L’amour

I am not so sure that children and teenagers read so much these days, can’t blame them though, with so much of TV and outside activities, where is the time? Not only that, the amount of studying they have to do to keep on top of things is making their life, unfortunately hectic.

But well, it was quite a difference some 20-25 years ago when we were teenagers, there was hardly anything on TV, in fact TV was not really available in Kerala until the early 1980’s. All we had to pass time (roaming around or outdoor games) other than radio were books, be it during a train or bus journey or while grounded at home. For some, like my friend Venu and me, reading was a passion. We read all kinds of stuff, magazines, novels; newspapers and a visit to the college library or the British council (which provided free membership at TVM) provided tons of material.

There were the all kinds of reads – like thrillers on one hand and heavy stuff on the other. I was more inclined towards the faster reads. Only when mood really permitted did I go for the real heavy philosophical books, but there were some like my friend KP who read Camus, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Tolstoy, Sholokhov and the such, not for me though. I never followed all that. As years passed; it became authors like RK Narayan, Erich Segal, Harold Robbins, Ian Fleming, Irving Wallace, Henry Denker, Arthur Hailey, Ayn Rand etc. Then I moved on to Ken Follett, J Archer, Forsyth, Grisham, Nelson DeMille…Now & then a new author found his/her way to my hands and books like ‘Life of Pi’, ‘Curious incident….’ were revelations.

But for a train journey or a bus journey in the 70’s & 80’s, there were the ‘pocketbook thriller’ genre books by Erle Stanley Gardener, James Hadley Chase or Louis L’Amour, or for that matter even Conan Doyle. Man, did they make the trip so easy and short. From the start to the finish, these books just flew on by…Interestingly each of these authors produced a good number of novels- each (except Conan Doyle) wrote over a 100 novels.

These days, I check for Higginbothams and such shops at railway stations while in India or at airports, but I do not see many or any books by Chase, Gardener or L’amour anymore. Today, tastes have changed, like the times. And I feel sad, because they were great books, for the time-pass purpose, and I liked them. I know that many others loved them too and sales never really flagged those days. Even if we were not traveling, there was always a book lending library (10% cost of book = reading fee) which stocked many of them, like Balan’s at Annie hall road Calicut. But for me there was always the perfect library, Venu’s house, my best source for choice reading material. Some of the great books I read, were borrowed from his book shelf, sometimes his dad would give me a quick comment or two about the book – I remember him, PM Warrier the snow white haired jovial chap with a mouthful of ‘paan’ and a cheery smile on his face. As we chatted, Venu’s mom would serve us a nice cup of strong coffee…and later I would take the bus back home to Kazhakootam, with my eyes already buried amongst the musty pages, taking in the hero and the heroine and their actions, wondering about places like New York, Los Angeles, Florida…..where most of the stories were based or sometimes, the wild Texan west as in the case of L’armor stories…

Erle Stanley Gardner – I talked about him in one of my previous
blogs, he used to live close to where I live now, churning his legal mysteries – earning him the title of fastest successful writer – His books were about a dynamic criminal lawyer Perry Mason, who solved complex cases together with his secretary Della Street and his private dick (slang for detective) Paul Drake. It was from those books, that I learned a little about the legal process & legal mysteries, which Grisham lords over, today …Curiously, ESG did have a Della Street type secretary (Agnes), whom he married much later in his life, actually he had three secretaries to whom he dictated all the time as he came up with a gunfire rapid & tireless output, sleeping just 3 hours daily. He wrote about 80 Perry Mason novels, I think I would have read most. In the 50’s PM books sold at the rate of 20,000 a day,and never did those books go out of print! He completed early novelettes in roughly three days & the first Mason novel sold over 29 million copies…

Louis L’amour - Now, this was a guy who wrote frontier fiction – western novels as they called it, all about fearless cowboys and the Wild West. Well, believe it or not, he started as a poet. I still remember his ‘Sackett’ series, pretty good Western thrillers, and his research was always solid, they say he kept in his library, details of exploits of over 2,000 gunfighters of the Wild West, the basis of all his books. During his years, he had tough competition from Max Brand and Zane Gray, who wrote similar genre and LL kept pace, writing five pages a day. Many criticized his books for following (somewhat like our Bollywood movies) a standard pattern - After the familiar character development, his heroes are righteous but violent, women proud and beautiful, and villains are killed at the end.

And there was
James Hadley Chase – Man O man, what a writer he was, just the right dose of mystery, sex and suspense. Only recently did I know he was a Brit, son of a colonel who served in the Indian army. Now, here goes, this chap even studied about Hydrophobia (his dad was the principal of the Bengal Veterinary College) in Calcutta! For a guy who never lived in the US, save a couple of trips, his books were all set in the USA and were so very precise in detail about places in America. He has a large fan following (this fan has a running blog on Chase). I remember & loved his Mark Girland series, Girland being a CIA operative in those books. And I remember his ‘No Orchids for Miss Blandish’, wow! That was one book. His best known phrase – That is the way the cookie crumbles.

There is one more
series that I should mention – all of them featuring the secret agent Nick Carter (a watered down version of 007 James Bond). None of those books listed an author’s name, but the early ones were written by Michael Avallone, Thomas Harbaugh & even a lady, Valerie Moolman. These books were perfect for the teenager on a testosterone high, in those days…

The thrill of holding such musty yellow pages, seated amidst sweaty passengers in a train or bus, oblivious to the hustle and bustle around, laboriously and breathlessly tracing the path of the righteous hero, till he emerges victorious – and later, looking forward to the next book by the same author, is long gone…

Pics - from the web, thanks to the owners....


Maddy, man, you should change your blog name to "Milk of Nostalgia" or something. :) It's unbelievable how you manage to come up with these posts that bring back so many memories.

I remember reading Chase as a kid. Only a few though, because I was about 10 at the time, and my older siblings would snatch it away saying I was too young for it. Remember the Russian spy Malik? I must confess that I tried reading a Chase book a couple of years ago, and couldn't go past the first few pages. :-)

Perry Mason also brought back some memories.

Being able to read on buses is a gift, wish I had it.
harimohan said…
i agree with the first comment ,you are the king of nostalgia and once again made me go back to my childhood of which i spent more in musty libraries rather than in football fields
( swami vivekananda would have frowned ),madras in those days had plenty of choice for me from vivekanada library ,british council ,russian cultalral centre and USIS not forgeting the many lending libraries round the corner ,and in parappanangadi on holidays i used to lug old copies of illustrated weeklies stacked roof high in my aunties house to devour in 2 days and return for more ,
the archetypical bookworm but i dont regret it as books are my first love ,
sorry for the that long diatribe almost a blogpost .got carried away .
Happy Kitten said…
I think u missed Harrold Robbins.. too steamy?

yes..Nostalgic is the word for ur posts..

I m sure u have a great library at ur place too..

why dont u post a snap?
kallu said…
You've evoked an old world. The pictures really complete the memory of those little, yellowed, fragile books. What excitement it was to have an unread one in your hands.
Very informative too Maddy, about the authors.
But 'Chase' used to be such a bad word till Robbins came along. By today's standards, very light stuff.:-)
Naveen said…
u r dead right about the youngsters not taking to reading these days ... i haven't read half the authors you have listed ...but definitely have taken notes from your blog ... may be i'll get into full time reading after early retirement .... a lot of catching up to do .. :)
Maddy said…
Hi BPSK. Ok maybe I will lay off nostalgia for a while...yup - I recall malik, but like you said reading them now may not evoke the same feelings!

thanks hari, yes HK, i missed out HR altogether, absolutely not. His 79 PA, Carpetbaggers etc were classics. hey why dont you join shelfari, you can see our library content..

thanks kallu - yup those yellow musty it is difficult, i start sneezing.

naveen - go for it. but i am not sure this kind of stuff is best for retirement.
Ms Cris said…
These authors are still there in the lending library I go to. Chase, L’amour and Gardner. 10% of the cost like you say. Place called Eloor lending library. Its in Trivandrum. I dont have any way to guess how far Tvm is to you though :D

I actually didnt like Chase and Perry Mason when I tried them once and couldnt even enjoy Conan Doyle. Havent you tried Agatha Christie? You wouldnt drop the book for a second till you reach the last page :-)
Maddy said…
Chris - I wonder why you do not like the three, but well, tastes differ.

Agatha C is fablous of course. i have read many of her books and the hercule poirot series is my favorite..
Sram said…
Hey Maddy ole' chap ! As your nickname suggests are mad enough I gather & wish to assure you that I am 'madder' than you I guess when it comes to Western novels. You mention L'amour , Max Brand & Zane Grey...Would like to add few more authors like JT Edson & of course not to forget OLIVER STRANGE ...SUDDEN...JAMES GREEN...LEAN,DARK ,SATURNINE...FASTEST as his name suggested with 'NIGGER the Black cuss' for company '......How could any one miss SUDDEN !!! Happy Reading, hombre' !!!!!
Sram said…
Hey Maddy ole' chap.......would like to add some more legendary authors of Western novels...which I love reading at any given time !!!! JT Edson...& The one & only Sudden.....By Oliver Strange.....Argue...blly..the Fastest man with Six-shooters.....Dark, Slim hipped, Broad Shouldered, saturnine, with a cigarette dangling from his lips ...rode that Black cuss..Nigga'........woooo.......ohhh.!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous said…
sudden was my hero too