You Never Know with Women by James Hadley Chase. 1949. French title: Garces de femmes.
Close your eyes and imagine. Azure blue sky. Air 30°C (86°F). Sapphire blue sea at 28°C (82°F). Since I’ve changed from my business suit to my swimsuit, the only thing I’ve been working on is my tan. The only bottom line I’ve worried about is the net result of the above mentioned swimsuit and tan. *contented sigh* Is there any better moment to read a good James Hadley Chase?
Floyd Jackson just decided to quit his job as a PI in San Luis Beach, California. He’s run out of money; the Lieutenant of the Police Redfern wants him in jail. Floyd is both a PI and a crook. He’s been involved in blackmail in another state and Redfern knows it. Floyd is about to drink goodbye to his office when a man shows up to propose him a job. His name is Gorman and he’s an agent who sells the services of strippers to moneybags for their private parties. One of his girls, Veda Rux was at Linsday Brett’s house the night before. During the party, Brett showed off an antique Cellini dagger, so precious it is kept in a safe. Gorman relates that Veda Rux walked in her sleep, opened the safe, took the dagger but left her compact in the safe. Gorman wants to return the dagger and have the compact back but he doesn’t want to involve the police. He proposes one thousand dollars to Floyd to do the job: enter Brett’s house, open the safe and make the exchange. Floyd sniffs that Gorman’s story is phony but he needs the cash too badly to be picky.
Of course, the job isn’t as simple as it seemed and when Floyd accidentally meets Veda Rux in Gorman’s garden while preparing for the job, her big blue eyes fry his brains and after a searing kiss, his decision making process crashes. Veda Rux is living trouble and Floyd heads there straight on. I won’t tell more about the plot. You’ll find the usual femme fatale, gunshots, punches, whiskey, gambling joints, rotten policemen, millionaires, powerful friends and a well-knitted intrigue.
Floyd narrates the whole story and we know things didn’t turn right for him. When he starts his story, he presents himself as a loser and he’s disappointed with himself. As the plot unravels, he’s confronted to circumstances that push him to question his motives and his set of values. He discovers that his values are stronger than he imagined and that he’s not as disillusioned with life as he thought he was:
I drew a line at murder. Even if no one ever found out, and the betting was that they wouldn’t, I still had to live with myself and although I hadn’t been very fussy the way I had acted in the past, I was changing my ideas now. I was going to walk upstairs instead of down for a change, and see if I liked myself any better for doing it. I thought I should.
He hopes for a better future but can he escape from his past? Will Veda be his redemption or his fall?
You Never Know with Women is a classic of the genre and it was a great read. It’s lighter than No Orchids for Miss Blandish because Floyd is a more likeable character than Slim Grisson who is positively a sick vicious man. Floyd reminded me of the characters in Johnny Cash’s songs from the album At Folsom Prison. Weak men, making the impulsive wrong decisions for a woman or for money.
The title You Never Know With Women comes from Floyd’s assessment of women, which comes early in the book when he first meets Veda:
I’ve been around and I’ve known a lot of women in my time. They’ve given me a lot of fun and a lot of grief. Now women are funny animals. You never know where you are with them—they don’t often know where they are with themselves. It’s no good trying to find out what makes them tick. It just can’t be done. They have more moods than an army of cats have lives, and all you can hope for is to spot the mood you’re after when it turns up and step in quick. Hesitate, and you’re a dead duck, unless you’re one of those guys who likes a slow approach that might get you somewhere in a week or a month or even a year. But that’s not the way I like it. I like it quick and sudden: like a shot in the back.
I leave you with that piece of male philosophy about the other sex.