Wednesday, August 10, 2022

A bibliophile goes a-shopping, by Ibrahim Sheme

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This afternoon, my bibliophilic instinct (combined with nostalgia) drove me to do something extraordinary that I used to do way back in my secondary school days in the 1980s: I went out deliberately to buy books written by the popular British crime writer James Hadley Chase (1906-1985). I had been enamoured of this author when I first bought and read his novel ‘No Orchids for Miss Blandish’ (published in 1948) which, incidentally, also happened to be the first book that he wrote. Eventually, I went ahead to read most of his 90 books. For years, I had kept the Chase books I consumed until, one by one, they disappeared from my clogged bookshelf.

Today, I went to my popular bookshop in Abuja, The Booksellers, in Garki, and bought the six titles that were available on the shelf. Let me tell you about them.

1. ‘You’re Lonely When You Are Dead’
(First published: 1949)

This is the first of three Vic Malloy novels that Chase published. Set in fictional “Orchid City,” which Chase places on the Southern California coast, but near “Coral Gables,” a deep water port with rough neighbourhoods.

2. ‘The Vulture is a Patient Bird’
(First published: 1969)

The blurb says: “A brilliant but sadistic safe-breaker; a beautiful seductress; an expert young hunter and an ace pilot with a shady past – this is the team that undercover operator Armo Shalik assembles to steal the priceless Borgia ring from millionaire Max Kahlenberg’s closely guarded fortress in the remote and deadly African bush.”

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3. ‘Figure It Out Yourself’
(First published: 1950)

The second of the three Vic Malloy novels, its blurb says: “From the moment Lee Dedrick, husband of the fourth richest woman in the world, disappears, believed kidnapped, Vic Malloy is snarled up in a vicious vortex of murder, glamorous women and violent non-stop action.”

4. ‘This Way for a Shroud’
(First published: 1953)

The blurb says: “MISS ARNOT IS IN THE SWIMMING POOL, MINUS HER HEAD… The brutal murder of June Arnot, famous screen actress, and the massacre of all her servants is just the curtain raiser to this chill-a-page novel.

“The D.A. suspects that June Arnot was the mistress of Jack Maurer, boss of a billion dollars’ worth of rackets. For fifteen years he has been trying to bring Maurer to trial. Is this the opportunity he has been waiting for? His case depends on one terrified and unwilling eye-witness, but can she survive Maurer’s vengeance and be persuaded to talk…?”

5. ‘Have This One On Me’
(First published: 1967)

This is the third book in the Mark Girland trilogy, so I’ve got all the Girland themed books!

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The blurb says: “Mark Girland, good-for-nothing secret agent with a distinct weakness for money and women, finds himself in Prague for his latest adventure. Events in the Communist country prove all too much for Girland as he comes face to face with a sinister world of deception, fraud and corruption. The result is another gripping thriller from the James Hadley Chase Library.”

6. ‘Goldfish have no Hiding Place’
First published: 1974)

The blurb says: “Steve Manson’s magazine dealt in corruption: he attacked the rich, the powerful and the famous – and he made enemies. In a job like that, you couldn’t afford to have dirty secrets of your own. With the whole town itching for you to make a slip, it was like living in a goldfish bowl.”

Take note that these Chase titles were re-issued by a Nigerian company, Goodbooks Africa, based in Ibadan, in 2010. Not pirated, though. I guess that explains the less provocative photos of (Nigerian instead of white) girls on the covers.

Another thing worth noting is that, as I once wrote, Chase had never visited America in his life in spite of the America-tinged themes of most of his books. He reportedly “relied on books and movies for his knowledge about America, and some times it showed”, one writer said.

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Finally, I should add that I bought two other books today. One is ‘The Golden Gate’ by the multiple award-winning author Vikram Seth. Having read his second novel, ‘A Suitable Boy’ since 1993 when I was a student in the U.K. (the year it was published), I was delighted to see his first novel (published in 1986) today. ‘A Suitable Boy’, a lovely epic, had set the tone for me to love Seth’s books. Now I look forward to seeing the several others that he authored. ‘The Golden Gate’, which Gore Vidal described as “The greal Californian novel”, promises to be as delectable as ‘A Suitable Boy’.

The other book I bought today is ‘My Life as an Almajiri’, a made-for-kids, illustrated novel by Hadiza Mohammed, a children’s writer based in Abuja. The blurb says the story is about a boy, Rabiu, who “goes to Almajiri school for the first time” (and) “is excited because his school is a path to paradise”.

I once wrote a ‘commissioned’ short story in Hausa about an almajiri myself, some eighteen years ago in 2003. It is a subject in which I am deeply interested, so I look forward to enjoying this book by Hadiza (published in 2016).

Mr Sheme wrote from Abuja.


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