Dangerous Curves – Peter Cheyney

It’s three months since I last reviewed a crime book so definitely time for another one. In August 1949 Penguin Books published five of British writer’s Peter Cheyney crime books, of which I have four. This apparent keenness however clearly didn’t pay off as they don’t seem to have ever published any more of the at least forty more works by him and the five they did publish are long out of print. As I own four books but have never opened any of them it is definitely time to see what they are like and it turns out they chose across his styles, two books about American private detective Lemmy Caution, two about a London based private investigator named Slim Callaghan and one from what is known as his ‘Dark’ series which features various different lead characters. The first one I picked up was ‘Can Ladies Kill?’ one of the Lemmy Caution books but after around thirty pages I gave up on it. Caution is a cut price Philip Marlowe written in a poor version of ‘ American’ slang and consequently almost unreadable’

I like Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe stories and this was so obviously a bad knock-off that I almost gave up on Cheyney all together but decided to give him another chance and next on the shelf was ‘Dangerous Curves’ and this time it was a Slim Callaghan novel. Now Callaghan is still very much a Philip Marlowe character but transplanted into London so the terrible Americanish language of the Caution books is dropped, although women are habitually referred to as ‘dames’ and other Americanisms keep appearing. The change of language style makes it somewhat more a bearable read but despite his obvious popularity from the mid 1930’s until the 1950’s (Cheyney died in 1951 and his books largely died with him) Cheyney is not a great writer, being seemingly stuck in formulaic styles both in language and plots. I did however finish ‘Dangerous Curves’.

This time I stuck at it and was glad I did. Yes the characters are mainly ciphers based on the works of better writers but the plot was certainly original and had enough twists and turns to make the 256 pages it takes up worth reading. One thing that should be pointed out from the start though is the misogynistic nature of Cheyney’s writing. With the possible sole exception of Effe, Callaghan’s long suffering secretary and office receptionist, all the female characters are treated as dumb beings merely there for Callaghan to twist round his fingers and to do what he wants with. Effe does seem however to have some independence of character but even she is at Callaghans’ beck and call seemingly no matter what hour of day he needs her. The story line of ‘Dangerous Curves’ is quite complex and I’m not about to reveal it here but Callaghan definitely feels more like an American private investigator out of place in London but with all the contacts that you would expect to be in his home town. Who has been taking ‘The Mug’ for all his money and feeding him cocaine and heroin to keep him quiet whilst doing so? Eighty thousand pounds in the 1930’s was a huge sum to lose so no wonder The Mug’s father was interested in finding out, then all of a sudden The Mug (yes that is how he is referred to throughout the book) is found on a boat shot through the lung with the man who has been bleeding his bank balance dry dead at the desk opposite. What happened and why? And equally important when? These are the questions Callaghan needs to solve quickly and with enough proof to hand it over to Scotland Yard. As for the title of the book, the Dangerous Curves are those of The Mug’s young stepmother which so attract Callaghan that he also plans to bed her whilst sorting out the case. I told you Cheyney had a downer on his female characters…

Peter Cheyney has, mainly deservedly, been long out of print but in 2022 Dean Street Press published twenty four of his titles with 1940’s/50’s pulp paperback style covers. I can’t say I recommend them however, especially not the Lemmy Caution ones, there are far better crime writers than Cheyney and if you want the hard-boiled American detective just read the original and best, Raymond Chandler.


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