Once an international bestseller, his books made into films, now Cheyney doesn’t even appear in the Fantastic Fiction lists. I’d had Dark Bahama lying around for ages (probably 20p from the market) and at last picked it up to read. The first chapter, set in the Bahamas, put me right off. I feel so uncomfortable reading about ‘a coloured gentleman’, ‘the negro’ and so on. I thought I must find out more about this author and didn’t like what I found. In 1931 he joined Oswald Mosley’s New Party and was said to be good at fending off disruption at meetings. In other words, good in a scrap. He didn’t join the British Union of Fascists when it was formed the following year but had he changed his views or was he just too busy writing? He wrote at least two novels a year. Several of these were turned into films, mostly arty French ones starring Eddie Constantine. The artwork for these is amazing. You can see some on the website here.
Dark Bahama is apparently ‘a Johnny Vallon book’ and the last in the ‘Dark’ series. It was published in the US as I’ll Bring her Back. You can see more covers here. The second chapter is quite different from the first. We meet Johnny Vallon, who runs a detective agency. He’s already featured in several books which, of course, I’ve never read. He’s obviously tough, experienced and attractive to women. A beautiful woman visits him with a request for help to fetch a young woman home from Dark Bahama. Vallon hardly features after this. Instead we have a variety of agents, all working towards the same end but from different angles. Who can be trusted in this murky world?
The text reads like the script for a film noir; I could almost hear Fred MacMurray (Double Indemnity) reading it to me. Cheyney’s characters drink and smoke a great deal, like women and are rootless adventurers. I dislike characters who see themselves as outside the law; it’s one of my chief complaints about Dornford Yates. Yet I go on reading him because he was a good story teller. The same can be said for Cheyney, although I prefer Yates.
Here’s what Peter Quennel wrote for The Daily Mail, quoted on the back cover.
Heavens, what a craftsman! How adroitly he keeps a story going; how cleverly, like an experienced bar-tender, he slaps in and briskly shakes together all the right ingredients – sex, violence, mystery, laced, when the occasion serves, with an entertaining fashion-hint!
Portrait of a successful author. Note the monocle.