“For the first time since I married her I was sharply aware that she was in the way.”
In James Hadley Chase’s dark noir novel, The Things Men Do, it’s post WWII London. Garage owner, Harry Collins is struggling to make ends meet. His business isn’t going well, and he’s buried in bills. The garage is in the wrong part of time and there’s few customers. If things don’t pick up soon, Harry will have to close shop and move on.
Out on a call late one night, Harry breaks his rule of stopping to pick up hitchhikers. But the attractive, sexy young woman, a damsel in distress standing next to a non functional car, doesn’t exactly fit the hitchhiker-type description. So Harry stops and picks up the woman. Gloria turns out to be, or so she claims, a successful lingerie designer. While all the alarm bells go off in our heads, Harry’s lust takes over.
Harry is a married man. He lives above the garage with his wife Ann, and she’s the sort of woman who doesn’t complain and who goes without new clothes in order to prop up her man. When Gloria enters the picture and begins telling Harry that there are plenty of ways to make money, Harry begins to keep secrets from his wife. Then Gloria invites Harry to a party at her flat so that he can discuss a business opportunity.
Harry steps deeper and deeper into deceit. He lies to his wife and his best army buddy Bill, but even beyond that, he lies to himself. It’s clear to the reader that Gloria is a part of a honey trap, and even after Harry meets Gloria’s clearly criminal friends, he finds excuses to go to her flat and talk to her ….
They looked as if they had just stepped out of a Humphrey Bogart gangster picture: the car, the clothes, they way they spilled out of the car leaving the doors hanging open, was nearest thing to Hollywood I’d seen off the movies.
The Things Men Do is a slow burn. I wasn’t that impressed with the novel until after the halfway point. It seemed fairly standard fare with the plot leading the reader down a very well worn path: the goodie two shoes wife who puts up with anything to keep her man happy, the dupe led by lust to his own doom etc. But something in the novel shifts flips when Harry takes action, and the book’s final tense scenes are dark and relentless as Harry rolls towards his fate. Harry makes references to his WWII experiences and his ability to kill. In his mind he’s gone “soft” in civvie street, but that marshmallow patina is shed as Harry seeks revenge. Yes some people are bad, but then there are others who are evil. Greed, lust, violence tangle to deliver a powerful ending.
The French cover is the best in my opinion.