James Hadley Chase

Chinks, Chinamen, and dolls

By William Wetherall

First posted 10 January 2006
Last updated 23 August 2009

See also review of Yellow Peril: Collecting Xenophobia.

Twelve Chinks and a Woman
First US hardcover edition
New York: Howell, Soskin, 1941
Avon Monthly Novel (Digest size, edition 7)
New York: Avon Publishing, 1948
Avon 485 paperback
"Complete and Unabridged"
New York: Avon Publishing, c1948-1952
Harlequin 160 paperback
Toronto: Harlequin Books, 1952
12 Chinamen and a Woman
Novel Library 37 paperback
"Specially Revised and Edited"
New York: Diversey Publishing, 1948-1950
The Doll's Bad News
3rd Panther Books printing
London: Granada Publishing, 1974
1st Corgi Books printing
London: Transworld Publishers, 1979

Twelve Chinks and a Woman

James Hadley Chase was a pseudonym of Rene Lodge Brabazon Raymond (1906-1985), who also wrote as Raymond Marshall, James L. Docherty, and Ambrose Grant. Raymond was born in London, and as James Hadley Chase was one of the most productive and popular mystery thriller writers of his day.

Twelve Chinks and a Woman, first published in 1940, was Chase's third novel. It came out a year after No Orchids for Miss Blandish, his hugely successful debut work, also read in the United States as "The Villain and the Virgin". "Twelve Chinks" also came on the heels of The Dead Stay Dumb (1939), published as "Kiss My fist!" in some US editions.

An Australian antiquarian book dealer describes a later printing of the first edition of "Twelve Chinks" as follows:

The original version of the book that, as times changed, was unaccountably revised and republished, first as "Twelve Chinamen and a woman" (1950), and later as "The doll's bad news" (1970).

Publishing history

Here is a very rough outline of the publishing history of "Twelve Chinks". Not all of the information has been confirmed.

1. Twelve Chinks and a Woman

First UK hardcover edition

1940 Jarrolds

First US hardcover edition

1941 Howell, Soskin

Digest and paperback editions

Avon Monthly Novel (digest size, edition 7)
1948 Avon Books

Avon paperback (Complete and Unabridged)
c1948-1952 Avon Publishing (Avon 485)

Canadian paperback

1952 Harlequin Books (Number 160)
Cover subtitle: Behind the Scenes of the Merciless Underworld

2. Twelve Chinamen and a Woman

Diversey paperback (Specially Revised and Edited)
c1948-1950 Diversey Publishing (Novel Library 37)

3. The Doll's Bad News

UK paperbacks

1970-1975 Panther Books (143 pages)
1979 Corgi Books (154 pages)

Avon and Novel Library blurbs

Both the Avon and Novel Library editions have this blurb on the inside front cover.

Romance with Pepper and Spice

Here are all the ingredients of the perfect fastmoving novel: love, passion, violence, and suspense, skilfully blended by James Hadley Chase and served up piping hot with murder on the side. This thrill-packed trip through gangland will bring you face to face with such interesting characters as:

TWELVE CHINAMEN IN A BOAT: Who hadn't seen a woman in six weeks and were rapidly approaching the pleasure-coast of Florida.

GLORIE LEADLER: A bewitching blonde who seasoned her amorous escapades with the spice of life -- variety.

DETECTIVE DAVE FENNER: Whose calloused Broadway heart developed an unsuspected tender emotion when Glorie paid a surprise visit to his bedroom.

PIO CARLOS: A smooth young man from Cuba who thought that he had found a key to Glorie's heart, when he really held only the key to his own tomb.

NIGHTINGALE: A wily nightbird who let a burly .45 do his talking for him.

If you like your romance supercharged, with no sidetracks or local stops for a breather, climb aboard this Special by the author of "The Villain and the Virgin" and get set for romance and thrills unlimited.

The back blurb of the "Chinks" edition reads like this.


Only one man could satisfy Glorie Leadler's craving for love and excitement. And though this golden-haired bit of feminine dynamite could have had a dozen men at her feet for the asking, it was a solitary Oriental who made her heart beat fast. When jealous rivals tore that midnight lover from Glorie's arms, her overheated emotions burst forth in a volcano of love-stricken vengeance that rocked Florida and left a sizzling mark on many men's souls.

If you like a combination of the passionate writing of Donald Henderson Clarke and the violence and vigor of Dashiell Hammett you'll go for this great James Hadley Chase novel. Author of NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH, Chase is a master of mixing hard men, soft ladies, and the shocking impact of unexpected action. TWELVE CHINKS AND A WOMAN is a book we guarantee you won't lay down until the last thrill-packed page.

The Novel Library version differs only in two places: (1) NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH becomes THE VILLAIN AND THE VIRGIN, the alternative US title, and (2) CHINKS becomes CHINAMEN in the title.

The story

The hero of "No Orchids" -- a reporter turned private eye named Dave Fenner -- is also the hero of "Twelve Chinks", which is set in New York and Florida. In the very distant and barely seen background is a human smuggling operation that moves Chinese, a dozen at a time, from Cuba to Key West, then to other places, like New York.

Fenner is a typical hard-boiled private eye with an attitude that walks the line between wiseguy and sainthood. As such, he represents every male reader's ego, labido, and superego -- one always pulling at the other.

A frightened woman comes into Fenner's New York office and wants him to find her sister (page 7, Avon 485 edition).

"I'm glad I came to you," she said. "You see, I'm in a lot of trouble. It's my sister as well. What can she want with twelve Chinamen?"

"Search me," he said. "Maybe she likes Chinamen. Some people do, you know."

Later Fenner finds a dead "Chinaman" in his secretary's office. The man's throat had been cut and he had been dead for a while. Fenner talks with his secretary, and later with police investigators, about the "Chink" aka "Chinaman" who has been dumped on his premises, more as a warning than to get him into trouble.

The "Chinaman/Chink" -- and "Chinese" as the man is also called at times -- is just a body. He has no name. He is a victim, not a villain, at this stage in the story. He and the "twelve Chinamen" play practically no role in the story. In fact, he and his death remain very much a mystery until the wrap-up toward the end of the novel, when the woman's reference to "twelve chinamen" also becomes clear.

The "Chinamen" are just people Carlos, a Cuban, smuggles into the United States from Cuba for a man named Thayler, who "pays Carlos so much a head, and sells the Chinks to sweat shops up the coast" (page 118).

Fenner tells Glorie she's "not exactly an angel". She's been letting Thayler handle her the way he likes. He was married and she was married, and Fenner confronts her about her desire to get a divorce so she can marry him (page 118).

"The cops have turned up some dirt that proves that, while you were living with Thayler, you also had a Chinese running around with you. You two kept under cover, but not well enough. This Chink used to work for Carlos. He disappeared about a couple of months ago. Maybe Thayler found out and tipped Carlos. I don't know, but he disappeared. What happened to him, baby?"

Glorie began to cry.

The doll's bad news

The dead man's name, and his connection with Glorie, are not revealed until final pages of the story. Fenner has already pieced together most parts of the puzzle, but he still can't see the entire picture. Nightingale, who has been shot and is dying, tells Fenner all he knows about the dead "Chinaman" -- his name, and who killed him and why (page 144, some parts abbreviated)

"That bitch Glorie was at the bottom of everything. She and her Chinaman."

"What Chinaman?" Fenner asked softly.

"Chang. The guy they planted in your office."

"You knew about that?"

"Yeah, I knew about it. Carlos found out about the Chink. Gloria was cheating with him."

"Chang? Was Glorie fond of him?"

"She was crazy about him. He was the only man she'd ever met who could give her what she wanted. You know what she wanted, don't you? Well, that Chink could give it to her, whenever she wanted it. He was no use to her otherwise, she wanted that and she wanted dough. So she cheated . . . ."

Nothing in the story condemns Glorie for taking up with Chang because he is a Chinaman. Fenner tells her "a story about a nasty little girl and a Chinaman" -- which she doesn't want to hear (page 153).

Fenner said, "For you, there has never been anyone but Chang. He was everything to you, because you are a poor, miserable little creature with a hunger that only Chang could satisfy. When Carlos killed him, your life stopped. Nothing mattered to you. All you had to live for was to get even with Carlos for taking away the one thing that made your horrible life worth while."

Glorie, the "bewitching blonde", is guilty mostly of a wanting that drove her from man to man, and to a "variety" of men, while still married. It is her inability to control her insatiable hunger, not the fact that she happens to gratify it with Chang, that makes her "a nasty little girl".

Glorie has lost the only man who had been able to give her whatever it was she wanted from him. The narrative is ambiguous as to how she herself actually felt about Chang as a person, as neither he nor their relationship is developed. However greedy and disloyal she has been, she is always shown to be emotionally upset that he has been killed.

Glorie witnessed Chang's murder -- and describes it to Fenner in a manner than makes Chang somewhat of a hero (pages 153-154).

"They came in the night when I was with him," she said. Her voice was expressionless. "One of them held me while the other cut his throat. I was there when they did it. They said they'd kill me if he resisted, so he just lay on the bed and let that awful Cuban cut his throat. Somehow, he managed to smile at me when he was doing it. Oh, God, if you could have been there! If you could have seen him lying there with the Cuban bending over him. The sudden look of terror and pain in his eyes as he died! I could do nothing, but I swore that I'd get Carlos, I would smash everything he had built up."

Fenner tells Gloria she's not very nice. He can't feel pity for her because she always thought of herself first. It would have been fine she would have had her revenge, at the risk of losing everything she had. But she didn't have the "guts" to give up Thayer in the process of getting back at Carlos.

The story twists and turns a bit more before Fenner, in the final scene, frees himself of the bad news "doll" named Glorie (page 156).

"You're still my client. [The murder of a woman whose body had been found dismembered] is for the cops to work out. Maybe they'll find out about Thayer. Maybe they'll even get a line on you, but I'm not helping them. As far as I'm concerned, I'm through. . . . I don't like you, baby . . . I'll be glad to get back home. Whatever happens to you means nothing to me. You can be sure something will happen to you. A jane with your outlook can't last long. I'll leave it like that."

Fenner leaves her with her husband, and the story ends.

Justifications for title changes

The main justification for the change of title from "Chink" to "Chinaman" would be that the latter was actually the more common vulgar reference to "Chinese" at the time.

I recall an incident that took place in late 1958 during an algebra exam in my senior year at high school. The teacher overheard a boy sitting beside me whisper a plea for an answer. He called him by name, told him stop talking, then said, "You're making Wetherall look like a Chinaman."

Students who had started laughing when the teacher began scolding the boy fell dead silent. After class, the teacher apologized to both me and the girl, whose name was Lum.

I am talking about Grass Valley, a small mining town in Northern California. The roots of a number of the older "native" families in the town went back to Chinese who had come to the area during the Gold Rush. Of course these were American families. More importantly, though, they were local. And so Lum had grown up with her classmates and was very much a part the class.

I witnessed some name-calling from kids who didn't know them, but I can't remember anyone who knew them tolerating disparaging references to their ancestry. Hence the sudden silence in the class. The teacher, who had not lived in the are very long, had clearly stepped over a line he was not even aware of. I myself had recently moved into the area, but from San Francisco, where I had attended the 7th grade in a junior high school near Chinatown, where one-third of the students were Chinese Americans.

In the mid-1950s, boys were still playing war, and someone had to be the enemy, and the enemies were Japs, Gooks, Commies, and Reds. "The Reds are coming!" was sort of like saying "The sky is falling!"

The best argument against the "Chink" and "Chinamen" titles are that the story really has little to do with Chinese. These titles, and the cover blurbs and art that exploit them, are good examples of the sort of false advertising that characterizes the marketing of such fiction: the promise of lurid interracial sex is never delivered.

Whereas the best literary argument for "The Doll's Bad News" is that it best expresses what the story is really about -- and in a voice that is even more faithful than "Chinks" or "Chinamen" to the stylistic conventions of the "romantic thriller" genre.