By Pelu Awofeso

Recently, I met Chima who was reading his 82nd James Hardly Chase novel—‘My Laugh Comes Last’. “The author died in 1985 but he wrote 90 titles in all and I intend to read all of them,” he told me while on tea-break from a seminar in Abeokuta, South-West Nigeria.

To Chima, who works with a Pharmaceutical company, a Chase novel isn’t just a crime narrative, appreciated only for its entertainment value. “It teaches lessons that can help you be a better person,” he said, looking at his phone. “They help you view life and everyday issues more critically. They stir up your capacity to think things through.”

One of the Chase titles pregnant with lessons for him was ‘Come Easy, Go Easy’. “That one in particular made me see that nothing good comes easy and that anything you don’t work hard for will not really last,” he said. On a good day, Chima buys as many as ten titles from his vendor; and when he has read all he will swap them for other titles.

And the first title he ever read from the Chase series was ‘There Is Always a Price Tag’. “I read it when I was in 200 Level at the university, and I was hooked,” he said.

I read dozens of the Chase novels myself, when I was in secondary school, and I have seen copies on sale at roadside bookstands over the years. Recently, a Nigerian publisher announced that it was releasing some of the titles with Nigerian models on the cover, to make it appeal more to the local audience. I didn’t think much of the developments, because, aside from the fact that the timing was wrong, I simply didn’t think he was introducing the right product into the local book trade: readers worldwide buy Chase novels for the plot and the thrill in-between the covers, not because the girl on the cover is African. And the copy Chima had with him apparently was the familiar foreign version.

Still I wondered why the series would have such a strong hold on a working adult in his 30s. “You’ll enjoy it better now that you’re a mature person,” Chima explained, his face brightened by a cheeky smile. “Some details you couldn’t really appreciate as a youngster will strike you differently. When you were younger, I guess you must have rushed through the titles, aiming mainly to get to the end of the story. But as an adult, you tend to enjoy the plot, the twists and the turns more.”

As it happens, Chima is himself a fast reader. ‘My Laugh’ is nearly 200 pages long and he is nearly half way through it. “I bought it yesterday. I will finish it later tonight, if I don’t go out to have a drink with my friends,” he said, stealing a quick look at his mobile phone.

He explained that one of his fascinations with the novels is that when he reads them it is as if the action is unfolding around him, as if he were in the middle of it. “You can easily picture what Chase is writing about. I can see the characters and the environment they are in, so much so that if I came across them in real life I will spot them. He tells the stories that well,” he said.