Chase, James Hadley. (1964). A Coffin from Hong Kong. London: Panther, Granada Publishing.

A typical Ďwho-dunnití thriller where the dead body of a Chinese woman found in the office of an American private investigator, Ryan Nelson, leads to a trail of murder, intrigue and smuggling originating in Hong Kong. As in most representations within the thriller-crime genre, Hong Kong is presented in Chaseís text as an international centre of drug trafficking, teeming with seedy underworld figures, prostitutes and a haven for western travellers looking for exotic entertainment.

When Ryan Nelson is framed for the murder of a Chinese woman named Jo-An Jefferson, the daughter-in-law of the wealthy American millionaire Wilbur Jefferson, he quickly manages to convince the gormless local law enforcement in Pasadena City of his innocence. He is then hired by Wilbur Jefferson to investigate the death of Jo-Ann. Nelson soon discovers that Herman Jefferson, Wilburís prodigal son, married Jo-An, a poor Wanchai prostitute and a refugee from the mainland, so that he could pimp her and survive in Hong Kong. Jo-An is found murdered in Ryan's office while accompanying Hermanís coffin to America after his apparent death in a car accident.

Convinced that the key to Jo-Anís murder lies in Hong Kong, Nelson travels to Hong Kong where he begins to unravel a complicated plot which reveals that Herman is alive. Though confronted with a less than helpful British police force in Hong Kong, Nelson, typical of a stock investigative figure in the thriller genre, uses his instincts and street-smart skills to find out the truth. He finds that Herman had dealings with a heroin smuggling operation run by a British man called Belling, and that during the car accident, it was Belling who had died and not Herman. Nelson discovers that Herman used the accident to fake his own death and steal a stash of heroin which Belling was smuggling.

However, with Bellingís suppliers searching for the lost heroin, Herman has to stay underground. But Nelsonís investigations unwittingly lead the suppliers to Herman who is then tortured and killed. Nelson, his brief for Wilbur Jefferson completed, subsequently returns to America and figures out that the coffin Jo-An accompanied does not contain a body but was used to transport the heroin. He also discovers that he was framed for Jo-Anís murder by the man running the office next to his, Waydeóa close confidant of Hermanís. The story ends with Nelson tricking Wayde into revealing the stash of heroin and thereby incriminating him in the murder of Jo-An. (HR)


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