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George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Case of the Strangled Starlet

cover image By: Chase, James Hadley (pseudonym of Rene Brabazon Raymond) (male)
Publisher: New American Library (Signet Books - 1586 - 1st printing)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 77: PR6035 .A92 C37 1958
Contributor: K. Dykstra

General

Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: James Hadley Chase Geographic Locale: Cannes, France Date of Publication: 1958  |  Original Date: 1958 Setting: urban (town); coincides with the Cannes Film Festival. Streets filled with festival crowds, next to the water, and exclusive settings like hotel rooms or the set of a movie Motives: murder; in the murderer's eyes, he is motivated by boredom and his desire for a challenge, "the ultimate test", but others see him as mentally ill, following in his mother's footsteps. She had attempted murder before committing suicide. Jay Delaney himself commits suicide at the end of the novel. Alternate Title: Not Safe To Be Free

Plot Summary

A young man, Jay Delaney, believes that something is missing from his life, and decides that murdering a woman would make him feel more complete. Because he is the son of a famous movie producer attending the Cannes Film Festival, Delaney has little difficulty in luring a young actress, Lucille Balu, to the family hotel room. The murder does provide Delaney with the challenge that he sought, and he spends the rest of the novel trying to deal with all the complications attendant to his act.


Major Characters

Inspector Devereaux adult male, "round face with a small beaky nose, a thin, hard mouth, and bright, small black eyes", police inspector

Jay Delaney adult male, 21 years old, prefers to wear heavily tinted sunglasses whenever possible, no occupation -- supposedly "training" for film profession, mostly by being his father's son

Sophia Delaney adult female, 26 years old, "a fragile, dark beauty with enormous blue eyes, a slender, lovely body, and the face of a Raphael Madonna", former actress and Floyd Delaney's third wife

Madame Brossard adult female, middle-aged, "close to six feet tall and massively built...her face was heart-shaped, her hair was the color of rust, and she was enormously fat", green eyes, red lipstick, runs the Beau Rivage hotel/brothel

Joe Kerr adult male, middle-aged, "looked pickled with drink", looked older than his years, walks with a stoop, always a little short of breath, thin, sandy hair, "it was his raddled, plum-colored face that shocked people meeting him for the first time", journalist

Lucille Balu adult female (late adolescent/young adult), "blonde and very young, with a body conforming to the standard requirements of the movie world, and skin the color of honey", actress and model

Floyd Delaney adult male, 55 years old, "tall, broad man with blonde, wavy hair, turning white at the temples. His deeply tanned face was arresting rather than handsome. He had gray eyes, a cleft chin, and a sensitive mouth, and looked a lot younger than his fifty-five years", movie producer


Weapons

cord from hotel curtains (used for strangling one victim and hanging another, whose death was supposed to look like a suicide); rickety stairway; silver paperweight, bathwater, gun


Level of Violence

Jay plans the murders with relish, which the reader views. Most of the actual violence, however, happens off-stage. We hear Lucille's rap on the hotel door, but when next seen, she is a dead body that Jay is trying to stuff into a wardrobe. Kerr's death happens off-stage; Madame Brossard's death is a quick fall; we hear the bang of the gun that kills Jay Delaney, followed by a sigh. Sylvia lives, so her battle with Jay gets some description.


Sexuality

Jay's sexuality plays a part in the plot. Initially, he is depicted as either homosexual or unusually lacking in sexual desire, because Lucille Balu is like every other woman to him, all failing to stir his interest. This lack of sexual desire is associated with his other pathologies. Later, though, his sudden interest in Ginette sparks the heterosexual energies that have been missing. He wonders if he would have had any desire to commit murder if these energies had been released earlier. His interest in Ginette culminates in the night that they spend together.


Gender Roles

the starlet whose murder opens the novel is depicted as the ideal Hollywood woman, and her career clearly depends on her physical attributes, traditional symbols of feminine sexuality. She is praised for being cooperative, not overly assertive or "above herself", which contributes to her success in her career; at the same time, she is praised for being a hard worker who is successfully building a profssional identity in her field. Sophia, the brunette counterpart to Lucille, has already made a name for herself, and retired from the business due to her husband's jealousy and proven ability to support her in style. Sophia, too, has a traditionally feminine body, screen presence, and sexuality. Her professional success has both positive and negative aspects. She is admirable for not only surviving a childhood on the streets of Naples, but for competence in her movie career. However, she has been a prostitute on the way up, which seems connected to her ruthless talents for survival. She survives her confrontations with Jay, but she is also willing to temporarily assist him in order to preserve the social standing for which she has fought. The "tough guy" is probably Floyd Delaney, the successful movie producer. However, his success in the public realm is clearly accompanied by his lack of real attention to his family, exasperating the problems with mental illness that his first wife and his son Jay face as they spiral into violence. Joe Kerr, the "loser", who stumbles into evidence of Lucille's murder, receives some consideration; we pity him up to a point, as do some other characters. His alcohol problems are clearly shown to result from his tragic involvement in his beloved wife's death.


Ethnicity

Sophia's construction as a tough, passionate kid from the streets of Italy is probably derived in part from preconceptions about Italians. Ginette, the French sweetheart, is brunette but picturesque. Generally, the book presumes a certain whitemess. The successful white male (Floyd Delaney) is clearly missing some important personality elements, such as a sense of real love and caring for his family. The starlet, Lucille, is the epitome of the Blonde.


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

some drinking and smoking, particularly during moments of crisis, as when Sophia learns that Jay has Lucille Balu's dead body in their hotel suite: "making an effort, she got up, went to the liquor cabinet, and poured out a stiff shot of brandy." Joe Kerr is marked as an alcoholic, and his addiction debilitates him at important moments. He allows himself to be talked into blackmail, and he leaves himself vulnerable when Jay arrives to murder him. Other characters clearly view Kerr with contempt; the reader however, is provided with the story of his earlier success that was destroyed by his wife's terrible death, which provides him, at least, with the dignity of grief.


Law Enforcement

the local police are honest in their enforcement of the law. The inspector's primary characteristic is his patience. He comments: "I am a patient man. I ask questions. I write down answers. I check statements. That is all I do. It is the murderer who usually gives himself away." This, in fact, is precisely what happens in the novel. Inspector Devereaux does not engage in violence. In fact, the murderer self-destructs before he can even be confronted by the police, so there is no need to confront questions of trials or punishments.


Subject Headings

France - Cannes/ Murder/ Motion Picture Producers and Directors/ Actresses


Psychological Elements

insanity takes front and center in this narrative. Jay Delaney's mother, Harriette, has set a precedent for escalating, tragic violence, and she has committed suicide. There is no real question that Jay has inherited his disposition from her. His father's neglectful and occasionally punishing behavior contribute to Jay's progressive disintegration. The narrative is told in the third person. The reader can sometimes see into Jay's thoughts, as well as those of other characters, but we are not guided by his view of the world.


Film Adaptations

The Woman Is a Stranger (Le Demoniaque), 1968, Interfilm