“It was a hot night, but it wasn’t too hot for Sagers. He was cold… dead cold. Lemmy Caution had to find out who.....
.....bumped Sagers- and why. He had to find out whether that swell piece Henrietta was on the up and up -or just another female chiseller who had tried to pull a fast one- a dame who didn’t care.”
One of the joys of life is the pleasure of finding tiny treasures in unexpected places: dusty corners, garage sales, hidden drawers, or forgotten pockets.
Recently, while wandering the streets of this city Somewhere in Asia, I glanced down at the sidewalk to see a paperback among a spread of used books written in English. A local, beetle-nut chewing vender was selling his dusty wares on a blanket spread between the curb and the main pedestrian traffic.
I was first drawn to the book for its cover. I often use covers of cheap paperbacks as postcards, and this one was a beauty. A well-dressed woman in a wrap and a vintage dress speaks on red telephone while a man in the background pours himself a shot of whiskey. The title is even better then the cover: Dames Don’t Care. The caption reads, “…a torrid mixture of dames and death” while the back cover reads,
“It was a hot night, but it wasn’t too hot for Sagers. He was cold… dead cold. Lemmy Caution had to find out who bumped Sagers- and why. He had to find out whether that swell piece Henrietta was on the up and up -or just another female chiseller who had tried to pull a fast one- a dame who didn’t care.”
First published in 1937, the novel is a 1960 paperback of a Peter Cheyney detective story. Come to find out (after googling around), he was “a flamboyant character ….[who] sported a gold monocle, a red carnation, an ornate cloak and a double-barreled name when such things were in fashion.” He was quite popular in his day, publishing numerous books. And his titles? Priceless. Who can resist picking up books with these titles? "Dames Are So Dizzy", (!!!!!!) "The Dencourt Stiletto", "La Belle Dame Sans Souci", Can Ladies Kill?, “Lady, Behave!” and “You Can't Trust Duchesses”.
My intention was to tear off the cover and send it off as a postcard to M., who had just broken up with her boyfriend, but on the taxi ride home, I started flipping through the novel. By the time I reached home, I knew that this cover was staying on the book. Written in 1930’s American slang, the novel is a fast-paced account about (you guessed it!) a dame who doesn’t care.
I was hooked. That evening I sat down and read most of the book. Here are some excerpts:
“In the outer office there is a fancy dame smackin’ a typewriter about. She has got four inch french [sic] heels an’ a pompadour that woulda made Marie Antoinette look like a big cheese.” (53)
There’s a lotta dames playin’ around like Cactus Lizzie. They’re afraid of spiders but they’d just as soon stick a stiletto into their boyfriend as call for a chocolate sundae. Janes are like that. (6)
“Janes” and “dames” and “female chisellers.” For a man who wrote long before the days of women’s lib and political correctness, you gotta hand it to Peter Cheyney. He sure is swell.
He’s much better than Dick.
(And just for the record, let me say that I'm intentionally avoiding the secondary connotations of their first names.)