Publishing: Blake author John Hunter dies aged 69.
Though he's no longer in KNOCKOUT, Blake makes a final appearance in its annual.
Illustrator: Anon. (Frank Pashley)
Notes: The trial of underworld boss Marty Mallinson is dependent on a witness named Scudder. Inspector Coutts reports to Sexton Blake that Scudder has vanished; he was seen entering the block of flats where he lives but didn't then exit it ... yet he can't be found inside! Blake, Tinker and Coutts search the block but can't locate the man. When they enter the lift and it breaks down, Sexton Blake realises the truth. They exit the lift, which Blake is confident will now work. He sends Tinker upstairs and tells him to travel down in the lift. His assistant does this until Blake calls for him to hit the emergency button. Tinker does so and the lift stops between floors. The detective manhandles open the doors and finds Scudder trussed up on top of the lift car. The extra weight had caused the lift to break down when too many people were in it.
Illustrator: Anon. (Frank Pashley)
Notes: Mack Spotter is the king of London's underworld; a man so ruthless that anyone who dares to cross him is dealt with in no uncertain fashion. Jeweller and fence, Mr Jackson, learns this when he squeals: his shop is bombed and he is seriously wounded. Jackson's son, a fighter-pilot, vows revenge and, while Sexton Blake and Tinker are visiting the king crook, he flies his plane over Spotter's house. He intends to fire rockets at it but sees Blake in the nick of time and so shoots them into the garden instead. The explosion sends Spotter, Blake and Tinker reeling. Amid the mess caused by the shockwave, Blake notices that the ornaments over the fireplace have not been disturbed — they are glued in place. The fireplace proves to be a secret door to a hidden room filled with stolen goods. Spotter is arrested.
Trivia: This strip is reprinted from KNOCKOUT 916 (1956). Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Illustrator: Anon. (Frank Pashley)
Notes: Angus Brennan, the son of wealthy parents, is fanatical about cars. On the way home from school he sees a vehicle of unusual design parked at the kerb with its driver struggling to open the bonnet. When he steps in to help, a second man grabs him and pulls him into the compartment beneath the hood. Angus had not realised that this make of car has the engine in the back. Several days later, his parents receive a ransom note and consult Sexton Blake. The note, written by Angus, has a 'P.S.' at the bottom but no postscript. The detective realises that this is a clever clue. He and Tinker charter an amphibious aircraft and fly to the Shetland Isles where they track down the car and the kidnappers. Blake reveals that 'P.S.' was a reference to the Isle's registration code.
Illustrator: Anon. (Frank Pashley)
Notes: Joan Eastman visits Sexton Blake and tells him that her father, an expert locksmith who is often employed to break into jammed safes, had telephoned and asked her to cook him lamb chops for supper and to buy his usual tobacco. This is worthy of note because her father is a vegetarian who doesn't smoke. She also reveals that she heard a clock striking in the background while he was speaking — and it struck sixteen or seventeen times! This gives the detective all the information he requires ... he and Tinker drive to a village in Kent and approach a house near the church. Inside, they see a gang forcing Mr Eastman to crack a safe. Noticing that he's using an electric drill, the detectives sneak into the cellar and cut off the power. One of the crooks descends to mend the fuses and walks straight into Sexton Blake's fist. Puzzling over his cohort's absence, a second follows and receives the same treatment. That leaves the gang depleted enough for Blake and Tinker to finish the job. After liberating Eastman, Blake explains how the clues led him to the house.
Trivia: This strip is reprinted from KNOCKOUT 883 (1956). Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Notes: By Victor Colby from GOLDEN HOURS issue 4 (1962): When I started to read this story, I thought that it dealt with a future invasion of Britain. Instead, it referred to the Saxon invasion of the 5th century. A unique, and excellent opening. A Romano-British helmet of that period, bearing an inscription in cypher, had been dug up near F1orence in 1960. The inscription referred to the hiding place of Roman Army pay in gold coin which had been left behind when the army ws obliged to ouit Britain. As the gold exceeded half a million in value, some fierce competition for it took place. A particularly revolting character was introduced in this story: a ferret-faced, mean-eyed youth with dark red hair, carefully permed and curled falling on to the collar of his forty-guinea Italian suit. His laughter was a loud, raucous, hissing sound, loaded with obscenity. He drooled with eager anticipation at the prospect of savagely mutilating
poor Marion Lang with the cut-throat razor trembling in his hand, licking his lips, piggy, beady eyes burning exultantly. "Gimme the word to cut her up!" he howled, as he jerked, leaped and twitched in front of his cowering victim. "You promised I could cut her up!" It was the anguished cry of an addict, the cry of a man who had to sate his desire or suffer unendurable frustration. As this creature was merely incarcerated at the end of the story, whereas the other eight members of the gang, including the leader, were wiped out to a man, it is possible the author is saving the razor boy for re-use later on.
Notes: By Victor Colby from GOLDEN HOURS issue 4 (1962): I have nothing but praise for this great story. Commencing on the channel coast of occupied France in 1943, this story moved in time and space to Algeria, North Africa in 1961.
Then unfolded an epic of the French Foreign Legion with Sexton Blake as an enlisted soldier on an assignment for Craille of the Secret Service, that in my opinion surpassed Beau Gueste, and every other Legion tale that I can recall. What a sterling set of characters! Sergeant Sven Petersen the tough giant Swede; Colonel Henri Broussac the thin, grey-haired officer hag-ridden by fear, knowing his weakness as a soldier, and in every situation afraid of disastrous public exposure of his self-convinced impotence; Major Rodin who had become insane due to the barbaric treatment he had suffered at the hands of the Algerian terrorists, and whose madness led to the death by the score of fellow Legionnaires. Then there was the weak and windy American, Casey, who was branded by his comrades as "all gab and no guts." Last of all was the violent German, Zimmermann. A great bull of a man, a devil incarnate when drunk and angry, he was never out of trouble. Through the coward Casey, Zimmermann was flogged till his back was raw, yet when Casey collapsed in the sand, it was Zimmermann who shouldered the unconscious burden and marched erect, his lacerated back bleeding through his uniform tunic. In the battle of the oasis, Blake and Zimmermann were notable in a smashing, lunging, killing partnership. It was, however, Zimmermann's effort to return to the fort alone for help that stamped him as indomitable. Caught by terrorists, tortured, mutilated beyond recognition, and left for dead, he nevertheless worked his way towards the fort through sand and dust leaving a trail of blood, his last dying action fulfilling his desperete mission. Later it was the gallantry of Sexton Blake that saved the day. He charged across open ground and up a cliff face to get above the enemy and to remove the pressure from his pinned-down comrades. Blake successfully accomplished Craille's mission, and for exceptional valour in battle, gained the Légion d'honneur, and Croix de Guerre with palm. Arthur Maclean himself should have been awarded a medal for this stirring, outstanding story.
Notes: A Catalonian man named Bruno steals gold from the gang to which he belongs and flees to England. He is pursued and killed in his flat by two thugs, Joe and Batisto. They leave through the cafe below but a customer, Maltese Albert, is suspicious. He is trying to get the cafe owner, Maria, deported so that he can marry her in the home country but she's having none of it. When Maria discovers Bruno's body, she hides it under the bed and calls her friend Arthur 'Splash' Kirby. Meanwhile, Albert comes into possession of Bruno's suitcase, which is filled with sardine tins. Kirby, when he arrives, is confused to find himself first attacked by Albert, then thrown out of the cafe with the emptied case in his hands, and then mistaken by Joe and Batisto for Pepe, a man they believe witnessed their act of murder but who, in fact, doesn't exist — Pepe is actually the name of a sowbug (wood louse) Bruno habitually talked to in his flat! Kirby is taken to a moored boat where the rest of the gang are living and is beaten by the two thugs until they finally believe he isn't Pepe. He's told to telephone this elusive man, so he calls Sexton Blake. Blake turns up with Tinker and Paula Dane in tow. They are all taken prisoner and left bound and gagged on the boat. Joe comes to the conclusion that Maltese Albert is Pepe, so the gang return to the cafe where they begin searching the sardine tins — some contain the gold. Then Lolita, Bruno's girlfriend from Gibraltar, turns up to complicate matters further. Blake & co. escape from the boat, race to the cafe and beat the gang into submission. Pepe remains a mystery to all until Blake identifies him from Bruno's doodles.
Rating: ★★★★☆ Another wildly eccentric offering from the most original Sexton Blake writer of them all!
Notes: Sexton Blake's friend, the occultist Gideon Ashley, predicts that Eustace Craille will soon task the detective with a mission that amounts to the prevention of the end of the world. He warns that occult assistance can only be given if black magic is used by the enemy. Two days later, Craille summons the detective and informs him that an independent scientist, Floyd Vantler, who is deranged since being given just three months to live, has been building a space rocket on his island retreat in the Mississippi. He recruited three similarly doomed men to assist him, Heilbron, Stross, and Stewart. The latter, though, was murdered after betraying to the authorities that the rocket's anti-matter drive would destroy the Earth upon launching. He also revealed that a coven of Satanists led by Gaspard de Montigny is supplying girls for the three scientists' entertainment. In the US, Blake surreptitiously photographs one of the cult's ceremonies and, from the prints, is able to identify one of the female followers. She is Corinne Perth, a night-club hostess. He recruits her to seduce Vantler. The following night, Blake intends to test the island's defences, but before he can do so, he is drugged and captured by the Satanists. Gaspard de Montigny knows about Blake's mission and also that Vantler has vast power, which he, de Montigny, desires. He has, however, been unable to influence the scientist's deranged mind. Blake, threatened with torture, taunts the necromancer into using black magic against him instead. This gives Gideon Ashley the opportunity to offer esoteric assistance from afar, with the result that de Montigny is killed. Blake escapes from the house and uses a "nuclear pistol" given to him by Craille to destroy it and all the cult members. The next morning, Blake pierces the island's defensive perimeter and picks up a homing signal from Corinne, who has successfully wormed her way into Vantler's affections. The detective locates the mad scientist and incapacitates him. In consequence, Vantler has a seizure and dies. Blake hunts down Heilbron and Stross and executes them.
Trivia: A year has passed since Blake and Gideon Ashley first met in BRED TO KILL (THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 4th series, issue 448, 1960).
For this mission, Blake receives a licence to kill.
Tinker's apartment is on the floor below Blake's Baker Street penthouse. There's a passing mention of his father, Captain Carteret (see DEAD MAN'S DESTINY (THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 4th series, issue 466, 1960). Tinker and Arthur "Splash" Kirby make only a fleeting appearance in this story.
Rating: ★★★★☆ This is Blake at his most James Bond-ish. The story is fun but stumbles at the climax by having a genius scientist overlook a very, very basic scientific fact.
Notes: This adventure is written in first-person from Sexton Blake's point of view. An old flame from his days at Cambridge University, Charmain Moss, sends him a letter pleading for help. On his way to the hotel that she manages, Blake is followed, shot at, and nearly run off the road. Things don't improve after he books a room at the hotel. From the moment he arrives he is attacked by various suspicious characters, including Charmain's daughter, Sable, who appears to think he's a dangerous foreign agent. Meeting with Charmain on a riverboat, the detective is finally told the whole story: soon after graduating, she had nearly become an unmarried mother and, out of desperation, had married the unscrupulous Mr. Moss. She has no idea how Moss makes his money but suspects that his income is connected with the strange foreigners he often brings to the hotel. Then one day, a man named Lobsk entered a bathroom and never emerged. He has not been seen since. Charmain believes he was murdered. She also believes that Sable is actually Sexton Blake's daughter! As they talk, someone cuts the rope keeping the boat tethered to the shore. The vessel floats downriver towards a weir. Blake and the girl manage to escape by the skin of their teeth and are met by Tinker. Later, back at the wreck of the boat, Blake finds Moss and the body of Lobsk. Narrowly avoiding another murder attempt, he discovers that all the events hinge around a spy ring and a missing £5,000. However, nothing is as it seems... including Sable!
Trivia: It should be noted that Blake also went to Oxford University (see SEXTON BLAKE AT OXFORD). Blake says he has never been married, a fact which is contradicted in a very early (and rare) story (see 1901). He says his family originated in the fens of East Anglia. This is apparently on his mother's side (he visits her grave in the grounds of Blakeney Abbey). In earlier adventures he claims Irish ancestory, which must be through his father. Charmain is around 38-years-old and, since she is one of the detective's contemporaries, he must be about the same age (which, of course, is totally impossible).
Blake says of his adventures: "Journalists and SBL authors do tend to colour them up a bit."
Tinker's clothes are only "a little on the small side" for Blake ... the young'un has obviously grown a lot since the early days! The two of them use 'pep pills' to keep themselves awake during this adventure. When Tinker says "All right, Dad!" Blake admits that he hates Tinker's Americanisms, especially "When he's quoting television pirates who have taken liberties with my own memoirs."
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ This is a period piece that has dated badly. For the modern reader, it all seems rather unpalatable and a little on the sordid side ... an ill-advised attempt to "sex Blake up." The scene where he and Tinker take pep pills doesn't sit well with 21st century sensibilities, either. Overall, it has the feel of a non-Blake tale that has been shoe-horned into the saga against its will.