Publishing: In December, the Sexton Blake Library adopts a new size, becoming closer in dimensions to a classic paperback (though still a pocket-book).
Notes: An item of what might be termed 'fan fiction' but included for completion's sake. Sexton Blake is on a fishing holiday and is staying at the Greyhound Hotel. The manager expresses concern about a young American guest, who has arrived with no luggage other than a china ornament, a coat-hanger, and yesterday's newspaper. When the detective starts investigating, he discovers that the American is far less than he seems ... ...
Unrated (fan fiction will not be rated)
Notes: This was extensively rewritten and published as a Richard Quintain novel, THE TREASURE SEEKERS by W. Howard Baker (Mayflower Books, 1970; reprinted by Five Star Books, 1972).
Notes: When Britain sends astronaut Simon Rourke into space to deploy a communications device, the mission is aborted and he comes back dead — somehow shot through the neck. Eustace Craille sends Sexton Blake to investigate at the research station on Dartmoor. The detective drops Tinker and Paula Dane off at a nearby village before continuing on to the base. There he meets a group of people all of whom seem to have personal agendas of one sort or another. Tinker and Paula also meet some suspicious characters, including a redhead named Rita Randall and a foreign investor called Sprodt. A second murder at the base leads Blake to discover that the place is under surveillance via television cameras concealed among the rocks on the surrounding moor. This operation has been set up by Sprodt who is trying to steal the communications device and who uses Randall to get a security pass from the base's weak-willed security officer. He manages to get his hands on the device, unaware that Blake has swapped the real thing with a mock-up. When he discovers this, he kidnaps Paula and holds her for ransom. Blake and Tinker come to her rescue and foil Sprodt's schemes.
Notes: Author Harry Snogg is dreaming up a new escapade for his fictional detective, Ryley Steele, when he witnesses three bank robbers making a getaway. Slipping into the character of Steele, Snogg manages to catch one of the men but Detective-Inspector Coutts warns the amateur hero that his life may now be in danger from the remaining two gang members. Snogg, still in character, shrugs this off. The next day, while on his way to the offices of the Daily Post to be interviewed by Arthur 'Splash' Kirby, he narrowly avoids being pushed under a tube train and remains totally oblivious when a bullet flies past his head. A day later, Kirby's report strengthens Snogg's fantasy world by describing him as 'a real-life Ryley Steele'. Armed with a realistic-looking cap-firing toy gun and a pair of binoculars, he sets out to track down the bank robbers. He spots one of them watching his flat and follows him to a small house in a secluded street where he holds the criminal at bay with the toy gun. However, when the police arrive, they find that Harmand — as the 'robber' is called — has a cast-iron alibi. Snogg is reprimanded for impersonating a police officer and ordered to lie-low in his flat until the real criminals are caught. Blake, meanwhile, investigates Harmand and breaks his alibi. Harmand makes a run for it and gets away in a stolen sports car. Later, a safecracker named Patsy Sloane visits Blake's Berkeley Square offices but is stabbed in the back on the doorstep. He manages to write 'Watson ... Holmstaye ... Peaswich' before dying. This leads the detective to a man named Watson who denies all knowledge of Patsy Sloane. On the drive home, Blake's car is forced off the road into a flooded quarry. Trapped underwater in the vehicle, Blake only just manages to escape with his life. His opponents don't give up: in Berkeley Square he is shot at from the rooftops. Harry Snogg has similar problems ... his flat is dynamited and he is chased by a gunman. Eventually Blake learns that there is to be another bank job. He catches the gang in the act and locks them in the vault, then sets off in pursuit of the mastermind behind the robberies ...
Trivia: The author, Stephen Frances, is better known as Hank Janson.
Notes: This one begins with a classic 'murder in a locked room' scenario ... except the locked room is a bathysphere and the killing occurs seven hundred feet below sea level. It's a great start to the story, full of intriguing impossibilities and hints of something malignant in the ocean depths. Unfortunately (and surprisingly), the plot then takes off in a totally different direction and we don't return to the scene of the crime until the final chapter. This is somewhat frustrating, as the underwater mystery is by far the most imaginative and fascinating part of the tale. When it's set aside in favour of a political theme, the mental readjustment required is a little too much ... it feels as if one book has been left unfinished and another begun. Sexton Blake enters the situation at the behest of Eustace Craille. He is tasked to trace a missing person, obtain information about Communist spies and to judge how deeply the Communists have infiltrated a rebel movement on the island of Maliba. Blake adds an item of his own to this list: an investigation of the strange bathysphere murder. The latter has caught his attention after a newspaper reported it as 'a mystery worthy of a Holmes or a Blake'. On the island, a rebel group is preparing to oust the corrupt government but, unknown to them, they've been infiltrated by Communist spies. The moment the revolution is over, the Reds will take control. Blake has to discover who is working for who and stop the plot from succeeding. He also has to track down a Soviet master spy ... and that's a trail which, by coincidence, leads straight to the bathysphere.
Trivia: This was Michael Moorcock's first published novel and is much sought after by Moorcock completists even though the author has pointed out on many occasions that the artist James Cawthorn more or less co-wrote it and the editor of the SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY (W. Howard Baker) made a lot of unwelcome revisions. Despite all these other hands at work, you can still recognise Moorcock's influence in the tight plotting and original take on detective fiction clichés.
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ The detective operates alone here, without Tinker. He's in his 'James Bond' phase ... something that's made even more apparent by the location. It doesn't really work. Blake seems too bland to carry the story and much of CARIBBEAN CRISIS feels like an exercise in plotting rather than an attempt to do anything really interesting with the character. There are plenty of surprises but they all come quite mechanically as experiments of form. As a Moorcock fan I was delighted to add this volume to my collection and found it interesting from the perspective of the author's development.
Notes: Cat burglar Jackie Donovan is recruited to break big-time crooks Harry Braddock and Taxi Lawson out of prison. He is successful in doing so, though Braddock shoots dead a prison guard as they make their escape, which wasn’t part of the plan. Donovan then joins the pair in burglarising a house that holds a large gun collection. During this job, it is Donovan who turns killer. Blake is commissioned by the Daily Post to investigate the crimes and quickly concludes that the gang is gearing up for a major heist. For the crooks, matters become ever more complicated and violent. Donovan impulsively kills the man tasked with getting them all out of the country after their heist is done. Braddock is secretly pleased about this, as it means a larger share of the proceeds, but now he has to find a way out of the country himself. Clues then put Blake and Tinker onto Donovan’s trail, and after following him, they find themselves in the thick of the action as the gang robs a post office van. During the subsequent shoot-out, Donovan loses his nerve, and is shot by Lawson. The latter is then killed by Blake. Braddock gains the van’s driving seat and races away, unaware that the detective has hopped aboard and is hidden in the back among the sacks of money. The van stops at a residential building and Blake follows Braddock inside. The crook is meeting with a hitherto unrevealed partner in the criminal escapade—but then shoots them in error when they go for their gun, having spotted Blake behind him. The detective captures Braddock, the sole surviving member of the gang.
Trivia: This one is strong on violence against women, so makes for rather uncomfortable reading.
Notes: Stephen Frances was better known as Hank Janson. This story is recounted in first person by Arthur 'Splash' Kirby.
Notes: This was later extensively rewritten as a Richard Quintain novel entitled THE GIRL IN ASSES MILK by William Howard Baker (Mayflower Books, 1967; reprinted by Five Star Books, 1972).
Notes: This was extensively rewritten as a Richard Quintain novel entitled UNFRIENDLY PERSUASION by W. A. Ballinger (Consul 1964) and also featured in the first Quintain Omnibus, QUINTAIN STRIKES BACK (Howard Baker Books, 1968).
Notes: None at present.
Trivia: With this issue the Sexton Blake Library adopts new dimensions, becoming more akin to the classic paperback novel size. This is a revised (by George P. Mann) version of SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 4th series issue 398 REDHEAD FOR DANGER (1958).