Publishing: The fifth series of the SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY begins but it has a different format that sets it apart from its predecessors ... the new stories are paperback novels!
Author Edwy Searles Brooks dies aged 76.
Notes: A reprint of SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 5th series novel 4.
Notes: A reprint of SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 5th series novel 5.
Notes: A reprint of SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 5th series novel 5.
Notes: A reprint of SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 5th series novel 9.
Notes: A reprint of SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 5th series novel 10.
Notes: After a brief respite, Sexton Blake leaps (or
maybe that should be 'limps') back into action with this first novel in
the fifth series of his library. MURDERER AT LARGE is the name of a
'real crimes' TV show ... and it appears that someone on the production team
is taking their research a little too seriously. So Sexton Blake enters
the scene and, with a little help from Edward Carter (and it really is a
very little), starts to hunt down the killer. He immediately finds
himself surrounded by archetypal TV personalities who he has to deal
with one by one until the killer is exposed. The plot is so thin and
dull that it's not worth dwelling on.
Blake does a lot of reminiscing at the start of this story and it really is the best part of the book — way more interesting than the murder mystery itself. There's a strong sense that a great deal of time has passed, that he has lived through many decades. This acknowledgement of his UNION JACK days feels very strange because Blake, Tinker, Mrs Bardell and Pedro appear to be exactly the same age as they were all those years ago. There's an untold tale here ... see THE SEXTON BLAKE TIMELINE!
Trivia: Blake is still running his detective agency from offices in Berkeley Square; the ones established at the start of the 'New Order' in 1956. However, away from his business premises, he's back in Baker Street, though not in the rooms he'd occupied during his Golden Years. At some point, he'd moved out of those and the house had been sold and divided up into offices. Now, for old time's sake, he has purchased the building back and lives in a specially converted top floor apartment. This arrangement may have been added as a result of the real-life alterations to Baker Street which, by the mid-1960s, didn't much resemble the place where Sexton Blake and Sherlock Holmes had lived many decades before. The house is 'almost opposite' the underground station ... which supports the location suggested in UNION JACK issue 1,493 THE PLAGUE OF THE ONION MEN (1932).
Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ The characters in this tale are sketched out so two-dimensionally that they simply don't convince as real people. Unfortunately, that includes Blake himself, who probably suffers the most, being little more than a cypher once the reminiscing scenes have passed; he's Blake in name only. As for Tinker, he has nothing to do and spends less time on the page than Mrs Bardell (who doesn't seem herself either). It's remarkable that back in the days of the UNION JACK a new high quality adventure was published every week while here we have a novel that must have had a far longer deadline but which can't hold a candle to those old stories. Had this been anything other than a Sexton Blake adventure, I'd have given up on it halfway through. The character deserved much more.
Notes: While planning a fishing holiday, Sexton Blake is approached by an old friend, Professor Malachi O'Beirne, who claims to have seen a leprechaun. Theorising that the the 'little people' are actually remnants of an ancient race, O'Beirne persuades the detective to take his holiday in Ireland and help him locate a living example. Blake agrees, half believing that the whole thing is an elaborate prank. On the plane to Ireland, he encounters the Duke of Derwentwater, who he knows from old as half of a criminal team, the partner being Adele, Duchess of Derwentwater. In Ireland, with Pedro, Blake begins his fishing expedition. It's interrupted by a gunshot — an initial assassination attempt by the McCreedy brothers, who, having spotted the detective, have jumped to the conclusion that he's there to investigate their bootlegging operation. Their illegal alcohol has already caused a number of deaths. Blake begins to suspect that they and the Duke might be colluding in some villainous scheme. When he discovers that the Duke owns a nearby castle, he spies on it one night but, while doing so, sees something out of the corner of his eye. A fleeting impression of a small hairy figure is all that registers before, three hours later, he finds himself behind the wheel of his car wondering what just happened. Next morning, it becomes apparent that the professor has vanished. While searching for him, Blake discovers a cave in which the McCreedy's have a still. They interrupt his investigation and capture him, taking him to Derwentwater's castle, where the main bootlegging operation is housed. The detective escapes and destroys the illegal distillery, burning down the castle in the process. The McCreedy's die in the blaze. Blake finds the professor but is pursued by the 'little people' who use their powers of hypnosis to make him forget he ever encountered them.
Trivia: Tinker doesn't feature in this story but Pedro gets a big slice of the action; a rare occurrence this late in the Blake saga.
Notes: A black magic ceremony at an ancient stone
circle goes terribly wrong when Betty Juniper, the young girl hired as
the 'sacrificial virgin', doesn't show up ... but the crushed remains of
an unknown man do. The organiser of the ritual, Mangus
Overhead, and his coven flee the blood-drenched scene. At
Saltfree Industries, a nearby factory, Sexton Blake is overseeing
security arrangements for the owner, Henry Burton. One of the directors,
Pumphret, has not been seen since he went walking on the moors. Sexton
uses Pedro the bloodhound to follow the scent but finds that the trail
mysteriously ends a few yards from the stone circle. Walking a little
farther, he finds the shattered body and the paraphernalia left behind
by the coven. The corpse proves to be Pumphret. Contacting Tinker, Blake
asks him to start investigating the local covens. This leads to the
identification of Mangus Overhead as the leader of the group that had
been at the stone circle. It also points Tinker towards Betty Juniper.
He questions her, beds her, and the next day suggests to Blake that
there's more to learn and he should take her out again:
"Just to pump her a little more, you understand—"
"I understand perfectly," says Blake.
So the following day Tinker and Betty walk up to Lover's Leap. They are followed by Mangus. Scared that he might be linked to Pumphret's death, he has sent most of the coven abroad and killed one other. Now, to stop Betty blabbing, he rushes up and pushes Tinker off the edge of the precipice then struggles with the girl. Fortunately, and by sheer coincidence, Sexton Blake is walking Pedro nearby and sees the drama unfolding on the cliff edge. He rushes to the rescue and Mangus, seeking to escape, falls to his death. Tinker's body cannot be found and is presumed washed out to sea by the raging river at the foot of the cliff. That night, Blake returns to the factory and is locked in a refrigeration unit by Burton. Blake has finally realised that Burton killed Pumphret in order to claim a new piece of equipment as his own invention. Tinker turns up and frees the detective, explaining that he fell into deep water then walked home. Why he has come to the factory is never explained. Blake drives off in pursuit of Burton, heading to a nearby airfield where the villain keeps his private jet. The plane takes off but, instead of escaping like any sane criminal would, Burton starts playing cat and mouse with the car, swooping down in an attempt to overturn it with his slipstream. He crashes the plane and dies.
Trivia: This is the first Sexton Blake story I ever read! — Mark Hodder
Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ This is really simplistic stuff with no style and very little to recommend it. There's also a really insulting and gratuitous scene where Burton attempts to seduce his secretary who, though she can't stand him, finds herself responding physically despite herself. The scene where Tinker beds Betty is also completely out of step with the things that, in the past, had made the Blake saga so good. Oh, and Notting Hill is only mentioned once. Best left on the shelf.
Notes: After being awoken by an early morning call that appeared to be a wrong number, Sexton Blake goes to the shooting range in the basement of his Baker Street building. He shoots at a target and from behind it falls Albert Haddock, one time music hall comedian, now — corpse! While examining the man he has just shot dead, Blake is mysteriously rendered unconscious by an unidentified assailant. After regaining his senses and reporting to Detective-Inspector Grimwald, he is given 24 hours to clear himself of a murder charge. Haddock had approached Blake a few days before, claiming to be the victim of a swindle. During the consultation, someone had telephoned Haddock and the comedian had stormed out of Blake's rooms and had later accused the detective of threatening him. Now, Blake is getting the distinct impression that he's being set up. He pays a visit to Haddock's former stage partner and current employee, Ernest Chaddock. Upon leaving the office, he narrowly avoids an attempt on his life. Paula Dane and Marion Lang also encounter difficulties when Haddock's butler locks them in a room. These events lead to the identification of four main suspects. Blake, Tinker, Paula and Marion each take one to investigate and all come to the same conclusion: the suspects have cast-iron alibis. However, when Blake questions an old actor in a bar, the truth dawns on him and he realises how the crime was committed, who did it and why. With the help of the actor, he stages a 'haunting' which frightens the killer into a full confession.
Notes: This is a revised and expanded version of SEXTON
BLAKE LIBRARY 4th series issue 359 FRIGHTENED LADY (the issue that
introduced Paula Dane and started the 'New Order'). See that issue for a review of the unrevised story. This expanded version was anthologised in THE EIGHTH SEXTON BLAKE OMNIBUS (1970).
Notes: Arthur Wragg's employer is making millions out of his client's talent while Wragg receives by return a very average wage. When his wife and daughter are tragically killed in a road accident, he finds that he's suddenly paying more in tax. This injustice makes him realise that, in order to profit, he must become a 'company'. Gathering a group of like-minded people who have been defeated by the rising cost of living and complexities of life, he begins to plan a heist. After two successful 'rehearsals', the company has enough capital to purchase a country house which they use as their HQ. Unfortunately, when a female member of the group purchases a number of board games to keep them amused during the evenings, she arouses the suspicions of an amateur detective; a little boy who telephones Sexton Blake. Blake is curious and he begins to search for the group, his instinct telling him that a crime will soon be committed. And it is. Wragg & Co. net £2,000,000 in a great train robbery. Unfortunately, the clues Blake has gathered soon lead to their arrest and conviction. The money, though, is never found. Blake is not entirely unsympathetic to their 'cause' ... and a number of charities find themselves receiving generous donations from an anonymous source.
Trivia: According to the author, Sexton Blake's finances aren't particularly healthy. This contradicts earlier tales which, more believably, depict him as very wealthy.
Notes: In the west country, near Cheddar Gorge, A man known only as 'V' escapes from a secret laboratory in which he has been a test subject for his entire life. He murders a bunny girl as she drives home from work at an exclusive country club and then dies himself due to his inability to process the oxygen content of normal air. Tinker, on business in the area, finds the girl's corpse and calls the police and Sexton Blake. The latter, thanks to Pedro, discovers the body of 'V'. The man seems to have hidden in the back of the girl's car but how he got there is a mystery. Blake is pretty sure he climbed aboard in the club's car park ... but where did he come from and why are his heart and lungs so over-developed? The police coroner is of the opinion that the man is an alien but Blake can't believe this. A framed picture discarded by 'V' at the crime scene provides a further clue: it is a portrait of the Pembrokes, a biological scientist and his wife who are believed to have defected to Russia many years before. Keeping watch on the club, Tinker discovers that the couple are now back in Britain. They notice his attention and, with the aid of a couple of thugs, capture him. Pembroke reveals that he and his wife never actually went to Russia but, instead, retreated into caves beneath the club where, with Soviet funding, they created a secret laboratory. Here, Pembroke has been altering the DNA of human beings to change their physiology, making them adaptable to the harsher conditions of other planets. He is, if fact, creating a new breed of cosmonaut. All his test subjects so far have died with the exception of one. This unfortunate person is due to be smuggled aboard a Soviet submarine, to be taken to Russia as evidence that Pembroke's research is worth the continued investment. Marion Lang, posing as a bunny girl at the club, overhears the shipment details and informs Blake before she, too, is captured. Blake and the local police intercept the articulated truck that carries the test subject and they rescue him, though he later dies in hospital, unable to cope with normal air. Blake then races to the club and saves Marion and Tinker from Pembroke. The scientist, in trying to escape, enters one of his own test chambers and dies in its poisonous atmosphere.
Trivia: Pedro and Mrs Bardell both receive attention in this tale, while the Berkeley Square office remains in the background. In fact, Paula Dane is mentioned just once.