Saturday, 4 December 2010

Walter Tyrer - The Strange Affair of the Shot-Gun Sniper - Sexton Blake Library

Walter Tyrer - The Strange Affair of the Shot-Gun Sniper - Sexton Blake Library - 3rd Series - Number 339 - July 1955

Once again, I`ve neglected posting a review of this title until some weeks have passed since reading it !

While that inevitably compromises this review a tad, I do have some general observations that may be of interest. 

I have to say that this story demonstrates the late Walter`s versatility. Having cut his teeth writing schoolboy stories during the `30s, he pursued a lucrative career as a freelance writer of short stories, embracing a number of different genres as he did so. While it`s true he penned a number of novels, it was actually his work for short story magazines that financed our lad`s move from humble origins in a tough part of Liverpool to a decidedly swish home in Kingston Upon Thames.

Many of his post-war Blakes do show the influence of his earlier styles, their humour a little dated for the time, and the plots often rather quirky.

As I`ve commented before, there were occasional departures from the standard Tyreresque territory and this `50s thriller is a case in point. While the two principal villains are rather Machiavellian and one is arguably larger than life, this is quite different in many ways from  previous Tyrer tales and the plot is free from sinister hypnotists, cantankerous recluses, Dickensian lawyers and missing anglers.

In their place we get an intelligently-plotted 1950s thriller that would have seemed pretty much bang up to date to SBL readers of the time, with interesting characters and an ingenious story. There are points that could have been made a touch more convincing  with only a little more attention to detail, but in general it is not carelessly written.

I`ve looked at the review of this story on Blakiana and see that your man Mark gives it only 2 out of  5. There we must differ as I thought rather highly of it. My only real reservation
would be that if your taste runs to `Tyrer doing what Tyrer did` then you might be disappointed. I myself am no purist in these matters and would describe this as a pretty classy `50s detective story with a touch of romance thrown in for good measure.

The cover design , you may be interested to know, is my favourite piece  of  SBL artwork but at present I gather the artist remains unknown. A pity. If anyone does know, I`d be glad to hear from you.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Hugh Clevely - The House of Evil - Sexton Blake Library


Wing Commander Hugh Clevely (1898 - 1964) was a prolific writer of detective stories for periodicals like The Thriller in the `30s. He had considerable success with his own characters John Martinson, Tod Claymore* and Inspector Williams and on his return from the World War Two wrote a number of Sexton Blake Library titles. 

The use of prominent short story writers of previous eras to write SBLs during the `40s and `50s has led some to regard them as simple hackwork, penned by writers now past their prime for the benefit of a dwindling Blake fan base.

An intelligent thriller like House of Evil completely contradicts this image. Well-told and well-plotted, this is one of the better SBLs of it`s time. The  murderous machinations contained therein bring together characters from the worlds of fashion, business and organised crime, and the story also incorporates elements of a country house mystery.  I did wonder if it was wise to have the reader made aware of the identities of the principal villains and their relationship to each other from the start, but in light of some plot developments later on, I think it was the best approach to take in this instance.  Clevely`s experience as a writer stands him in good stead and he introduces some strong characters, particularly two with wartime SOE experience who stand out as particularly interesting.

This is the only Clevely story I`ve read so far, but I would happily try some of his other work.

*Clevely`s work was normally issued under his own name, with the exception of the Tod Claymore stories. These were written in the first person as if told by the character himself and were credited to the fictitious Claymore.


Hoonaloon Books

Hoonaloon Books will be offline for a few days more and then things will be back to normal again.

Any messages can be sent to us via our Antiqbook shop.


Nick & Ann-Marie

Monday, 18 October 2010

Hoonaloon Books

Hoonaloon Books will be offline for a few days, but normal service will be resumed circa 24 Oct.

We have some outstanding orders, queries and messages - if yours is among these, no need to panic, we will deal with it ASAP over the next couple of days.


Nick & Ann-Marie
Hoonaloon Books

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Walter Tyrer - The Mystery of the Swindler`s Stooge

Walter Tyrer - The Mystery of the Swindler`s Stooge - Sexton Blake Library - 3/299 -  Nov 1953
Illustrator - Eric Parker

I must admit I read this some weeks ago and have only just got round to penning a review. While it isn`t entirely fresh in my mind I do recall enough about it to merit jotting down a few obsevations.

Firstly, this story was something of a departure for our Walt. The plot, and in some ways the writing style, is markedly different from what I would call `classic Tyrer`.

The first and most obvious difference is that his trademark wit is noticeable by it`s absence. That`s not to say that the story is written in a particularly dour style, but the little flashes of rather old-fashioned humour which give his other Blakes such a distinctive favour is nowhere to be found.

Also unusual is that, although we see the principle villain and his associates going about their activities, we are quite a way through the story before the crime contemplated is fully apparent, and the full explanation of motives etc takes even longer to appear.

Compared to some other Blakes we see rather more of the villains than we do of Sexton and Tinker, though that is not so unusual for SBLs of the immediate post-war period.

Does it work ? In my view, yes it does. Although the style of storytelling is not as Tyreresque as the reader might have expected,  his talent for creating eccentric characters is given it`s full rein ; catankerous recluse Barney Howlett is the first character we meet and hot on his heels come Machiavellian solicitor Josiah Symes, his alcoholic clerk Potter, aspiring thespians Cedric Courtland and Elise Howlettova (real names  Willie Brown and Elsie Howlett), explosives- expert- turned- criminal Joe Lowden and deluded would-be businessman Willie Langford, along with a host of minor characters. This impressive cast-list  could be a bit overpowering, but because of the way in which the story unfolds it never seems too `crowded`.

For admirers of the mighty Walter`s SBLs, this title will provide a welcome chance to encounter him doing something a little different. For those who are new to Walt-watching, or to Blake generally, this would no doubt be a cheap and cheerful introduction.  It`s good fun, and that`s what counts !

Monday, 14 June 2010

Desmond Reid - Witch Hunt

Desmond Reid - Witch-Hunt - Sexton Blake Library - Series 4, Issue 452 - May 1960

Note : In this instance, `Desmond Reid` was in fact a writer named Rosamond Mary Story, though Ms Story`s story was revised before publication by George Paul Mann aka Arthur Kirby. The cover art, incidentally, was by an artist known as Caroselli.

A Blake story with something for everyone, as Sexton travels to rural but less-than-idyllic Little Bede to investigate a death with apparent supernatural overtones.

I know nothing about Ms Story. One obvious possibility is that she was a relative of Jack Trevor Story. I did at one time ask Guy Lawley of but he was unable to cast any light on the question.

The writing style adopted here varies as the book progresses, most likely by design rather than by accident.

In one of the earlier scenes, a mysterious death during a thunderstorm does seem a little overdone ("Lightning flashed and thunder rolled in triumph.") whereas later we encounter patches of very good writing ("Dusk hung over the land like a smoke-grey curtain. The scent of pine and leaf mould enveloped him.") Towards the end we are in pulp-fiction territory, with rather over-emphatic use of words ("Blake jerked open the glove compartment...grabbed at a road-map. His finger stabbed along the Essex coastline." ). Personally I am not too keen on this style of writing, ( It reaches it`s nadir with "A shot smashed past Blake`s head. A second spanged against a rung of the ladder." The verb "to spang"was sadly missing from my education ! ) but it does help maintain pace and tension.

 There are also some excellent  flashes of humour, notably when Blake is threatened by an armed butler ; 

"Frankly portly, the man held a sporting rifle as if he were balancing a tray loaded with delicate china."  

The story is eventful, to say the least. At one point Blake is subjected to an attempt on his life (he survives), discovers a corpse and returns to the house where he is staying only to learn that the lady of the house has been murdered in his absence ! Even his presumably case-hardened assistant Tinker comments with alarm on the startling death-toll.

Easy though it is to poke fun, this is a very promising debut indeed from Ms Story, and I fully intend to seek out her other works, if any exist.

If anyone does know anything about her, I`d be fascinated to hear from you.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Jack Trevor Story - Murder in the Sun - Sexton Blake Library

Jack Trevor Story - Murder in the Sun - Sexton Blake Library - Series 4, Number 412, August 1958

Two things for the price of one here, a sequel to the same author`s excellent Season of the Skylark and a few fascinating insights into the lifestyle of 1950`s Britain.

Sally and her young brother Ronny live in a `rooming house`, their father having died an undischarged bankrupt. Things are hard as, purely from a sense of decency, Sally uses every spare coin to re-imburse her father`s creditors.

During the school holidays, Ronny tries to help by visiting the site of a factory bombed during the war. Local people use the site as a rubbish tip and he is often able to salvage scrap metal to sell on - a friendly scrap merchant has shown him how to use a magnet to establish which items are made of iron.

On one particularly fateful trip, he unearths something that will change the lives of the rooming-house occupants forever. Although he doesn`t realise it, he has found a number of metal plates used in the manufacture of forged banknotes. Disturbed by a man who seems to be a vagrant, he takes to his heels. A passing policeman intervenes and finds, unnoticed by the fleeing Ronny, a partially decomposed corpse.

One of the rooming-house tenants recognises the plates for what they are and offers what seems to be a generous price for them. The action switches to a seaside setting as Sally and the other tenants set about a new life,  little knowing that they are being sought by a mysterious villain known as The Patron. They are also, naturally, being shadowed by Sexton Blake. 

Soon we find that three of Sally`s associates are none other than the Magnus family, a trio of geriatric villains first encountered in The Season of the Skylark.

There is a good passage where Mr Magnus (known to Sally and Ronny as Mr Murdoch) reflects on the murderous proclivities of one of his daughters ;

"Mr Murdoch looked with sorrow at his daughter. He had not visualised this when she was taking her bible-class prize in her pig-tails and gym slip. Although, now he came to think of it, it was rather odd how the school had got burnt down on the very day she was sent home for cutting up a grass snake."

The portrayal of an English seaside holiday resort is, presumably, a conscious echo of `Skylark` and none the worse for that.

Unlike Skylark, which seemed (to me at least) to have been planned as a  novel and then  turned into a Blake story (JTS often did that when strapped for ready cash) , this appears to have been intended as a Blake from the outset.

If I had to choose between the two, I`d opt for Skylark every time, but this is a worthy successor none the less.

Friday, 14 May 2010

W J Passingham - The World Championship Mystery

W J Passingham - The World Championship Mystery - Amalgamated (Fleetway) - Sexton Blake Library Series (Series 3 Number 288, May 1953)

At the start of this story, boxing promoter Big Bill Broughton is a worried man. His star protege, middleweight champion Johnny Gerard has a big fight coming up, and someone is prepared to use fair means or foul to stop him winning.

Gerard has other worries closer to home. Under his real name, John Grandby, he stands to inherit his family`s stately home. More than one party has expressed an interest in buying it and he suspects this flurry of offers has a connection with the recent murder of his uncle.

Soon Bill is saying the magic words ;

"This is a case for a private detective, and the best of his kind will be here some time this morning."

"You mean - ?" Johnny queried sharply.

"I mean Sexton Blake."

Blake`s main problem is to decide whether the two cases are related. Are the same people who want the house so badly also out to ruin Johnny`s boxing career ? Or are there two entirely separate groups of wrong-doers to be tackled ?

Anyone who wanted to go in for a bit of destructive criticism would find their work fairly easy here.

 The most glaring incongruity is when the author describes the visit of a police officer to the premises of a particular company. Blake has already told Tinker the outcome of the officer`s visit some pages previously and it seems strangely placed in the text.

Elsewhere, Blake drives to Putney Police station and speaks to the desk sergeant in order to find the location of builder`s yards in the area. Surely he knew how to use a phone book ?

Quite a big feature is made of a boxing match part way through the story. I`d query how well the writer knew the sport, but worse than that, his account is like something from Mills and Boon in  places ;

"Wild bursts of cheering...rang out like surf beating hard and wind-driven against a rock-bound beach...Destiny must have it already written that the Sullivan arena would never witness such a fighting epic."

Despite these failings, the story keeps it`s head above water largely because of the underlying "two cases or one ?" motif and Blake`s attempts to clear a wrongly-arrested Russian businessman.

Once the case becomes clearer, the story is in danger of losing the reader, partly because the central questions are largely answered, partly because the main villain has three possible motives which maybe indicates a degree of muddled thinking on the part of the author.

The story is saved by an unexpected plot development which takes our hero to the site of an old  civil war Royalist stronghold just in time for a dramatic showdown. The last few pages, concerned entirely with Johnny`s boxing career and associates, seemed to me a bit surplus to requirements, though others may feel it rounds the thing off nicely. 

Despite quite a few amateurish touches (Some may actually be the responsibility of Fleetway`s rather inconsistent editors and proof-readers. I would think this likely as I gather the author was already an experienced writer of non-fiction*.), the story does hold the attention, and I would regard it as a creditable attempt, though perhaps not the work of a literary genius.

I would like to report that the author turned out more Blakes, refining his skills as he went along. Sadly, he wrote only one other that I know of (The Ace Accomplice) although I gather he may also have written a children`s book, the intriguingly-title Their Faces Turned Green**. 

Worth reading, but only if you`re prepared to enter into the spirit of things.
* I`m now a little better informed about Mr Passingham`s career as journalist and author. See my review of his `The Case of the Ace Accomplice`, posted on this blog 9 June 2013, for more accurate information.
** `Their Faces Turned Green` appeared in Modern World magazine Volume 1, Number 51, 8 March 1941.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

John Hunter - Murder in the Air


Like Walter Tyrer, John Hunter was a successful novelist of the pre-war years who spent the post-war period writing for Fleetway (Amalgamated) on a freelance basis. I believe that, like Tyrer, he turned his hand to anything they needed - detective stories, westerns, romance.

This SBL story of Hunter`s is a little different in tone to some of his others, it is told in a very straightforward manner, with some of the language , particularly towards the beginning, being used in quite a pedestrian way. There is none of the interweaving of the stories of different characters that I had taken to be his trademark.

Against that, the story is enlivened by two excellent villains (who could usefully have been reprised for another story in my opinion). While the other criminals (there are quite a few) are less memorable, they area sufficiently vile and treacherous lot to keep the reader`s interest. There are one or two plot developments (I wouldn`t necessarily call them twists, but certainly developments) that are particularly unexpected and certainly keep the reader engaged.

Like a number of the Hunter/Tyrer stories, this one seems vaguely gentle, even though it is as full of murder, fraud, infidelity, betrayal and violence as you could hope for. I can only think that this is because the writing lacks pace when compared to the Blake stories of the Howard Baker era. I don`t regard that as a criticism, they are just good stories in a different way.

The immediate post-war period was not a great time for the Sexton Blake Library, but for me, Hunter and Tyrer performed heroically in contributing exciting, intelligently plotted, occasionally humorous and usually well-written stories to the Blake canon.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Desmond Reid - Murder by Moonlight

Desmond Reid - Murder by Moonlight - Sexton Blake Library - 4th Series, Number 482 - August 1961

One of the attractions of books by `Desmond Reid` is seeing if you can guess who really wrote it.

In this case, I guessed at W Howard Baker and was wrong - it`s by Wilfred McNeilly.

This is what I would call a `mid-Blake`; there`s nothing really wrong with it - I enjoyed reading it and will no doubt read it again with pleasure -  but somehow I don`t think it will ever become a personal favourite.

In part, the problem is that a couple of very imaginative early chapters - including a dolphin`s-eye view of a corpse in water - raised my expectations a little.

Truthfully, I probably shouldn`t `damn it with faint praise`. The plot is ludicrous, certainly, but I`m prepared to enter into the spirit of things, and in any case, the way in which the story unfolds means that the reader is roughly half-way through before the scenario becomes apparent.

There is no very bad writing (though after the first couple of chapters, no very good writing either). It is exciting, and humorous in places, but all in all I have to say I like it but I don`t love it.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Book Review : Desmond Reid - The Corpse Came Too (Sexton Blake Library)

Desmond Reid - The Corpse Came Too - Sexton Blake Library - 4th Series, Number 486 , October 1961

One of the first things I did on acquiring a computer for the first time was to look for sites relating to Desmond Reid. I was disappointed not to find any. You can imagine my surprise on eventually learning that there was no such person, and that `Desmond Reid` was an Amalgamated/Fleetway `house pseudonym`, used for the work of a number of writers.

Somewhat better informed now, I can tell you that the `Desmond Reid` who wrote this particular story was A A Glynn, information I found on the Blakiana website IIRC.

It is a superior effort in many ways. The story begins with Blake and secretary Paula Dane finding a corpse in the back of his car. Before long our intrepid sleuth is en route to Mexico, in hot pursuit of homicidal archaeologists.

No-one is going to mistake Glynn for a literary genius, but generally, despite occasional lapses, his writing is pretty capable. I notice that whenever one character, Inga Martinside, appears we get an attack of dumbed-down writing. While it may be that the writer experienced a rush of blood to the head when contemplating Scandinavian beauties, I suspect she was added-in as an afterthought, particularly since the tale can be told fairly readily without her.

There is one other section that I suspect was added in at a later stage, but as that brings us the marvellous simile "Professor Martinside clutched the edge of the passenger seat like a rooster trying to ride out a storm", I am prepared to forgive this.

This SBL has one or two shortcomings,  but the basic plot is pretty damn good, and there is an effective twist in the tale for added spice, which counts for a lot.

All in all, well worth a read.

Footnote #1 - I`ve since learned that 4th series editor W Howard Baker was fairly `hands-on` and much given to either asking for changes to an author`s work, or simply adding in extra passages of his own. He also relied heavily at times on SBL writer `Arthur MacLean` (George Paul Mann), who acted as de facto Assistant Editor. We may never know for sure whether either of these made any changes to A A Glynn`s story  - the ever-reliable Blakiana credits the work to Glynn alone - but it is a possibility.

Footnote #2 - My understanding us that the Reid name was used whenever the editor had a story from a regular writer to use, but felt that the name of the writer in question had been cropping up a bit too frequently. It was also used sometimes for the work of writers new to the SBL, since the non-existent Reid had acquired something of a following. Not as daft as it seems when you come to think about it, since the Reid name would necessarily have been attached to the work of the SBL`s most prolific and experienced writers more often than not.  

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Book review : Walter Tyrer/The Case of the Cottage Crime (Sexton Blake Library)

Walter Tyrer - The Case of the Cottage Crime (Sexton Blake Library 3rd Series, #212)

Definitely a case in which it`s not so much the tale as the telling of the tale that counts. The plot may be daft, but Tyrer is on top form in this prime slice of vintage detective fiction.

As ever his particular brand of humour, whilst now rather dated, is both charming and funny ("Alf Beckett did not like women drinking to excess ; it left less liquor for the men") and he is capable of a polished turn of phrase ("Now over his ruddy countenance spread the dawn of understanding like the sun shouldering upwards over a bleak and deserted landscape").

Only once is he apparently let down by the sloppy editing and proof-reading that could mar some SBLs of the period, when one of his descriptions is somehow mangled to include the bizarre phrase "the petulance was stringy" !

If I had to find a fault it would be the author`s (and Blake`s) contrasting of Italian and English characters ; "That`s the difference between the cool northern temperament and the impulsive Italian style" opines Blake at one point. It probably seemed very worldly then - now it just sounds silly and parochial.

I`ve only read this one once so far but feel sure it`s destined to become a personal favourite.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Welcome to the Sexton Blake Blog

Welcome to the Sexton Blake Blog. As you`ll have guessed, this is going to be a `fan blog` run by myself as a tribute to the great fictional detective.

The reasons it takes the form of a blog are obvious I would think - I don`t have the time or money and probably not the patience to do justice to a fully fledged web site.

My choosing to have my own online tribute to the great Sexton is not an implied criticism of the other online tributes out there. I`ve no doubt at all that others can do it better, and have indeed done so as you`ll see from the links provided. This is basically just a hobby for me and not intended as competition for anyone else.

It will take a little time for me to get any number of entries posted, but no doubt it will take shape in due course.

All the Best,