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.