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.