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.