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 www.jacktrevorstory.co.uk 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.