Friday, 14 September 2012

Zenith Lives ! Review Part Two (George Mann)

It`s quite a time since I first began to review Obverse Publications` Zenith Lives ! collection, but finally, here we are again.

George Mann - The Albino`s Shadow (Short Story)

I`ve never read anything by George Mann before but I`ll admit I`m keen to try more of his stuff.

I was particularly impressed by the author`s writing style. Somehow, he manages to keep the thing moving at quite a sprightly pace but still introduces enough detail - about a given character`s mannerisms etc - to make it convincing ("Rutherford blew smoke from the corner of his mouth, watching as it was quickly dispersed on the frigid breeze").

I also like the way one is quite quickly drawn into the little world the author has created, particularly during a visit to the home of the character Professor Angelchrist ("Rutherford had a sense that the house was crowded with the accumulated detritus of decades, paraphernalia of a thousand long-forgotten adventures. He longed to explore, to go rummaging and digging amongst all this wondrous stuff, to unpick the tales attached to each item").

I don`t want to say anything too much about the plot, except to remark that the story involves very little action, but still holds the reader`s attention, something I found admirable.

For me, the ending worked perfectly, though I can see that others may not agree.

I have a fondness for the short story as a genre which obviously means I`ve read some of the very best (H G Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) and some of the worst (I won`t name names !). Whether this miniature gem of a story stands up amongst the best only time will tell, but it`s a long, long way from being one of the worst.

It`s different, but give it a try. You might like it.

Karen Maitland

As you may have noticed, I`ve taken to punctuating my online journeys into the world of Sexton Blake with short pieces of news, comment etc to do with crime-writing generally.

My spies tell me that author Karen Maitland made an appearance at the library in Arnold, Nottinghamshire recently, to speak to a local reading group, an appearance that by all accounts has made a few more converts to her literary cause.

Ms Maitland is a new name to me, but a spot of googling reveals that she is the author of seven novels, all published by big-name publishers (Penguin and Simon and Schuster). Her choice of venue seems a little surprising given that she is, seemingly, quite a big name and does not live in Notts.

Myths, magic and medieval murder mysteries are Maitland`s thing. She writes these individually and also jointly with a group of writers known as the Medieval Murderers (the others are Philip Gooden, Susanna Gregory, Michael Jecks, Bernard Knight and Ian Morson). I seem to recall reading that a group of Sexton Blake writers did something similar in days gone by.  If you missed her trip to the Midlands then don`t despair as she will be hitting the road, Jack, quite a bit in the near future, including return visits to Notts later this month and in October.

For more information on her doings and goings-on, click here ;

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Arthur Kent - Inclining to Crime - Sexton Blake Library

Arthur Kent - Inclining to Crime - Amalgamated Press - Sexton Blake Library - Series 4, Issue 364, 1956

Not a bad effort from one of the lesser-known SBL writers.

As far as I know Arthur Kent was his real name, though he may have used pen-names at times. If anyone can clarify this I`d be glad to hear from you. Allegedly he typed his own stories despite having only one arm !

Blake  is retained by the marvellously named New Hope and Trust Insurance Company to investigate a series of suspicious fires but soon realises his suspects are involved in much more than fraud.

By this time, the series was absorbing influences from `the other side of the pond`, so we encounter an array of characters influenced by US detective fiction - an Italian gangster, a drug addict, a crooked boxing promoter. Criminals you might well meet in earlier Blakes, but probably not all in the same story.

In Kent`s hands they do not seem like beings from another genre grafted on to an SBL format, their presence seems reasonably natural, except for their extraordinary taste in clothes. Gangster Don Ricardo wears a sky-blue tuxedo to a boxing match at one point, which must surely be an offence in itself !

In a nice touch, the debt to US pulp fiction is explained away by personal vanity - Ricardo has changed his name from Luigi to Don as he rose through the ranks of the underworld, junky Michael Banion`s use of American slang is an affectation.

The story manages to pack insurance fraud, a rigged boxing match and a number of murders into the stipulated 64 pages, which is no mean feat. The pace of the thing alone is enough to keep the attention, but there is little to raise it from `good` to `great`. The odd classy phrase ("Daylight chased shadows from the empty hall") or piece of wry humour ("When I was a recruit" comments a detective "it was enough that you gave your superiors the facts. Now they want to give you their personal opinions.") only really offset the occasional amateurish touches and incongruities (at one point a character refers to the killing of a man with a pick "a clean job" !).

There is a nifty plot twist towards the end, and generally the latter part does seem a little more ingenious than the rest.

I wouldn`t call it inspired, but I would call this a creditable effort from our man Kent and overall it`s worth a read.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Hoonaloon News September 2012

The latest Hoonaloon Books Newsletter is online now. Uncover more clues at