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.

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