Peter Saxon - Danger Ahead - Sexton Blake Library
3rd Series, Number 353, Feb 1956
Trivia ; This was the first SBL to carry the distinctive red stripe along the left-hand side. In this instance, `Peter Saxon` was SBL editor W Howard Baker, though I believe that Peter Saxon was a `house pseudonym` used by a number of different writers. As ever, I`m indebted to the Blakiana website for this information, but any mistakes/misunderstandings are my own.
W Howard Baker had been SBL editor for about a year when he penned this tale under the pseudonym Peter Saxon.
Very different in style to his classy Walk in Fear, this is a classic tale of plucky chaps doing daring deeds. Surprisingly for an editor who introduced many changes that older fans did not like, it is actually a very traditional blend of two-fisted action and intelligent detection. It`s none the worse for that !
Set in Angola, at that time occupied by the Portugese, the plot concerns a mysterious gangster known only as Salar, employed by an unscrupulous mining company to sabotage a rivals` operation. Britain`s interests are threatened and Blake is despatched. Africa and the Africans hardly get a look in though, and for the most part it could just as well have been set in Portugal itself.
The fast-paced story never fails to hold the attention, but contains some echoes of the traditional whodunnit. (There are five characters likely to be unmasked as the mysterious Salar. I sailed through the story blissfully convinced that I knew who it was, only to be proved wrong on the next-to-last page ! )
It would be easy (and irresistible !) to poke fun at the odd dated passage ("Her flame-coloured skirt was riding high, and a pair of smoothly-rounded knees were plainly visible." Blimey ! Is it hot in here, or is it me ?), but generally it is a good story told well.
Baker only briefly shows what he is capable of, in a short but effective passage where Blake, his assistant Tinker and a representative of the Portugese Security Services have been keeping observation for hours together one night ;
"They all looked tired, these men : they had talked intermittently since...before nine o`clock, and now they had exhausted the available topics of conversation. So they sat around the table silently, and the passing minutes were translated into tiny lines of strain and fatigue which etched the corners of their eyes."
Blake seems a tolerably rounded figure in Baker`s hands, made more real by his innate decency and sense of humour. The supporting cast of Portugese officials and gangsters are all more interesting than usual. The only excessively cliched character is one of the best, a sadistic thug called Serilla who is given to saying things like "Right, Mister Clever Sexton Blake ! Now you`re going on that long, last walk." An obvious nod to the villains of the pre-war `Golden Age` of Blake adventures.
This may not be Baker at his best, but it`s certainly not Baker at his worst. I personally enjoyed it as much as any Blake story I`ve read.