Monday, 23 September 2013

`Jack` Confesses - "I Wrote a Sexton Blake !"

"I wrote a Sexton Blake.
I was paid half the going rate because the story had to be "cleaned up and cut down by half", although when it appeared in the bookshops, under a house-name that seemed more suited to an undertaker or a bent solicitor, not a word had been changed, not a comma snipped.   
As an experience to put steel into the beginner-writers` soul, it is to be recommended. Even so, the sum I got, to one not long out of blazer and straw boater, was staggering."
Jack Adrian, from his introduction to Sexton Blake Wins
I first encountered `Jack Adrian` as editor of Sexton Blake Wins and Crime at Christmas, and have only recently leaned that `Jack` is in fact author Christopher Lowder.
I have often wondered which Blake story he wrote, and which pseudonym was `attached` to it. 
Sadly, I remain in ignorance over the matter. Or can someone enlighten me ?
In the meantime, you can satisfy any longings you may have to learn more about Lowder by clicking on these links ;


Sunday, 22 September 2013

W A Ballinger - Murder in Camera - Sexton Blake Library- Series 4, Number 522 - Fleetway, 1963

W A Ballinger was one of a number of pen-names adopted by Sexton Blake Library editor W Howard Baker, possibly influenced by his childhood hero Charles Hamilton aka Frank Richards aka Owen Conquest aka many other people, a writer of 1930s school stories.

Having previously written one or two Blakes, Baker became editor in the late `50s and is credited with having rescued the then-flagging SBL from possible extinction, attracting new writers like Jack Trevor Story and Martin Thomas and incorporating new characters into the stories.

By the time this story appeared in 1963, publishers and copyright holders Fleetway were getting ready to abandon the SBL. Baker must have been a worried man, but there`s nothing in this story to give that away.

The story is reminiscent of his earlier Walk in Fear (aka Every Man an Enemy), except that in  this instance, Blake is brought into contact with the film world rather than the publishing industry.

Although there is an element of satire, this one falls more firmly into the `traditional whodunnit` category, but is a pretty good example of that genre nonetheless.

There are some good lines, particularly when Blake assures one character that he doesn`t, as the other imagines, think of him, as a `shark`, then stands back to allow him through a doorway. "Now you swim ahead" he says courteously.

There are also one or two good pen-portraits ;

"Geoffrey Tithe had lank, thinning grey hair and a face like a camel : haughty eyes, proud nose and lips seemingly ready to spit.

He wore a faded green jacket and a derelict pair of corduroy trousers like twin badges of virtue."

Baker`s work seems to be a mixed bag. This is not quite as good as his very best stories, but is still streets ahead of his worst. The writing has pace, and carries the reader along very agreeably, and the eventual outcome is a surprise (or was to me at any rate).