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).


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