Saturday, 1 March 2014

John Hunter - The Crime on the French Frontier - Sexton Blake Library - Number 312

John Hunter - The Crime on the French Frontier - Sexton Blake Library - 3rd Series, Number 312 - 1954

A slightly disappointing effort by one of the best Blake writers of the immediate post-war period.

The annoying thing about this one is that it`s a little below par whilst having a great deal going for it. The plot is great - a motorist is shot dead on the Franco-Spanish border, an old lady in England is killed with a hammer. Blake becomes involved and soon finds the two are linked.

By the standards of this kind of thing there is quite an array of characters - a husband-and-wife team of nightclub entertainers, a crooked solicitor, an alcoholic doctor, a ruthless businessman, a pair of over-ambitious hired killers. Blake is portrayed as a rather more reflective character than usual, and this adds interest.

The problem, I think is with the writing. The plot has more than its` share of action, but the writing never really brings it to life, and the feeling one gets is of a tired writer. I am not using that as a  metaphor for a world-weary hack, I actually mean a writer who happened to be tired !  This can be seen in one or two errors - using the word `surety` when he obviously means `certainty` for instance. There`s also a scene where it takes two or three sentences to explain that Blakes` assistant has witnessed certain events through an open inner door. As the reader already knows he`s in an adjacent room, a few words would have done the trick.

It doesn`t help that Hunter obviously never expected the story to fit on 64 pages (post-war austerity measures meant a reduction in size of the SBL). Consequently the typeface used is rather too small for ease of reading and even then, the story has to end on the inside back cover.

All in all, there are plenty of worse stories about, and it doesn`t need major surgery, but a Hunter on top form could have delivered it better.

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