We come now to the third part of my recent interview with Mark `The Silent Thunder Caper` Hodder.
Parts One and Two were posted on this blog on 8 and 15 October of this year and are still to be found lurking there.
We turn now to my third and most predicable question ;
Q) Who are your favourite characters from the Blake tales and why ? A) I`ve always had a soft spot for George Marsden Plummer , simply because his early tales, by the mysterious Michael Storm*, are exceedingly well-written, and also because I think it`s a great idea : a high-ranking Police detective who uses his knowledge of the criminal underworld to his own advantage. That was ahead of its` time for sure. I like the psychology of Plummer. He believes he deserves better by virtue of his family connections to aristocracy , and thinks his less lordly status is an unfortunate quirk of fate that flies in the face of what`s `right`. I really connect with that , as my mother had the same attitude, though she never became a super-villain. Zenith, of course, is right there at the top of the league. Anyone who`s read Zenith loves Zenith. He has an otherworldliness that really appeals. In some respects he`s an interesting counterpoint to Plummer in that he has the aristocratic position but considers it worthless. This question of the value of the aristocracy and the difference (if any) between an aristocrat and a commoner was integral to the zeitgeist of the inter-war years and has always fascinated me. It`s even become a theme of my own `Burton and Swinburne` series. Perhaps it`s why I chose to revive The Three Musketeers**. Three common criminals hiding behind a facade of `Hooray Henrys` ..that`s got to be fun ! A trio of psychopathic Bertie Woosters !
DESMOND REID - HIGH HEELS AND HOMICIDE - SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 4/405 1958
Two beauty contestants are kidnapped and Blake is asked to investigate. Along the way he uncovers an espionage ring and encounters again a face from the past.
This story, actually written by John Purley and revised by George Paul Mann (aka Arthur MacLean), is another example of the `Reid` name being attached to work by (one presumes) an unknown writer. It is interesting in that it marks the return of one of the pre-war Blake villains, Huxton Rymer.
Criminally-inclined former surgeon Huxton Rymer, the creation of writer G H Teed, appeared in various Blake stories 1913 - 36, with a short break while Teed served in the army during World War One. Some question whether the last of the Rymer stories was Teeds` work but as he died in 1938 we can`t very well ask him.
I have done a bit of checking and find that an earlier SBL, the Mansion on the Moor (3/43), was credited to John Purley and during that year Collectors Digest magazine described him as a 43-year old Worcester-based freelance journalist contributing on a one-off basis.
The return of Rymer enables Blake to expand on the mans` character and attitudes ;
"If you`d blundered in on him he would have killed you. You know that as well as I do ! He`d have done it regretfully, but he`d have done it just the same. I think he`s fond of us - both of us - in his own odd way, but if it was your life or his liberty, it would be your life !"
On that cheerful note the investigation begins in earnest.
Does it work ? Not 100%. There is considerable humour to be extracted from the opening chapters, in which a bevy of petulant starlets and their over-ambitious parents and managers descend on a long-suffering hotel manager, but that joke is soon run into the ground.
There are one or two changes of pace and mood, all of which seem to breeze in out of nowhere. Various fruitful directions are indicated, particularly as Blake and Tinker begin to show signs of strain, and even to despair of saving the kdnapped girls, but none is really explored. The story lasts well under the usual 64 pages but still seems over-long.
It`s not too bad, but one wonders why George Paul Mann couldn`t have ironed out a few faults.
It`s certainly not the worst story I`ve read, but equally, it`s not the best either.
As you may know, Sexton Blake was recently reborn, his first new adventure being Mark Hodders` The Silent Thunder Caper, available from Obverse books via their website.
Mark was kind enough to let me interview him for this blog recently, and I am posting the details here in instalments.
In the first part of the interview (this blog, 8 Oct 2014), Mark told us that his intial encounter with Sexton Blake was far from encouraging. Still, this plucky young chap persevered. His investigations were both ardent and intrepid and soon he became The Blakiana Guy.
But let him tell his own tale...
Q) Clearly you were not discouraged for long and eventually set about amassing a fairly impressive Blake collection and running the much-missed (by me, anyway) Blakiana website. Tell us about that.
A) The first thing you need to know is that the Blakiana site is alive and well, here ; www.mark-hodder.com/Blakiana . The site came about through a mix of boredom and fascination. The boredom was caused by me working at an office job in which I completed my assigned daily tasks so quickly and satisfactorily that I was finished by lunchtime. I knew that if I admitted this to my manager I`d end up with a bigger workload but the same pay, so I kept my mouth shut...better to hand in my work at the end of the day and pretend my time had been filled by it ! Next problem ; what to do with the spare hours ? By this point I was hooked on Blake , so it felt natural to build a website about him. Blakiana was thus created in office hours behind my boss`s back. I can confess to that now since i can`t be fired in retrospect ! The site was fine - and ever-expanding - for about five years but then got infected by malware and had to be taken offline. This happened at the same moment I got my first publishing deal, and I was so consumed by writing novels that I had no time to restore it. However, earlier this year I took time out to rebuild it and move it to a new server. So Blakiana is back and I`m very happy about it.
That`s the end of this exciting episode. The next instalment will be along as soon as it can be done, so remember, Watch this Space for more musings from the Blakianas Guy as he takes up the tale of how he went from fansite geezer to bona fide Blake author.
Richard Williams - Somebody Wants Me Dead - Sexton Blake Library - 4/500 - 1960
Credited to `Richard Williams`, this story was in fact the work of Stephen Frances, better known as Hank Jansen.
In the first part of the book, the central character is the marvellously-named Harry Snogg, a professional detective story writer, author of the hard-boiled Ryley Steele series of crime novels.
He is also as impressionable as wet putty, so when he stumbles upon an ongoing bank robbery by chance, it isn`t long before he becomes Ryley Steele - in his own mind, if not to anyone else !
Soon Sexton Blake is involved, and growing more than a little weary of hapless Harrys` attempts at sleuthing.
If the first part of the story is concerned largely with Harry/Ryley, the second is more concerned with Blake. While the first part has its` flashes of humour and the odd writerly flourish ("The first hint of approaching night blunted the brightness of the day."), the second is more terse, the action more hard-hitting.
Its` interesting how Mr Williams/Jansen seems to have adapted himself well to writing SBLs. Had I read this blindfold (so to speak), I would have assumed it was the work of W Howard Baker. Jansen was the author of another `Richard Williams` Blake tale, The Iron Box, and that also fits seamlessly into the genre.
I`ve read this several times, which is why my copy is falling apart, and always enjoyed it. If you`re looking for a blend of humour, crime and detection, this is very likely the one for you.
As I`ve mentioned before, celebrated Saville-Row-suited sleuth Sexton Blake has been reborn, re-invigorated and and renewed by the undoubted skills of Mark Hodder and the determination of Stuart Douglas.
It is with great pleasure that I bring youthis interview with the redoubtable Mr H, whose penmanship is equalled only by his courtesy and his commitment to the cause of Sextonianism.
The interview will be delivered to you in instalments, hopefully at very regular intervals but interspersed with other items relating to the excellent Mr Blake.
It may enhance your reading pleasure if you try to imagine this meeting of minds taking place in some appropriate fictitious setting. I personally would want to imagine the encounter occurring in a dimly-lit basement bar somewhere near Londons` dockland in the immediate post-war period.
Q) I believe your initial encounter with a Sexton Blake adventure was not exactly encouraging ?
A) It was the Sexton Blake Library fifth series novel `The Witches of Notting Hill` by W A Ballinger (actually W Howard Baker). I`d come to Blake by way of the modern-day Robin Hoods (or `Durable Desperados`) ; characters like The Saint, Bulldog Drummond, Tiger Standish, Nighthawk, Blackshirt, The Toff and so forth. Among them I`d encountered Norman Conquest and Zenith the Albino, both of whose origins lie in Blake tales. My initial research into Blake wasn`t promising. "A cheap Sherlock Holmes rip-off" about sums it up (a judgement I now know to be totally erroneous). As a huge Holmes fan I wasn`t much enthused. It kept nagging at me, though ; "I ought to read some Sexton Blake". So when I saw `Witches...` in a secondhand bookshop I snapped it up and... God it was awful ! I couldn`t understand how such drivel could have such an incredibly long history. After recovering from that wasted reading time I thought I should give it another chance and perhaps look out for some of the earlier material. Not long after, a complete set of 1919 Union Jack magazines came up on E-Bay. It co-incided with me having a bit of cash to spare so I bid and won. The moment I eased open one of those browned and crumbly pages with its` tiny print and advertisements promising manly moustaches and cures for blushing , I was hooked. THIS was Sexton Blake !
The next instalment follows shortly. In the meantime you can learn more of the activities of Hodder and Douglas by clicking on these links ;