Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Mark Hodder Interview Part Four

For some time now I`ve been posting my recent interview with Sexton Blake author Mark Hodder on this blog in instalments.
Parts 1 - 3 apppeared on 8, 15 and 19 October respectively so now it must be time for Part Four !
Q)  From comments you`ve posted online* I would think you have a very different worldview to that of Blake, yet you clearly have an enduring fascination with his world. Why do you think that is ?
A) Yep. There you have Blake upholding the superiority of the British Empire and British principles and British character...and here you have me putting the boot in at every opportunity.
Here`s the truth. When you look at propaganda it tells you more about what it`s seeking to defeat than what it`s striving to support. It`s that old truism of psychology : listen to how people insult others, for it reveals what they`re most deeply afraid of. 
Blakes` world is intriguing to me because, in the early years, it is so crammed with self-confidence : this is right, that is wrong, end of story. That unquestioning attitude then gets a kick in the teeth with the First World War , and we have this sudden explosion of super-criminals most of whom can be read as physically or psychologically damaged, or as people who can no longer understand how they fit into society.
The Second World War knocks the Blake world even harder. Now the adventures are suddenly about ordinary people effected by crime, as if all the big world-spanning ideas and conflicts have been relocated to the average persons` kitchen. Aristocracy becomes an irrelevance. And on into the `50s and `60s , during which time Blake hardly represents anything but himself, in a manner that often feels rather empty and soulless.
So for me, the Blake saga, from beginning to end, is a historical document, but rather than examining history from on high, as historians tend to do,  it observes it from pavement level  and so gives a far better feel for how the world was.
That concludes Part Four of my interview with Mark Hodder, author of The Silent Thunder Caper and one of the contributors to the short story collection Zenith Lives. Both titles can be acquired from publisher Obverse Books at .
Part Five will be along soon, so watch this space !
* "The capitalist system, in divorcing itself from social responsibility, has so undermined itself that people are now waking up and fighting back." Mark Hodder - `More Thoughts on Steampunk` -  Mark Hodder Presents, 27 Feb 2012 ( ).

W Howard Baker - Walk in Fear - Sexton Blake Library 4/396 1957

W Howard Baker - Walk in Fear - Sexton Blake Library - Series 4, Number 396 - 1957

A very classy performance from SBL editor W Howard Baker here, not necessarily the kind of thing I associate with him.

Walk in Fear is partly a  mildly humorous detective story, partly a satire on the publishing industry. More than once I wondered if some characters were drawn from life, especially the more scathing portrayals.

The writing is often witty, with some very keen insights here and there, as in this portrayal of one characters` wartime RAF service ;

"They had been boys in 1940, contemptuous of death because they did not truly understand it ; unafraid because they were unable to appreciate that they were not immortal. They had taken risks because they hadn`t really divined the risks they were taking. They had lived dangerously, and the business of living had been a grand and glorious game.

But 1940 was seventeen years behind them now. They were all mature, reasonable, thinking men. Only John Bovis remained.

He was not mature. Often he was not even reasonable. Rarely did he consciously think."

There are one or two in-jokes here and there ; at one point Blake comments "I had some dealings with Edgar Wallace long ago." Shortly afterwards, one character expresses what may be Bakers` own experience of editing the SBL ; "Most of the trouble in my life, it seems to me, has been caused by one damned writer or another."

The plot is quite ambitious in its` scope, and the writer seems reluctant to stay within the confines of one genre - is it satire ? comedy thriller ? traditional whodunnit ? . I thought I detected the hand of Jack Trevor Story here and there, an impression re-inforced when a character from his The Season of the Skylark makes an unexpected appearance. Having said that, better men than me accept WHBs` claim to sole authorship, and I am far from being an expert on either mans` work.

Perverse though it may sound, I would not like every Blake story to be like this, but it is a personal favourite.

Footnote - after Amalgamated pulled the plugs on the SBL, WHB carried on with the series for a time. During this period an expanded version of Walk in Fear appeared with the title Every Man an Enemy (SBL Series 5, Number 22, 1966).

Every Man an Enemy was published repeatedly - by Mayflower in 1966, by Zenith Publishing (London, date unknown) and in the US by MacFadden-Bartell. It was also included in The Fifth Sexton Blake Omnibus (Howard Baker Books, 1969).

Voices from America - Daniel Stashower and Lora Roberts

I abandoned the practise of occasionally looking at the wider world of crime fiction some time ago, largely because I didn`t feel I had the time to do it justice.
Having said that, visitors to this blog may be interested in two books I read not so long ago, The Dime Museum Murders by Daniel Stashower and The Affair of the Incognito Tenant by Lora Roberts.
I don`t review anything unless it`s fairly fresh in my mind but I will just say that I personally found The Incognito Tenant the more satisfying read and I will certainly be finding out whether Ms Roberts, who has a number of crime novels to her name, has written any other tales featuring her character Charlotte Dodson.
I rarely visit the websites of writers ( or actors ) as it only encourages them, but I`m sure if you have a quick search on the web you`ll find plenty of material about Roberts and Stashower, both of whom have added their own personal twist to some fairly familiar ingredients with imnpressive effect.