Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Sexton Blake Versus the Master Crooks

Sexton Blake is a fictional British detective who featured in more than four thousand stories between 1893 and 1978. The stories were written by many different authors - about two hundred authors altogether. Sexton Blake also appeared in quite a few movies (such as Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror) and radio dramas and there was a Sexton Blake TV series in the late 1960s.

Sexton Blake Versus the Master Crooks contains three Sexton Blake novellas (actually they’re more short novels) published in Union Jack in the period immediately following the First World War, from three different writers. Sexton Blake comes up against three of the most fiendishly clever diabolical criminal masterminds he has ever had to face.

Blake will of course have his faithful young assistant Tinker beside him, and of course his equally faithful bloodhound Pedro.

Sexton Blake made his first appearance in print in 1893. Sexton Blake stories appeared regularly in the storypaper Union Jack until 1940 (from 1933 Union Jack was renamed Detective Weekly). Stories continued to be published in The Sexton Blake Library until 1968.

Sexton Blake was a rather obvious Sherlock Holmes clone. He even has rooms in Baker Street! In fact he is perhaps a bit too much of a Sherlock Holmes clone. The stories were a lot more down-market than Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, were clearly aimed at a younger readership and were much more action-oriented. They’re thrillers rather than mysteries.

The Case of the Man in Motley

The Case of the Man in Motley was written by Anthony Skene and published in 1919.

Someone is trying to steal a goblet and they will stop at nothing to get it. The odd thing is that the goblet is worth at most a few shillings. There’s also the matter of a dead clown. There’s no apparent explanation for either the attempted theft of the goblet or the deceased clown.

In this adventure Blake’s foe is the albino super-criminal (and master swordsman) Zenith. For Blake and Zenith it promises to be a fight to the death but they’re both sportsmen so it will have to be a fair fight with swords.

The secret to the mystery may well lie in an old house which is a maze of hidden rooms and secret passageways.

There’s an exciting action finale in a gigantic garbage compactor!

Prince Pretence

Prince Pretence was written by Lewis Jackson and published in 1921.

This time Sexton Blake’s foe is Leon Kestrel, an American actor turned super-villain. Kestrel is (like Blake) a master of disguise.

The adventure begins with the kidnapping of a firebrand trade-union leader and Labour MP. The reason for the kidnapping appears to be to prevent a strike but it doesn’t take long for Blake to discover that this is not the real reason. It's merely a theatrical gesture on the part of Kestrel. It’s actually all about money and the trail will lead Blake to Paris. If he makes it to Paris - Kestrel controls a vast global criminal gang and his agents take extreme steps to stop Blake.

Once again there’s a cool action finale, this time in the catacombs of Paris.

The Wonder Man’s Challenge

The Wonder Man’s Challenge was written by Edwy Searles Brooks and published in 1921.

One of Blake’s more famous criminal foes was Rupert Waldo, known as Waldo the Wonder-Man. This adventure begins with Waldo, unarmed, robbing a bank single-handed in broad daylight. He makes his escape thanks to his extraordinary athletic and acrobatic skills and also thanks to sheer bravado.

Waldo is a master criminal but he’s scrupulously non-violent, he’s a gentleman, he has a sense of fair play and he’s really a decent chap at heart. Crime is a hobby, a way to deal with boredom. Even Sexton Blake has a grudging affection for him.

Waldo has set Blake a challenge. Waldo will steal something very valuable (a ruby necklace) and it’s up to Blake to recover the goods. It’s all a game to Waldo.

To steal the necklace Waldo first steals an aeroplane and then crashes it. When Waldo commits a crime he likes to do it with a certain amount of style, and with a sense of fun.

There’s another fine action finale with some death-defying stunts as Waldo seeks to elude capture.

Edwy Searles Brooks was a very prolific writer who went on to write the deliriously entertaining Norman Conquest thrillers, beginning in the late 30s. I’ve reviewed three of the Norman Conquest books, Mr Mortimer Gets the Jitters, Miss Dynamite and Conquest Marches On.

Final Thoughts

These stories are very much Boys’ Own Adventure stuff but they’re a lot of fun. Recommended.

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