Sexton Blake’s Allies, selected, edited and discussed by Mark Hodder
Rebellion, pbk, £8.99
Reviewed by Ian Hunter
Described as “Britain’s greatest detective”, which is bound to annoy fans of Sherlock Holmes, Sexton Blake is a character who was first introduced in 1893 and since then has appeared in magazines, his own “library” series which ran from 1915 to 1968, movies, radio serials and television. I have dim memories of the TV series which ran from 1967 to 1971, starring Laurence Payne as Blake. Now, Rebellion has started bringing out collections of Blake stories and “Sexton Blake’s Allies” is the third in the series following “Sexton Blake and the Great War” and “Sexton Blake Versus the Master Crooks” with two more titles to follow. These are all curated by Mark Hodder, who has written his own Blake novel and maintains BLAKIANA, the Sexton Blake resource, so we are in good, knowledgeable hands.
As mentioned above, these tales have been selected, edited and discussed” by Hodder and Blake, which means that we get the novelty of Hodder and Blake having a little discussion in Blake’s consulting rooms in Baker Street, of all places, with Hodder in best Watson mode. Before each story, they talk about the writer of the story, what made the ally such a good ally, and maybe to explain away some of the political incorrectness that occasionally rears its head in the story-telling, which isn’t really surprising since these stories date from the early part of the twentieth century.
To increase the fun, we get very different allies – a British spy, an ace reporter, and a woman who has been an adversary of Blake in the past. The stories are very different too, culled from the pages of “Union Jack”, which ran for almost 40 years from the late 1890s to the 1930s and written by other writers and in different decades of the 1900s. The locations are also very varied ranging from the Orient Express to the English countryside to the Australian outback.
James “Granite” Grant, The King’s Spy, appears in “The Case of the Seventh Key”, a story dating from 1925, written by W. W. Sayer. Here, Blake is hired to track down a pickpocket, ends up on the Orient Express and needs the help of Grant to save the Crown Jewels. This story is followed by “Ghost Mobile”, a 1931 tale written by Gwyn Evans featuring a ghostly lorry with a skeleton driver that haunts the Chiltern Hills’ lonely roads. To solve the mystery, Blake teams up with American sleuth Ruff Hanson and journalist Splash Page in a high-tech tale for its time, and of course, things are not what they seem. The last of the stories and the longest is “The Mystery of Walla-Walla”, written by G. H. Teed and dates from 1913, it’s also possibly the most straight-forward and weakest of the trio of tales, but it’s good to see Blake brush up against old-foe, Yvonne Cartier to right a wrong.
These stories are very much of their times, with exotic characters, locations, fights and chases, and should be filed under enjoyable ripping yarns rather than straight-forward detective fiction.