Sexton Blake’s Versus The Master Crooks selected, edited and discussed by Mark Hodder. Review.

Sexton Blake’s Versus The Master Crooks selected, edited and discussed by Mark Hodder

Rebellion, pbk, £8.99

Reviewed by Ian Hunter

A detective and action hero described as making “Jack Reacher look like a bungling amateur”, Sexton Blake is a multi-faceted character – detective, swordsman, doctor, genius – 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. The mighty Michael Moorcock’s first novel, “Caribbean Crisis”, was a Sexton Blake story, and seemingly Moorcock got his inspiration for Elric of Melnibone from Blake’s arch-enemy, Zenith the Albino. I have dim memories of the TV series which ran from 1967 to 1971, starring Laurence Payne as Blake. Now, Rebellion has started to bring out collections of Blake stories and “Sexton Blake Versus the Master Crooks” is the second in the series wedged between “Sexton Blake and the Great War” and “Sexton Blake’s Allies”” with two more titles to follow, all curated by Mark Hodder who has written his own Blake novel and maintains the BLAKIANA, the Sexton Blake resource, so we are in good hands.

As mentioned above, these tales have been “selected, edited and discussed” by Hodder and Blake, which means that Hodder and Blake have a little discussion before each story to 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 shows, not surprising since these stories date from the early part of the twentieth century.

These tales are taken from the pages of “Union Jack” and feature a new breed of villain, their intellect only matched by their capacity for violence, but can a greater, intellectual mind stop them? There’s only one way to find out, although can the outcome really be in doubt? But – cracks knuckles – here goes.

Firstly, we have “The Case of the Man in Motley” by Anthony Scene, the oldest of the stories presented here from 1919 involving Blake in a tale of derring-do that includes dead clowns, cliff-hanging action, chases, and a stolen diamond.

The next two stories were written in 1921. The first of these is “Prince Pretence”, written by Lewis Jackson, and has most of the action taking place in France and involves kidnapping, impersonation, the French lottery and Blake managing to get arrested at one point. Finally, from 1921, we have “The Wonder Man’s Challenge” written by Edwy Searles Brooks, where Waldo, the Wonder Man, commits a series of audacious crimes and challenges Blake to catch him. But can Blake keep up with the tightrope-walking, plane-stealing crook?

Wisely, from the writer’s point of view, and the enjoyment of the reader, Blake might stop the dastardly plot, save the day, save the person, return the stolen goods, but sometimes the Master Crook slips through his grasp and gets away to plot for another day. They’ll be back, but so will Blake to stop them. File under the 3 “Fs” – Fast, Furious, (and great) Fun.