Last Update 4/10/21

Sexton Blake vs the Master Crooks edited by Mark Hodder, Rebellion, 2020

The Case of the Man in Motley by Anthony Skene (1919)

Sexton Blake battles Zenith, the malevolent albino who was a frequent opponent in the series. The first half is a puzzling mystery. Why have there been repeated attempts to steal an obviously worthless glass goblet? The rest is a battle to reclaim the diamond that was hidden in its base, which takes them both to a personal battle in the sewers of London. The notes so that Moorcock's Elric was based in part on Zenith, but I don't see it.

Prince Pretence by Lewis Jackson (1921)

Sexton Blake gets involved when Leon Kestrel, master of disguise and head of an international crime ring reminiscent of Moriarty, decides to impersonate a politician who is unaware that he has just won a very large sum of  money in a lottery. The race is on to claim the prize, but Kestrel's minions throw one obstacle after another in Blake's path. This was one of the better Blakes I've read.

The Wonder Man's Challenge by Edwy Searles Brooks (1921)

A battle of wits unfolds between Blake and Waldo the Wonder Man, who was featured in several other adventures. Waldo has physical abilities equal to four men, can fly an aircraft, climb buildings, move along strung cables, and so forth. He is a perfect gentleman, however, avoiding violence and giving his opponents a sporting chance to stop him. This is the closest to a comic book style supervillain I've encountered in the Sexton Blake universe.  4/10/21

The Mystery of the Moving Mountain by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1923)   

Two of Sexton Blake’s most able opponents team up to steal a shipment of gold in Costa Rica by substituting identical boxes containing lead. Huxton Rymer and George Marsden Plummer combine their talents for a fairly clever heist story, but naturally something goes wrong and Blake immediately suspects the truth. He recovers the gold, although the two villains escape to plot again. Above average. The racism in this one is particularly offensive. 4/8/21

An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas, Penguin, 2011

A French police official is attending a conference in London when he chances to be involved in the discovery of several abandoned pairs of shoes, all of them with severed feet inside. Little does he know when he returns to France that he is going to be deeply involved with that crime, which is not confined to the British Isles. One of the darker mystery novels I’ve read in recent years, a police procedural with a more than ordinarily complex structure. I have consistently had problems developing a solid feel for the recurring protagonist. I had the feeling throughout that I had read this before, but that does not seem possible. 4/8/21

The Laser War by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1974 

It seems that the Nazis built a death ray that can project a five hundred foot wide cone of disintegration. But they only built one, sent it to Rommel, and he never got around to using it. So Israeli intelligence finds out about this and the Death Merchant is off to Libya with a bunch of Tuaregs to reclaim the device and give it to the government. Of course, that means killing literally hundreds of Egyptian and Libyan soldiers and police officers, kidnapping the Egyptian ambassador to Germany, discovering who is the mole giving information to the enemy, and mastering the science involved in order to make the weapon work again. He succeeds of course, but as in all of these series, the fact that the US government now has this superweapon is never again mentioned. 4/8/21

Twist of the Knife by Victor Canning, Avon, 1955 

Also published as His Bones Are Coral and filmed as Shark! A drug smuggler decides to give up his life of crime after falling in love with a woman he meets on the Egyptian coast. She and her father are engaged in studying coral reefs nearby and they hire him to operate their launch. He eventually discovers that her “father” is actually unrelated, and that he has discovered a sunken warship with a load of gold bullion aboard. He wants the protagonist to help him salvage the bullion – which is illegal – and he agrees. But the man is also determined to put an end to the romance as well. Quite short and I didn’t like the protagonist at all. 4/6/21

The Case of the Dead Shepherd by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1934) 

There are two murders at a badly run school within a matter of minutes. The unpopular headmaster is bludgeoned to death. A teacher is poisoned, but probably by accident since he had swiped the headmaster’s tea. Two other teachers and the caretaker were all worried that they were going to be fired. The headmaster had scheduled simultaneous appointments with a member of the board of governors, a foreigner who wanted to tour the facility, and a constable from the local police. The poisoned man apparently knew something mysterious about the headmaster that is connected to a catalogue of chemical supplies, but he didn’t tell anyone what it was. The second victim actually murdered the first one, and was then killed on impulse by someone we were told had no opportunity – although obviously that wasn’t true. The detective solves both crimes by leaps of intuition rather than logic, and neither case could have resulted in a guilty verdict. Disappointing ending. 

Piracy! by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2020 (originally published in 1931)  

For some reason, my least favorite Sexton Blake novels have been the ones like this one where he battles bootleggers on the Canadian border. This was the most entertaining of them so far, but still well below the usual quality level. The bad guys are not above committing some associated crimes during the course of their normal business, and they are not tolerant of a nosy British detective/adventurer who wants to bring them to justice. There is an interesting index to Teed’s work in the Union Jack magazine included in this edition. Teed wrote around four hundred novels and lots of short stories as well, not all about Blake. 4/5/21

Final Curtain by Ngaio Marsh, Berkley, 1947 

Inspector Alleyn’s wife, Agatha Troy, is commissioned to paint a portrait of a retired actor of great renown. This means living with his largely dysfunctional family for several days. The actor is obsessed with a young gold digger, much to the dismay of his family, and has decided to marry here, while disapproving of the marriage of two of his younger relatives. There is some jockeying for position about the terms of his will, which he is about to rewrite. Several practical jokes have been blamed on his young granddaughter, but Troy doesn’t believe she was responsible. I guessed most of the solution, but since several people could have been responsible, I didn’t guess the killer’s identity. 4/3/21

Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh, Pocket, 1940  

A man is nicked by a dart in a pub and dies moments later. The autopsy indicates he was poisoned. Traces of the poison were found on the tip of the dart. But it was a new one, had just been unboxed, and it was impossible for anyone to have applied poison before it was thrown. There are several possible motives – an angry woman, a jealous lover, two men who will receive large legacies, and a one time embezzler who does not want his new identity to be blown. Inspector Alleyn figures it out, of course, and it is fairly clever although there is some withheld information that would have given much of the solution away if it had been revealed earlier. 4/2/21

The Wheel of Death by R.T.M. Scott, Berkley, 1969 (originally published in 1933) 

The second Spider novel is considerably better than most pulp adventure stories. Wentworth, secretly the Spider, is trying to track down a ring of criminal who are coercing politicians into steering public money into their pet companies. Or killing them if they balk. He also becomes involved with a man sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. This all takes him to a large party at the house of a businessman where a trick elevator provides access to hidden levels and where murder can be carried out with impunity. The Spider’s methods and arrogance are a bit troubling, but Scott could tell a good story. About half of the book takes place at the party, which is also unusual for pulp superhero stories. 4/1/21

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