Full disclosure: I was asked by the publisher whether I’d be interesting in reviewing this title. When I said yes I got a copy of the ebook for free. Even fuller disclosure: I’ve written several things for Obverse Books (my fifth short story with them should be along anytime now). It’s a fairly safe bet that Obverse pegged me as ‘unlikely to trash our relaunch of Sexton Blake in an online review’. This is true. However if I had not been able to write a good review then I also know them well enough to drop them a discreet note saying that it wasn’t my sort of thing.
Sexton Blake is the longest running fictional detective series in existence I believe, having launched as a character way back in 1893. Thousands of stories have been written about him, and he has appeared in radio, TV, and film adaptations. For a character that began as a fairly obvious Sherlock Holmes clone, that’s quite remarkable.
Now Obverse Books have taken over the licence to continue Blake’s print adventures, and their launch title for the series focuses on the character’s ‘golden age’ in the early 20th century, where his exploits (and adversaries) were often outlandish and colourful. The book consists of two Blake tales, both of which revolve to a greater or lesser extent around the Three Musketeers (three vicious miscreants who distract from their misdeeds by pretending to be vacuous Bertie Wooster types). The first tale, The Silent Thunder Caper by Mark Hodder, is a short original novel (Blake’s first in over fifty years!) in which things are stolen, and then bigger things are stolen, before a whole bunch of whooping renegades are manipulated into an even more audacious theft that only Sexton Blake and his faithful assistant Tinker can possibly hope to thwart. It is good to see the word ‘caper’ so prominent in the book’s title, for that is exactly what the story is. It’s madcap, energetic, and very silly. Hodder writes with verve, whipping things along at breakneck pace and setting a high benchmark for this new series of Blake adventures.
The second story in the book is a reprint of the G.H. Teed adventure ‘The Wireless Telephone Clue’, in which the Three Musketeers were first introduced. Considering its eighty year pedigree it’s almost surprising that the story sits so well beside Hodder’s newer work, but this is a very entertaining caper in its own right. Alas, it suffers slightly from coming second. As the story that introduces these three adversaries, its intrigue hinges on their dual nature and Blake’s discovery of the same. However, Hodder has already covered all this ground in the first yarn, and has even fleshed the characters out a little. That impacts on the Teed story to its detriment, making it more a historical curio than a true companion piece. Although it’s obvious why Obverse would wish to place the newer story (the main event) to the fore, the book might have benefitted if the two tales had been left in chronological order.
That’s a minor gripe. It’s splendid to see Blake back in action. If a madcap, energetic, and very silly caper is the sort of thing you like to delve into every now and again, you should add this to your reading list immediately. I recommend that you buy it as an ebook or hardback direct from the publisher here.