This is one of a number of works that Story wrote for the Sexton Blake Library (No 429, May 1959). And I love it for a number of reasons. First and foremost it is Jack Trevor Story. This is a pulp story, written to formula, written to a specific word count (or rather, page count, as the point size of the text is adjusted accordingly), using stock characters that cannot change too much (if at all). It takes a special skill to be able to turn out several of those in a year. To be able to make them literate, amusing, and intriguing; to add character depth and development without stepping outside the bounds; the comment on society; and to provide a fun read – that takes genius.
The tale is simple. A young woman is murdered and Sexton Blake becomes involved, not least because of an intriguing phone call. We catch a glimpse of the world in which this young woman lived. A model and aspiring actress, we slowly begin to discover that she is not the devoted young daughter her parents believed her to be. She has exploited all sorts of people and one of them could take no more. Story makes a wonderful job of keeping us guessing whilst leaving a trail of clues.
As if being presented with well-written entertainment was not enough, the volumes of the Sexton Blake Library are a joy to behold. The cover illustrations are fine examples of their type, especially when you get to the late ‘50s. The advertisements are reminders that the same things have been set out to tempt us for decades, yet manage to convey an air of innocence. And the letters page… You have to wonder how much of those letters were produced in-house. In this issue several of them were, including the one from a gentleman signing himself Mike J Moorcock (who penned a Sexton Blake of his own, although it came out under the house name of Desmond Reid).
In a discussion I once lamented the demise of publications like this and was told that television had replaced them. Well, television may have been responsible for their demise, but it has not replaced them. Story did also write for television, but there is little to compare with his ability to produce a great story that was at once literate, entertaining, witty, and wise.