Monday, 2 November 2009

Crime Is My Business - W Howard Baker

A bit of light reading whilst I have two much heavier tomes on the go. This is another Sexton Blake (SBL 408). Baker was an efficient and prolific wordsmith, writing under a number of different names as well as becoming editor of the series. He may not have been the most elegant stylist, but it takes a particular skill to turn out tales of this kind on a regular basis.

I am not a collector of SBL per se, but I did pick this one up because it is based on material supplied by Jack Trevor Story (and regular readers of these reviews will know of that particular enthusiasm). I am not well enough versed in these things to pick out Story’s contribution. The setting seems to be pure Story, as do some of the characters, but it has been written (or rewritten) with a heavier hand. As an example, Story would have described the area accurately and with wit. Baker seems to dismiss it as a dump, useful only as a setting. Clearly, given that Baker’s name is on the cover he did most of the work.

The setting itself was also something that attracted me to the tale, because it takes place (mostly) in and around Newhaven and Brighton, in Sussex. That is, these places are mentioned, and there are aspects of the setting I recognize, but beyond that, it could have been anywhere. This was a shame as I would have liked to have seen an accurate portrayal of places in which I later lived.

The story itself is fairly standard Sexton Blake fare - drug smuggling, murder, espionage, with a bit of glamour and humour thrown in for good measure. The inventiveness of authors (and cover artists) in producing variations on a theme with the added pressure of knowing the hero will always prevail is astounding.

This is not a work to take seriously, but it was an enjoyable read and it does make one wonder how much has been lost now that writers no longer have pulps of this nature as a place where they can hone their skills (or discover that this is their level).