Thursday, 31 December 2009

Suddenly It's Murder - Jack Trevor Story

As this is the last set of notes for the year (106 books read, with another already started), I thought I’d better make the effort and do something more than ‘ditto’ or ‘see below’, even if it is yet another Sexton Blake by Jack Trevor Story. In the absence of affordable copies of the few mainstream books by Story to complete my collection, I turned to these. I like his writing and I enjoy stories from the SB series as a whole. For me it is a perfect marriage of talent and subject, in a format we seem to have lost in the UK.

The details of the story are irrelevant, although it is something of a shell game involving kidnapping and a number of layers (not quite twisty enough to be called twists). The whole is superbly constructed and rattles along at an excellent pace, fulfilling all the requirements of a pulp thriller.

Of course, we get a lot more when JTS is writing. The character observation, especially of the characters unique to this story, is finely wrought with little details being allowed to create a larger picture. A longer novelisation would have allowed for more background to provide a convincing reason for the sudden ending, but enough was hinted at so that it wasn’t out of character. Minor characters also add flavour to piece with interesting performances that are both unusual and convincing.

Not only does this book exemplify the best of this kind of writing, it also serves to illustrate one of the things that concerns me about modern publishing. This kind of writing serves as a high quality apprenticeship. JTS wrote some fine, literate, and very deep novels – ones that reflected society and the human condition. His vision of the world became darker as he grew older, not least because of his (literally) bruising encounters with the woodentops of Notting Hill.

His work as a writer undoubtedly benefited from the hack work involved in producing Sexton Blake tales. Working to tight deadlines and a tight formula whilst endowing the work with a very individual voice is the mark of a good writer. He has never, in my opinion, had the recognition he deserves. But then he was not a flash git who courted publicity, just a hard working novelist and screenwriter who was able to entertain at the same time as provoking thought. We need more writers like that in print. We need more publishers to invest in their midlist authors and nourish such talent. They seem to have forgotten how. Which is a shame, because the writers are out there. It would make 2010 a special year if the mainstream publishers began to recognise this. It would be in everyone’s interest if they did. So, if there’s a fairy out there granting wishes for the New Year – that will be mine.

And to everyone who has visited and read this blog – thank you and may your New Year be peaceful and prosperous.