Thursday, 11 February 2010

Nine O'Clock Shadow - Jack Trevor Story

Nine o’clock. The time of execution. That’s the shadow falling across Harry Jukes. Wrongly convicted of shooting a policeman, his only hope is Sexton Blake who listened to all the evidence at the trial and believed Harry’s absurd, unbelievable story.

Like all of Story’s Sexton Blake adventures, this is tightly plotted and well told. Nothing is wasted (you can’t waffle when you have to write to a specific page count), yet the author manages to fill this with great detail and characterisation. It also proves you can tackle serious issues and explore ideas whilst remaining an entertaining read.

The plot turns round a coincidence. Coincidences don’t offer feature in good writing as it is considered implausible. Yet it is coincidences that spark the most interesting of stories. In this case, Harry Jukes helps himself to someone else’s car to impress his girlfriend. Unfortunately he picks on a car that has been used by a gang to steal a lorry load of arms to pass on to the IRA. After that, things go from bad to worse, as they often do in such situations. We get wrong-footed and all our decisions are hasty and lead us into great trouble. For Harry, that puts him on the side of the road with a flat tyre trying to get away from a helpful policeman who flags down a lorry. You can guess which one.

As Blake investigates and uncovers reluctant witnesses, along with the people behind the heist, we are treated to a portrait of late 1950s England. Coppers on bikes, capital punishment, wide boys, skiffle groups, and coffee bars (the most successful establishment in getting youth off the streets and drinking milk as Story wryly observes).

This is entertainment at its best.