Sexton Blake, hero, detective and the original spy, is a brave and clever man who came to life at the hands of various authors. This new collection, the first of a series of at least five books, contains three stories of the First World War. Sexton Blake was one of the first fictional detectives, spies and men of action who was created in literature, as the first story appeared in print in 1893. Unlike the other well known resident of Baker Street, London, however, Blake was brought to life by various writers during his history. Some writers were more able than others, some emphasised one of his talents more than in some of the other stories. In the first story Blake is shown as a brave and determined man who cleverly tries to prevent war in 1908. The second concerns Blake being entrusted with a precious piece of paper which must be delivered at all costs. The third takes some of the focus away from Blake himself, and onto his protege. The three stories do not show Blake as a warrior, though undoubtedly he is brave and willing to risk all, but instead a constructer of opportunities to ensure success in his mission at whatever cost. Just as with later heroes such as James Bond, there are many hair raising moments and apparently desperate points from which he must return. I was intrigued and pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this collection of stories introducing a new view of a semi mythical character.
The novel opens with a record of a meeting between Mark Hodder, the editor of this collection and Sexton Blake expert, and Blake himself. It explains how the various authors were chosen to represent his story, to place emphasis on his exploits in order to provide propaganda for the good of the British Empire. It also explains how the worst of the racist phrases will be removed, though as the common enemy of all during this period Germans were fair game for certain insults.
The first story sees Blake and two associates travel to Shetland to assess the truth of a rumour that the German navy has taken a lot of interest in the harbours around the islands. The extraordinary way in which Blake is literally swept up was a surprise to me, but it turns out to be a part of the adventure that sees Blake dealing to advantage with quite a celebrity central to the chances of war.
In the second story Blake and Tinker, his young assistant, are given the task of carrying a precious order into a Europe beset with German troops. The duo are met with challenges, some beyond expectation, but all threaten death and destruction. The body count is high as Blake and Tinker fight to survive, but they only ever kill to defend themselves and further their mission.
The third story shows Blake finally travelling to the battlefront of France, but not as a soldier of any rank. The emphasis is more on Tinker in many ways, as he finds himself as nearer to the lot of a soldier in battle. Not that this records battles like many books of the time, of mud and trenches and desperate attack against the odds. The adventures are desperate and imaginative, including many technological advances of the time.
This is a book of stories of their time, of men fighting men, of a countryside wherever set,of danger and death. They move at breakneck speed, maintaining excitement in many ways. Far from realistic tales, they are adventures of a remarkable nature, ideal reads for entertainment and furthering the perception of an Empire. Not politically correct, but these are not stories that ponder explanations, but detail action and bravery above all.
It is exciting to note that this book is published today – a very new book filled with older stories!
As you may know, some independent bookshops are able to operate even during these difficult times. Even though it is hardly local, yesterday I called Cogito books and, well, let’s just say I picked out some books for myself and Northernvicar. No, I haven’t run out of books to read, but I haven’t been book shopping for so long, and it is one of my chief hobbies. So some books are already heading my way…Thanks, Claire for all your help!