Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Other Great Detective

   The last couple of days I've been reading Sexton Blake stories. If you're unfamiliar with Sexton Blake, he was an extremely popular fictional detective who has now fallen into obscurity to the average man on the street. And when I say extremely popular, I mean as in appearing in over FOUR THOUSAND  stories between 1893 and 1978, as well as in comic books, movies, a radio program, a TV series, games, etc etc.
   Blake is often referred to as the 'poor man's Sherlock Holmes', but I think that's an unfair generalization. True, he does share some superficial similarities to the great detective, but Blake's adventures had as much to do with H. Rider Haggard as with Conan Doyle. You will definitely find stories where Blake functions in the Holmes role, making dazzling deductions and solving bizarre crimes, but Blake was a much more active character, engaging in fist fights, shoot outs, car chases, and the like. He also traveled all over the globe in the pages of the cheap weekly magazines in which he originally appeared, battling savage tribesmen in Africa one week and facing down insidious oriental villains in the streets of London the next. in many ways, Blake was a forerunner of characters like Doc Savage.
   Unfortunately, Blake's adventures can be sort of hard to come by. Until recently not many of the Blake stories have been reprinted and the original weekly papers are both fragile and scarce. Probably the easiest collection to get is the Wordsworth Editions Casebook of Sexton Blake, which came out in 2009. It's still in print and it contains six stories which give a nice overview of the type of adventures Blake had and it has an excellent introduction by Blake expert Mark Hodder. I first encountered Mark over at Moorcock's Miscellany and he's a swell guy and a talented writer.
   A couple of days ago I picked up the other Sexton Blake collection that came out in 2009, Sexton Blake: Detective from Snowbooks. This massive volumes has over 750 pages of Blake adventures. Unfortunately it also has a ton of typos, but I can work around those. This book is out of print, but still fairly easy to get at a reasonable price. It has an introduction by my pal, Michael Moorcock, who once worked for the Sexton Blake Library and who credits Blake's arch enemy, Zenith the Albino, as a major influence on his own albino hero, Elric.
   More recently, Bear Alley Books is reprinting facsimile editions of Sexton Blake Annuals. The latest is the 1941 annual, containing 10 stories. I have that one on the way, so there are more thrilling Sexton Blake adventures in my future. Have a look at that cover. Boy, that's just got adventure written all over it. Check out the Bear Alley blog here:

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