Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sexton Blake: Bred to Kill


 Continuing with my reading of the Martin Thomas penned adventures of Sexton Blake, I read Bred to Kill, which is number 448 of the Sexton Blake Library, published in 1960 by Fleetway (The Amalgamated press), the same company that had been publishing Blake's adventures since 1893. By this time, The Sexton Blake library was published as a series of thin digests with a glued square spine but also with a staple through the booklet for stability I guess. Most collectors removed the staple, as the staples tended to rust and stain the paper. My copy of Bred to Kill is nice and shiny and sans staple. Not bad for a 53 year old book.
   This is the story that introduces Blake's occasional ally against the occult, the mysterious Gideon Ashley. A sort of origin is given for Ashley, who would appear again in the Sexton Blake library (In Assignment Doomsday, which I've yet to read) and in a couple of the paperbacks put out by Mayflower-Dell. Ashley makes a brief appearance in Laird of Evil and plays a more important role in Sorcerers of Set, actually fighting a psychic battle with another mystical adept. As I've said before, if you're expecting Sexton Blake stories to be like Sherlock Holmes adventures, you'll be surprised.
   That said, Bred to Kill does have a few things in common with the Holmes tale The Creeping Man. In an amazing bit of literary prediction, the plot of Bred to Kill anticipates genetic engineering and several elements that will show up in the book and film Jurassic Park.
   What appears initially to be a search for a serial killer turns into something far more dangerous as a menace to the future evolution of the human race shows up. Blake is more in action hero mode than deductive genius in this one, though he does make a few Holmes style inferences. Blake's assistant Tinker is sidelined for much of the story, replaced by Blake's secretary, the blonde and lovely Paula Dane. One can scarcely blame Blake for this. No sign of Mrs Bardell or Pedro the bloodhound, though Blake does mention Splash Page, his American newspaperman friend, who appeared in a lot of the early Blake stories in Union Jack and Detective Weekly story papers.
   Anyway, Bred to Kill was a lot of fun. I need to make a quick thank you to author Keith Chapman for bringing this story to my attention. As I mentioned in a previous post, Keith worked at Fleetway and knew writer Martin Thomas.
   Oh, though this one is set up as a whodunit, the title actually gives away the identity of the killer if you think about it. Elementary.

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