Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sexton Blake: The Witches of Notting Hill

   This books starts with a coven of wannabe witches, attempting to summon the devil himself to a sabbat held at a ring of standing stones in the English countryside. Unknown to the coven, their leader is a confidence man and he's arranged a fake human sacrifice for the evening's festivities. But he gets a surprise when the group arrives at the standing stones only to find a crushed and mutilated body on the alter already. The damage done seems far more than human beings could have accomplished.
   Enter the great detective Sexton Blake, visiting the country for a routine security consultation. Blake gets caught up in the investigation and soon he and his old friend Scotland Yard Inspector George Coutts are tracking what seems to be a killer with supernatural powers.
   Where, you may ask, are the  Witches of Notting Hill. Well...technically there aren't any. There are a couple of chapters where Blake's young assistant Tinker does some investigating of London based witch covens, but that's about it. I was a little disappointed as I was expecting a more urbanized adventure, but I still enjoyed the book a lot.
   The author of this one was W.A. Ballinger (Keith Chapman tells me  this was probably Wilfred McNeilly, rewritten by William Howard Baker and G. P. Mann.) and the prose is lively and straight forward. Pedro the bloodhound does make an appearance in the book, as does Blake's newspaperman friend, Splash Page, renamed Splash Kirby for some reason.
   Not really much swinging sixties atmosphere here, but still much fun. The solution to the mystery may stretch credibility a bit but all and all, a good entry in the later Blake series.


Chap O'Keefe said...

Splash Page had been replaced by Splash Kirby very early on in the "New Order" regime established for the Sexton Blake Library in 1956 when it was still being published by the Amalgamated Press at Fleetway House.

This "W. A. Ballinger" book was one of the earliest Sexton Blakes published by Mayflower-Dell. The writer "in reality" was probably Wilfred McNeilly, rewritten by Baker and G. P. Mann. I know for sure that this was the case with the later "Ballingers" published at Fleetway House, e.g. Savage Venture.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Fascinating as always, Keith. I remain amazed at your knowledge of the Sexton Blake writers. I've really been having a lot of fun reading there 1960s Blakes. Thanks for the information!