Friday, September 20, 2013

Sexton Blake: The Case of the Stag at Bay

1965's The Case of the Stag at Bay is about as pure a whodunit as I've read in the sixties era Sexton Blake Library yet. After a thoroughly annoying aristocrat is murdered in the Scottish Highlands, Sexton Blake and Tinker head for Scotland to try and clear a man who has been accused of the crime.
   There's plenty of local color as Blake wanders around an old castle, now used as a staging ground for stag hunts, and there's a full set of Agatha Christie style guests to act as suspects. Clues, misdirections, and red herrings abound. Not quite as gritty as some of the Blakes I've read recently but in some ways it's a nice break. There's a certain homey British feel to this one with roaring fires, huge Scottish breakfasts, and after dinner drinks in the drawing room.
   Pedro the bloodhound even gets to strut his stuff in the novel, leading Blake to some ancient Pictish ruins where a body is found among recent archeological digging. (No sign of Bran mac Morn, however.)
   Wilfred McNeilly is the author of Stag. I've read several of his Blakes now and one of his two Guardian novels. McNeilly is perhaps the most solid writer of the group I've read so far. His prose is lively and he often makes a nice turn of phrase. Wikipedia tells me that he was Scottish and that probably explains the fairly dense Scottish background for this book. There are a lot of asides for quick lessons in the  history, geography, and so forth of Scotland and the attitude toward the Scots is very positive.
   The solution to the mystery is one I've seen before and if somewhat improbable, it's in keeping with the spirit of the classic whodunits on which the book is obviously modeled. Very little swinging sixties moments here (though one bit would make fans of Austen Powers giggle) but it's fun to see Sexton Blake acting in pure detective mode.

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