Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sexton Blake: Pengarth Castle

I decided to give the 1960s era Sexton Blake books a rest and go back to some classic Blake from 1925. I read a two part serial, THE PAUPER OF PENGARTH CASTLE and THE CURSE OF PENGARTH CASTLE. Some nice Gothic goings on, particularly in part II.
   Pauper begins with Sexton Blake receiving a telegram in Baker Street. It seems someone is impersonating him as a guest at Pengarth castle in Cornwall. Blake and his young assistant Tinker catch the next train to Cornwall to see what's what.
   Turns out that the man using Blake's name is an old enemy, Rupert Waldo, aka The Wonder Man. Waldo possesses superhuman strength, speed, stamina, and agility, but fortunately he's of the gentleman bandit school and he and Blake actually sort of like one another. Waldo tends to act on whims and he's just as likely to do good as evil depending on his mood. He ended up invited to Pengarth castle after he used his prodigious strength to rescue the Earl of Pengarth's daughter, Lady Betty, from a falling tree. Since he didn't want to reveal his own identity, he claimed to be Sexton Blake, a name that opens doors. He didn't know, however, that the family butler had actually met Blake and it was the Butler who sent the telegram to the genuine article.
   Once Blake arrives, Waldo cheerfully departs, or seems to, and the plot gets going as Blake learns that the old Earl is about to lose his castle. His lawyer has tricked him into signing away his holdings and now that lawyer has sold the castle to a boorish businessman. When said business man arrives, seeking entrance, the earl sends him packing. Unfortunately the man returns and breaks into the castle where someone promptly murders him. The Earl is found standing over the body and things look grim. End of part one.
   In part two, Sexton Blake shifts into full Sherlock Holmes mode as he tries to clear the Earl of the murder charge. The local constable is none too keen on Blake, but he can't send the famous criminologist packing without causing an uproar. And of course Lady Betty has complete faith in Sexton Blake. Who wouldn't?
   Meanwhile Rupert Waldo, acting on one of his whims, (and with a bit of self interest) decides to see what he can do about the scheming lawyer's crimes.
   The resolution to THE CURSE OF PENGARTH CASTLE owes a bit to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES but for the most part it's all Sexton Blake's show.
   This is a tremendously fun story from Sexton Blake's Golden period with plenty of action, suspense, mystery, and a bit of melodrama. British pulp at its very best.
   Next up. A monster from a century old painting seems to have come alive to wreak havoc in THE GNOMID.

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