"A seasonable story of detective adventure, animated throughout by the gladsome spirit of Christmastide."
As some of you may recall from last Christmas, I picked up a
collection of Sexton Blake Christmas stories. I read and reviewed one
novella last December, and I'm back this year with another. This one
originally appeared in the Dec. 10th issue of Union jack Weekly for
1927. It's exactly what the blurb above promises. A detective story with
plenty of Christmas spirit.
At the beginning of Black Carol, Sexton Blake and his young assistant
Tinker are hanging around Blake's rooms in Baker Street, (Just a few
houses down from 221B, one suspects) discussing plans for Christmas eve,
when they receive a visit from an old friend, the American cowboy
turned detective, Ruff Hanson. A giant of a man, Ruff sports a stetson
and a pair of six guns as all good American detectives should. Seems
that Ruff has been employed by a ex-pat Brit who's made a fortune in the
movies in the US. The man wants Ruff to bodyguard his young son, a
fragile, lame boy who's doting father has brought him to the homeland
for a real old fashioned British Christmas.
The movie magnate has rented an estate in the country where he plans
to host a Dickens style Christmas party for the local children,
including the orphans under the care of the village Vicar. And as it
turns out, the young boy hero worships the great Detective Sexton Blake
and wants him to attend the party. Blake agrees and he and Tinker, along
with reporter friend Splash Page, and the stolid Scotland Yard man
Inspector Coutts, head down by old fashioned carriage.
This is where author Gywn Evans, who was known for his Christmas Blake
tales, really gets a chance to pour on the Christmas trappings.
Everyone is supposed to wear Dickensian garb to the party, so Blake and
the gang are decked out in 1860s fashion, each of them portraying a
different character from the works of Charles Dickens. As our heroes
ride through the snowy evening in their carriage, they stop at rustic
Inns for fresh horses and sample the fare. Yule logs pop and crackle in
glowing hearths and the lads even sing a few carols as they go. It's all very innocent and nifty and gave me a nice Christmas buzz.
At the estate there's more of the same as the father has spared no
expense for the party. As it turns out, Sexton Blake has brought a big
bag of toys for the kiddies too. Evans gets such a happy, warm Christmas
glow going that when we are suddenly reminded that Sexton Blake lives
in a world of criminals, it hits especially hard,
See, Ruff Hanson (great name that) had been hired as a bodyguard for
the lame boy because some of his father's rivals, who had connections to
the underworld in America, were making threats. Little do our heroes
know that the bad guys have hired local talent in London and just as the
party winds down, Blake and company find that the lame boy has been
kidnapped from the estate.
The second half of the story is a grim and desperate race to save the
lad before the kidnappers decide to cut their losses and kill the kid.
They show they mean business by sending a phonograph record (the titular
black carol) of the kid being tortured. Beside himself with fury, Blake
swears that he will bring the low lifes to justice if it costs him
everything and if there's anything worse than getting on Sexton Blake's
bad side, it's doing so while he has the Two Gun Bob of detectives to
back his play. Justice will be served, you can bet.
This is just a great, unapologetic pulp yarn full of colorful
characters and thrills and chills. Plus all the trimmings of an old
fashioned British Christmas, where the spirit of Dickens is never far
away. I enjoyed it tremendously. I can see why Sexton Blake was such a
popular figure back in the day. He's kind of like The Doctor, in that
you know as long as he's there, there's always hope. Blake never gives