Saturday, April 30, 2011

Penny dreadful. Utterly awful.

A couple of days ago, I finally finished reading The Sexton Blake Casebook: A Collection of Adventures featuring the other world famous detective compiled by Mike Higgs (Galley Press, Leicester, 1987). I had acquired this curious volume off the footpath on Hornby Road back in the eighties. The hardcover volume in a large format has a slip-jacket sporting a woodcut illustration of Blake in a red nightgown smoking a pipe presumably in his Baker Street flat. It also has five novellas: [1] The Mystery of Glyn Castle (The Sexton Blake Library, No. 269, 31-01-1923, 4 d.); [2] The Case of the Society Blackmailer (The Sexton Blake Library, No. 12 New Series 31-08-1925, 4 d.); [3] The Crime in the Wood (The Sexton Blake Library, No. 104 New Series, 30-07-1927, 4 d.); [4] Down and Out (The Sexton Blake Library, No. 174 New Series, 03-01-1929, 4 d.); and [5] The Missing Millionaire: The Very First Sexton Blake Story (Halfpenny Marvel, 1893, Price not stated.) After plodding through these shoddily plotted and clumsily written tales set in sylvan Victorian surroundings about status-driven perils suffered by British toffs (blackmail, kidnapping and the like), understanding why Sexton Blake was anointed “the prince of penny dreadfuls” and “the office boy’s Sherlock Holmes” was simplicity itself. It is amazing how Sexton Blake, Tinker and Pedro the bloodhound have managed to survive from 1893 to the late 1970s not only in penny dreadfuls but also in comics, stage plays, cinema, radio, a 78 rpm gramaphone record and a set of playing cards. If Blakiana cm9zyp is to be believed, the saga carries on regardless even in the Kindle era. There’s no accounting for popular tastes, I guess.