Saturday, 15 November 2014

W Howard Baker - Walk in Fear - Sexton Blake Library 4/396 1957

W Howard Baker - Walk in Fear - Sexton Blake Library - Series 4, Number 396 - 1957

A very classy performance from SBL editor W Howard Baker here, not necessarily the kind of thing I associate with him.

Walk in Fear is partly a  mildly humorous detective story, partly a satire on the publishing industry. More than once I wondered if some characters were drawn from life, especially the more scathing portrayals.

The writing is often witty, with some very keen insights here and there, as in this portrayal of one characters` wartime RAF service ;

"They had been boys in 1940, contemptuous of death because they did not truly understand it ; unafraid because they were unable to appreciate that they were not immortal. They had taken risks because they hadn`t really divined the risks they were taking. They had lived dangerously, and the business of living had been a grand and glorious game.

But 1940 was seventeen years behind them now. They were all mature, reasonable, thinking men. Only John Bovis remained.

He was not mature. Often he was not even reasonable. Rarely did he consciously think."

There are one or two in-jokes here and there ; at one point Blake comments "I had some dealings with Edgar Wallace long ago." Shortly afterwards, one character expresses what may be Bakers` own experience of editing the SBL ; "Most of the trouble in my life, it seems to me, has been caused by one damned writer or another."

The plot is quite ambitious in its` scope, and the writer seems reluctant to stay within the confines of one genre - is it satire ? comedy thriller ? traditional whodunnit ? . I thought I detected the hand of Jack Trevor Story here and there, an impression re-inforced when a character from his The Season of the Skylark makes an unexpected appearance. Having said that, better men than me accept WHBs` claim to sole authorship, and I am far from being an expert on either mans` work.

Perverse though it may sound, I would not like every Blake story to be like this, but it is a personal favourite.

Footnote - after Amalgamated pulled the plugs on the SBL, WHB carried on with the series for a time. During this period an expanded version of Walk in Fear appeared with the title Every Man an Enemy (SBL Series 5, Number 22, 1966).

Every Man an Enemy was published repeatedly - by Mayflower in 1966, by Zenith Publishing (London, date unknown) and in the US by MacFadden-Bartell. It was also included in The Fifth Sexton Blake Omnibus (Howard Baker Books, 1969).

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