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Victim Unknown (Sexton Blake Library, 384)…
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Victim Unknown (Sexton Blake Library, 384)

by Desmond Reid

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For a long time, Desmond Reid was one of my favourite detective story writers. It came as quite a shock to find he didn`t exist !

Introduced into the Sexton Blake Library in 1957, `Desmond Reid` was a pen-name used by a variety of writers. Initially, because the SBL did not like to use the same writer too often (variety of authors was held to be a key part of the SBL`s appeal), it was planned to use the Reid name from time to time if a given writer`s name had appeared too frequently. Later, it was sometimes used because the fictitious Reid had a following and more of his work was needed (good to know I`m not the only one who fell for it!). There was also the idea of using it when a writer objected to extensive revisions of their story and didn`t want their name on it (it is said that Jack Trevor Story did not want his name on the heavily-revised Large Print Killer).

This case was more unusual. Based on the little-known novel The Little Sister by Lee Roberts, this was actually a shortened version submitted by Roberts himself and revised by George Paul Mann. In what sounds like a compromise, it was credited to Reid but with the admission it was `adapted` from Robert`s work.

It is unusual in that it is recounted largely by Blake himself, as he tells secretary Paula Dane about a recent case that still troubles him. Sadly, after this intriguing start, the tale (in places suspiciously reminiscent of some of Raymond Chandler`s work, as the title might imply) simply peters out.

There is also the little matter of characterisation. Blake`s behaviour is often strangely out-of-character. Naturally enough, when the original story was based on a different character altogether !

Had they started with the premise (a troubled Blake recounts a recent case to a sympathetic Paula), it could have been great. As it is, they seem to have taken a finished novel, shortened it, and changed a few names.

I`ve read Blake stories I loved, some that were a bit below par, and one or two that just made me angry. I`ve never read one that filled me with indifference like this.

Don`t persevere with it, it doesn`t improve. ( )
  nickhoonaloon | Sep 6, 2007 |
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