Published in the Sexton Blake Library 4th Series, dated July 1957.
Well, had a couple of hours free after work tonight, so thought I'd fill them in with this rather than the usual aimless activity. And well worth it, too.
This was published within the first year of W Howard Baker's tenure in the editor's chair, and barely features Tinker, concentrating on Blake and his secretary Paula Dane. In truth, some slightly clumsy shoehorning of the new Blake offices and staff occurs a few pages in, but that's not unusual for this period, when even those who would become Blake regulars had to dismatle sixty years of tradition and reinvent it.
What we have here is a novel that runs 10pp short of the usual length (the remainder being given over to a Peter Saxon editorial true crime piece about Neil Cream), which suggests that Burke wasn't too familiar with word requirements (a lot of non-regulars have their novels augmented by editorial during this period), or else there was editorial cutting. But it doesn't read that way, and of course it isn't pushed out under the Desmond Reid byline.
Set in Denmark, it involves a young man who at first appears to be embroiled in a smuggling plot, which after a gruesome death soon turns into a plot to steal a Danish folk treasure believed lost, but is in fact being held by a fanatical Danish patriot and zealot. Lots of great background detail, some very finely drawn characters and a great psychological subtext. Excellent, brooding atmosphere to the story.
In some ways, it reads like a detective novel where Blake is pushed in, substituting for a PI of Burke's own choosing. Some of thr Blake dialogue and actions jar for a long-time fan, but then again this was a big changeover time for the character, and Burke is not alone here. In truth, only a Blake fan would spot it.
What is apparent, as when you read an SBL title by Jack Trevor Story, is that you are in the hands of a writer a cut above most of the Fleetway boys. Vault regulars will know I love the Press Ed crew, but it has to be said that their forte is pure entertainment, with none of the added depth a master of technique can muster. Like Story, Burke has an extra dimension to his writing. His technique seems simple, yet he can imbue snetences with an extra depth by the right choice of language, and the cleverly placed aside. He can also handle exposition without losing pace by switching to shorter sentences to cover lack of physical action, making the reader unconsciously speed up over these sections.
This reminds me of The Weekend Girls in as much as it has a dark undercurrent running beneath the thriller narrative, and makes me want to check out more of the man's original thrillers.