W. Howard Baker - Treason Remembered (Sexton Blake Library: Fifth Series # 38: Mayflower-Dell, 1967)
A pop-star's murder-discovery leads Blake to a secrets scandal
Women swoon over entertainment idol Larry Bacardi. The roles are cruelly reversed when the star finds the body of a woman in one of his clothes hampers.
Sexton Blake's investigations suggest that the entertainer's past is slightly different from the one featured in his publicity-handouts. So is his present, for that matter. Indeed, the star-spangled Bacardi has more sinister dangers to face than his screaming fans.
As Blake unravels the web of intrigue surrounding the star's personal life, much more deadly implications are revealed. Implications which go back to before the war - and a scandalous case of treason from which the murk has never been cleared .... [/i]
Outside the Tivoli theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue, and there's a near-riot going on. Larry Bacardi, "top of the bill, the greatest All-American guitar-playing mother lover in the history of the world" is being mobbed by his shrieking fans. Larry - who includes at least one "gee" in every sentence - is famous for bursting out crying every time he sings Old-Fashioned Mother which drives women of all ages wild. He reckons Beethoven had a couple of decent tunes and wants to play him - based on Larry Bacardi - in a movie.
After knocking out his big hits including Concerto For Guitar and Rattle On Down, Larry goes backstage to discover that somebody's scrawled "I hate Bicardi" across his coat in lipstick. Oh, and his 22 year-old stepmother's been poisoned and dumped in a prop-basket. "Gee, mom!", howls Larry.
Another case for Sexton Blake.
"He bought a newspaper that was literally constipated with news."
Chapter two sees Blake and Tinker discussing the murder over breakfast. Tinker is of a mind that its a pity Larry didn't cop the fatal dose but old Mrs. Bardwell won't hear such callous talk. "A fan, sir? Oh, I'm that all right. Just give me Larry Bacardi and you can keep all your pop groups .... So beautiful he sings, sir. And such a lovely face 'e 'as ... And 'e plays 'is catarrh so nice.". Mere mention of Old-Fashioned Mother reduces her to blubbering jelly. Blake probably preferred her when she went through her scandalous Suffragette phase to this.
It transpires that Larry, and not his glamorous stepmum, was the intended murder victim. His stepdad, former boxer 'Two Bit" Bomber McCoy (who talkff like diff) is number one suspect as he hated his wife on the not unreasonable grounds that she only married him to get her hands on their 'son'. Know-it-all Blake lets Gunwald of the Yard and his men go on pursuing this and other blind alleys just to show how great he is. He's already worked out that Newspaper owner Lord Charmwood is being blackmailed by the killer over "the big secrets scandal of 1938" when an innocent man was imprisoned for treason and promptly hung himself. But what has all this got to do with the attempt on Larry's life?
Other characters are roped in, most of whom see it through to the bitter end when Blake gets all shouty and denounces the least likely suspect as the vengeful assassin. There's ace reporter Arthur 'Splash' Kirby (a veteran of several Blake escapades), his gorgeous new secretary Lucille Smythe, Lord Charmwood's bumbling son the Honourable Nigel Cudmore, plus lesser players including a terrible caricature of a randy Italian spy. By the climax we've had attempted murder by poisonous towel and exploding cigarette lighter but nothing by way of blood, explicit sex or horror (unless you include the spy's halitosis which is like something out of Dennis Wheatley).
File under: "Holy Cow!" said Kirby reverently.
Attempted murder by poisonous towel!!!!!!! A VOE classic already!
It had previously appeared as a fourth series SBL by Baker, under another name (can't be bothered to look it up now as the list is in a cupboard). Another classic pop/beat Blake in the fifth series is Wilfred MacNeilly's 'Death In The Top Twenty' (no15), in which a Svengali songwriter falls prey to jealousy. It's interesting that these were written post-Beatles as they're very Larry Parnes era in outlook. Perhaps because these were middle-aged men. But cracking tales nonetheless.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.