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Dead Respectable

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Mayflower-Dell, London, 1967
(price: 3/6; 128 pages)

The blurb on the back:

To the worried American father the plea was simple – ‘Find my missing son in London.’
To Blake it seemed at first a routine assignment, then the straight road of investigation took strange turnings. There were the cases of the murdered tramps, and the outbreak of suicides amongst university students…
It wasn’t easy to find the truth amongst the Chelsea ‘set’ of SW, where the trail started. Instead, Blake and his assistant found a fantasy world of pseudo-artists and their models; probed a dope-ring; met a white-haired young man with a strange philosophy, and a doctor with a stranger practice.
Death and gang-violence joined their search before the riddle of the vanished American student was solved to Blake’s satisfaction – if not to that of the police.

opening lines:
Fog was hanging, thick and grey-yellow, in the valley of the Thames.

The body of work centred on Sexton Blake – surely the longest running British detective series ever – isn’t really within the scope of this site, but I couldn’t resist this one. Cos it’s set in the midst of swinging London, among the alleged Chelsea set, and consequently is irresistible to those of us in love with British popular culture.

The reality, of course, is that it simply borrows from the standard stock of clichés about alternative society, without any real attempt at genuine observation, but hell, it’s still fun. Here, for example, is Sexton Blake’s venerable assistant, Tinker, in a Chelsea pub:

There were beards of varying dimensions and colours worn with suits made apparently of sacking. The women were white-faced, startlingly so, and pale-lipped. They looked as though they had never been young.
It was, thought Tinker, like a revival meeting in an undertaker’s. (p.26)

At the centre of a dastardly and murderous criminal network is a beat guru known as Bobo, who’s an aficionado of Aleister Crowley and Jean Paul Sartre, a man who wears sunglasses after dark, has pure white, shoulder-length hair and is given to ‘reciting a mish-mash of half-digested opinions, filched from every second-rate hack philosopher of the century’ (p.61). Sounds like my kind of guy.

Not exactly a classic of its kind, but a nice bit of fun. And I do love the thoroughly unconvincing photos on the cover of Bohemian thugs. Marvellous.