Friday, March 31, 2023

Caribbean Crisis - Desmond Reid (Michael Moorcock)

In 1962, Michael Moorcock was an assistant editor on the Sexton Blake series, then published in digest-sized paperbacks. He also wrote one of the novels, CARIBBEAN CRISIS, which was revised somewhat by editor W. Howard Baker and published under the house name Desmond Reid. Moorcock was somewhat less than pleased by Baker’s revisions and departed his editorial position soon after. Now, more than 60 years later, he and Blake expert Mark Hodder have reconstructed and expanded the original version by approximately 10,000 words. The new version will be published next fall, in a double volume along with a completely new Sexton Blake novel by Moorcock and Hodder. I definitely plan to read both novels.

But in the meantime, what about the version of CARIBBEAN CRISIS published in 1962 as by Desmond Reid? Well, for a long time, it’s been one of the most sought-after Blake novels because of Moorcock’s involvement. Through the help of a friend, I was able to read the novel, which I did now so there’ll be a long enough gap before I read the revised version later this year. I’m happy to report that it’s a pretty entertaining yarn.

It has a great opening in which two men venture into a deep trench in the Caribbean in an experimental bathysphere that’s lowered from a research ship. They run into trouble that causes one of the men to scream in terror and plead for them to be brought back up. But the cable attached to the bathysphere breaks and the thing sinks in water too deep for it to ever be recovered.

Only it doesn’t. It happens to land on a ledge that’s still close enough to the surface that a man in a diving suit can get down to it. When he does, he looks through the bathysphere’s window and makes a startling discovery: One of the men inside has been murdered, stabbed in the back. The other is missing. That’s right, it’s a locked bathysphere mystery . . . and who better to solve it than Sexton Blake?

Luckily, Blake is headed for the nearby island nation of Maliba (a fictional but real-sounding country, to quote WHAT’S UP, TIGER LILY) where a revolution is brewing as rebel reformers try to overthrow the oppressive government. However, British Intelligence believes that the reform movement has been infiltrated by Communist agents, and since Blake has done some favors for the British spymasters in the past, he’s tasked with locating a list of Communist infiltrators, as well as finding the missing son of a wealthy British sugar cane plantation owner. Hmm, could all three of these cases somehow be connected?

CARIBBEAN CRISIS is a lot of fun. The setting is vividly rendered, and the action races by. Blake does a good job of untangling everything, acting on his own this time. Paula Dane and Marion Lang appear briefly, Tinker is mentioned, and there’s no sign at all of good old Pedro. The impossible crime aspect of the plot gets set aside for much of the book in favor of political maneuvering and various double-crosses, but when Blake does get around to solving it, the solution is both believable and satisfying, if not as extraordinarily complex as what you get in the typical John Dickson Carr novel.

I’m looking forward to reading the restored and expanded version by Moorcock and Hodder, which should be a lot closer to Moorcock’s original intentions. However, I enjoyed this original published version, too, and am glad I got a chance to read it.


Unknown said...

A correction. "Moorcock still had his original version" is not the case. It is long lost. Our restoration was based on what he recalls regarding the original politics of the story (before W. H. Baker reversed them) ... but we took that and updated it to better reflect his politics now, 60 years later. We also expanded the story with new material, characters, and plot elements. Hope you'll enjoy!
- Mark Hodder

James Reasoner said...

Mark, thanks so much for that clarification. I've revised the post slightly. I was going by memory of what I'd read about the project on the Sexton Blake Facebook group. Relying on my memory these days is often problematic! I'm sure I'll enjoy the new version. By the way, any of you who are Sexton Blake fans but aren't familiar with the Facebook group, you definitely should check it out:

Mark and the other members there are doing great work preserving and expanding the character's legacy.

Peter Brandvold said...

Great post!

I'll definitely be reading the expanded version.

Chap O'Keefe said...

Another minor correction. Mike Moorcock left his editorial position at Fleetway House in 1961. CARIBBEAN CRISIS was not published until June 1962. How much influence proposed revisions to Mike's novel had on his departure only he could say. I believe he had many other interests, ambitions, and reasons. I was offered the vacated Sexton Blake series position by editor W. Howard Baker around Easter 1961 and took it up on leaving school in July 1961.

Keith Chapman

James Reasoner said...

Thanks, Keith. I really do enjoy hearing the details from folks who were actually there for these events.