Monday, March 20, 2023

Wanted for Questioning - Wilfred McNeilly

This is another Sexton Blake paperback from 1965. That’s my cover-creased copy in the scan. It answers a question I had, but I’ll get to that later. In a clever opening that shows Blake isn’t infallible, he’s tricked into shooting a potential client. There’s no question that Blake pulled the trigger and killed the man. But who’s the real murderer, Blake or the villain who set up the situation? Despite being Blake’s friend, Detective Superintendent Grimwald feels compelled to arrest him. However, Blake talks Grimwald into giving him 24 hours to carry out his own investigation. 24 hours to save himself from a murder charge, in other words.

This novel is from the era when Blake is running a good-sized private detective agency in London, so that means the usual group of supporting characters is on hand: assistant Edward Carter, also known as Tinker; beautiful secretary and part-time detective Paula Dane; receptionist Marion Lang, also beautiful and a part-time detective; reporter Arthur “Splash” Kirby; and Blake’s faithful bloodhound Pedro.

Their only possible approach is to investigate the victim and hope that will lead to the killer. The victim is a former music hall comedian, part of a duo that’s roughly the British equivalent of Laurel and Hardy. He’s risen above those humble beginnings and become a wealthy showbiz entrepreneur. He became connected with Blake in the first place because he suspected that someone was embezzling money from his various enterprises. Blake and his helpers turn up several suspects. Somebody tries killing Blake, indicating they’re on the right trail. Paula and Marion also wind up in danger. Eventually everything gets sorted out, of course, but not before Blake gets arrested.

The plot maybe relies a little too much on coincidence, but the solution is a clever one. I figured it out, but not until pretty late in the game. The pacing is very good. I flew through the book quickly and enjoyed every minute of it.

A few weeks ago when I read and reviewed another Blake novel from this era, MURDERER AT LARGE, I speculated about who might have been behind the W.A. Ballinger house-name on that one. My friend Keith Chapman suggested, based on what I wrote about the book, that it might have been Wilfred McNeilly, so I deliberately picked a McNeilly novel for my next Sexton Blake. WANTED FOR QUESTIONING has some definite similarities to MURDERER AT LARGE: a show business setting, a considerable amount of humor, and an occasional philosophical digression. The style is so much the same that I’m confident McNeilly also wrote at least the first draft of MURDERER AT LARGE. I plan to read more of McNeilly’s work for further evidence, though. I have two or three more of them around here.

In the meantime, I’m really enjoying the stories from this era of Blake’s career. WANTED FOR QUESTIONING is a good one, and if you’re a Sexton Blake fan, too, I give it a solid recommendation.

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