REX HARDINGE – The Case of the Frightened Girl. Sexton Blake Library #247. Paperback original. [Amalgamated Press, UK, 3rd series, September 1951.]

   The basic premise of this short novel, 64 pages of small type in a double-column format, was promising – in fact, more than promising, if “impossible crimes” are meat if not potatoes in your regular diet of detective fiction reading.


   The girl in the title is Moira Leonard, a girl with a fabulous singing voice, but with a overbearing Svengali of a manager and singing instructor. After her public vocal debut, she cracks under the strain she’s been under and flees the music hall. Max Rosen follows her, argues with her, and ends up dead, stabbed in the back, with plenty of witnesses to say there she was the only one near their final (and fatal) confrontation.

   But when the body is examined there is no murder weapon to be found. The girl must have done it and taken the knife with her. Sexton Blake does not believe she did the deed, however, nor does his young assistant Tinker, especially the latter, even though she has disappeared, and into literal thin air.

   This takes us through the first eight or nine pages. We also learn that Ron Pearce, a would-be lover of Moira – they grew up together in the same orphanage – would have also had a motive, but the absence of the weapon clears him.

   So as I say, a promising premise, but once we learn that Pearce is the one responsible for kidnapping Moira, there is little more I need to tell you about the story.

   Rather than a detective story – until the end when the “how” is revealed – this is a thriller novel, and not a very good one. There is too much padding, too much recapitulation of the plot, and too much chase and too little suspense to give me little reason to recommend this to you, unless you’re curious about knowing what a Sexton Blake novel was like in the early 1950s. Or at least what this one was like, as I was.

   And oh, as for the “impossible crime” aspect? Totally mundane and not very believable at that. [See Comment #1 for more!]