A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


RICHARD FALKIRK – Blackstone’s Fancy. Edmund Blackstone #2. Methuen, UK, hardcover, 1973. Stein & Day, US, hardcover, 1973. Bantam, US, paperback, 1974.

   Edmund Blackstone is a member of England’s pioneering group of public law officers, the Bow Street Runners (as is another prominent fictional detective, Jeremy Sturrock, in a series written by J.G. Jeffreys). Blackstone’s adventures span a total of six novels, of which only the first four were published in this country, and are fascinating portraits of London and its environs in the 1820s.

   Blackstone’s Fancy, the second in the series, involves the redoubtable Blackie in the violent (and al that time illegal, owing to a 1750 act of Parliament) sport of prizefighting, and with its “fancy” — the gamblers and aficionados. many of them aristocrats, who attended the matches and otherwise involved themselves in the sport.

   When Blackstone is ordered to lead a campaign to stamp out prizefighting, he finds himself tom between his loyalties to the Runners and his own self-interest: On the sly, he himself has undertaken the training of a boxing protege, a Negro youth named Ebony Joe. (Blackstone is that rarity among detective heroes, a human being with weaknesses as well as strengths.)

   But this is only one of Blackie’s worries. Among others: Patron of pugilists and zealous reformer Sir Humphrey Cadogan is being blackmailed by one of the whores he “saved”; the man who wrote the blackmail note is brutally murdered; an attempt is made on Blackstone’s own life; and Ebony Joe’s father is kidnapped in an effort to force him to throw his first major bout.

   The plot is cleverly worked out. but the real charm of the novel is Richard Falkirk’s (a pseudonym of Derek Lambert) vivid portrait of the period, with all its social problems, strange pastimes, and criminal excesses. The narrative is also sprinkled with prizefighting history and lore, and with underworld cant, most of it (but not all, unfortunately) accompanied by translations.

   Falkirk’s prose style is evocative, too though it occasionally becomes eccentric, with such dubious lines as “The girl in the bed stirred drowsily, one sleepy breast above the coverlet.”

   All in all, however, this is a delightful series and one wishes that new titles would be added. The other five existing Blackstone novels are Backstone ( 1973 ), Beau Blackstone (1974), Blackstone and the Scourge of Europe ( 1974 ), Blackstone Underground ( 1976), and Blackstone on Broadway (1977). Under his own name, Lambert has also published several suspense novels, among them The Yermakov Transfer (1974).
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

NOTE: The review above has been edited to remove a final phrase stating that Derek Lambert was the author of “an excellent biographical study of nine ‘masters of suspense,’ The Dangerous Edge (1976).” This is in error. The author of the latter is actually *Gavin* Lambert. See the comments.