Keith Chapman has kindly e-mailed a brief remembrance of this title which I’m sharing. It’s important to remember that many of the Sexton Blake novels during this period were collaborative efforts. Here’s what Keith had to say:
"My own recollection of “The Big Smear” is that, like most of the "W. A. Ballinger" and "Peter Saxon" bylined stories of the later Fleetway period, this "W. Howard Baker" title was actually a collaboration at the very least. I recall seeing in Baker's office early versions of such stories by Wilfred McNeilly and others heavily corrected and annotated for the guidance of external rewrite man George Paul Mann (aka "Arthur Maclean"). Mann would re-submit clean copies for processing by the sub-editor and typesetters. Wilfred McNeilly typescripts were especially distinctive -- he always used a blue typewriter ribbon on a lighter weight of paper. Anyway, whatever the origins of “The Big Smear”, it's pleasing to hear those old SBLs are still giving pleasure to readers!" – Keith Chapman
Thank you Keith!
From November, 1962 comes another digest novel featuring Sexton Blake and written by W. Howard Baker who was also the editor for Fleetway Publications and was instrumental in updating Blake for modern readers. Sexton Blake stories are always fun to read, but I have a soft spot for the material that came out between 1956 thru 1967 or so. The cover on this one was credited to Fratini, and the story is solid W. Howard Baker material all the way. Sexton Blake is virtually unknown here in the USA but he’s a literary folk hero in the UK. Sexton Blake started out as a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes and under W. Howard Baker’s tutelage became a James Bond style hip action hero. These early 1960s adventures were well-written, exciting, and The Big Smear is notable for Baker’s tight plotting, strong sense of time and place, action, and a real nasty villain. When Nicky Deutsch breaks out of jail, he vows to kill Sexton Blake for putting him behind bars. Blake is warned by authorities, but he’s been busy lately handling other cases, and he doesn’t take Deutsch seriously. Big mistake. Deutsch puts in motion a smear campaign and wicked vengeance that nearly destroys Blake’s reputation. Added to the mix is an Irish doll named Delia Murphy and the plot thickens. The suspense is constant and Blake doesn’t take the threat seriously at first, and he comes to regret that decision quickly. Fairly typical of the period, The Big Smear is tight and breezy. Nicky Deutsch is a nasty psychopath, and Blake has to work extra hard to extricate himself from the mess and stay alive. I’ve read several Sexton Blake novels more than once because I find the prose refreshing. There are multiple websites devoted to the character. Elsewhere on this blog you can find an interview with Keith Chapman who worked at Fleetway. CLICK here to Read theINTERVIEW.