Of all the hundreds of stories featuring master sleuth, Sexton Blake, I have only read but a small handful, and the majority of these have been from (or set in) the 1940s and ’50s. This is the first time I have encountered a swinging sixties Blake, and while I wouldn’t quite go as far as to say that the character seems out of place, I would say that the publisher has made a concerted effort to modernise Blake and make him appealing for the sixties generation. Therefore he often seems like a different character – rather than an out of place character. In this novelette he doesn’t even do any detecting. He is hired as a bodyguard, but I am getting ahead of myself. First here’s a brief overview of the plot.
The story opens in Africa, in a small country called Lubanda. The people of the Nbanda Valley have gathered to listen to a speech by a political animal named Joseph Dingala. Dingala’s specialty is manipulating audiences and whipping his crowds in mass hysteria. In this instance, his speech encites the poor black villagers to revolt against the white settlers in the area.
Conveniently, the white settlers have gathered for a party at the Kilinzana Club. Not that they have much to celebrate, as they are in the middle of a drought, and the country is dogged with civil unrest.
When a large bush fire is spotted to the south, the men from the club rush off to fight it before it burns down the whole district. The women and children are left at the club until their menfolk return. Well that’s the plan. However, encited by Dingala’s speech an army of native storm the club and kill all the women and children.
A year passes, and Dingala has moved onto become the Minister of Home Affairs of the newly formed Republic of Lubanda. Requiring financial aid, Dingala plans a visit to London for government talks.
In the interim, the men from the Kilinzana Club have sold up their properties in Africa and have moved back to London. When they hear that Dingala is coming to London, they all meet together once again to plan his assassination.
Dingala is set to stay at the very exclusive Golden Towers Hotel, and as Sexton Blake is retained by the insurance company that cover the Hotel, he has no choice but to act as bodyguard during Dingalas visit. So as I mentioned earlier, no detecting from the great detective. He knows what the crime will be – assassination. And he knows the men who will attempt it – the men from the Kilinzana Club. The entertainment comes in the form of reading as Blake outwits each of the twenty men from the Club as they take their turn to kill the Africa Leader. The story also takes a few shortcuts on the way, and a few of the assassins are rounded up by the police, so in effect maybe only eight to ten assassination attempts take place.
The central premise of this story, as you have no doubt gathered, is that Blake has to protect the thoroughly reprehensible character of Dingala. The conflict arises out of the fact that the members of the Kilinzana Club are not necessarily villains, just men who have experienced (and are experiencing) extreme grief and loss. To rub salt into the wound, the man that caused that grief is not only free, but living the high life of an international jet-setter. The men from the Kilinzana Club simply want a modicum of justice and it just so happens that Sexton Blake is standing in their way.
One of the more interesting elements of the book, remembering that it was published in 1965 are the reference and allusions to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Even down to the choice of weapon that one of the Kilinzana Club snipers chooses – a Manlicher – which is alegedly the same rifle that Lee Harvey Oswald used.
The story, Vengeance is Ours!, while being fairly brisk and providing a few small thrills, is pretty poor. There are typos (that maybe the typesetter’s fault), and poor phrasing throughout. It actually reads like a first draft, but where the author was never given the opportunity to revise and correct his story. Then again, the Sexton Blake Library may have been a real ‘bang ‘em out’ proposition and spending time honing and crafting the story may have never really been a consideration.
From the back:
There was blood on the hands of the Right Hon. Joseph Dingala, the blood of women and children massacred in the Kilinzina Club in the confused years before the African state of Lubanda emerged into independence.
And now Dingala was coming to England for Government talks, coming to an England which housed menfolk of the Kilinzina Club, men who had sworn to avenge their families’ deaths.
To Sexton Blake the task was given to save Joseph Dingala from assassination by these fanatical and determined men.
Could even Blake guard an African Statesman in his luxurious penthouse suite – with twenty determined men sworn to killing him – or perishing in the attempt…
Please note: Inside the book, the white settlers club is referred to as the Kilinzana Club. On the cover, it is referred to the Kilinzina Club. I guess that sums up how much care was taken in the preparation of this book.