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Large Type Killer
"He was accused of an outrageous crime -- and only one girl's trust stood between him and the fury of the mob"
This Sexton Blake Library, number 458 from August 1960, is a real oddity. It's credited to "Richard Williams" and described inside as a "novel from a short story by Jack Trevor Story." Steve Holland confirms that it was partly written by SBL editor Bill Howard Baker.

In fact Story's contributions are parts of what was later published as a novel, not a short story, i.e. Man Pinches Bottom. Many of these extracts are taken pretty much verbatim from the novel as later published (see >> ) except that children's comic artist Percy Paynter doesn't pinch a girl's bottom, but drops ice cream down her dress. The same consequences ensue in both versions; by unfortunate twists of fate, Paynter is mistaken for a womaniser, a pub-brawler and finally a child-killer. As in the book, the tale also involves the power of the tabloid press, used both to demonise Paynter and to soften up his employer's company for a takeover bid.

Around Story's sections Baker weaves in Sexton Blake and friends, and two extra elements. In the final chapter, the Blake crew celebrates its 100th case since moving into new Berkeley Square offices in 1956 (and picking up new editor Baker, the "New Look" for the Sexton Blake Library and new characters like Paula Dane and Splash Kirby). Baker also adds a villain to the piece in the shape of the actual child killer, who is linked to the story by some pretty blatant coincidences, and an equally unlikely association with the underworld.

Here's a brief extract from Story's Jack On The Box (Savoy Books, 1979) page 19:

 "John Pudney asked me once: "What happened to The Season of the Skylark?" This was a novel I wrote for him while he was a director of Putnams. I had to turn it into a Sexton Blake at the last moment, dragging a denouement into the last chapter and changing the hero's name to Tinker."

"Twenty times during the 1950s I tried to write novels that would make some kind of name and acclaim, and 20 times a gas bill or some other disaster forced me to scuttle down to Fleetway house and flog it to the Sexton Blake Library."

The difference with Large Type Killer seems to be that this time Baker did the job of turning it into an SBL rather than Story himself. The liberties Baker took, watering down the thematic thrust of Story's piece and taking the tale a twist or two beyond all credibility, are more than enough reason for Story to want his name taken off the final product, one might think. Hence the nom de plume Richard Williams; like many other SBL aliases, this nonexistent author took the credit for several different writers' work between 1960 and 1965, often (but not always) with Baker's revising hand somewhere in the mix.

I'm grateful to Steve Holland for pointing out Story's part in Large Type Killer. Its close links to the admirable Man Pinches Bottom and its mention (though not by name) in Story's piece Sexton Blake Saved My Turkey (>> ) give this Sexton Blake "novel" a unique place in the footnotes to Jack's career.


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