Sexton Blake Returns: "The Grosvenor Square Mystery" (1909)

Back in March, I reviewed Derek Smith's Model for Murder (1952), a surprisingly cerebral entry in the colossal Sexton Blake Library, which is probably why the novel remained unpublished for more than six decades until John Pugmire, of Locked Room International, got his hands on the manuscript – publishing it as part of The Derek Smith Omnibus (2014). A splendid volume that includes the all-time classic Whistle Up the Devil (1954) and Come to Paddington Fair (1997).

The Sexton Blake Library consists of roughly two-thousand short stories, novels, stage plays and comic books, written by over two hundred writers, but ended my review by saying I would likely never read another Blake story during my lifetime. A well-known problem with the Sexton Blake series is quantity over quality that helped it acquire a reputation of a badly dated, second-rate pulp-series.

Hardly a year has gone by since my review of Model for Murder, but I recently came across a short Sexton Blake story that actually looked promising. And the story delivered on its promise!

"The Grosvenor Square Mystery" was anonymously published on October 26, 1909, in Answers and is a bone-fide locked room mystery with a solution that cleverly moved away from the secret passages of eighteenth century detective fiction.

The setting of the story is the house of Sir George Hilton, in Grosvenor Square, which is an ancient mansion furnished "the heavy style of the early Victorian era" and has "prevailing air of solidity" with its solid doors, locks and bolts – solid shutters on all the windows. However, this was not enough to keep out a thief and valuables began to disappear from the locked apartment "sacred to the use" of Sir George and his wife.

An apartment has four interconnecting doors: two of them lead to the rooms Sir George and Lady Hilton, one to a boudoir and the last one to a bathroom, which pretty much eliminated a secret passageway or hidden trick-door. You can only enter the apartment through one of these four doors. All of the doors were fitted with "patent locks, bolts and burglar alarm," but despite these security measures valuable rings, necklaces, scarf-pins, a pearl pendant and a purseful of sovereigns were taken from that locked apartment. This culminated in the theft of "a packet of State papers."

These inexplicable string of thefts began to foster "an actual spirit of mutual suspicion" and mistrust between Sir George and Lady Hilton. So they decided to take Blake as an undercover house guest and have him bust open their locked room conundrum.

Blake makes short work of the case and the revelation of the thief doesn't come as an astonishing, gut-wrenching surprise, but, where the plot becomes interesting, is the explanation to the problem of the locked apartment – a solution that was original, inventive and clever for the period. You can say that the unknown author of this story took a locked room idea from the eighteenth century reworked it by applying some of that twentieth century ingenuity that G.K. Chesterton and John Dickson Carr would bring to the impossible crime story in the subsequent decades.

A note for the curious: the Kindaichi series has a locked room story that uses this exact same idea, but made it even better by elaborating on it and the result was awesome.

So, considering the poor reputation of the Sexton Blake series, "The Grosvenor Square Mystery," as a second-string Sherlock Holmes imitation, wasn't all that bad and the locked room angle was surprisingly good. Particularly for 1909. The plot lacked proper clueing and the culprit was obvious, but the impossible crime and solution makes this story potential anthology material.

You can read story here.


  1. Thanks it was a somewhat fun read. Out of curiosity which Kindaichi story are you referring to? I can't remember a similar trick right now...

    1. Glad you liked it, Yannis. I was referring to this Kindaichi story. As I said, the locked room-trick from Kindaichi is far more elaborate, but the basic idea is the same.

    2. Ah, I see. I did think of that story for a moment, but dismissed it.

      Yes these short stories you post lately are nice especially as I am out of books currently :)

    3. Good news. I've more short story reviews lined up for this month.

  2. Yeah, it stands to reason that there's going to be some decent stuff in the Sexton Blake corpus -- hell, 87,000 authors writing 64 billion stories will hit the mark some of the time -- but it's just a question of whether one can uncover the diamond in the coalface. Sounds like you've had quite the triumph here,good news! I'll check out the story forthwith, and thanks for flagging it up.

    1. You're welcome.

      I'll just limit my scope with the Sexton Blake Library to the stories that were listed by Adey in Locked Room Murders. If there's a locked room or impossible crime, it might be a little more than just your average dime novel or magazine fodder.

      "The Grosvenor Square Mystery" showed their might be something to that shaky hypothesis. So here's hoping!

  3. I'm rather surprised to hear negative things about Blake. I haven't heard it anywhere else. Mark Hodder is a champion of the stories and has his own website devoted to them, while there are a couple of anthologies out there compiling some of the best ones. Michael Moorecock is a big fan too.

    1. Really? You can probably put that down to a difference of perception between pulp and detective readers. I mean, there are thousands of Sexton Blake stories and you can hardly claim that they're all high quality stuff.

      While I like this short story and it's locked room-trick, there were no clues whatsoever and the murderer was very obvious. So that's why readers like myself and JJ have a different view of the voluminous Sexton Blake Library.

      By the way, have you read Derek Smith's Model for Murder? If you know of any Sexton Blake novels or short stories, like that, I would like to give them a shot.

  4. Yes, the Blake stories are thrillers so run on a parallel line beside detective fiction. On that line (in Britain) is also The Saint, The Toff, Blackshirt, Norman Conquest, Edgar Wallace, Bulldog Drummond, James Bond and maybe even Biggles.

    I haven't read Model for Murder, no, but the Casebook of Sexton Blake would be a good read for adventure fans.