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A REVIEW OF 'THE BLACKSPIT SMUGGLERS' BY LENNOX KERR
Although nominally an adventure story for boys, 'THE BLACKSPIT SMUGGLERS' need not be labelled solely as a children's book. The recent Harry Potter phenomenon proved that stories for younger readers can, in fact, appeal to all ages. Written in 1935, 'THE BLACKSPIT SMUGGLERS' is a classic adventure yarn, with typical ingredients such as a young hero finding his way in the world, a group of ruthless smugglers, a hidden hoard of contraband goods, a grizzled half-mad old sailor (a very close cousin of 'Treasure Island's' Ben Gunn) and of course plenty of danger on and above the ocean.
In short, 'THE BLACKSPIT SMUGGLERS' can be successfully summarised as an Enid Blyton book with attitude. That the smugglers, led by the icy, enigmatic Devlin (subtlely portrayed by Kerr in the style of a John Buchan arch-villain) are risking their lives and liberty for a hoard of drugs proves that Blackspit is no Kirrin island. Likewise, their cunning 'blameless' elimination of an investigator in the book's early passages has a clinical edge that raises this tale above the twee.
Lennox Kerr was not only an author, but also a steamship and naval officer. His intimate relationship with the sea is clear from the way that he uses it as the backdrop of this adventure. The game of brinkmanship on the ocean between Devlin's yacht and a naval destroyer is told with some style. However, it is the rising sea's menace in a sequence in which hero and villains are trapped in a cave, that best shows off Kerr's aquatic story-telling.
Like many novels of its ilk, the finale of 'THE BLACKSPIT SMUGGLERS' is arguable a little disappointing, it being too neat, lacking the spirit of earlier passages. The final paragraph does slip into Enid Blyton territory, and one can almost imagine Timmy the dog popping up for good measure! Nevertheless, despite this quibble, 'THE BLACKSPIT SMUGGLERS' is a very solid adventure romp which combines both drama and a sense of comfortable predictability from a (possibly) simpler age. For fans of Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain and J. Meade Faulkner who fancy something a little more contemporary, 'THE BLACKSPIT SMUGGLERS' is well worth dipping into.