Publishing: Sherlock Holmes is dead! In December, readers of STRAND MAGAZINE are shocked when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's creation disappears over the Reichenbach Falls with Professor Moriarty gripped in his arms. At the same time, writer Harold Blyth creates Sexton Blake. It is thought that he initially named the detective 'Frank Blake', though his son disputed this, claiming that his father asked him which name he preferred, 'Gideon Barr' or 'Sexton Blake' and the latter was chosen. In the second week of December (the same month as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's THE FINAL PROBLEM appeared), THE MISSING MILLIONAIRE was published in THE HALFPENNY MARVEL with the author concealed behind the pen name of 'Hal Meredeth' (this is often misspelled 'Meredith', possibly because it appeared that way in issue 15 of UNION JACK). The story had been commissioned by Somers John Summers who, at the age of 18, was editor of THE MARVEL, UNION JACK and PLUCK. He was later promoted to the editorship of ANSWERS.
Blake: Sexton Blake runs his private investigations business from an office in New Inn Chambers on Wych Street, Strand but doesn't appear to be doing particularly well until French detective Jules Gervaise sends him a rich client. The two men go into partnership and Gervaise moves into an apartment on the same floor as the office. The rooms are upstairs and consist of a clerk's office, Sexton Blake's office, and Gervaise's aforementioned private apartment. Blake himself lives around the corner in Norfolk House, Norfolk Street.
Notes: Millionaire Frank Ellaby is referred to Sexton Blake by detective Jules Gervaise of Paris. Fourteen years previously, Ellaby had been prospecting in Australia in partnership with a man called Calder Dulk. While there, he met his long-lost sister who was on her death-bed. She had been the guardian of a young girl called Rose and, before passing away, entrusted Ellaby with that responsibility. The following day, Dulk and his wife abandoned Ellaby, taking with them all his gold, the child, and the documents relating to her past. It took Ellaby one and a half decades before he struck gold again. Now he wants Blake to find out what happened to the girl. Soon after his interview with the detective, Ellaby is seriously injured in a traffic accident and falls into the hands of Madame Dulk who starves him until he agrees to sign a cheque for £20,000. Jules Gervais arrives from Paris and, with Blake, traces Ellaby to an old mill. But Ellaby has already escaped and is convinced that the two detectives have betrayed him. Meanwhile, Rose, having had various unsavory guardians until she was finally adopted by a clergyman named Briarton, is being wooed by young Ernest Truelove. Truelove falls into company with Leon Polti, head of a criminal gang called The Red Lights of London which counts Calder Dulk among its members. Truelove is duped into cashing Ellaby's cheque and is promptly arrested, as are Blake and Gervaise. All are freed after due explanations. The Red Lights gang begins to self-destruct as mutual suspicion takes a grip. This leads to Calder Dulk being thrown from a train. His wife kidnaps Rose (who somehow fails to recognise her captor!) and seeks to bribe the Duke of Fenton whose son will lose his title should it emerge that Rose is the rightful heir. As the Duke leaves her presence, he learns that his son has just died and he later commits suicide. Madam Dulk is betrayed by her servant and the papers proving Rose's aristocratic connections are burned. Leon Polti, fighting with one of his own men, is driven over a cliff edge. With the case ended, Rose and Truelove are married and Blake and Gervaise go into partnership.
Trivia: Sexton Blake reveals that he went to school in Winchester. He is obviously poverty-stricken in these early days of his long career; his office windows are grimy and he seems rather obsessed with the wealth of his client. Contrary to what many Blake scholars claim, the detective is not in partnership with Jules Gervaise at the start of this tale, though he is by its end.
For years, the first Sexton Blake story was believed to be SEXTON BLAKE — DETECTIVE: THE STORY OF A GREAT MYSTERY in issue 2 of UNION JACK published in 1894. The true facts emerged when a researcher named Walter Dexter discovered THE MISSING MILLIONAIRE in the British Museum.
This was anthologised in THE SEXTON BLAKE CASEBOOK (1987).
Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ The first ever Sexton Blake story is virtually unreadable due to a deeply illogical plot, unsympathetic characterisation and a sometimes incomprehensible use of grammar. The coincidences and oversights are so immense that this tale can't be considered much more than a curiosity. As for Sexton Blake, he does virtually nothing and the plot resolves itself without his help. Who could possibly have predicted his fabulous future from this?
Notes: Scoundrel Jonas Finch hears that his childhood sweetheart, Rose (who we met in THE MISSING MILLIONAIRE), is heir to Frank Ellaby's millions and is to marry Ernest Truelove. Finch travels to the rectory where Mr. Briarton, the clergymen who had adopted Rose, lives and he overhears the vicar talking with Ellaby. The latter reveals that he's carrying a thousand pounds in cash; a wedding present for the couple. When the millionaire leaves the house, Finch knocks him unconscious and steals the money. He is interrupted by the arrival of Ernest Truelove who he manages to render insensible before being recognised. That same evening, in London, Sexton Blake receives Miss Lillie Ray who he is to escort to the rectory where she'll attend the wedding before becoming Mr. Briarton's new housekeeper. Blake falls in love with her "at first sight". Later, as he leaves the office, he catches sight of Madame Dulk whom he had believed killed in a train crash. Meanwhile, Jules Gervaise is commissioned by Mr. Dillford Nutt to find his daughter, Myra Finch, who was married to Jonas Finch before being abandoned. Blake, Gervaise and Lillie Ray travel to the rectory where they discover that Truelove is insensible and Ellaby is missing. Gervaise leaves Blake to investigate while he sets off to Paris in search of Myra. Near the rectory there is a large property called The Black Grange. Here, an eccentric mystic, Dr. Valdji, lives with his companion, Nazweii, who is, in fact, a disguised Madame Dulk. The doctor has a balloon tethered in his garden which he uses to study the stars. On the night Ellaby was attacked, Valdji discovered him and brought him to the Grange where he now cultivates the millionaire's amnesia, intending to experiment upon him. The following day, Blake learns that Gervaise has gone missing and travels to Paris to find him. While there, he learns that Jonas Finch is the most likely perpetrator of the crimes at the rectory and that his abandoned wife, Myra, is none other than Lillie Ray. When the girl in question creeps into the Grange and finds her husband hiding there, she flees and attempts to leave the country by boat. Blake returns to England after he and Gervais defeat a gang of French criminals and organises a raid on the Grange. There he also discovers Jonas Finch. The villain tries to escape in Valdji's balloon but Blake boards it and they float out over the Channel, fighting all the way. The Grange catches fire and Madame Dulk dies in the flames. Ellaby is saved. Dillford Nutt dies of a stroke and Myra inherits his fortune. She and Blake are reunited when the balloon crashes into the sea near her boat. Finch is drowned. Finally, Myra gives Blake "more than a half promise that she will some day reward his devotion to her in the way he most desires."
Trivia: So did Sexton Blake marry Myra Finch? It is unlikely, since she is never mentioned again and subsequent references to a wife in SEXTON BLAKE'S LOST CLUE (UNION JACK issue 396, 1901) and in the sequels to that story, THE REAL ADVENTURES OF SEXTON BLAKE and KING OF DETECTIVES (serialised in THE MARVEL between issues 421 and 501 in 1901-03) must be to Muriel Blake nee Lane whom the detective marries at the end of the serial THE LAMP OF DEATH (ILLUSTRATED CHIPS issues 225 to 245, 1894/95).
Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ Like its predecessor, this story has a ragged and disjointed plot that barely holds together. In fact, it wouldn't hold together at all were it not for the totally unbelievable coincidences that join the disparate parts. These two tales may be the beginning for Sexton Blake but for new readers they definitely are not the place to start.