Publishing: A young man named Ernest Hope Goddard, brother of the Sexton Blake author Norman Goddard, takes on the editorship of the UNION JACK.
Blake: William Shaw Rae gives us two stories with cohesive — if rather controversial — internal dating. HOW SEXTON BLAKE WON HIS SPURS is supposedly Blake's first case and took place in September 1878 when Blake was "scarcely out of his teens". BRAVO BLAKE occurred "some ten years ago", which would place it in 1886, when the detective was aged 27 (so he was 19 in SPURS). This means he was born in 1859, which seems extraordinarily early. It would make him 34 at the time of NALDA THE NIHILIST. How it fits with his first published story — THE MISSING MILLIONAIRE — is unclear, as although the latter appeared in 1893, there is nothing to indicate that it may not have happened some few years earlier.
Blake refers to SPURS as his first case but he might have actually meant "first case as an established detective". This would then suggest that it followed immediately after SEXTON BLAKE'S FIRST CASE (1905), which tells the story of how he got established and started out in business as Sexton Blake & Co.
BRAVO, BLAKE! asserts that Blake still has a living relative. Since this can't be Henry Blake (because Blake believes his elder brother is dead at this time (see 1907), and is unlikely to be Nigel Blake (see 1933), it must be another relation, possibly the Aunt Fannie mentioned in FIRST CASE.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. For the past three weeks Sexton Blake has been investigating the murder of Hesbach, the analyst, with little progress. Hesbach had made a living as a forensic scientist and had lived in a rented room in Chadley House. This huge but ageing mansion once had a very large room downstairs which, at some point, was divided by a partition. The landlord, Roger Stepfast, lived on one side, and a watchmaker named Osmere Gesler rented the other. Hesbach boarded in a room upstairs. On November 10th, Stepfast, not having heard Hesbach moving around all day, became concerned and, finding the analyst's door locked, he sent for the police. They broke in and discovered the man dead with a knife in his back. There seemed to be no motive for this crime but obviously something mysterious was afoot, for Sexton Blake received an anonymous note offering him £500 if he could find and convict the 'murderers'. Now, the detective receives a visit from Stepfast who claims to have chased off an intruder the previous night. Furthermore, he says, the house is haunted; for the past two nights, as the clock struck twelve, he heard a scream from Hesbach's room followed by the thump of a falling body. He also informs Blake that he suspects he is being followed. They leave for Chadley House but pause when a youth drops a note in front of them before running off. It reads: 'Give it up. The living and the dead fight against you'. Arriving at the house, the detective and landlord stand outside the deceased tenant's room. A clock strikes twelve. A blood-curdling scream rends the night. There's the thud of a falling body. Blake turns the key in the door's lock and bursts into the room.
Trivia: Blake lodges in rooms near to Chadley House specifically for this case. Why? The house is described as being on Waverton Street, a narrow thoroughfare between Long Acre and Oxford Street. Surely his apartments on Norfolk Street, off the Strand, are within walking distance or, at most, just a short cab ride away?
Rating: ★★★★★ A wonderfully spooky start to the serial, filled with gothic shadows, a creaking old house, whistling winds and ghostly events ... plus an excellent cliffhanger. Marvellous!
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. Bursting into the room, Blake finds... nothing! There is no sign of a ghost or of anything that might have made the sounds. A thorough search yields no results. Upon learning that Stepfast will be out of the house for much of the following day, the detective decides to stay there. For the moment, he remains in the darkness on the landing outside the room while the landlord goes downstairs to bed. Blake listens to the various creaks and groans of the house and to the wind outside. After an hour has passed, he detects footsteps slowly approaching. Nearer and nearer they come, though not a thing can be seen in the dense shadows. He reaches out and his fingertips touch something so cold that they are momentarily frozen. There is the sudden sound of a huge blast of wind; Blake punches out; but nothing is there. He waits a while but there are no further strange occurrences so he leaves the house and heads for his own lodgings. On the way, he is shadowed by a man who seems set to attack him but who has a change of mind and departs. Now the shadower becomes the shadowed as Blake trails him to his home and takes note of his appearance. Satisfied with the night's work, the detective returns to his rooms and goes to bed. In the morning he is visited by Stephen Drew, a young detective who's just joined Scotland Yard. Drew believes that Stepfast's beautiful but vain daughter, Jenny, may provide a lead and intends to investigate her. After he leaves, Dick Harmony arrives; he is the son of a deceased friend of Blake's. He admits that he has started courting Jenny Stepfast. Blake has the horrid realisation that Harmony is in danger of becoming Drew's top suspect. The detective sets off for Chadley House and arrives in time to witness a fight between Osmere Gesler and a disreputable-looking character who makes off after being soundly beaten by the apparently mild watchmaker. Blake enters the house, goes to the haunted room, and settles on the bed. After a long and tense wait, the local church clock strikes twelve and a terrified scream followed by a thud come from the adjoining chamber. Blake rushes in. There's nothing there. He crosses to the door, unlocks it, and casts the light from his lamp towards the top of the stairs. A shadowy figure seems to melt away from the light.
Trivia: We learn a little more about the rooms Blake is occupying; they are in a narrow street behind Covent Garden Theatre and close to the gallery entrance. In other words, they are very close to his chambers on Norfolk Street and not at all close (relatively speaking) to Chadley House ... which surely contradicts his reason for occupying them?
Rating: ★★★★★ Despite the appearance of the customary coincidences in this installment, it remains almost hypnotically fascinating and weird. The supernatural atmosphere is superb.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. There's an odd start to this installment. The editor obviously felt that it was too long, so instead of picking up where the last installment left off, there is an extended 'story so far' section. It actually feels like an intervening issue, or maybe some pages, have gone missing somewhere — but that's definitely not the case. We are informed that, after seeing a figure melt away into the shadows at the top of the stairs, Blake sets off in pursuit. The figure ahead of him runs in a weirdly crouched way, as if trying to conceal the fact that he is tall. He heads towards Oxford Street. Blake's way is blocked when a confederate of his quarry leaps out from a doorway. Blake throws him off. Further along, two more men attempt to stop him. Again, the detective fights his way through. The man he is after leaps into a cab but Blake seizes the horse's bridle and prevents it from galloping away. The passenger leaps out, runs down an ally and enters a house. Blake follows. At this point the summary ends and part three of the serial commences properly with the start of chapter VI.
Blake enters a room in the house only for the door to close and lock behind him. He hears men gathering outside. His quarry explains to them that Blake had detected him listening at the keyhole of the haunted room in Chadley House. Blake picks the lock and leaves the room, attacking the gang with a chair leg and making his escape. He returns to Chadley House and sits in Hesbach's room until noon when Roger Stepfast offers him a cup of tea. They go to the kitchen, which is directly below. There, Blake meets Jenny and comes to the conclusion that she probably flirted with Hesbach. Later, receives an anonymous note instructing him to investigate a daring jewel robbery during which a white glove was dropped by the perpetrator. While out walking, the detective bumps into Osmere Gesler who tells him that on the night of the murder he had heard Jenny Stepfast talking to a young man on the front doorstep. The detective gives Osmere a watch to mend. The next morning, he receives another visit from Stephen Drew who reveals that a young man was seen leaving Chadley House around the time of the murder. Blake knows this was Dick Harmony. He vows to throw Drew off that particular scent. After the Yard man leaves, the detective goes to Harmony's workshop to warn him to flee; but too late ... the police arrive. Harmony panics and attacks them.
Trivia: Although it isn't clearly stated, this installment gives the impression that Blake actually works for Scotland Yard.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ This episode feels very disjointed, due in no small part to the huge chunk the editor obviously cut from its start.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. Dick Harmony escapes from the police. Things now look very bad for him and Blake believes that the police are sure he committed the murder of Hesbach; not only was Harmony in Chadley House on the night of the murder (with Jenny) but the murder weapon belongs to him too. Blake visits Osmere Gesler to pick up his mended watch and learns that Jenny is to be sent away by her father to a farm in Wiltshire. The detective traces the white glove left after the jewel robbery to Captain Jim, one of the men who had attacked him the previous day. He sets out to find this man and is attacked at practically every street corner by various low-grade villains who seem to be after his watch. When he reaches his lodgings, he finds that Harmony has been there and borrowed clothes, burning his own in the fireplace. Blake traces Captain Jim to a hotel and takes the room next door.
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ A muddled and confusing episode which doesn't seem to take the plot anywhere in particular.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. While Captain Jim is out, Blake breaks into his room and removes the stolen jewels from the Captain's bag, replacing them with metal curtain rings. He rigs up a dummy of himself leaning over the bag then hides and waits. Captain Jim returns with two members of his gang. They leap upon the dummy, smashing it before realising the trick. They return to their hideout, furious with the detective. Blake returns to Chadley House and takes the room next to those where the murder took place. Stepfast tells him that the midnight thumps continue but the screams have stopped. Visiting Osmere Gesler, Blake encourages the watchmaker to join him in a ghost hunt. They ascend to the haunted room and await midnight. The church clock strikes twelve and, in the middle of the room, a loud thud is heard ... but there's nothing there.
Trivia: Again, we get the suggestion that Sexton Blake is actually working for Scotland Yard during this case.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. Sexton Blake retires to his room in Chadley House and gets into bed. He hears another thump from the next door room, followed by a blood-curdling scream. There's a strange fluttering in the air of his own chamber, like the wings of a small bird. He pretends to sleep. Something slowly draws the blankets off him. From beneath the sheets, the detective fires his pistol. A mocking laugh rings out, followed by wild fluttering. Blake lights a match... the room is empty! The next day, disguised as an artist and using the name 'Benson', Blake travels by train to Dauntsey, the village where Jenny Stepfast has been sent and which, as his investigations have disclosed, has some connection with the criminal gang. He lodges in Dauntsey House where he learns that tramps have been lurking about and inquiring after the pictures on the walls of the residence. Later, exploring the region, he discovers one of the gang is staying at the nearby High Oaks Farm. Back in Dauntsey House, in the dead of night, the detective waits as thieves start to break in.
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ The plot seems to be out of control by this point; rambling in the extreme and rather hard to follow.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. Blake leaps on one of the thieves (appropriately named Raffles) as he climbs through the window. The others make off while the detective and the criminal fight. The two men fall from the window and the thief breaks his leg. Blake puts together a makeshift splint and tells the man he must stay in the house while the bone mends. Later, Blake leaves and, as he passes the old toll-house where Jenny Stepfast is living, he spots a figure in the garden. It turns out to be Dick Harmnony. Blake offers to help him but as they walk down a lane they are attacked by a poacher who then makes off. Further along the lane, outside a farmhouse, Blake bids his companion be silent, climbs a ladder and enters through a window.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. Blake exits the farmhouse and Dick Harmony hears him warn a person within to stay put. They return to Dauntsey House where Harmony poses as Blake's servant. A letter from their patient is intercepted; it is addressed to Captain Jim and warns him that Blake is on his tail. Blake forges a completely different version of the note which Harmony takes to the village to post. But he is spotted by Drew and only just manages to escape. The police officer visits Jenny at the toll house but she is unforthcoming. Later, he joins some local constables to search for the poacher. The man is caught and reveals that Harmony has been seen in the company of Sexton Blake. Drew calls on the detective at Dauntsey House, not knowing that Harmony is hiding in the cellar.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. Stephen Drew and Sexton Blake nearly come to blows but the detective eventually concedes to the policeman's demand to search the house. Dick Harmony makes a getaway from the cellar and rides off on a bicycle. He later meets up with Blake who tells him to escape the area on a train. The detective follows but is concerned to learn that Harmony is not on board. He then hears that a cyclist has been arrested.
Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ Halfway through and no sign of a cohesive plot.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. Blake returns to London and explores Chadley House. He finds that Osmere Gesler has cleared out. In the attic, he is set upon by a gang of men led by Captain Jim. They bind him hand and foot and carry him to a nearby house and down to its cellar. There, they lay him upon a paper threshing machine and set its timer for 20 minutes. When it starts, he will be ripped to pieces.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. To Blake's dismay, another prisoner is brought in and placed on the thresher by his side. It is Dick Harmony. Just seconds before the machine starts, they manage to free themselves and fight their way out of the house. An oil lamp is knocked over during the struggle and a fire quickly spreads. Only Captain Jim escapes the flames, racing away in the direction of the river. Sexton Blake sets off in pursuit.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Plenty of action makes this installment less of a trial than its recent predecessors.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. For most of this episode, Blake chases Captain Jim on — and in — the river. The villain ultimately gets away but appears to be overcome by exhaustion or illness. Blake returns to Chadley House where Harmony has been on watch. Upon learning that Gesler has returned, Blake enters the building.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. The detective finds Gesler emerging from the attic with a package in his hands. Blake leaps on him, knocking the parcel to the floor. Gesler screams that they must get out of the building ... he was carrying an explosive device of his own invention and Blake has jogged the mechanism — it will go off any second! The detective drags him out of the house but just as they exit the bomb explodes and the house collapses onto them. A crowd gathers and starts digging in the rubble, trying to find the two men. Among them is Captain Jim. Ill and feverish, he has become obsessed with killing Blake. When the detective is found alive, firemen begin to move the fallen masonary from around him. Captain Jim climbs to a roof overlooking the rescue operation and throws a large stone down at the men.
Rating: ★★★☆☆ At last, the story picks up and becomes interesting again.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. The stone crashes into the wreckage around Sexton Blake but misses him. The firemen dig him out. Gesler is also alive but both his legs are broken and, after he is taken to hospital, they are amputated. The detective hears that Dick Harmony has been captured by the police. He re-enters the small part of Chadley House which still stands and retrieves something from what's left of Gesler's room.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. Raker is the last of the gang members, other than Captain Jim, to have survived the fire. Badly burned, he is laying low in a house when he receives a visit from the aforementioned criminal. He follows Jim to the building where Blake has his lodgings and they rent a room in it. While Blake is away, they plant a time-bomb beneath his bed. During the night, after the detective has returned, they creep out of the house. Later, they hear the bomb detonate. Captain Jim's delight becomes delirious as the fever he has been suffering from takes a hold. He leaves Raker who, back in his own dwelling, finds himself arrested by Blake, who had quietly left his lodgings shortly before the bomb exploded. The detective then tracks Captain Jim to a warehouse.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. Blake captures Captain Jim and takes him to a police station to be imprisoned awaiting trial. He then visits Dick Harmony and informs him that he is no longer a suspected man. A few days later, a number of detectives, including Drew, are invited to dinner by Blake. He lays the full details of the case before them, explaining how and why the murder of Hesbach was committed, what the gang were doing, and how he defeated them.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ The explanations reveal that the plot has been a great deal longer than was necessary.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. In the final — and exceedingly short — installment, Blake explains how the 'hauntings' were contrived.
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ After a tremendously atmospheric beginning, this serial goes off the rails and becomes a turgid, extremely confusing mess. The plot veers all over the place, the central section being particularly rambling and unsatisfying.
Notes: Maud Sherfield is kidnapped as she travels to meet her fiancee, Harry Harford. That night, on a pleasure steamer, Sexton Blake runs across Harford, who is depressed because Maud has not shown up. When the ship sinks after a collision, Blake, with Harry's help, saves many lives. The next morning, Harry visits Blake and reports that Maud is still missing. Blake promises to help and, after investigating the clues, quickly picks up the trail of his main suspect, Egbert Treewolf. He learns that this man, whose reputation is somewhat tarnished, is currently living in a hotel while his house is renovated. Disguising himself as one of the workmen, Blake enters the house and breaks into the study but he is caught in the act by Treewolf and shot at. Narrowly escaping, he mulls over the papers he had seen: evidence of coining and a newspaper advertisement from a lawyer trying to find Miss Sherfield. When he visits the lawyer, Blake learns that the girl is the unknowing heir to a fortune; a fact that Treewolf has also discovered. Later, the detective accosts a young lad who has been seen running errands for the villain. This boy puts him in contact with 'Carroty Sam', a criminal who's been laundering forged money for Treewolf. Sam is prepared to betray his employer, against whom he holds a grievance, but before anything can be arranged Blake's quarry goes into hiding. Days later, Sam informs the detective that the coining gang is to divide the spoils of their criminal endeavour that night. Treewolf will be there, in a seedy East End dive, and once business is completed he intends to leave the country. Heavily disguised, Blake infiltrates this meeting and holds Treewolf at bay while the police raid the premises. But the villain slips his grasp and makes a run for it. Blake pursues him up to the roof and across a plank of wood over a perilous drop to the next building. Here, Carroty Sam tries to stop Treewolf and is rewarded with a bullet through the heart. But Treewolf is cornered and, when he slides down a fire escape, Blake follows and finally captures him. Maud Sherfield is discovered locked in a room in the building. She inherits her fortune and marries Harry, while Blake receives a substantial reward and passes into the ranks of 'professional detectives'.
Trivia: One of the few adventures to give a date, this one is supposed to have occurred in September 1878 when Sexton Blake was "scarcely out of his teens". He refers to it as his "first case"; a "test case" through which he can put his studies of the art of detection into practice. This conflicts with SEXTON BLAKE'S FIRST CASE (Union Jack 66, 1905)... unless you consider this his first commission after the aforementioned story; the first taken under the auspices of Sexton Blake & Co. Incidentally, the sinking of the Princess Alice, which features at the start of this story, was a real event which occurred on 3rd September 1878.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ A typical early tale which, though enjoyable, feels a little too routine. Good but unremarkable.
UNION JACK · 1st series · Issue 138 · 12/12/1896 · Amalgamated Press · ½d
Other content: The Legend of Ravenswood by S. Clarke Hook; A Mystery of the Sea by Melton Whyte; Roving Ralph by Anon.; Christmas in Every Clime (article); Science at Home (article); From the Quarterdeck (ed.)
Notes: Sexton Blake saves a young man, Harry Everton, with whom he used to go to school, from an accident in the street. Harry and his younger brother, Frank, are due to leave soon to travel the world. They are currently living with their father, along with Charlie, the youngest of the brothers, and their cousin, Rawal. The latter has recently arrived from India and has aroused the distrust of Harry. Blake is invited to stay with the family for a short break. He and Harry reach the Evertons' home during a violent storm and, as they arrive, Frank rushes out to inform his brother that their father has been killed by lightening. Blake is suspicious of the circumstances and takes a photograph of the dead man's eyes. Imprinted on them is the image of Rawal holding a large battery-like mechanism. The detective is convinced that the cousin is a murderer and is probably working his way through the family to become the heir. But, despite this, the Evertons are eager to avoid a scandal and ask Blake to drop the case. After the funeral, the brothers, with the detective, are invited to Scotland by their Uncle George. There, when new horses are delivered for the stables, Rawal persuades young Charlie to ride the wildest then causes it to bolt. Blake saves the boy just as the horse plunges into 'Deepsuck Bog'. It's not long before Rawal makes another attempt to do away with his relatives; this time, Charlie is apparently lost in a fishing "accident", his body never recovered. Frank follows, disappearing over a cliff edge (with a little help from his villainous cousin). What remains of the family now moves back south and Blake isn't with them for a few weeks. When he next visits, he finds that Harry has fallen sick. One night he feeds him a potion. The next morning, Harry is dead. Rawal is now heir to a fortune. But all is not as it seems. When Rawal is at the lawyers to claim his rights, he is interrupted by the arrival of Sexton Blake, Harry, Frank and Charlie. Blake has been faking the deaths of the brothers: he had rescued Charlie from the sea, Frank from halfway down the cliff, and Harry from poisoning (the potion had given him the appearance of death; Blake later revived him). Rawal is exposed as a fake (he's not their cousin at all) and a murderer. Rather than being imprisoned, he takes his own life.
Trivia: This story takes place "some ten years ago", which would place it in 1886, well before Blake's partnership with Jules Gervais. It's clearly stated that Blake, that year, was aged 27 and still had at least one living relative ("I sent him up to London to the care of a relative of my own..."). He has chambers in Norfolk House, off the Strand. He was educated at the Public School of Ashleigh up to the age of 18. While there he was nicknamed Bravo Blake.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ For a modern reader, this falls apart as soon as the charming but totally spurious Victorian belief in 'the last thing seen is imprinted on the eye' is introduced. Nevertheless, it's good fun despite its rather transparent plot.