Blake: Sexton Blake makes his first trip to China and gains his first boy assistant, We-wee (which means "the Little Beagle"). The boy is described as being around 8 or 9 years old when they meet.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. Valuable papers relating to a planned trade agreement between Britain and China are stolen by a Russian agent called Kerkoff. He leaves the country, bound for the Far East. Sexton Blake books passage on a steamship, The Comorin, and sets off in pursuit, chasing the agent from port to port towards far Shanghai, slowly gaining on his quarry. Kerkoff makes it to shore first and disappears into the seething throng of humanity but it's not long before Blake catches up with him and tries to make an arrest. Kerkoff calls upon Chinese friends for help and the detective is overpowered, shackled to a post, and tormented by his captors. Eventually, the captain of The Comorin passes by and responds to Blake's cries for help. Captain Saltman is handed the keys to the padlocked chains by a small street urchin and frees Blake. Three days later, while searching for a trace of the Russian agent, Blake happens upon the little urchin again. He is being cruelly whipped by a Chinaman called Ah-Sin who, after the detective interrupts, offers to sell the lad. Blake buys him for two sovereigns and thus gains his first boy assistant, We-wee. Despite being given his freedom, We-wee elects to stay with his new 'master' and immediately proves useful by discovering that Kerkoff is sailing on the Yellow Sea towards Tung-Chau. The duo set of in pursuit only to find that their ship is infested with pirates, Ah-Sin among them. When they attempt to take over the ship, Blake appropriates a Maxim gun and fights them off. We-wee also proves himself to be a sharpshooter with a pistol. Upon arrival at Tung-Chau, Blake is tricked into the crypt of a temple by Kerkoff and left entombed. But succour comes in the form of a thief who, while robbing the crypt of its treasures, is accosted by the detective and forced to lead him to daylight. While this has been happening, We-wee, who witnessed Kerkoff leaving the temple, has gathered priests to hunt him for the sacrilege he committed when entering the temple without removing his footwear. The angry holy men trap the Russian agent in a house where a funeral procession is being prepared. As the coffin-bearers leave, We-wee trips them and Kerkoff tumbles from the casket. For this further desecration, the villain is executed in the most horrible manner. We-wee recovers the trade documents and, having proven himself invaluable, sails back to England with Sexton Blake.
Trivia: Blakes makes a clear statement that this is his first trip to China. Kerkoff recognises the detective from the portraits published in the story papers (this acknowledgement of UNION JACK and HALFPENNY MARVEL supports the assertion that Blake was a real person). Blake estimates We-wee's age at around 8 or 9-years-old.
Rating: ★★★★★ Among the best of the earliest tales and a significant one, due to the introduction of We-wee. In many respects, this sets the template for the pre-war Blake and Tinker tales, being filled with excitement, chases, perils and devilish foreigners. Fabulous!
Notes: My copy is missing a cover. Robert Rousell is a medical student with gambling debts. His friend Leonard Poutney had promised to pay them off ... but now Poutney is dead after being bitten by a dog. Dr. Flaxman, Poutney's guardian and the owner of the dog, has a daughter named Joice to whom Poutney's fortune is bequested should he die before reaching the age of 21. This has now happened, fuelling suspicion that Flaxman may have indulged in a little foul play. Rousell turns to his friend, a detective named Tom Beech, for help. Beech takes him to see Sexton Blake and the three of them then go to Dr Flaxman's house to examine the cellar where Poutney died. The doctor confirms that death was from fright rather than from the wounds inflicted by the dog. But Blake disagrees, having found evidence that suggests the victim was murdered by means of prussic acid. He identifies the killer, who, to avoid prison and in a fit of remorse, commits suicide.
Trivia: Blake lives — or works — in an 'unpretentious-looking house'.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ This is a very very short story; little more than a vignette. But it's not a bad way to fill five minutes.
Notes: My copy is missing a cover. A postman who delivers registered mail in London's diamond business district, is robbed by an assailant named Schippers. When Sexton Blake investigates, he finds a jade scarf pin. He discovers that it belongs to a man named Carl Verlynden and sends We-wee to shadow him. Meanwhile, Schippers responds to an advertisement Blake posts in a paper offering to return the scarf pin to its owner. He meets Blake by night in Hyde Park and attacks the detective before making off. We-wee appears and reveals that he'd been following Schippers who is, in fact, Verlynden. The detective prepares an arrest warrant but before it can be served Verlynden leaves the country to attend a secret meeting in Dusseldorf. Blake and We-wee set off in pursuit but the passenger liner on which they travel collides with another vessel and sinks. Blake manages to save We-wee while also holding tight to a fellow survivor in the water. Strangely, this man pleads to be let go so that he might drown. Later, after being rescued by fishing vessels and landed on the French shore, Blake encounters the man again ... on the point of being hanged by two others. He chases them off but receives no gratitude from the victim. The latter explains that he is a member of a secret society and had failed to perform a deed which had been assigned to him — an act that would have rocked the world. He is, in consequence, condemned to a far worse death than suicide. Blake leaves him and travels to Antwerp in continued pursuit of Verlynden. While there, We-wee is kidnapped but he gets a message to Blake who comes to his rescue, though the kidnappers get away. Next day, the detective and his assistant travel to Cologne. Here, Blake is spotted by one of the men who had snatched We-wee. The man engineers a duel between Blake and the notorious fighter, Colonel Swartzhaus, which the detective wins. Once again, the journey is continued until Dusseldorf is reached. Catching sight of a man wearing a jade scarf pin identical to the one he had found, Blake makes his acquaintance and thus gains entry to the secret society of "anti-everyone and everything". Verlynden is there, as is the man Blake had rescued from the sea and the noose. Having failed in his suicide attempts, this man is now sentenced to the guillotine. But Blake stops the proceedings and We-wee breaks up the meeting by throwing bombs, killing many of the attendees including Verlynden. The detective and his assistant escape and call the police, spelling the end for the society.
Trivia: This story offers further confirmation that Blake lives in Norfolk House off the Strand. Though this is only We-wee's second published adventure, he has already been of 'great use to the detective in several cases'.
Rating: ★★★☆☆ An average tale with rather a rambling plot and a shockingly high death count.
Notes: The Shah of Persia is entering his palace in procession when his newly fitted gas lights go out. In the darkness, a priceless brooch of great political significance is stolen from him. Sexton Blake and We-wee, who are on holiday in Teheran, are asked to investigate and, if possible, to return the stolen item. First among the suspects is Zil-ul-Molk, the king's cousin, who, immediately after the procession, left for his home city of Bashara. Blake follows, disguised as a doctor sent to treat Zil-ul-Molk's sick wife. He arrives at his destination and is reluctantly taken on as a physician. After avoiding an initial assassination attempt, the detective falls victim to another when he is pushed down a well. A tame lion provides his means of escape and Blake returns to the palace in time to attend the banquet during which Zil-ul-Molk intends to announce the overthrow of the Shah. We-wee spots poison being tipped into his master's wine glass and surreptitiously switches the drink with that of the villain's son. After Zil-ul-Molk produces the symbolic brooch and announces that his son is to take the throne, the latter individual rises to make a speech. Before he can utter a word, the poison kills him. Blake learns that the brooch will be placed in ceremony upon the wrapped corpse as it lies in state, later to be removed by the priests. Drugging the guards, he steals the body and places it in his own bed. He then lies on the bier and is wrapped in the funeral shrouds by his assistant. Twelve hours pass before the funeral begins. The brooch is placed by the detective's head and he is borne away to the place of the dead. There he is attacked by vultures until he is eventually able to make his getaway, meet with We-wee, and return the brooch to the Shah. Zil-ul-Molk is imprisoned for the rest of his life.
Notes: This tale follows on directly from FOR THE SHAH, with Sexton Blake continuing his tour of the East when he is summoned by the Bey of Tunis, Sidi Ali Pasha. In the city, on the way to his meeting, he encounters a mysterious holy man named Hadjee Soolah. At the palace, the detective is commissioned by the Bey to find his kidnapped baby son who is identifiable by a tattoo on his arm. Blake is not particularly enthusiastic about this job but accepts it after the boy's mother pleads with him and tells him that she suspects the wife of Mahmoud Ben Sufi, the Grand Vizier. The detective sends We-wee to scout around the palace. Meanwhile, he heads off for a mysterious rendezvous with a possible informant. It turns out to be a woman who leads him into vaults beneath an ancient ruin where, treacherously, he is ambushed by a gang of ruffians. After a desperate fight he is rescued by Hadjee Soolah and returns to his lodgings where he receives We-wee's report. The lad has discovered that the child is being kept at Atica, to the south, but his investigations have made an enemy of Abdul Ramah, the Vizier's head of household. En route to the ruined city, Blake espies the woman who had led him into the ambush and gives chase. But she is repeating the trick and the detective finds himself in a tight corner with armed thugs shooting at him. Quick witted We-wee saves him from death and further succour comes in the form of a gang of escaped convicts who side with the Englishman. Continuing the journey, Blake and We-wee, after more close shaves, eventually reach Atica and there confront the mysterious woman. Blake snatches the baby from her arms and hands it to his assistant who escapes on an ostrich. The woman calls for help from her guardian ruffians but falls to her death when the balcony she is standing on collapses. Blake is rescued by the convicts, who reappear in time to see off the gang. The detective rejoins We-wee and they return to the city to hand the child to its father. The Bey reveals that he was Hadjee Soolah, a disguise he adopted to protect his agent. The woman had been the wife of his Vizier; a man who is now enslaved. Abdul Ramah has been executed.
Notes: In a wild area of Northern England, on the outskirts of the village of Weirwater, Bill Ferrers is out to recover a document which will mean the downfall of his enemy, Jabez Speers. As he wanders past marshland, Ferrers is attracted into it by a will-o'-the-wisp. It guides him to a spot where a body lies sinking into the mud; a man he thinks is a victim of Speers. He continues his journey, passes Westrall House, where Speers lives, and continues on through thick fog towards the Westrall Iron Foundry. When he gets there, he finds that it has vanished! Shocked and confused, he attempts to flee but bumps into Sexton Blake who arrives on the scene with Nelly and Eva Ainsley — cousin and sister of Jack Ainsley, the Assistant Government Inspector of Mines, who has gone missing in the region. Workers arrive at the scene, led by Jock Hunt the forge-master, who, the next day, assists the detective when a mob attacks Jabez Speers over the disappearance of the foundry manager, Edwin Wainthorpe. Blake orders the arrest of an elderly man named Ben Thorley, accusing him of murder. Thorley, who had been defending Speers from the mob, escapes. The crowd turns on Speers and tries to lynch him but they are interrupted by a fire which spreads through Weirwater. Hearing that the two women are stuck in the village, Blake goes to the rescue but is tempted into a booby-trapped house in which he finds himself a prisoner with Thorley. They fall through a shaft into a mine where Blake learns that Thorley — who is actually a disguised criminal named Black Joe — and two other conspirators are behind the crimes in Weirwater. Somewhere a document holds the key to the mystery. Black Joe is killed in the mine and Blake escapes in time to find Jack Ainsley and Edwin Wainthorpe. He also unravels the mystery.
Trivia: This was reprinted in PENNY POPULAR issue 59 as THE SECRET OF THE DALE (1913).
Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ Surely one of the most confused, senseless and messy stories in the whole Sexton Blake saga. This is virtually impossible to read.
Notes: Sexton Blake has hired a country cottage near Perry Vale, intending to take a break from work. He is helping a balloonist when a youth, pursued by the police, hijacks a balloon and escapes. Blake chases after him and rescues him from a fatal fall. The lad tells his story: he is Herbert Merdith and he is wanted for the murder of his father, the Squire. However, he insists that he is innocent. At Merdith Hall, his Uncle Custance had awoken him one morning with the news that his father had been stabbed with a knife which Custance had given Herbert as a gift. What's more, the dead man's hand had been remove and was in Herbert's jacket pocket, wrapped in paper (he still has it and shows it to Blake). Custance had convinced Herbert to flee but the young man soon found the police hot on his trail. Sexton Blake believes that Herbert is innocent and tells him to lie low in the cottage where he will be looked after by We-wee. The detective then travels to Merdith Hall where he finds fingerprint evidence that incriminates Custance. When he returns to the cottage, he finds it empty. We-wee and Merdith, having hidden while the cottage was searched by the police, have fled to the safer haven of Blake's Norfolk House lodgings in London. On the way there they save a train from derailment, are pursued by Custance, who spots them in the street, and evade the police. When Sexton Blake travels back to the city, he also has an eventful journey, with murderous attacks made on him by the villain. However, he survives and, a couple of days later, presents his evidence at the inquest into the Squire's death. When he removes the severed hand from a jar of preservative spirits and places it at the corpse's severed wrist, the action of the air upon it causes the digits to curl until it seems to be pointing an accusing finger at Custance. This, together with the more prosaic evidence, is enough to have the man arrested and charges against Herbert are dropped. As Custance is taken away, he is hit and killed by a bolt of lightning.
Notes: In Dublin, the Irish government asks Sexton Blake to investigate a smuggling ring. He agrees to the job but things get off to a bad start when he is accosted on the street by a gang of thugs working for the 'Director' who have mistaken him for a man that attempted to betray them. Threatened with being buried alive, he is saved at the last moment when one of the gang realises that he is not the man they thought he was. The detective is told to leave the island, which he gladly does. Sending We-wee to begin investigations in Rotterdam, Blake proceeds to Dunkirk where he saves the life of a sailor. By way of reward, he is allowed to replace the injured man aboard the Hirondelle — a smuggling ship owned by the same mysterious 'Director' of Blake's earlier escapade. While voyaging towards Ireland, the crew spot a revenue ship approaching and drop their smuggled goods overboard to be picked up later. The detective slips into the water unnoticed and is left behind. He uses a flag to signal to the revenue ship, which picks him up, recovers the smuggled goods and, after a chase, captures the Hirondelle and takes the crew into custody. In port, Blake receives a message from We-wee; the Chinese boy has got aboard another smuggling ship — the Stroomveldt — as cabin boy. He gives his master coordinates where the ship can be intercepted and Blake duly leads the revenue ship to the rendezvous. The ship is captured and taken over by Blake's men who, following directions found in documents in the captain's cabin, sail to the smugglers' hideaway on the coast of Ireland. Here, in a large cave, the lawmen, led by the detective, and the smugglers, led by the Director, engage in battle. Retreating through a tunnel, Blake and his allies find themselves emerging into a semi-ruined castle; the home of the Director, and here they are besieged. We-wee, finding two huge eagles, harnesses them and uses them to fly down to the town where he alerts the local garrison. The soldiers come to Blake's rescue and the Director is killed in the ensuing battle.
Trivia: Blake lives in Norfolk House off the Strand.
Rating: ★★★☆☆ The ever resourceful We-wee saves the day, again!
UNION JACK · 1st series · Issue 191 · 18/12/1897 · Amalgamated Press · ½d
Other content: Beset By Foes by Capt. Spencer; The Grey Frigate by Anon.; A Noble Coward by Anon.; The Scourge of the Seas by Henry St. John; The Adventures of Buffalo Bill by Percival Cooke; From the Quarterdeck (ed.)
Notes: John Dulton, groom to Lord Dalsmere of Dalsmere Hall in the village of Marville, is found stabbed to death by the roadside. In his dying moments, he uses his own blood to scrawl the word 'DOOBRA' on a nearby fence. Sexton Blake examines this and concludes that it might, in fact, be 'DOOBRAY' ... and Dalsmere's valet of the past two months is named Dubray. The detective identifies this man as Paul Delavine, a rogue wanted by the police in at least two countries. When the villain flees Marville, Blake shadows him to London and attempts to arrest him. To his dismay, discovers that his prey isn't Delavine at all, though he resembles him almost exactly. Somehow, his quarry has escaped him! The detective decides to start at the beginning and so takes a train back to Marville. En route, he realises that Delavine is also aboard the train. At the station, the villain turns the tables on the detective by pretending to be Blake. The real Blake is carted off by the village policeman and placed in a cell. His assistant, Watson, comes to his aid, breaking him out. They pursue Delavine to London where, the next day (Christmas Day), Blake discovers a place where the criminal picks up his post. After watching the place from Christmas through to the New Year, the detective finally gets his man and discovers that his quarry has been, in fact, half-brothers who resemble one another almost exactly.
Trivia: The detective's address has changed! Now Blake lives in Arundel Street, Strand. Furthermore, he has a new assistant ... a gentleman named Watson (hmm, sounds familiar!). At the end of this tale the author asserts that it was a case which helped establish the fame of the detective. It would therefore seem to be an earlier case than the others published this year.