Publishing: Harold Blyth, the creator of Sexton Blake, dies of typhoid.
Notes: Upon the death of his uncle, Stanley Strand inherits Strandgap Priory. He's determined to live there but, unfortunately, finds he cannot keep any staff due to the old house being haunted. He commissions Sexton Blake to "lay the ghost." The following day, Blake and We-wee arrive at the ancient mansion, which is atop chalk cliffs, facing the sea. Greeted by Strand, they also meet Ralph Roscar, a country squire who lives nearby and who has befriended their client. That evening, the detective takes a stroll in the grounds and is confronted by the glowing apparition of a ghostly monk. He makes a grab for it but succeeds only in gaining a handful of torn cloth. The spook visits him again during the night, this time invading his bedchamber and warning him to leave the priory. Next morning, Squire Roscar visits again and Blake learns from him that the district has recently been plagued by a spate of burglaries. The following night, Blake sees the ghost again and gives chase. In the darkness, he slips over the edge of the cliff and plunges into the sea. From there, he spots a crumbling staircase cut into the chalk. He climbs it and rests on a wide ledge. Meanwhile, We-wee has discovered a secret panel in the house and passes through it into a passageway. He comes to a spiral staircase, descends, and emerges onto the very same ledge upon which Blake is sitting. The pair re-enter the passage and discover a room in which the costumes and luminous paints used to create the "ghost" are stored. They return to the house where they are met by Roscar, who in the course of conversation declares himself safe from the local burglars as his strongbox is impregnable. The third evening descends, Blake once again walks the grounds, again sees the ghost, and again pursues it. The apparition races into a thicket and emerges from it on a horse. Blake grabs a bicycle and races after it, eventually resorting to his revolver to unseat the fugitive. The pursuit ends when the fleeing man loses himself in an encampment of hop pickers. Next morning, Strand shows the detective valuable jewels, which the detective insists he should place with a bank in London. Strand, though, accepts an offer from Roscar to store the gems in his impregnable strongbox. The very next day, Roscar reports that the box has been broken into and everything in it stolen. That night, Blake instructs Strand and We-wee to hide in the secret passages below the mansion. They do so, and there witness Roscar donning the garments of the ghostly monk. Blake, disguised as a spook, steps out of the shadows and scares Roscar so badly that the squire falls down the spiral staircase and breaks his neck. The detective reveals that Roscar was the burglar and had used the empty priory to store his loot, thus his attempts to frighten Strand away.
Trivia: Blake's fees are "stiff." This was reprinted in PENNY POPULAR issue 66 as THE HAUNTED PRIORY (1914).
Notes: Blake is commissioned to locate Rolf Breakspear, who, against his father’s wishes, has run away to join the army. Furthermore, he has stolen money from his parent. Rolf, if he can be brought under control, stands to inherit the Breakspear estate. If not he, then it will go to a French cousin, Leon Chafer, who happened to be staying in a hotel nearby when Rolf absconded. Chafer appears somewhat mysterious; his face always concealed by a scarf. Blake’s initial investigations turn up evidence that is damning for Rolf. Having discovered that the young man is with the 21st Lancers in Egypt, Blake sails to join them as a civilian observer. He locates Rolf but cannot persuade him to return home. The lad is determined to "prove himself" and Blake admires him for it. One night, the detective watches Rolf standing sentry duty. To his surprise, a woman approaches the young lancer and lures him behind a sand dune. When he reappears, he uses a lamp to signal into the desert and immediately afterward the camp is attacked. Blake sounds a warning, giving the British force time to prepare its defences, and the attackers are defeated. After the battle, the detective realises that the man who signalled the enemy wasn't Rolf but a double, a man who almost exactly resembles him. This doppelgänger is spotted again the following day, this time departing the camp on a native boat. Blake, Rolf, and the camp commander chase it in a steam launch and catch up, but not before its crew abandons it and makes a getaway. The boat proves to be full of stolen munitions. Rolf bravely disables a booby trap and is subsequently promoted. Tasked with the command of a scouting mission, he is then lured into a trap, narrowly escaping with help, of course, from Sexton Blake. His discovery of plans for a further assault on the camp result in a second promotion. Next, he undertakes a survey mission in a hot air balloon towed by trained eagles. The information gained from this has a direct influence on what follows, the famous Battle of Omdurman. Rolf performs heroically but, when confronted by his double, is wounded and saved only by Blake killing his assailant. The villain turns out to be Leon Chafer, and in his pockets they find proof that was he who committed he theft of which Rolf was accused. Health and honour restored, Rolf receives a full commission and is once more in line to inherit the family estate.
Trivia: The Battle of Omdurman took place on 2nd September 1898, which gives us the time of this case. It was a part of General Kitchener’s campaign of revenge against Abdullah al-Taashi, the successor to the self-proclaimed Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmadafter, who had slain General Gordon.
Rating: ★★★☆☆ This is an archetypal "Boy's Adventure."
Notes: Blake's close friend and fellow detective Tom Danton has gone missing, leaving a note suggesting that, in the event of his disappearance, Blake should seek him in Deepster's Den, a wharf at Gravesend. A further clue comes in the form of the pencilled words: "Follow the Rooker." Blake begins his investigation but has to move carefully, as his enemies are on his trail, so he adopts one disguise after another and is aided in his travels by a cunning cab driver named Jiggins. In Deepster's Den, he finds his friend's bowler hat. It has a bullet hole through it and is soaked in blood. A business card in the garment's inner band bears the name "Carl Christiani." A few hours later, that name is mentioned when a client, Lady Curburn, commissions Blake to rescue her son, Lord Bainton, from the clutches of an illegal gambling racket. Blake gains access to the gambling club and watches its banker cheating the clients out of their money. This man, he discovers, is Christiana, also known as the Rooker. The detective locates Lord Bainton and tricks Christiana out of the £5000 he’s extracted from the young gambler. With the cash returned to him, Bainton swears off Baccarat and vows better behaviour. After avoiding an assassination attempt, Blake leads a police raid on the club. Christiani escapes but is followed by Blake to Deepster's Den. The criminal confesses to Danton's murder then sets the wharf alight, hoping to escape under cover of the flames, but the roof collapses beneath him and he burns to death. Blake dives into the river to escape the inferno and survives, though he is incapacitated for "many weeks."
Trivia: Jiggins reappears in GRIFF THE MAN-TRACKER (1901), though renamed "Jiggers."
Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ An awful mess of a story.
Notes: Blake pursues The Terrible Four, a gang of diamond thieves who have successfully robbed a jeweller of a fortune. Among their haul, there is a very large diamond that the detective overhears them declare must be delivered to the "Hermit" in Texas. When they set sail for America, he follows. He encounters and teams up with a cowboy named Rosey, and together they pursue the quarry through the wilds of Texas, encountering on the way a band of "Hindoos" who are also hunting the men. The Indians reveal that the "Death Gem" — the largest stone among the crooks' haul — was stolen from the Rajah of Moolah, and when it is dipped in blood, it turns the liquid into a powerful poison. When the Terrible Four are cornered, they put up a terrific fight, killing all but the leader of the Hindoos and capturing Blake. Rosey escapes. Blake breaks his bonds and flees, coming to a cave where he is confronted by the Hermit. Made a prisoner, he escapes, reunites with Rosey, gathers a posse, and runs down the villainous gang, one of whom reveals that Rosey is the lost son of the jeweller from whom the diamonds were stolen. Kidnapped as a baby, he’d been abandoned in America. Rosey inherits a fortune. The Hindoo leader rewards Blake for the return of the stone with a gift of diamonds.
Trivia: We-wee makes a brief appearance.
Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ Another messy and incoherent tale.
Notes: Sexton Blake is in Leeds to keep an appointment with a moneylender named Moses Leech. In the office, he meets Charley Everton (who he first met when Everton was a boy in BRAVO BLAKE!, UNION JACK 1st series issue 138, 1896). The young lad, now in the army, has been manoeuvred into a hefty debt with exorbitant interest. Even worse, he has forged his brother Harry's signature as guarantor. Blake promises to help him, then goes on into Leech's office for the appointment. The moneylender wants him to act as courier, bringing a twenty-thousand pound diamond necklace up from London. Blake accepts the commission on the grounds that it might help him to investigate Leech. He travels back to London and sends We-wee to Leeds to keep an eye on Leech. After picking up the necklace, Blake is attacked by a gang of thieves and held prisoner on Canvey Island off the Essex coast. He manages to escape from most of the gang in a small boat but not from the leader who jumps aboard just as the craft drifts away. Taken by the tide out to sea, the pair spend a perilous night together before being rescued by a steamer. In Leeds, We-wee, after spending time studying Leech, befriends his alcoholic clerk and manages to get the man to reproduce the bill recently served to Charley Everton. Later, the Chinese lad makes an exact copy of this reproduction with one exception: he makes it for £150 rather than £500. He then has Everton sign the bill. Next, he disguises himself as Leech, tricks the clerk into opening the moneylender's safe, and swaps the real bill for the forgery. The next day, Blake arrives in Leeds and, with Everton, confronts Leech and demands the bill. When it is handed over, Everton pays it in full, much to the astonishment of Leech who receives a fraction of what he'd expected. Blake then delivers the necklace, which, as he had always suspected, is a fraud. He exposes Leech's attempt to cheat the insurers and the villain is arrested.
UNION JACK · 1st series · Issue 292 · Dec. 1899 · Amalgamated Press · ½d
Other content: The Phantom Cruiser by Alec G. Pearson; Dick Valling's Adventures by H. S. Warwick; The Weird Story of Dead Man's Pool by Anon.; The Palace of Death by S. Clarke Hook; For Britain and the Right by Anon.; From the Quarterdeck (ed.); Dick Denton's Double by Anon.
Notes: At the Barnsmere Academy for the Sons of Officers and Gentlemen, a group of pupils attempt to play a prank on their headmaster — Dr Biggleby — by dressing a boy, Alfred Rufus, as a ghost and lowering him in front of Biggleby’s study window. The doctor isn’t in there but Rufus sees someone creeping into the room and taking a packet from the desk drawer. This person, the boy reports, was in the grey suit habitually worn by their fellow pupil, the very popular Val Hilton. The sighting is later supported by a lad named Archie Hargreaves, who claims to have witnessed Hilton sneaking out of the doctor’s study. The next morning, it emerges that a packet containing jewellery has been stolen from the headmaster. Hilton is blamed, expelled, and packed off to live with his aunt (his mother is dead and his father, a soldier, is posted overseas). However, en route, he leaves the train and heads for the port of Harwich, intending to make his way to his father in Egypt. He is followed by a crook named Joe Snaggs who had expected to receive the stolen jewels from a boy in a grey suit. At Harwich, Hilton finds a letter addressed to Hargreaves in his suit and realises that his fellow pupil had worn his clothes to commit the theft. He decides to return to the school but is shanghaied by Snaggs and three of the villain’s colleagues. He confides in Snaggs, using the letter to prove that he isn’t the thief and hasn’t possession of the jewels. In trying to decide what to do, Snagg fights with his fellows and is murdered. Meanwhile, Sexton Blake arrives at the school (he doesn't appear until the final chapter), pieces the clues together, and exposes Archie Hargreaves as the villain. Val Hilton returns to the school and explains how he escaped from the crooks.
Trivia: This is a strange story in that it starts off as a non-Blake tale but suddenly feels like the author lost interest and brought in Blake to resolve the plot in the quickest possible way.