Publishing: W. H. Back becomes editor of the UNION JACK. Sexton Blake returns in issue 51 of the new series, which relaunches the story paper with a new size and a new 1d price.
William Murray Graydon writes his first Sexton Blake tale. Graydon was born in America in 1864. He visited England with his wife and children about 1898 and, by the turn of the century, decided to stay. He was incredibly prolific and wrote for nearly every publishing firm of the time, using a dictaphone to record his stories. Graydon's most important contribution to the Blake saga was his invention of Mrs. Bardell and Pedro the Bloodhound. He also introduced Inspector Widgeon, Fenlock Fawn, Basil Wicketshaw, Cavendish Doyle, Laban Creed and Matthew Quin. His son, Robert, also became a Blake author, surpassing his father in both creativity and popularity. W. J. Graydon retired from writing in the early 1930s (his last Blake was published in '31) and died in 1946 aged 83.
Blake: In CUNNING AGAINST SKILL, Blake is described as being about thirty years of age. If this adventure occurred the same year as it was published, then it sets his birthdate somewhere in the mid-1870s, conflicting with the 1859 claim made in BRAVO, BLAKE! (1896). While it's possible that CUNNING happened earlier than 1904, it cannot be moved so far back as to fit with the BRAVO timeline, else Tinker would have been mentioned in pre-1904 stories. CUNNING marks the iconic assistant's first appearance. However, it's abundantly clear that the "young'un" has been around for some time, so this cannot be classed as the issue 'where Blake meets Tinker'. The detective appears to have experienced a period of extreme-stress as this tale opens; so much so that he makes every effort to retire (he's also on holiday under advisement from his doctor at the start of THE MARK OF THE THUMB). If this was an edge-of-a-breakdown event, it will not be the last; Blake experiences near mental and physical collapses on a number of occasions over the ensuing years.
THE MYSTERY OF HILTON ROYAL marks the detective's move to Baker Street, 'to which locality he had recently shifted from his old quarters'.
Notes: Sir George Fawnshwe is found dead aboard his yacht by his nephew, Tom. Tom's own knife has been plunged into the old man's back. Philip Latimer, a guest on the vessel, accuses the youth of murder and has him arrested. Two days later, Tom's girlfriend, Cicely, approaches Sexton Blake for help. His investigations lead to a gang named The Botherhood of Silence. Blake discovers that before Sir George's death, much of his fortune had been withdrawn from the bank using cheques forged by Latimer, who is a member of the brotherhood. After a train crash, the detective falls into the hands of the gang and meets their leader, Sebastian Michelet, who he previously made an enemy of in South America. He is bound and gagged and left in a darkened room for fifteen hours before succour arrives in the form of Tom Fanshawe who, having escaped from the authorities, sought refuge in an abandoned house only to find that it was the gang's hideaway. The two men escape along the river where, by yet another astounding coincidence, they bump into Cicely's younger brother, Jack. He helps them row further along the waterway before a steamer crashes into their boat, separating them. After further adventures on the river, they are reunited, Jack is sent home and Blake takes Tom to the house of an acquaintance where he is to lie low until proven innocent. However, the Brotherhood catches up with the young man and they hold him prisoner in a cave on the seafront. Blake finds it, renders Michelet unconscious, tattoos him, and makes his getaway with Tom. To make matters worse for Micholet, the gang leader, upon recovering, learns that Latimer intends to betray him. When they next meet, Michelet shoots Latimer dead. The gang gathers in a pub to plan how to murder Blake. But the man serving their food is in disguise ... he is Sexton Blake, and this spells the end for the Brotherhood of Silence.
Trivia: Not to be confused with SEXTON BLAKE'S TRIUMPH! (UNION JACK 1st series, issue 15). Sexton Blake has a male clerk and a female 'agent'. When he is contemplating a difficult problem, Blake doodles triangles. The detective carries with him a tool with which to instantly tattoo a broad yellow arrow on the foreheads of his criminal adversaries! Some time before this adventure, Blake had spent many months in India investigating The Great Bhurtpore Murder Case. He had also spent time in South America under an assumed name.
Notes: A landmark issue because it introduces the one and only Tinker. Unfortunately, my copy is missing the cover. In the village of Brampton Stoke, a new arrival, Mr Henry Park, has excited a great deal of curiosity. He spends much of his time keeping bees, breeding flowers and talking about antiques with the local landowner, Sir George Clinton. Among the latter's collection there's a priceless enamel breastplate. Just hours after he shows it to Park, it is stolen and Park vanishes from the village. Sir George sends a wire to Sexton Blake, asking him to investigate. However, Blake is exhausted and has retired from the business of being a detective. Clamouring clients are being held at bay by his assistant, Tinker, who Blake had 'adopted' some time ago. When the wire from Sir George arrives, Blake is so amused that he decides to take the case ... for Sexton Blake is Henry Park — it's the identity he assumed when he dropped out of the public eye! Investigating "Henry Park's" home, Blake is shocked to discover the enamel hidden there. Later, an emaciated 'Hindoo' breaks into the house to recover the treasure. He attacks Blake but is killed when he falls on his own dagger. This leads to Park being accused of murder. Blake, now concerned about the seriousness of his position, takes a room in Sir George's mansion. Unfortunately, one of the servants, Thompson, has realised that the detective is Park and tries to blackmail him. Tinker arrives in time to overpower Thompson, who confesses to having stolen the enamel himself. He also tells the detective that Sir George, who has vanished on a mysterious errand, is in great danger. For the past few years, Sir George has been having secret meetings with a group of Hindoos who've held his brother captive since he stole their sacred enamel. Sir George is prepared to return the artefact, but now he has to return one of their dead too. Unknown to the Hindoos, in the house next to theirs, the gang of which Thompson is a member has tunnelled through to the cellar and means to attack Sir George when he arrives, stealing from him the recovered enamel. Blake and Tinker step in and prevent this, capturing the gang, saving both Sir George and his brother from a funeral pyre, and clearing 'Park's' name.
Trivia: Blake is described as being about thirty years of age; and the top of his head is bald. By the time of this adventure, he has a world-wide reputation. Although Tinker is introduced in this issue, it's apparent that he's been with Blake for some time. He appears to be in his very early teens. The detective owns homing pigeons, though this clashes with BY PIGEON POST (1906), which has his first experiments with the birds happening two years after this adventure.
Rating: ★★★★☆ The first half of this tale is superb, with Blake simultaneously investigating and eluding himself. The introduction of Tinker is excellent — in that the chemistry of the partnership is there straight away — but disappointing because there are no details about how they met. By the final chapters, everything goes off the boil and the whole Henry Park situation falls by the wayside.
Author debut: Nothing is known about this author. He wrote two Sexton Blake stories.
Notes: Sexton Blake has been forced, through overwork, to take a short holiday in the West country village of Barford. When the squire, Sir Richard, is murdered, he eagerly takes up the case. The squire's nephew, George Middleton, is accused of the crime after his knife was found to be the murder weapon. The two men had been heard to quarrel over George's debts the night before. Blake visits Barford Grange and offers his services to Sir Merrick Barton, the murdered man's son. He discovers that Sir Merrick will inherit nothing of the estate, since his father had recently altered his will, leaving everything to the youth's uncle, Sir Gilbert. The latter had been staying at the Grange at the time of the murder, along with his son, Philip. Blake interviews George Middleton who tells him that he had encountered a shadowy figure leaving Sir Richard's room at the time of the murder. The unknown person had thrown a statuette at him which had smashed after knocking him over. Blake later finds fragments of this ornament in the bin and, upon one piece of it, there is a thumb-print. When he then tricks Sir Gilbert into putting his hands in wet paint, he is able to ascertain that the man's prints match those on the fragment. Later, he finds another version of Sir Richard's will hidden in the grounds; this is a copy of the real document — the version currently with Sir Gilbert's lawyer is a forgery. Blake's investigations have obviously ruffled somebody's feathers; during the night, the inn at which he is staying is set alight and the detective only just escapes from the subsequent inferno. He moves into the Grange where, the following night, Philip Barton attempts to gas him. Having survived this second murder attempt, Blake visits Jasper Velham, the lawyer, in London and accuses him of forging the will. The terrified man hands over the real document plus the forgery then dies of a heart attack. Next day, Blake is about to tie-up the case when he is involved in a road crash and suffers a concussion. For four days he lies unconscious in hospital, not recovering until the very day of George Middleton's trial. At the last possible moment, Sexton Blake makes it to the trial and presents his evidence. Gilbert and Philip Barton are arrested and George Middleton is set free.
Trivia: "You're a regular Sherlock Holmes," says the accused man to Blake. "I am afraid I cannot lay claim to being a Sherlock Holmes," Blake replies. "If I were, I should doubtless have found proof of your innocence long before this."
Author debut: Perhaps the greatest of the early Blake authors, William Murray Graydon (1864 - 1946) was born in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. He began his writing career in America but later moved to England with his wife and two children. He was an astonishingly productive author, responsible for thousands of yarns for the story papers, as well as historical novels of a higher calibre. He can be counted as one of the — if not the — most important Blake writers in that he set the tone for the pre-war period of the saga, moved the detective into Baker Street, and introduced Mrs Bardell and Pedro. His Scotland Yard man was Detective-Inspector Widgeon, he gave Blake a significant ally in Fenlock Fawn, and his most noteable criminals were Basil Wicketshaw and Laban Creed. He was also father to Robert Murray Graydon, who became one of the best of the Golden Age Sexton Blake authors. By 1928, William had written a hundred Blakes for UNION JACK and a hundred for THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY, a truly astounding feat! He retired in the early 1930s.
Notes: Christmas issue. Sexton Blake is tracking a criminal named Jem Nash when his motorcycle breaks down during a storm. He heads toward a house — Hilton Royal — for shelter and sees an Arab fleeing into the night. Then he witnesses a frightened man running away. A gunshot sounds from the house. He enters and finds that Lord Carfax, the resident, has shot dead a burglar. This proves to be Nash. It seems cut and dried but the detective realises that Nash was probably blackmailing Carfax and was murdered. After an inquest, he notices that Nash's henchmen, Hargrave and Malwood, are following Carfax. Blake then receives a visit from Maurice Denvers — who he recognises as the man he had seen running from Hilton Royal. Denvers is in love with Miss Ruthven, Carfax's dead father's ward, but she is bound by a promise to marry Carfax. The latter is being blackmailed by Hargrave and Malwood, who know that he has a dark secret. The blackmailers capture Blake and hold him prisoner in a secluded cottage for a month. He escapes moments before the cottage is blown up by Carfax, killing the two criminals. Blake learns that the mysterious Arab is travelling to Morocco. He follows and discovers that the real Lord Carfax is being held prisoner in the man's house. He rescues him and returns him to England where the imposter is exposed. The false Carfax cheats the law by committing suicide.
Trivia: This is the first story in which Sexton Blake lives in Baker Street, 'to which locality he had recently shifted from his old quarters'. We are also informed that Tinker — who is seventeen — is his adopted son! Blake informs a client that throughout 1899 he had been working a case in America.