Publishing: The man who commissioned the very first Sexton Blake story, Somers John Summers, dies aged just 29. UNION JACK becomes Sexton Blake's 'own paper' ... and the detective starts appearing in THE BOYS' FRIEND.
Blake: The Blake household is expanded with the arrival of Pedro the Bloodhound and Mrs. Martha Bardell. The latter may have been inspired by Mrs Martha Bardell of Charles Dicken's PICKWICK PAPERS fame. Dickens introduced Mr. Pickwick's landlady like so: 'His landlady, Mrs. Bardell — the relict and sole executrix of a deceased custom-house officer — was a comely woman of bustling manners and agreeable appearance, with a natural genius for cooking, improved by study and long practice, into an exquisite talent.'
The detective finds an initially reluctant ally in Detective-Inspector Will Spearing (they would eventually become great friends).
In SEXTON BLAKE'S FIRST CASE we learn that Blake, at the age of 18, was working in a lawyer's office and living in lodgings on Doughty Street. After one of his first efforts as an investigator, he was rewarded with financial backing so he could go into business as Sexton Blake & Co. in offices in St. Martin's Lane, near Trafalgar Square .... the 'Co.' being his friend Will Bastable. Bastable appears to have dropped out of the partnership almost immediately though, as he is never mentioned again. It can be surmised that Blake's first case after starting this business was that recorded as HOW SEXTON BLAKE WON HIS SPURS (1896) ... a case he investigated for free to 'test his mettle'. If this is correct, FIRST CASE must have occurred at the end of 1878. Blake receives a serious head injury during FIRST CASE. In the future, he would usually recover from knocks with great rapidity, but on this occasion he is hospitalised and unconscious for a week.
The detective makes reference to a relative, Aunt Fannie, who has recently left him a legacy.
Also in FIRST CASE, Blake makes a comment that suggests he has studied the techniques of Monsieur Lecoq ... or might even have been trained by him (see the issue notes for further details).
THE BOYS' FRIEND · New series · Vol. 5 Issue 230 · 4/11/1905 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: The Drudge of Draycott by Henry T. Johnson; Your Editor's Den (ed.); Under the Red Ensign by David Goodwin; The Black House by Maxwell Scott; Champion of the World by Allan Blair; Redcastle & Co. by David Goodwin; Mysteria by Sidney Drew; Jack, Sam and Pete's Quest by S. Clarke Hook.
Notes: I don't own this issue but the following summary appears in issue 232:
"Considerable sensation has been caused at St. Tristram's by the fact that Geoffrey Mordaunt, the only son of Sir Rupert Mordaunt, ran away from the headmaster's house some time during the night. Such an event is unprecedented in the history of this fine and ancient school. The whereabouts of the misguided boy, we understand, have yet to be discovered."
So ran a paragraph in a leading daily paper—a paragraph which caused Sexton Blake to go to the school in question as a master, and Tinker, his assistant, to enter the place as an ordinary scholar. The great detective was very keen on unravelling the mystery which surrounded the boy's disappearance, but when he entered upon his duties at the school he was absolutely without a clue.
THE BOYS' FRIEND · New series · Vol. 5 Issue 231 · 11/11/1905 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Den (ed.); Under the Red Ensign by David Goodwin; The Black House by Maxwell Scott; Redcastle & Co. by David Goodwin; High Treason by William Murray Graydon; Mysteria by Sidney Drew; Jack, Sam and Pete's Quest by S. Clarke Hook.
Notes: I don't own this issue but the following information is gleaned from issue 232:
Geoffrey Mordaunt is found wandering about his father's park half naked and in a demented condition. Over and over, he repeats, "Don't doctor—don't! I can't—I can't!" His torn and tattered clothes had been left behind when he was despatched from a nursing home in London and have been thrown away. Sir Rupert recovers them and finds, sewn in the lining of the waistcoat, a gold coin.
And this from the summary in issue 232:
One day, Tinker was in class, but his thoughts were on the great mystery rather then his lessons. To his horror, the German master in charge called on him to read what he had written. To distract the man's thoughts, he began to question the master about himself and his native land. Herr Prinkel answered quite a number of questions; but when Tinker asked him whether, when he was serving in the army, he received wounds in the back or in the front he got cross. With indescribably fury, Herr Prinkel rushed across the room, and began hitting at Tinker's head with a book in his right hand and the open palm of his left. In a moment, all was in an uproar. But Her Prinkel's fury only increased. He was determined to punish Tinker, but unfortunately he couldn't hit him. Crash—crash—crash went is flying hands! He found the desk, he found the wall, he found the bench, he found the other boy's heads, but somehow or other Tinker's persistently eluded him. And then the wild yelling of the other boys, who were almost beside themselves with merriment, suddenly and unaccountably ceased.
THE BOYS' FRIEND · New series · Vol. 5 Issue 232 · 18/11/1905 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Den (ed.); Under the Red Ensign by David Goodwin; The Black House by Maxwell Scott; Redcastle & Co. by David Goodwin; Monarch of the Mat by Allan Blair; Mysteria by Sidney Drew; Jack, Sam and Pete's Quest by S. Clarke Hook.
Notes: At St. Tristram's School, Herr Prinkel chases Tinker around the classroom until he's made to stumble into Doctor Mason, who demands an explanation from the German master and from "Martin Mereweather" (the pseudonym that Tinker has been using). The latter spins a yarn about Herr Prinkel having been explaining German tactics employed during the war and Mason declares himself satisfied with the statement. He orders Tinker to his office and, imagining that he's going to get a caning, the youngster goes along, annoyed that he'll miss his appointment with Sexton Blake. When he gets to the office, he finds himself alone and takes the opportunity to see what the curtain behind Mason's desk is concealing. He finds that the wall behind the drapery has been denuded of paper and letters inscribed into the stone, all ancient and half obscured by damp, dirt and mildew: T . E S . U R . S . P I . . O P I. There is also an arrow that appears to suggest that whatever is referred to by the letters is hidden at the foot of the wall. Ripping up the carpet, Tinker exposes a stone slab but to lift it he would require a pickaxe. Before he can get any further, Dr Mason creeps up behind him and furiously demands to know what is going on. Acting like a maniac, he up ends his desk and crashes it against Tinker, pinning him against the wall. He then repeatedly strikes the lad across the head with his cane until, unexpectedly, the wall behind his victim turns on a pivot and, unbalanced, Tinker plunges through. Meanwhile, Sir Rupert is meeting with Sexton Blake and has given him the gold coin, which Blake examines and identifies as a valuable ducat of the Byzantine Emperor, Constantine X. It is eight hundred years old but not worth more than £100. Sir Rupert becomes rather insulting, implying that his intellect is superior to Blake's, and becomes so unbearable that Blake sets off to the school to resign his position there and to abandon the case.
THE BOYS' FRIEND · New series · Vol. 5 Issue 233 · 25/11/1905 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Den (ed.); Under the Red Ensign by David Goodwin; The Black House by Maxwell Scott; Redcastle & Co. by David Goodwin; The Hidden Voice by John Tregellis; Jack, Sam and Pete's Quest by S. Clarke Hook.
Notes: Blake has no serious intention of abandoning the case, he is too intrigued by Doctor Mason's peculiar behaviour. He allows Sir Rupert to catch up with him and the man apologises and hands over the gold coin. They enter the school, Blake in the guise of its new tutor, Richard Joyce, and Sir Rupert as a supposed relative of Tinker, who is operating under the name Martin Mereweather. Separating, Sir Rupert heads toward Mason's office to get a report on Mereweather's progress. Blake enters the school building and is almost knocked off his feet by Herr Prinkel. The latter claims that Mereweather saved him from Mason's wrath and he now intends to return the favour by taking the boy to the headmaster for a flogging ... because the alternative is that the boy will be expelled. Upon demanding an explanation, Blake learns that his assistant reported to Mason but, in that man's absence, escaped through the window. This, of course, is a false story spread by Mason to conceal the fact that Tinker actually vanished through the revolving wall ... but neither Blake nor Prinkel are aware of it. Blake sends Prinkel to his lodgings, thinking that Tinker must by now have arrived there. He then sets off for the headmaster's office but encounters Sir Rupert coming out of it. The latter supports the tale that "Mereweather" had reported for a flogging but then fled from it. Blake continues on and meets with Mason, who is hanging a painting over the curtain behind his desk. Impulsively, Blake shows Mason the gold coin but he gets no response and starts to think that perhaps the headmaster is entirely uninvolved in the affair. He meets again with Prinkel and it becomes clear that Tinker is missing. That night, the detective prowls around the school grounds. Climbing through the window of the headmaster's office, he finds and takes possession of two rolls of parchment: one a map of the abbey grounds within which the school stands; the other a rough plan of some ancient building. From the distance, he hears a voice cry out. It is Tinker's: "Don't, doctor—don't! I can't—I can't!"
THE BOYS' FRIEND · New series · Vol. 5 Issue 234 · 2/12/1905 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Den (ed.); Under the Red Ensign by David Goodwin; The Black House by Maxwell Scott; Redcastle & Co. by David Goodwin; The Humiliation of the "Blags" by Allan Blair; Jack, Sam and Pete's Quest by S. Clarke Hook.
Notes: Following the sound of Tinker's voice, Blake spots his assistant wandering precariously around the roof of the old clock tower. Yelling for the youngster to keep still and lie flat, he scales the side of the crumbling old edifice and manages to bring the lad down safely. Tinker, dazed and confused, faints. Blake takes him back to his lodgings where, the next day, it emerges that Tinker is suffering from memory loss. The detective begins to study the two papers he stole from Mason's office. When Sir Rupert arrives, he recognises the floor plan as being that of the old school on the foundations of which the current establishment was built. An indicator on the plan coincides with where the wall behind Mason's desk is situated and a dotted line suggests the presence of a tunnel leading from there to the old clock tower. The indicator is marked with the words Thesaurus episcopi — "the bishop's treasure." This sparks Tinker's memory. He recalls the letters on the wall — T . E S . U R . S . P I . . O P I. — and remembers falling into a murky tunnel where he saw ... before he can go further, he is overcome with fear and passes out.
THE BOYS' FRIEND · New series · Vol. 5 Issue 235 · 9/12/1905 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Den (ed.); Under the Red Ensign by David Goodwin; The Black House by Maxwell Scott; Redcastle & Co. by David Goodwin; Vic the Ventriloquist by Mark Darran; Jack, Sam and Pete's Quest by S. Clarke Hook.
Notes: I don't own this issue but from the next it is apparent that in this instalment it becomes known that "Richard Joyce" stole the papers from Mason's office and, as a result, he is snubbed by the school's masters and pupils. Herr Prinkel learns that Joyce and "Mereweather" are, in fact, Sexton Blake and Tinker and allies himself with them. Blake confronts Mason who pushes him through the secret door.
THE BOYS' FRIEND · New series · Vol. 5 Issue 236 · 16/12/1905 · Amalgamated Press · 2d
Illustrator: Fred Bennet
Other content: The Lost Heir by Henry St. John; Snowed Up by Allan Blair; The Luck of Gilbert Hamlyn by Herbert Maxwell; The Drudge of Draycott's Christmas by Henry T. Johnson; Under the Red Ensign by David Goodwin; The Black House by Maxwell Scott; Redcastle & Co. by David Goodwin; Jack, Sam and Pete's Quest by S. Clarke Hook.
Notes: On a foggy night, rail inspectors Sam Baxter and Ned Collins, while out examining the down line, encounter their fellows Lambert and Pearson coming in the other direction ... but become suspicious that the duo are actually imposters. The intuition proves correct — when challenged, the interlopers flee. Hurrying along the up line, Sam and Ned discover that the rails have been sabotaged. They race toward the nearest signal box. This is occupied by John Leach who, as the express train roars past, is astonished when Collins barges in and swoons in front of him. Acting without hesitation, Leach sets the signals to indicate emergency stop and the express brakes, coming to a halt just fifty yards from the obstruction. Leach turns to tend to Collins and is surprised to find that someone has entered the signal box and is already doing that job. The stranger reminds him to send warnings that the track is blocked. Leach does so before expressing his view that the interloper must have been a passenger on the train. This is confirmed and an introduction is made: the man is Sexton Blake. The impersonators of Lambert and Pearson are caught and they make a full confession. They had been dismissed by the company and were acting on a grudge. With this particular incident now closed, Blake concludes that a thorough knowledge of the railway industry might be of considerable benefit to his career. He and Tinker disguise themselves as ordinary out of work individuals and tramp from station to station seeking work. They are unsuccessful until they rescue a stationmaster named Colonel Mereweather from a pickpocket, at which point they are rewarded with jobs as porters.
Trivia: It is stated that the adventure stemming from this episode occupied six months of Sexton Blake's life. His desire to learn every aspect of the railway service gives an interesting insight into his modus operandi: all those issues where he takes on a role — THE NAVY DETECTIVE, THE FIREMAN DETECTIVE, THE CAB-DRIVER DETECTIVE, THE JOCKEY DETECTIVE etc — most of which occur during this period, show that he is subjecting himself to intensive training in a vast range of industries: "His unparalleled success as a great detective, apart from his supreme natural qualities of courage, insight, coolness, resourcefulness, and knowledge of the world, was due to his amazing and intimate acquaintance with almost every department of human activity and endeavour. It is easier to enumerate the things he had not been than the things he had been."
Apparently, Sexton Blake has been in "many rail accidents before" (a statement supported by earlier tales).
This is a double Christmas issue.
Notes: Sexton Blake plunges through the secret door and is half stunned by his fall. Slowly, it dawns on him that he has not been the victim of an accident but, rather, of Doctor Mason's malice. He sets off along the tunnel and encounters an eerie figure that, upon closer examination, proves to be Sir Rupert Mordaunt. The man has been reduced to a pitiable state of terror. He refuses to proceed along the tunnel with Blake, stating that there are dead monks blocking the route and guarding the treasure. Blake leaves the baronet and moves on without him. The passage twists and turns until it reaches an open space lit by cunningly contrived shafts. An iron gate bars further progress but through it Blake can see six skeletons in monks' habits leaning over an oak coffer. When he pushes open the gate, the figures rise and rush toward him. After the initial shock has passed, Blake realises that their movement is controlled by a mechanism connected to the gate. He breaks it and then examines the coffer, finding it to be filled to the brim with gold coins. Continuing on, he discovers that the passage to the tower has been blocked and, when he tries to clear the obstruction, he only makes it worse. Reversing course, he returns to the secret entrance at the other end. Meanwhile, Tinker and Herr Prinkel enter the school where the latter reveals to the masters and pupils the true identities of the detective and his assistant. The boys, excited at the great criminologist's presence, become indignant when they hear how Mason left Tinker trapped in the secret passage. They gather into a mob and descend upon the headmaster's office where they demand an explanation. however, Mason by now has completely lost his mind. Tinker opens the secret door and Blake emerges from the tunnel. Mason panics, leaps through the window, races to the old clock tower, and starts to climb it. He gets halfway up before disaster strikes: the ancient stonework gives way and the edifice collapses, killing the crooked headmaster.
THE BOYS' FRIEND · New series · Vol. 5 Issue 237 · 23/12/1905 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: Fred Bennett
Other content: Your Editor's Den (ed.); Detective-Warder Nelson Lee by Maxwell Scott; Redcastle & Co. by David Goodwin; On the Tramp by Reginald Drew; Jack, Sam and Pete's Quest by S. Clarke Hook.
Notes: I don't own this issue. The following is from the summary in part 3:
Working as railway porters under the pseudonyms Sam Blake and Tom Scott, Sexton Blake and Tinker start to gain knowledge and experience of the industry. Blake finds himself disliked by the pompous, overbearing station-master but proves his worth when he discovers that two railway employees are engaged in the shipping of illicit whisky. He exposes their nefarious operation and the crooks are arrested. The affair is noted by the directors who, at the next board meeting, send for "Sam Blake" and "Tom Scott" and promise them jobs as guards as soon as there are vacancies.
THE BOYS' FRIEND · New series · Vol. 5 Issue 238 · 30/12/1905 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: Fred Bennett
Other content: Your Editor's Den (ed.); Detective-Warder Nelson Lee by Maxwell Scott; Redcastle & Co. by David Goodwin; A Christmas Reconciliation by William Murray Graydon; Jack, Sam and Pete's Quest by S. Clarke Hook.
Notes: Three weeks pass before Blake and Tinker are given jobs as guards. During that time, they operate as porters and general utility men and learn much more about every aspect of the business. They also continue to discover and bring to a halt minor scams. When the busy Christmas period arrives, the terminus staff are overworked, and this leads to the duo's first assignment as guards. They set off on the Barchester express, which is divided into two parts with the lead train being a few minutes ahead of the second, upon which Blake and Tinker have been posted. Tinker is in the guard's van at the front of the train, while Blake is in the one at the back. At a stop en route, Tinker helps a tardy passenger to board by giving him a hefty shove. A few minutes later, with the train again in motion, he notices blood on his hand. He recalls that the passenger had a lean face but a fat body, a strange mix that arouses his suspicion. He steps out onto the running board and moves along the train until he comes to the compartment that the man and his two colleagues occupied. Peering through a gap in the drawn blind, he sees that the fat passenger is no longer so ... having withdrawn from inside his jacket a bundle of woman's clothing. Into this, he has changed, and with a veil added is almost unrecognisable. The man pulls down the window and flings the jacket out of it. Tinker, unseen, manages to catch it. At the next stop, he races to the station gates and has them closed to prevent any passengers leaving. He then finds Blake, who is in discussion with a policeman. Apparently, a murdered man had been discovered on the lead train! Tinker identifies the three men as the culprits, explains how they must have got off the lead train before then boarding the second, and offers the bloodstained jacket as evidence. The murderers are arrested.
Notes: Blake receives a plea for help from Richard Massarene, whose wife, Madge, the detective had known when she was a child. Blake hurries to the man's address but on his arrival an intruder knocks him down and flees. Massarene has been struck and has a serious head injury that has robbed him of his memory. Blake finds that the assailant has dropped a large jewel. Madge tells him that her husband had been in Peru and had voyaged home on the cargo-steamer Patagonia, which had been wrecked. Blake's first clue leads to John Stangland, former British vice-consul in Peru, who now resides in London. When Blake tries to locate him, he learns that a Spaniard is also looking for the man. The investigator takes the jewel he found to an expert who identifies it as a red tourmaline, very rare and valuable. He learns that the Incas supposedly mined such gems. Furthermore, an Incan urn decorated with tourmalines is currently up for auction. Blake attends this event in disguise, unaware that he has accidentally made himself up to resemble Stangland. Upon seeing the urn, Blake notes that the tourmaline in his possession has come from it, and deduces that it was Stangland who assaulted Massarene and who also put the urn up for sale. After the urn is purchased, Blake is mistaken for Stangland, attacked by the Spaniard, and thrown into the path of a taxi. He's knocked senseless and doesn't regain consciousness until two days later. While recovering, he hears that the wreck of the Patagonia has been sold and surmises that the urn was sold by Stangland to fund the purchase. He gains the seller's address but when he goes to see him, he arrives just in time to save Stangland from an attack by the Spaniard, who dives into the Thames to escape and appears to drown. Stangland recognises Blake and attempts to kill him. Fortunately, Tinker arrives in time save his guv'nor. The former vice-consul sets sail for the wreck of the Patagonia and the detective follows. A series of misfortunes sees him captured and marooned on a tiny reef while Stangland recovers a chest from the sunken ship. Once again, Tinker comes to the rescue. After voyaging back to England, Blake interviews Massarene, whose memory has returned. He tells the detective that Stangland had explored in the jungles of Peru and had returned without his native guide but with the chest, which he asked Massarene to take back to England on the Patagonia. The young man, though, had become suspicious and, after surviving the wreck, had confronted Stangland and been assaulted. Blake leads a the police to the house where the crook is opening the chest but, before they can raid it, Stangland is again attacked by the Spaniard, who evidently survived his apparent drowning. The police intervene and Stangland is arrested. The Spaniard confesses that he is the brother of the guide that the vice consul murdered. The chest is opened and is found to be filled with stolen Peruvian treasure.
Trivia: My copy is lacking a cover.
It is stated unequivocally (and twice) that Tinker is Sexton Blake’s adopted son.
Blake's Baker Street landlady is named Mrs Gaffney.
Blake's chainmail undershirt is once again employed.
In one scene, Tinker is reading THE MARVEL.
Blake's doctor is named Merton.
Blake receives £10,000 reward for his role in this affair. He pays a tenth of it to Tinker.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ The plot relies on too many incredible coincidences and Blake suffers a ridiculous amount of damage. He is knocked out multiple times, hit by a taxi, set adrift at sea, and more ... but somehow keeps coming back for more. A trace of the arrogance that characterises him in the earliest stories is apparent in this one. Also, his relationship with Tinker feels like it's not yet fully developed; Blake seems to prefer to work independently.
Notes: Sexton Blake is around 18-years-old and working as a clerk in the Lincoln Inn Fields office of a lawyer named Etheridge Dowson. One night, he discovers a woman in a black mask breaking into the office safe. She knocks him unconscious. A week later he regains consciousness in hospital and is told by Dowson's daughter, Lais, who he is in love with, that the lawyer has gone missing. Blake suspects that one of Dowson's clients, Baron de Leonant, is involved in the crime. Leaving the hospital, and assisted by a fellow clerk named Will Bastable, he returns to the office to begin his investigation. He discovers that his employer has been kidnapped, that a document belonging to the Baron has been removed, and that the perpetrators of the crime have taken the train to Plymouth. He and Will set off for that town and follow clues which lead them to a theatre where an illusionist called Professor Silas performs a clairvoyant act with a ventriloquist dummy; a beautiful model of a young woman decorated in sculpted glass. But the two amateur detectives discover that the model is, in fact, a real woman ... the woman in the black mask! The show ends with Silas declaring that he is to give a private performance to Earl Essen, the notorious Admiral of the Fleet at Plymouth. Blake and Will go to Essen's mansion where they find a costume ball in progress. The Baron is there and they overhear him making arrangements for a secret meeting with the Earl and his daughter, Paula. Blake accosts the woman in the black mask who turns out to be Paula's cousin. She tries to trap him in a secret room but he escapes and spies on the meeting in a cavern beneath the mansion. He learns that his employer had intended to reveal to the police a document placed in his trust by the Baron on behalf of the Essen family. It is a confession by the Earl who, once a month, becomes criminally insane. The family, which includes Silas, are trying to hide the fact that this famous man is, in fact, a serial killer. After a thrilling chase, Blake and Will round up the criminals and set free Dowson. As a reward, the latter establishes Blake in business as a private investigator — Blake & Co. — in offices in St. Martin's Lane, near Trafalgar Square. Will Bastable becomes Blake's very first assistant.
Trivia: Young Blake is 'shy in nature, and given more to books than to athletics'. He lives in lodgings on Doughty Street and has a formidable landlady. Sherlock Holmes gets a mention in this story, though it isn't clear whether he's regarded as a real or fictional character. Blake makes reference to a relative, Aunt Fannie, who has recently left him a legacy. However, by far the most interesting piece of information we get from this story comes at the end: Blake quotes his "great master, the Prince of Detectives" ... there follows a statement made by Monsieur Lecoq in the story LE DOSSIER NO.113, written by Émile Gaboriau in 1867. This raises the question, was Blake inspired by the writings of Gaboriau or did he actually meet Lecoq?
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Blake's deductive methods are described in great detail during this tale and he can certainly rival Sherlock Holmes. As an 'origins' tale, this works quite well; it's just a shame it doesn't tell us anything about Blake's family background.
Notes: There's a surprising (and brief) appearance by Lais Dowson in this story. She was Sexton Blake's love interest in SEXTON BLAKE'S FIRST CASE (UNION JACK issue 69, see above).
Notes: "Help! Help!" Hearing this appeal, Cambridge student James Vane rushes to the rescue of a man who's been bound and thrown into a river. It turns out to be Sexton Blake. He'd been tracking a group of forgers known as The Southern Coining Gang but they'd got the better of him ... and do so again, nearly drowning Blake and Vane in an old water mill. Making their escape, the two men join forces, along with Vane's brother Richard, to tackle the villains. After much detective work and more than a few lucky coincidences, the bad guys are caught and James goes on to lead the Cambridge boat team to victory over Oxford.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ No sign of Tinker in this adventure; instead we get the plucky Jim Vane who, as Blake is quick to note, possesses plenty of "true grit." With the Oxford and Cambridge boat race as its backdrop, this tale inevitably strays into 'school yarn' territory, with a villainous pupil receiving multiple thrashings courtesy of the honourable Jim. This gives proceedings a nice upbeat atmosphere which makes up for the lack of any real action. It's much more of a straightforward investigation than most and could have been rather dull in the hands of another author. As it is the whole thing is a pleasant, if slightly over-long read, and one filled with so many utterances of "By Jove!" and "I say!" that it could almost be called 'Wodehouse-ian'.
Notes: Blake investigates the mystery of the Marie Celeste. Not the Marie Celeste — that mystery dates back to 1872 (and, incidentally, it passed almost without notice until being used as the basis of a fictional story by Arthur Conan Doyle published under the title "J. Habakuk Jepson's Statement" in 1884). In Blake's case, the Marie Celeste is a yacht that turns up in the Mediterranean fully rigged but completely crewless. Called upon to investigate, Blake discovers a connection with a group of men who are about to set sail for the South Sea Isles. Tinker gets a job as 'Boy' aboard their ship, while the detective, heavily disguised, signs on as a deck hand. During the long voyage, Blake comes under suspicion and barricades himself inside a cabin. Besieged, he appears to have no way of escape, and holds fast until a massive storm nearly tears the ship apart. Forced into the open, he is captured and, after the storm abates, marooned on a small, barren atoll. Here, under a burning sun, he nearly dies of thirst and exposure before being rescued by a steam ship. After a characteristically quick recovery, he goes on to capture the gang and solve the mystery of the Marie Celeste.
Rating: ★★★★★ A superbly written and consistently thrilling adventure, this has a great deal to recommend it. Most notable of all, is the relationship between Blake and Tinker. The latter, 100% a cockney urchin, is wily, enthusiastic, intelligent and immensely likeable ... but he still feels like a new feature in Blake's life. There's a sense that the detective is constantly surprised by the lad's sharpness of wits and a real sense that the two companions are developing an intuitive and highly effective relationship. In fact, there's a foreshadowing of the Modesty Blaise/Willy Garvin team here, with secret hand signals and an understanding that borders on telepathy. Add to that a truly exciting adventure that mixes solid detective work with dramatic action, all tightly plotted and described with much style, and you have a winner.
Notes: A revolution is brewing in the Balkan state of Tourania. Sexton Blake is caught in the middle as two rival factions fight out their cause in London.
Trivia: At one point in this story, Blake dons a lightweight chain mail undershirt as protection against knives and bullets.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ An over-long and fairly dull tale, this suffers from its London-bound setting and a plot reliant on wild coincidences. Things might have perked up had Blake packed a case and headed for Tourania but he never does. Also, he seems very much the victim of events rather than the driving force. Things happen around him — as well as 'offstage' — and he has to adapt; rarely does it feel like he's in control. Blake works independently throughout this story; Tinker is mentioned a few times but doesn't participate.
Notes: None at present.
Notes: An important issue as it marks the first appearance of Pedro the Bloodhound. Blake is visiting Inspector Widgeon when a scream rings out from a house nearby, which belongs to a Mr. Pringle. They rush to it and capture a young man as he tries to flee. They also catch sight of a young woman but she eludes them and disappears into the night. Inside the house they find a man who has been throttled to death. Their prisoner, Arthur Musgrave, denies all knowledge of the murder. Blake believes him but notes that he's hiding something. Musgrave struggles free and runs away. Further investigations are interrupted when a large bloodhound bursts into the house and whines in grief over the dead man. A small brass plate on its collar reveals that the dog's name is Pedro. Blake and Widgeon use the bloodhound to track the unknown killer but the man escapes them. After they have left, Rafael Calderon arrives at the house, telling the constable on guard that he had expected to meet a friend. He reveals that the victim is named Nugent and vows to help Blake. The next day, he sends Blake a note which explains that the murderers are named Carnforth and Jervis, both Americans. Tinker finds the house where the missing Mr. Pringle is hiding but by the time Blake and his assistant get there, the bird has flown. They track him with Pedro only to find that Pringle has climbed a tree and mysteriously vanished. Later, at the inquest into the murder, Blake accosts Jorking, a sailor, who tells the detective how four months ago his ship had picked up two marooned men and a bloodhound. One of the men was Nugent, the other was Rafael Calderon, the ex-President of a South American country who was deposed after a revolution. Nugent had fought at the ex-President's side, as had Jervis and Carnforth. Afterwards, the four men had used an ancient Spanish map to track down buried treasure in the Pacific. However, Jervis and Carnforth had taken the loot and left their two companions castaway on an island. Blake realises that Carnforth and Pringle are one and the same man. He also learns that Carnforth/Pringle had escaped from the tree by means of a drifting hot air balloon that had broken from its moorings. Tracing this leads to the fugitive who is caught with his friend Jervis and arrested. As a gesture of thanks, Rafael Calderon gives Sexton Blake Pedro as a gift.
Trivia: At the beginning of this story we are informed that Blake has recently returned from Australia.
My copy is missing its cover. This was reprinted in PENNY POPULAR issue 1 as THE CASE OF THE TREASURE HUNTERS (1912).
Rating: ★★★★☆ A nice debut for Pedro though the plot has the usual quota of unbelievable coincidences.
Notes: This issue introduces Detective Will Spearing. Sexton Blake is feeling rather indignant after Scotland Yard's failure to acknowledge his contribution to crime fighting. The Yard is always happy to take the credit after he tips them off but is slow to thank him. Spearing is a prime example of this attitude, and Blake decides that it's time to teach him and his ilk a lesson. So he lays a bet that he can disappear in London after setting a £500 reward for his own capture. Spearing accepts the challenge. Blake hides ... by joining the police force! In disguise, he becomes 'Constable Brown' and rapidly achieves a string of successful arrests, practically clearing the local area of criminals. Finally, after successfully investigating a murder and catching the perpetrator, he is called to Scotland Yard and Spearing puts him onto the Blake case. The detective has been asked to hunt himself! 'P. C. Brown' makes a trail for Pedro to follow and reports to Spearing that he is on Blake's track. The Yard man accompanies him to Baker Street where they borrow the bloodhound. The trail leads to a pond. Spearing thinks the detective has committed suicide after failing over a case (which Blake finds vastly amusing) but when they drag the pond, instead of a body, they find a sack filled with loot from a recent robbery. The next day, 'Brown' visits a friend he has made in the force, Sergeant Lightening, and reveals his true identity. He arranges to meet Lightening at Spearing's office. There, as arranged, the sergeant exposes Blake in front of the inspector, much to the latter's chagrin. After an initial outburst, Spearing accepts his defeat in good humour and so begins his long and productive relationship with Sexton Blake. Lightening, meanwhile, gets the £500 reward and retires a happy man.
Trivia: This story was reprinted in PENNY POPULAR issue 17 as £500 REWARD (1913).
Rating: ★★★★☆ This is a good-humoured and enjoyable tale, with Blake in a far less grumpy mood than is usual in Norman Goddard stories.
Notes: This marks the first appearance in the Blake saga of Matthew Quin, 'Wild Beast Agent'. Outside of the Blake canon, the character dates back as far as May 1898. There's also an 1894 Graydon tale that, while not naming the principal character, has all the attributes of a Quin story. In the novel JUNGLES AND TRAITORS (GOOD NEWS, 1895; S&S ed. 1902; Shaw ed. UK 1905), Quin doesn't appear but his frequent assistant Carruthers does, as well as his arch enemy the Portuguese animal trapper Antonio Silva. There is also, in this novel, a panther-boy similar to the one in the Blake tale THE JUNGLE BOY (UNION JACK issue 85, 1905), although this one controls only one panther, and is a feral child as opposed to a teenager who took to the jungle. Thanks to Dr. Georges T. Dodds for this information.
Notes: 'A stirring Christmas adventure.' Richard Ferguson escapes from Dartmoor, where he is serving a sentence for the attempted murder of a solicitor, and makes his way to Baker Street. He pleads his innocence and asks Sexton Blake to help him. Blake learns that Ferguson has been cheated out of his inheritance by his cousin, Dalgety Hammond, who was assisted by a valet, Casimir Sang. Blake hires a cottage near the Ferguson estate, hides Ferguson and Tinker in a nearby lodge, and ingratiates himself with Hammond. He surmises that Hammond is keeping Sang prisoner somewhere to prevent him from revealing their deception. However, the detective's opponent becomes suspicious and informs the authorities that Blake is harbouring the escaped prisoner. Inspector Harkness arrives on the scene and, together with most of the local populace, begins combing the district for the fugitive. Blake, meanwhile, has intercepted a message from Hammond to a ruffian in London. The detective disguises himself as this man and calls on Hammond where he finds himself hired to ... murder Sexton Blake! Unfortunately, his disguise is pierced and the detective is overpowered by Hammond and a man named Jarvis. Upon escaping, Blake follows Jarvis and is led to where Sang is being held prisoner. Sang confesses to assaulting the solicitor and helping Hammond to cheat Ferguson. Hammond arrives on the scene just as his confederates are arrested and, as he tries to escape, is brought down by Pedro. Ferguson, proved innocent, is freed and inherits all that is rightfully his.
Rating: ★★★★☆ This is a thoroughly entertaining tale of detection involving disguises, deceptions, clues and hot pursuits. Pedro plays a key role, Tinker is impressive and Blake is at his best. There's even an early appearance by Mrs. Bardell. Very satisfying!