Publishing: ANSWERS WEEKLY begins a run of very short Sexton Blake adventures each following a similar pattern in which the detective works alone to solve singular mysteries. The author(s) is unknown, though R. H. Poole is believed to be behind at least some of the tales.
The debut of George Marsden Plummer introduces the concept of the super-villain to the Blake saga. This would eventually blossom into Blake's Golden Age. Tales of the younger Plummer's days in the police force would also appear at a later date in PLUCK. Plummer was introduced in the first Blake tale written by Ernest Sempill, a man who was far better known as Michael Storm. A large man with whiskers around his face and a rather wild lifestyle, Storm is thought to have been born around the late 1850s or early 1860s. He lived much of his life on the move in order to avoid creditors and seems to have died under somewhat mysterious circumstances around 1910-12, possibly in Australia.
This year also marked the debut of William J. Bayfield (aka Allan Blair). Born in Suffolk in 1871, his first story (non-Blake) was published in 1901. He wrote his last Sexton Blake tale in 1940 and was thought to have died during an air-raid. However, it later emerged that he was comfortably living out his twilight years in a rest home. He died in 1958 aged 87.
D. H. Parry also arrived on the scene. David Harold Parry was born in 1868 and belonged to a family of distinguished painters and was himself a talented artist. As a writer, he had a long association with CHUMS, and wrote many stories about Robin Hood. He was also an authority on the Napoleonic Wars. Parry died in 1950, aged 82.
Blake: One of the most incredible statements ever made about Sexton Blake appears in SEXTON BLAKE AT SCHOOL part 1 (THE BOYS' HERALD issue 238). This story begins with Blake as an unnamed boy living in mysterious circumstances with his mentor, Dr. Lanchester. When the latter is murdered, the boy finds a letter that directs him to two of Lanchester's colleagues. As he waits to see them, they discuss him:
"There is one thing we have forgotten. As far as the world at large is concerned, up to the present he has no name, and the truth would be unsafe—impossible. We dare not let—"
"It is true, we had forgotten," interrupted the other. "He must certainly have a name." He tapped on the table thoughtfully with his amber holder. "We will call him Blake—Sexton Blake!"
"Capital!" exclaimed the other. "Sexton Blake; it gives a clue to the truth, yet conceals it."
In 1937, a revised version (the third) of this story appeared in PILOT issues 73 to 91. Added material reveals that Sexton Blake's real name is Ronald Blakeney and that he is of royal descent!
ANSWERS WEEKLY · Vol. XLI Issue 1,059 · 12/9/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Other content: Personal Remarks; Death in the Mine; A Page of Storyettes; Roundabout Gossip; Will the Pensions be Ready? Bunny and 'is 'Ighness by Tom Gallon; Risks We Run; All Over the World; Making Old Drury's Drama by Arthur Collins; Harbottle's Bloodhound; The Corporal's Courtship; The Wizard of Wales by Rip; Answers' Boudoir; Domestic Details; Editors by Rip; My Chat by the Editor; A Woman Alone.
Notes: Sir Otto Trevalyan, of Mostyn Manor, has been robbed of a valuable document. His secretary, Percival, apparently surprised the thief and now lies unconscious. Trevalyan has a large financial interest in Peru, as does his rival, Picot, with whom he has feuded for many years. The missing document is crucial to both men's businesses, so Picot is the natural suspect. Sexton Blake is summoned. He follows a trail from Trevalyan's safe, out through the window, across the lawn to a gate where evidence is found that a horse was waiting. It had been there for up to an hour, chewing on the leaves of a yew tree while its owner waited for the thief to do his work. Next, Blake examines the secretary and deduces that, rather than being shot, he was actually struck by lightening on his way back from handing the document to his confederate. The local vet informs the detective that a horse belonging to Major Brett — one of Percival's friends — has been taken ill with yew poisoning. Brett has left for Paris. Blake catches up with him at Dover and shadows him all the way to Paris. He overhears Brett arranging to meet Picot to sell him the papers. Blake disguises himself as Picot and attends the meeting just minutes before the real Picot is due. Distracting Brett with ventriloquism, he snatches the documents and makes his getaway, returning them to Trevalyan.
Trivia: From the Editor: 'In all probability there is — with, perhaps, one exception — no more famous detective than Sexton Blake, and I think I am very fortunate indeed to have been able to obtain the records of his most famous cases. Whether Blake actually exists is, of course, a secret that I am not at liberty to divulge. It may be that the pseudonym covers the identity of a man who spends his life investigating the mysteries which, for some reason or other, never get into the hands of the police. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy; and it may be taken for granted that a good deal of fact is mixed up with the fiction — if, indeed, there be any of the latter.'
Rating: ★★★☆☆ These ANSWERS tales never fail to entertain and fulfil their function as brisk, ten minute reads. In this one, Sexton Blake tends towards rudeness and arrogance, much as in the early Harry Blyth and Norman Goddard stories.
ANSWERS WEEKLY · Vol. XLI Issue 1,060 · 19/9/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Other content: Personal Peeps; Marie Corelli on the Nation's Curse; Storyettes; Fifteen Times a Widow; The All-Powerful Pimple; Mysteries Indeed; Mr Answers Helps a Bandit; 444's Four Years; World Whispers; The Little Grey Man by Rip; Mugged Hare; The Time of His Life; Answers' Boudoir; Baked Elephant - One!; How Do Sir Stanley Broke; Bunny and 'is 'Ighness by Tom Gallon; Editorial Chat; A Woman Alone.
Notes: Mr. Flower, who lives at Ugthorpe Lodge, is Lord Borrowby's agent. One evening, after collecting nearly six hundred pounds in cash from the various tenants on the estate, Mr. Flower retires, leaving the bag of cash locked in his desk. During the night, a noise rouses him from sleep. He goes down to the study but as he opens the door a rug is thrown over him and he falls over. After a moment, he regains his senses to find himself surrounded by his daughter and two female servants (the only other occupants of the house). In the study he finds that, by the light of a silver candlestick placed on the desk, the intruders — he had heard two voices — had raided the larder and eaten a meal. Evidently, when Mr. Flower had entered the room, the burglars had made off through the French windows. When he examines his desk, he finds the lock smashed and the money gone. The next morning, hearing that Sexton Blake is in the region, Mr. Flower commissions him to investigate. The detective immediately notices that only one set of crockery and cutlery was used during the nefarious meal. The windows had been opened from inside and, outside, only one set of footprints leads to and from the room. Blake notices that the candlestick is discoloured, tarnished by sulphur. This points the finger of suspicion at Miss Flower, who takes sulphur-based medicine for a skin complaint. However, matters aren't as obvious as they appear and soon Sexton Blake has uncovered a tale of a broken family and a temptation given in to ...
ANSWERS WEEKLY · Vol. XLI Issue 1,061 · 26/9/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Other content: A Page of Storyettes; Motors That Race Backwards; Pars About People; Capture of Mr Answers; Housemaid's Knee Esq., Stockbroker; Have You a Tobacco Nose?; The Meanest Mean Tricks; Chat From Across the Sea; Chrysanthemum Giganlicum; How the World World Wags; An Introductory Episode; Stronghearts For Success; Bunny and 'is 'Ighness; Editorial Chat; How to Catch a Millionaire; A Woman Alone; Great Discovery After 2000 Years.
Notes: When the Beaumont's baby son is kidnapped, Sexton Blake is called in to investigate. While he's talking to Mr. Beaumont, the doorbell rings and the baby is found left on the doorstep. Unfortunately, the child is dead. Blake measures the temperature of the corpse and discovers that death occurred twelve hours before the baby was snatched. Further examination reveals that the body has a scar where a surplus finger was removed shortly after birth ... something that never happened with the Beaumont's son. This, then, is not their baby. He interviews a number of local doctors until he finds the one who performed the post-natal surgery. This leads him to Lady Lingdale who had given birth shortly after the death of her husband. Her child had been born a Lord but should he die, the Lingfield estates would revert to a distant cousin and Lady Lingdale would lose her wealth and position. Thus, when that sad event did occur, she tried to cover it up by swapping her baby for the Beaumont's.
ANSWERS WEEKLY · Issue 1,062 · 3/10/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Other content: Storyettes; New York 1d All the Way; Personal Peeps; Footballers at £50 a Week; 10A; Beautiful Tuesday; Carrots That Cure Crime; Our Private Seal; Mr Answers All-Alone; Gossip; My New Overcoat; Beauty and the Beast; High Jinks at the Varsity; Why Women Love Weddings; Editorial Chat; Bunny and 'is 'Ighness; A Woman Alone.
Notes: After a football team from Lancashire wins the English Cup, there is a public banquet in the local Masonic lodge. When the celebrations are over, the club President, Abel Sopwith, takes the cup to his home — known as The Grange — and locks it in his safe which has a combination letter-lock. At 2 o'clock in the morning, nervous and unable to sleep, he checks that the cup is still secure. Finding it still in the safe, he retires to bed. Four hours later he is awoken by his servants who have found the study broken into, the safe open, and the cup gone. Sopwith sends for Sexton Blake. The detective finds himself confronted with a seemingly impossible case — there is no possible way an intruder could have learned the six-letter combination of the safe. Yet, with incredible speed, Blake recovers the cup and identifies the burglar ... and it turns out to be the very last person Mr Sopwith would have suspected!
ANSWERS WEEKLY · Issue 1,063 · 10/10/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Other content: Personally Speaking; On Strike; Storyettes; Writted; Many Marathons; Off the Track; Anonymous!; Soccer Without Socks; At Sunset; Hustlers of the Hedgerow; Gossip; Brown October; Ben Martin's Malady; On the Stage and Off; Editorial Chat; Fraulein or Miss; A Woman Alone.
Notes: A messenger boy is given a diamond to deliver and, after he goes missing, is suspected of stealing it. Sexton Blake is consulted. As he arrives on the scene, he is informed that the boy has been found unconscious with a bullet wound to his head. Detective-Inspector Wedlock postulates that the boy was attacked and robbed. However, Blake examines the clues and comes up with an alternative theory which proves true. The diamond is recovered and the boy, upon regaining consciousness, confirms every aspect of the Baker Street detective's theory.
ANSWERS WEEKLY · Issue 1,064 · 17/10/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Other content: Storyettes; Other Cotton Strikes; On Prominent People; Mutiny!; Royal Racing; Are You Harry Lauder?: Am I Really Civilised?; World Whispers; Gossip; Our Queer Clients; I Open Oysters; Getting Straight With Her; 'Stonishing Shootin'; Editorial Chat; How They Popped; Coughing Spreads Disease; Witness Beware; John Bull, Bugbear; A Woman Alone; Mixed Pickles.
Notes: A man calls upon Dr. Dyson late one night and asks him to perform an emergency operation on a friend whose finger has been badly damaged in an accident. Dyson follows the man into a brougham to be taken to the patient — and is not seen again. Three weeks later he turns up at Sexton Blake's Baker Street address. He tells the detective that, at gunpoint, he was told to amputate the perfectly healthy finger of a man ... a man who himself demanded the operation. Dyson was held prisoner until his patient was fully healed and was then set free. Blake investigates and discovers that the men behind this mystery are plotting to falsely claim the inheritance of a man whose finger was missing. Dyson had unwillingly aided the impostor but he is able to give Blake enough information for the detective to trace the men and foil the plot.
ANSWERS WEEKLY · Issue 1,065 · 24/10/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Other content: Personally Speaking; The Nelson Touch; Storyettes; Besting the Banks; Oh, the Difference; The Peerage Romance; Passing a Passport; Gossip; Anagrams; The Making of a Reputation; The Hard Side; From Everywhere; Editorial Chat; Entertaining Sassiety; A Woman Alone; Battles in the Skin; Bulgarian Brides; Flashlights.
Notes: Sexton Blake visits his old school friend, Fordham, who lives in a flat above the bank of which he is the manager. Fordham receives a second guest that night, a man from York, named Joyce Melville, who will stay overnight before making the bank company's annual inspection of books on the following morning. Later, Blake has to leave, ostensibly to catch the train back to London. However, on Fordham's doorstep he urgently whispers to his host that he should quietly let him back into the house after Melville has gone to bed. This Fordham does, though he is surprised to find that his friend is accompanied by a number of policemen who proceed to conceal themselves in a house across the road. Blake explains that he had spotted that Melville is an impostor. He believes the man will attempt to overpower Fordham during the night and will force him to open the vault of the bank. Accomplices will then arrive to help remove the contents. Blake tells Fordham to allow this to go ahead. He then hides under his friend's bed and watches as the criminal operation begins. Fordham is forced at gunpoint to take Melville downstairs into the bank where the villain is joined by two confederates. Blake then leads the police in an assault upon the gang, capturing them with barely any resistance.
ANSWERS WEEKLY · Issue 1,067 · 7/11/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Other content: Storyettes; When Airships are £20 apiece; Personal Snapshots; Building a Big Business; Shave, Sir?; Soccer Sprouts; Toffee Talk; World-Whispers; Gossip; Unemployed or Soldiers?; Harbottle vs. Nephew; One Good Turn; Bryan or Taft?; Editorial Chat; Greed!; Workers in Manacles; A Woman Alone.
Notes: At the British Legation in Tangier, Percival Fitzgerald finishes decoding important despatches and leaves the room. As he does so, he catches sight of an Arab entering through a French window and snatching the code book from the desk. Immediately, he chases after the thief, who jumps a fence and races along a dirt road. When Fitzgerald sees a man coming in the other direction, he yells for him to stop the fugitive. The man obliges but after a brief struggle the Arab manages to break free. The delay, however, is sufficient for Fitzgerald to catch up, and he captures the thief. The man — whose name is Hamed — pleads innocent and, indeed, when he is searched, the book is not found. He is, nevertheless, thrown into a prison cell. Sexton Blake, who happens to be in Gibraltar, is summoned and informed that it will be a disaster if the missing book is sold to any hostile government. He investigates and deduces that the stolen item must have been passed to the man who tackled Hamed. He arranges for a copy of the code book to be shown to the prisoner, who is informed that his cohort has sold it back to the British Legation. Hamed is then set free. He immediately rushes to the home of his cohort and accuses him of betrayal. Blake, in disguise, follows. He knocks the thieves unconscious and retrieves the stolen volume.
ANSWERS WEEKLY · Issue 1,068 · 14/11/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Other content: Storyettes; Stealing in Prison; Personal Snapshots; The Ancient Artful Anagram; Sovereigns in the Slots; About My Lord Mayor; Acting Before the King; No Bath, 1d; Puzzles I Have Never Sold; Lancashire "Wm. Whiteleys"; Chat From Across the Seas; To Abolish Fog; Jack; Editorial Chat; Footer Etiquette; His Majesty's Mail; The Emergency Case; Trapped!; Greed!; Anvil-Sparks.
Notes: Blake is visited by an acquaintance, Doctor Burgin, who lives in an apartment building with a family of actors as his neighbours. He tells the criminologist that last night he and his wife went to watch the neighbour's daughter and her husband perform in a play. Later, in the very early hours of the morning, the young woman rang at his door and asked him to come and examine her father, who had been taken ill. Burgin obliged but, upon examining the apparently unconscious man, became convinced that he was shamming the illness. Working on the premise that the father was for some reason attempting to frighten his daughter, Burgin offered her assurances but little else before departing. Some hours later, the doctor received a note from the woman in which it was stated that the father had died and a death certificate was required. Burgin had then come to Blake and now asks him to accompany him to view the body, as he feels that to issue the certificate without doing so might make him complicit in an insurance swindle. The detective complies with the request and, upon scrutinising the corpse, finds a bullet hole in the skull. Using the temperature of the corpse as his guide, Blake asserts that the man was deceased before Burgin's earlier examination of him. In other words, the supposedly sick man was not the same person as this dead man. By considering the timing of events, he deduces that the woman's father had committed suicide and that her husband had masqueraded as him to make Burgin think he'd died later and of natural causes. In this way, the insurance claim would not have been opposed. The daughter objects that, in fact, she was simply trying to save her father's reputation. Blake accepts this motive and no further steps are taken.
ANSWERS WEEKLY · Issue 1,069 · 21/11/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Other content: Storyettes; A Day with the Hunger Marchers; Blazing Indescretions; The King's Choristers; Lancashire's Time of Terror; Greed!; Horsiculture; The Last Chance; Gossip; T.M. at the Guildhall; Editorial Chat; Wombwell, the Wonderful, Will Crooks, Mascot!; Bellows to Mend; Known to the Police; The Dis-Pleasure's Mine; Jolly Jumbo; Paper Fever; Mrs. Shylock; Mark, Learn, and Digest.
Notes: Raymond Featherstone, a well-known South African magnate, says to Sexton Blake, "If I told you I was a murderer, would you be willing to help me, or would you betray me to the police?" The detective asserts that any information he receives from clients is confidential but he may refuse to help, depending on Featherstone's story. The millionaire informs him that, during his early days as a prospector, he argued with his partner — a man known as Snowflake on account of a white scar in his eye — and shot him dead. Fleeing the scene, he later became rich, moved the England, and married. Three months ago, while visiting his sick butler, he was seen by a shrivelled, brown-skinned patient named Crawshaw who later turned up on his doorstep and claimed to have witnessed the murder of Snowflake. The price for his silence, he said, was to be allowed to live with Featherstone until he recovered from his illness and to then to be given sufficient funds to travel back to South Africa, there to set up business as a diamond broker. Since then, Crawshaw has been resident in the Featherstone house and has treated his hosts abysmally. Blake agrees to meet the unwanted guest. Introduced as a doctor come to diagnose Crawshaw's ailment, Blake is given short shrift by the man. He departs but returns the next day with a police inspector. He had recognised Crawshaw's condition as Addison's disease, an affliction that causes a complete change in physical appearance. He'd also noticed that the blackmailer's eye had been tattooed to correct a peculiarity ... a white patch. Crawshaw is Snowflake! Featherstone's shot hadn't killed the man all those years ago, and Snowflake had subsequently been responsible for many villainies, which he'll now pay the price for.
ANSWERS WEEKLY · Issue 1,070 · 28/11/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Other content: Storyettes; Why Our Police Fail; Gossip; From Everywhere; A Wrestler's Recollections; Wun Li, Chief; Kaiser Stories; Mrs Suffragette M.P.; My Bloodhounds; Tantalus Tantalizer; Greed!; The Man Who Feared Money; A Society Lady's Experience at Court; Editorial Chat; Where Men Are Masters; Lessons in Love; Nips of Knowledge.
Notes: Retired master mariner Captain Ensor consults Blake on behalf of his neighbour, Mrs Drury, whose husband, Jonathan, has been robbed of eight hundred pounds. The money had been in a cash box that was locked in an oak chest in the bedroom. After Mrs Drury received a telegram to inform her that her sister was very ill, she'd set off to be with her, leaving her husband home by himself. During the night, an intruder attacked Jonathan, tied him to a chair, and departed with the money. Mrs Drury, finding that her sister was fine and knew nothing about the telegram, had stayed with her overnight and in the morning returned to find her husband bound and helpless. She'd cut him loose. Blake has an appointment at Scotland Yard but first visits the Drury house and is intrigued by the knots used to secure the victim. After examining the scene, he asks Captain Ensor to take a note to Scotland Yard in which it is explained that Blake has been detained by a case. The detective then examines the house's attic, crawls out through the skylight, crosses to Ensor's residence, enters it by the same means, and discovers the cash-box hidden beneath the Captain's bed. He returns to the Drury house and explains to the couple how the telegram had been a diversion, how their neighbour had committed the crime, and how his sailor's knots had given the game away. When Ensor comes back, the police are waiting for him.
ANSWERS WEEKLY · Issue 1,071 · 5/12/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Other content: Storyettes; Johnson or Burns; Queer tales from China; Are We getting Jumpy?; Contrasts; Jack Tar, P.C.; Sir John and Success; Are Footballers Honest; A Fireman's Fights; 'Arold's Anagram; A Hundred Years' Tunnel; Gossip; Harbottle Hero; Greed!; Their Pet Aversions; Justice is Justice; Editorial Chat; Royal Hobbies; The Songs I Love; Things You Didn't Know.
Notes: The assistant-superintendent of the General Post Office calls Sexton Blake when a mailbag from the sleepy Buckinghamshire town of Meadowfield is destroyed by a time-bomb. Among the debris, the detective finds a fragment of an envelope on which a portion of a crest can be seen along with the words "urgent and important." Blake travels by train to Meadowfield and there interviews the postmaster who identifies the crest as belonging to Sir Peter Teesdale of Meadowfield Hall. While the two men are conversing, a young man enters the post office, sees Blake, and reacts with terror, which he quickly suppresses. The postmaster introduces him as Dalling, Sir Peter's private secretary. When Dalling departs, Blake shadows him to the next village and to its railway station, where the man boards a train for Oxford. The detective does so, too, and notes when Dalling disembarks that he has made an effort to alter his appearance. Very quickly, it becomes apparent that the young man is preparing to flee the country. Blake sends a telegram to Sir Peter to ask whether he has sent any important mail recently ... and piece by piece the criminologist is able to link events together to expose Dalling's attempt to sell shares that rightfully belong to his employer and to destroy a letter that would have ruined his scheme. He is arrested on the brink of escape.
ANSWERS WEEKLY · Issue 1,073 · 19/12/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Other content: Storyettes; The Great Masked Man Hoax; Hope O'er the Seas; My Winter; How I Wrote Yellow Room; I'm the Plumber; Manners Most Magnificent; The Fight for the Standard; Gossip; Tree Tales; Mr. Answers Roller Skates; Sacked!; Never Again; The Mysteries Solved; Editorial Chat; Greed!; Mincemeat.
Notes: Herbert Franklin, mourning the recent death of his father, takes lodgings with Mrs Lambert. One evening, after receiving a letter, he goes out, and forty-five minutes later a telegram is delivered to his landlady. Franklin has been arrested on a false charge and requests that she come to Chesham police station to identify him. She does so, only to be informed that no arrests have been made that evening. It is also pointed out that Franklin couldn't possibly have travelled to Chesham, committed a crime, been arrested and written the telegram all in the space of forty-five minutes. Upon returning to her house, Mrs Lambert finds it empty but reeking of cigars and whisky. There are also muddy footprints on the floor. The next morning, with still no sign of her lodger, she consults Sexton Blake. He examines the footprints and asserts that three men had been present. He then reads the letter Franklin received and sees that it sets an appointment for the lodger to meet Sir William Franklin, the Liverpool shipowner, at the Hotel Metropole. Blake goes there but finds that Sir William has already departed. Mrs Lambert gets a message stating that her lodger is in hospital having been hit by a hansom cab. They go to see him and find that he is not badly injured, though very puzzled when he hears that three men had been at the Lambert house. He tells Blake that he is Sir William's grandson but until last night had no knowledge of the man due to his father and Sir William falling out many years ago when the latter adopted his nephew, John Sinclair, who Franklin's father despised. On his deathbed, his father had revealed Franklin's connection to the rich shipowner and asked him to mend the family feud. So Franklin had arranged to meet with Sir William ... but during that encounter had been rudely spurned. Blake goes to see the shipowner who confirms that the meeting with Franklin had been a bad one. However, he says it took place at Mrs Lambert's house rather than in the Metropole. The detective takes him to the hospital where it becomes clear that the shipowner and patient have never laid eyes on one another. Both, Blake reveals, met with impostors, victims of a scheme by John Sinclair to ruin any relationship they might have otherwise established, thereby ensuring that he would remain the sole heir. Disgraced, Sinclair is cast out and Franklin is set to inherit a fortune.
ANSWERS WEEKLY · Issue 1,074 · 26/12/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Other content: Storyettes; Dickens Up-to-date; Modern Mysteries of Paris; How to Sweedle; At the Panto; Billiards Extraordinary; Should Santa Shave?; One Christmas Eve; Chat From Across the Sea; On Secret Service; The Crooked Sixpence; Robbing Henroosts; Labour M.P.'s and Their Salaries; Christmas Chat; Greed!; The Woman Who Did; Holly Berries.
Notes: One night, Dr. Banham receives a hastily-written note from one of his patients, Arkwright of Longstone's Farm, three or so miles away. Would the doctor come at once? Mrs Arkwright has been taken ill. Banham saddles his horse and sets off. The next morning, he hasn't returned, and in the afternoon, his horse is discovered grazing by the roadside. Furthermore, it emerges that the doctor had never arrived at the farm and the note was a forgery; nobody at the farm had sent it or was ill. The mystery deepens when the writing on the sheet of paper vanishes. Due to the distraction of a burglary at Birkendale Hall, the police give the doctor's disappearance little attention, so Mrs Banham wires for Sexton Blake. The criminologist treats the note with chemicals to reveal the writing and sees a clue in the date that helps him to identify the writer. Going to that man's residence, Blake climbs a tree to spy through a window. He sees four men. One, bound hand and foot, is the doctor. Of the other three, one appears to be unconscious on a bed. When a guard dog starts to bark at the base of the tree, Blake takes instant action, leaping to the windowsill and into the room, where he holds the men at bay with a pistol. They are, it turns out, the men who burgled Birkendale Hall, but one of them had afterwards suffered an apoplectic fit, so the doctor had been lured out to treat the stricken crook and then held prisoner until they could make their escape. Their only destination now, however, is prison.
Notes: Count Borosky, the Russian Minister to the Court of St. James, commissions Sexton Blake to catch a Russian criminal currently loose in London. However, when the detective discovers that Paul Khaminoff is actually a political activist, he helps him to escape. A furious Borosky drops his disguise, revealing himself to be Loris Orloff — 'The White Terror' — chief of the Tsar's secret police. He vows revenge. Two years later, Blake and Tinker are on an espionage mission in Trieste and are forced by circumstances to split up. Tinker makes his way back to London. Blake, though, is captured by Orloff. When Tinker arrives home, he finds the newspapers reporting that, back in Trieste, Blake's dead body has been found and buried. The terrible shock leads to illness and Tinker is out of action for many weeks. Eventually, after making a full recovery, he returns to Baker Street where a Russian fugitive brings him amazing news: Sexton Blake is alive! The detective is being held in a Siberian prison; a state of affairs that Tinker vows to change. He travels across Europe to Moscow and books passage on the Trans-Siberian Railway. He makes allies during the journey and gains a new identity plus introductory letters to various prison officials. For a while, this ruse works and he soon sets eyes on Blake. But Orloff is onto him and Tinker ends up by his master's side, a prisoner. When a recently recaptured Paul Khaminoff is incarcerated with them, they make their first escape attempt but are caught and sent by barge to a prison island. En route, the vessel meets with an accident and the three men manage to free themselves. They now attempt to cross the bleak land to the safety of the port at Vladivostok, getting caught and escaping again many times along the way. Finally, in a flurry of wild coincidences, they gain their freedom and the White Terror gets his just desserts.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ This begins as a 'Romance' in the Victorian sense; imbued with sentiment, the workings of fate and psychic flashes. Of particular note are the heart-rending scenes where Tinker believes his guv'nor to be dead. Unfortunately, after the initial chapters, it settles into a rather repetitive series of escapes and recaptures that are too long-winded and lacking in invention.
Notes: Sexton Blake and Tinker arrive in the small industrial town of Creekside. When Pedro finds the body of a man named Captain Peascod in the river, the pair find themselves involved with Mr Tibblewit, the local grocer. He has two lodgers: Peascod's partner, Captain Fairlead, and the latter's daughter, Dorothy. Miss Peascod tells Tinker that she is afraid a man named Gregory Googe will steal some papers from Peascod's corpse. So Tinker follows Googe and sees him doing this very thing. The villain searches among the papers for a cheque which, according to his mutterings, he wants to tear up. Tinker causes a distraction and grabs the cheque but is pursued by the villain. He manages to hide the paper on the Rochester Bells, a barge that Peascod had owned. Meanwhile, at Mr Tibblewit's, the ill Fairlead insists that he will take charge of the barge to carry on its business transporting cement down the Thames. Blake reveals his true identity and arranges to impersonate Fairlead and take on the captaincy. Next morning, he and Tinker begin work. They make three discoveries: the cheque has vanished; their one crew member — Silas Croak — is in the pay of Gregory Googe; and there's a stowaway on board — 'Enery — a young lad who's also in thick with Googe. Blake tells Tinker that Googe has been plotting to kill his fellow members of an insurance syndicate so that he'll inherit the money. That night, the criminal smothers Pedro in wet blankets and throws him overboard. Croak then barricades Blake and Tinker in a cabin and steers the barge into a pier. He and 'Enery make their getaway in a dinghy but it is hit by a tugboat and Silas Croak is killed. The Baker Street duo manage to get free and swim for the shore where they are aided by a kindly night watchman and an urchin who has helped to rescue Pedro. The boy also reveals that he had seen Tinker hide the cheque and has recovered it — he hands it over to the detective. As far as Gregory Googe is aware, there is now just one man left in the syndicate: Mr Tibblewit. He goes to visit the grocer and is there confronted by Sexton Blake. The shock is so great that he dies of fear.
Trivia: This story features a rare early romance for Tinker!
Rating: ★★★★★ A wonderful tale with a real Dickensian touch.
THE BOYS' HERALD · Vol. 5 Issue 238 · 8/2/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Advice (ed.); The King of the Caravans by Sidney Drew; The Cliveden Sweepstake by Charles Hamilton; The Terror of the Remove by David Goodwin; A Boy O' Bristol by George Manville Fenn; Cornish Grit by Herbert Maxwell.
Notes: This story was announced in the editorial of issue 236: 'No character is so well known as Sexton Blake. He is famous wherever the sun sets. Against him the adventures of all other detectives — save, perhaps those of his friend Nelson Lee — pale into insignificance. He has travelled round the world not once but a dozen times. He has had more attempts made on his life than any man living. He has had hair-breadth escapes by the score, and is without doubt one of the greatest Britishers who ever trod the earth. Therefore the school-day life of so famous a character cannot fail to be most interesting and absorbing reading, and, therefore I predict a huge and instantaneous success for "Sexton Blake At School."'
This instalment of the serial contains one of the most incredible statements ever made about Sexton Blake (see the top of this page for full details. This statement was edited out when abridged versions of the story appeared in BOYS' FRIEND LIBRARY issue 102 (1909) and BOYS' FRIEND LIBRARY 2nd series issue 388 (1933) (see the latter for review notes).
THE BOYS' HERALD · Vol. 5 Issue 239 · 15/2/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Advice (ed.); The King of the Caravans by Sidney Drew; The Cliveden Valentines by Charles Hamilton; The Terror of the Remove by David Goodwin; Cornish Grit by Herbert Maxwell.
Notes: None at present.
This instalment of the serial contains one of the most incredible statements ever made about Sexton Blake (see the top of this page for full details. This statement was edited out when abridged versions of the story appeared in BOYS' FRIEND LIBRARY issue 102 (1909) and BOYS' FRIEND LIBRARY 2nd series issue 388 (1933) (see the latter for review notes).
Trivia: This issue contains an advertisement for:
'A Real-life Drama of Sexton Blake, Detective'
Crown Theatre, Peckham.
Six nights and one matinee, commencing Monday, February 24th, 1908.
Sexton Blake, Detective
(Specially adapted from the celebrated stories of that name, including the most exciting incidents experienced by that wonderful character.)
SEXTON BLAKE -- The Celebrated Detective.
TINKER -- Sexton Blake's Young Assistant.
PEDRO -- The Famous Bloodhound.
INSPECTOR WIDGEON -- A Scotland Yard Detective.
SQUIRE MARMADUKE LOVELL -- Owner of Cossington Hall.
JOHN BLACKBURN -- Farmer, The Squire's Tenant.
ROGER BLACKBURN -- His Son.
REVEREND EDWARD GREY -- A Clergyman.
SIMON FAGGUS -- A Professional Burglar.
MRS. BLACKBURN -- Roger Blackburn's Wife.
EUPHEMIA -- Maid of All Work. Afterwards a Music-hall Artiste.
MARJORIE LOVELL -- Roger Blackburn's Fiancee.
PHILADELPHIA KATE -- An Adventuress.
LOAFERS, VILLAGERS, POLICEMEN, ETC., ETC.
Synopsis of Scenery:
Act 1. (Scene 1.) Farmer Blackburn's Garden - Summer-time. (Scene 2.) A Lane at Cossington - Winter. (Scene 3.) The Library at Cossington Hall.
Act 2. (Scene 1.) In the London Slums. Five Years Later. (Scene 2.) The Mission Hall in the Slums.
Act 3. (Scene 1.) The Old Wharf at Rotherhithe. (Scene 2.) Sexton Blake's Rooms in Baker Street. (Scene 3.) The Library at Cossington Hall.
Act 4. (Scene 1.) Birdcage Walk, St. James's Park, by Night. (Scene 2.) Interior of a Church in the West End of London.
AN EVENING OF INTEREST, EXCITEMENT, AMUSEMENT.
This was reprinted in BOYS' FRIEND LIBRARY issue 102 in 1909 and BOYS' FRIEND LIBRARY 2nd series issue 388 in 1933 (see the latter for review notes).
THE BOYS' HERALD · Vol. 5 Issue 242 · 7/3/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Advice (ed.); The King of the Caravans by Sidney Drew; The Cliveden Detectives by Charles Hamilton; Cornish Grit by Herbert Maxwell; The Terror of the Remove by David Goodwin.
THE BOYS' HERALD · Vol. 5 Issue 244 · 21/3/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Advice (ed.); Clogland by David Goodwin; Cotton-mouth's Vengeance by T. C. Bridges; The Cliveden's Sports by Charles Hamilton; The King of the Caravans by Sidney Drew; Cornish Grit by Herbert Maxwell.
THE BOYS' HERALD · Vol. 5 Issue 258 · 27/6/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Advice (ed.); A Fight With Fate by William Murray Graydon; The Wolf Patrol by John Finnemore; A New Boy at Cliveden by Charles Hamilton; A World at War by Andrew Grey; Clogland by David Goodwin.
THE BOYS' HERALD · Vol. 6 Issue 261 · 18/7/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Advice (ed.); A Fight With Fate by William Murray Graydon; The Wolf Patrol by John Finnemore; The Rival Escort by Charles Hamilton; A World at War by Andrew Grey; Clogland by David Goodwin.
THE BOYS' HERALD · Vol. 6 Issue 263 · 1/8/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Advice (ed.); The World at War by Andrew Gray; A Fight With Fate by William Murray Graydon; The Loot of the Liner by John Stanton; The Wolf Patrol by John Finnemore; Clogland by David Goodwin.
Notes: This was reprinted in BOYS' FRIEND LIBRARY issue 105 in 1909 and in BOYS' FRIEND LIBRARY issue 392 in 1933. See the latter issue for the review.
Trivia: As with other stories from this period, there's an insistence that Sexton Blake is real: 'Well, my chums, you now have the opening chapters of our new Sexton Blake story before you. I hope you will like them. The author, the famous detective, and myself did our level best to please you right through the long run of "Sexton Blake at School," and we succeeded far beyond our expectations. That we shall succeed again, with "Sexton Blake in the Sixth," I have not the slightest doubt.'
THE BOYS' HERALD · Vol. 6 Issue 273 · 10/10/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Advice (ed.); Boys of the Brigade by Anon.; A World at War by Andrew Gray; Expelled From the Patrol by Anon.; A Fight With Fate by William Murray Graydon; Clogland by David Goodwin.
THE BOYS' HERALD · Vol. 6 Issue 274 · 17/10/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Advice (ed.); Boys of the Brigade by Anon.; A World at War by Andrew Gray; The Cliveden Footballers by Charles Hamilton; A Fight With Fate by William Murray Graydon; Clogland by David Goodwin.
THE BOYS' HERALD · Vol. 6 Issue 275 · 24/10/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Advice (ed.); Through Blackfeet Country by Ambrose Earle; A Fight With Fate by William Murray Graydon; A World at War by Andrew Grey; Clogland by David Goodwin; Boys of the Brigade by Anon.
THE BOYS' HERALD · Vol. 6 Issue 276 · 31/10/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Advice (ed.); The War of the Mills by David Goodwin; A Fight With Fate by William Murray Graydon; Born to Lead by Arthur Steffens; A World at War by Andrew Grey; Clogland by David Goodwin; Boys of the Brigade by Anon.
THE BOYS' HERALD · Vol. 6 Issue 280 · 28/11/1908 · Amalgamated Press · 1d
Illustrator: Unknown but almost certainly H. M. Lewis
Other content: Your Editor's Advice (ed.); The Road to Strength by Captain Hood; The Young Rifleman by Rifle Club Captain; Plucky Dick Denver by Reginald Wrey; The War of the Mills by David Goodwin; The Scourge of the Skies by Andrew Gray; Boys of the Brigade by Anon.
Notes: None at present.
Notes: None at present.
Notes: None at present.
Notes: None at present.
Notes: Blake is visited by John Browning, who has discovered himself to be the heir to a considerable fortune. The criminologist, however, deduces that the man's tale is the commencement of a tremendous swindle. Browning commissions Blake to trace his grandmother's birth certificate and offers seventy-five thousand pounds as payment for its discovery. It is plainly apparent that he intends for Blake to forge the document. The detective investigates and finds that Browning has cleverly established evidence to support his claim but requires the certificate to complete the "paper trail." He has been assisted by a crooked solicitor with whom Blake is familiar, an individual known as "Ferret." Blake breaks into that man's office and finds evidence that the true heir is a young woman, Miss Malet. The Ferret arrives with John Browning and a third man, Rorke. Blake hides and eavesdrops as the three villains discuss the girl and how Browning killed her father. Browning now instructs Rorke to murder her, too. The next day, the detective rescues Miss Malet from the criminal and has him arrested. A meeting with solicitors is arranged during which Blake is expected to show evidence of Browning's right of inheritance. Instead, he asserts that all the evidence is forged and exposes the swindle. Miss Malet is produced and named the true heir. Browning and the Ferret are arrested.
Trivia: The villain, having visited Blake in his Messenger Square lodgings, describes him as being "as poor as a rat."
Notes: Sexton Blake is called to St. Rudolph's School on the coast to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a pupil named Dick Borrodaile. His initial examinations suggest that the boy departed secretly but willingly in company with an unknown companion. Following two sets of footprints which trail down to the beach, the detective finds that the boy's vanish beside a pool of treacherous quicksand. However, his companion — evidently female — seems to have continued past the quicksand, now carrying a heavy burden. Her prints continue down to the water, where they stop. Deducing that the woman has faked the death of Dick Borrodaile, Blake traces the boy to France where he finds him living happily with a kindly family. The detective returns to England and visits the boy's mother, revealing that he knows she was responsible for his 'abduction'. When he approaches the father, he discovers why: Borrodaile senior is a mad scientist who intends to use the young lad as a test subject. Blake's objection to this pushes the man over the edge and he has a brain haemorrhage. Invalided, he is committed to his wife's care.
Notes: A young woman named Janet Ford commissions Blake to investigate the death of Andrew Craig, who had been engaged to her sister. He was the second engineer on the steamship Hotspur but, the day after the vessel returned from New York, was found drowned. It is presumed that he fell from a dock and hit his head but the last person to see him alive has stated that he was engaged in a heated discussion with a man in a fur coat. Miss Ford is convinced that Craig was murdered by that man. She informs Blake that Craig and his cousin Duncan — also an engineer and currently away on a ship named Gnome — had been working on some sort of invention for which Craig had already been offered fifty thousand pounds. She produces a letter received the morning of his death. It is from the Board of Trade and refers to the successful application for an Argosy Patent. The following day, Blake is approached by John Stephens, one of Craig's friends, who is sure Craig was murdered for documents detailing his invention. A second set of the papers were in Stephens' office safe but it has been broken into and they are now gone. On his way to see Blake, Stephens was three times assaulted because, he suggests, there is a third set of the plans which his attackers believe him to be carrying. Blake tells him that the third copy is already with the patent office. Days pass with no further incidents, then the Gnome docks with the news that Duncan has been murdered in New York. Later, Mr Gold, manager of Morson & Gold, the shipping line that owns the Hotspur and Gnome, is approached by Mr Muntz, who represents an engineering firm. Muntz promotes various mechanical innovations of a minor variety but then Gold shows him plans for a much more significant invention and offers his company the opportunity to develop the device. Munzt objects that he has already purchased the patent for the invention. Gold is left utterly shocked. That night, Blake summons Stephens and shows him that the Gnome is unexpectedly preparing to sail. They witness a man in a fur coat boarding the vessel. Surreptitiously following him, they corner him in the ship's engine room. It is Mr Gold. Blake explains to Stephens that Gold had tried to steal Craig's invention in order to save his shipping company, which has been suffering severe financial difficulty. By masquerading as Muntz, Blake had frightened Gold, who'd attempted to flee before his murderous actions were exposed.
Trivia: Blake states that he never accepts a fee from a woman.
Notes: A transatlantic luxury liner, the Meretoria, is due to sail on her maiden voyage, carrying three million in gold for the relief of the financial stress in Wall Street. As a precaution, Sexton Blake has been invited to take the voyage. He makes friends with the purser, Mr Mason, who informs him that the bullion that has apparently been loaded is fake — a decoy to fool anyone with dishonest intentions. Blake is present when the real specie comes aboard and is secured in a huge safe. After a pleasurable voyage, the ship docks at New York. As the bullion is unpacked, Blake notices that a couple of the boxes have been tampered with. The detective claims straight away that he knows who committed the burglary. Without revealing anything further, he leads Mason ashore and into Chinatown where they force themselves into an opium den. There they find one of the passengers and his luggage; cylinders of compressed oxygen. Blake and Mason take the passenger and cylinders back to the ship and the detective reveals the hiding place of the stolen gold and explains how the heist was carried out.
Trivia: According to this story, Blake 'detests' New York.
Notes: Sexton Blake has had a five days' 'rest cure' — staying at home doing nothing — when he receives a visitor named Mrs Errington, who is on the verge of starvation. She explains that her husband, Charles, a chemist, is assistant to Dr Rathbone, a reclusive scientist. When he failed to come home from work one day, Mrs Errington went to Rathbone's house in search of him. Rathbone, who didn't even turn around when she entered he laboratory, spoke to her in a harsh and dismissive voice, informing her that he had not seen her husband. The woman is certain that this is a lie and suspects that the doctor may have done away with her husband in order to gain from something Charles had invented. Blake visits Rathbone and exposes him as a disguised Charles Errington. The chemist reveals that Rathbone has died from natural causes. The doctor had agreed to help fund an invention that Errington had shown him — a means to make artificial jewels — but, once the business had been negotiated, Rathbone claimed the invention for himself, cutting Errington out of the deal. They argued and the doctor collapsed and died. Errington took the opportunity to impersonate his former employer in order to retain his rightful ownership of his creation. Blake, noting that raw justice and the law can be different things, helps Errington to claim his invention and reunites him with his wife.
Trivia: Sexton Blake appears to be living a rather frugal life in what he refers to as his 'bachelor's establishment'. Six years ago, in BOOK I: THE REAL ADVENTURES OF SEXTON BLAKE (part 14) (THE MARVEL LIBRARY, issue 434) he was married. So what happened? Obviously whatever it was affected him deeply, since — for the course of these PENNY PICTORIAL stories — he is supposedly 'resting on doctor's orders' and lives away from his Baker Street home. We also learn that Blake has written a monograph about Sleeping Sickness, based on his experiences in central Africa. Since Cecil Hayter wrote a Sexton Blake story for UNION JACK entitled THE SLEEPING SICKNESS the year previous to this tale's publication, we can be pretty certain that he is the author of this story too.
Notes: Sexton Blake bumps into Nurse Elma, who had nursed him after the 'Thuringen affair. Her fiancé — Horace Harrington — is extremely ill and has been placed in her care — under Dr. Mason — but doesn't seem to be getting any better. In fact, he is deteriorating fast, despite her every effort. Blake visits the patient and notices some rather strange symptoms. As he leaves, he 'accidentally' breaks a bottle of Harrington's medicine, securing a sample as he does so. That evening he receives a letter from Elma, who reveals that Dr. Mason was furious that Blake had been allowed to see the patient. The next day, after analysing the medicine, Blake heads to club-land where he tracks down a man who shares a name with Nurse Elma's patient. Sir Herbert Harrington is an explorer who Blake had once met in Africa. At the time, Sir Herbert had been suffering from a tropical disease, with symptoms similar to those displayed by his namesake. At the mention of Dr. Mason, Sir Herbert reacts strangely and departs as quickly as possible. Later, Elma visits the detective in his Messenger Square apartment and Blake arranges with her to replace the medicine prescribed by Mason with a concoction of his own. Some days later the nurse reports that her patient is getting better, which appears to infuriate Mason.
Trivia: Sexton Blake has not visited a club for many months. This is further evidence that his health has been suffering during the Messenger Square period.
Notes: Admiral Sir Richard Thorpe informs Blake that the Navy is building a torpedo-boat harbour at Loreham on the south coast. The whole operation is secret but details are being steadily leaked to a hostile foreign power. Blake is asked to investigate. For the first couple of days, he finds nothing, but then he hears about the widow Old Merilees who lives up on the downs overlooking the harbour. Twenty years ago, her fisherman husband had drowned, and ever since she has obsessively waved a lantern at night, as if she might guide him home. Interested by the idea of lights being used to signal, Blake sails out to sea at night and looks back at the land. He observes that one of the houses is shining a red light from its window, and is astounded when that light turns green. He then discovers an unlit steamship lurking twelve miles offshore. The next day, he identifies the bungalow, learns that a photography enthusiast named Erstheim lives there with his wife, and watches the fellow as he plays on the local golf course. From a shelter on the course, Blake discovers a splendid view overlooking the harbour developments. At lunch in the clubhouse, the detective ingratiates himself with the suspect, discusses photography, and is invited to see the man's darkroom. He visits Erstheim's home and realises that red or green lights shining from the window would be clearly visible from Old Merilees' home. Inviting Sir Richard's secretary, Adamson, to the town, Blake informs him that they will catch the spy tonight. That evening, the two men venture out onto the downs. From there, while lying concealed in the undergrowth, they can see the red light of Erstheim's house. A signal is flashed from the steamer out on the horizon. Erstheim's light changes from red to green. Suddenly, a lantern is lit just a few paces from where Blake and Adamson are hidden. Held by an old woman, it is moved up and down and from side to side, plainly signalling. Blake pounces on Old Merilees, gets shot in the leg, but manages to knock the woman cold. He then removes her disguise to reveal Erstheim. The foreign agent's accomplice at the house is rounded up and the case is closed.
Notes: Joseph Bernstein, a junior partner in a financial firm involved in the diamond business, writes Blake a blank cheque to investigate a man named Merydell who claims he can manufacture diamonds. Bernstein presents two examples that Merydell created in front of him. They are pure, and now the whole diamond industry is threatened. Blake meets the young inventor, who claims that he almost ruined himself financially in the pursuit of his process but has finally succeeded and is now back on his feet. After discussing the matter, Blake admits to Merydell that he dislikes Bernstein and won't accept the commission to investigate the matter. Merydell reveals that Bernstein has attempted to murder him and asks Blake to look into it. The detective agrees ... but his fee is that Merydell makes a diamond in front of him. On the way to his new client's isolated lodgings, Blake notices that they're being trailed by a known murderer who, upon their arrival, departs. He warns the young inventor that, within half an hour, Bernstein's thugs will arrive. Merydell begins to guide Blake through the process but before it's complete an attack is launched, led by Bernstein himself. The detective foils it and forces Bernstein to sign a full confession detailing his plan to murder Merydell. He tells him that unless he pays two hundred thousand pounds for the diamond-making process, plus an annual income of twenty thousand, the confession will be handed to the police. Bernstein agrees to this. Merydell, on the promise that he'll not produce any more stones, becomes a rich man. Blake accepts a manufactured gemstone in payment for his services.
Notes: Molly O'Hara, the child of a labourer at a factory on Larkland Island, has disappeared from her home. Her father's fellow workers scour the island from end to end but find no clue as to what has become of her. After a week has passed, Sexton Blake becomes interested in the case and visits Larkland but to no avail — he can find no trace of the girl. On the way back to London, he recalls that three months previously, he'd spotted the name O'Hara in a newspaper advertisement in which a firm of Lawyers appealed for anyone of that surname to contact them to "hear something to their advantage." At the firm, he learns that a dying man named Regan, who'd made his fortune at the Klondyke, had argued with his wayward son, Patrick, and cut him from his will. He'd decided to leave his fortune instead to his nephew, who bore the surname O'Hara. Blake discovers that Molly's father is the heir in question. However, he is ill, and with the stress of his daughter's disappearance, is dying. Upon his passing, she will inherit Regan's millions, unless she also dies, in which case the money will revert to Patrick. Now that he has a suspect, the detective returns to the island and is able to deduce the villain's movements. He becomes certain that Patrick is hiding with the child over on the mainland's moors, so keeps a lookout, sure that the kidnapper will at some point make for the local village to pick up supplies. This proves to be true, and while Patrick is away, Blake locates his hideaway and finds Molly there. When the villain returns, Blake pounces. The girl is returned to her parents.
Notes: The Duke of Freshwater commissions Blake to investigate the theft of family heirlooms and jewels. The jewels were last in use on Christmas Day. The next morning, the Duke's librarian, Haines, placed them in their cases, which he then locked in a safe. When he next removed the cases from the safe — after a house party — he found that they were empty. To all appearances, it is impossible that anyone gained entry to the library where the safe is located. Blake spends the day examining the scene and questioning the staff. He then sends messages to everyone who was present at the party to inform them that the jewels have been found. He also sees to it that an announcement is placed in the newspapers stating that the Duke is away travelling (in fact, the old aristocrat will stay in Haines's cottage on the estate). That afternoon, a fast car with two occupants arrives. Blake orders all the gates giving access to Freshwater House to be closed and locked and then fetches the duke. They stroll to where the car has tried to depart only to find the way barred. The duke's niece and her husband are inside the vehicle. Blake retrieves the stolen jewels from the petrol tank. He reveals the clues that led him to identify the pair as the crooks and explains their method.
Notes: To shelter from a downpour, Blake steps into a house in which the contents are being auctioned off. Among the uninspiring lots, a small Chinese box comes up. Blake examines it before a Chinaman bids thirty sovereigns for it. A dealer named Louise Cohen drives the bidding higher until he wins the item for four hundred and fifty pounds, causing his opponent to faint from the stress of it. Not long after, Cohen dies of apoplexy, his business passes to his heirs, and his private collection is dispersed among his friends. One of them, Baron Von Marsden, commits suicide by taking poison. His nephew, however, doesn’t believe it was suicide and consults Sexton Blake. The detective finds the Chinese box amid the dead man’s collection of antiques and curiosities. It weighs less than he remembers and, when he is informed that it has a secret compartment that cannot be opened, he disagrees — not only has it been opened but something has been removed from it. Von Marsden’s notes indicate that “L. H.” repeatedly offered to buy the box from him. The initials, Blake theorises, belong to the Chinaman, who showed Von Marsden how to operate a secret a booby-trapped switch. It was by such means that the poison was injected. The nephew identifies the man as Li Hwen. He is found in his shop and, when shown the box and accused, uses the same booby-trap to kill himself. The contents of the box’s secret compartment are discovered ... but prove to be worthless to anyone other than a Chinaman.
Notes: For his health, Blake stays in Helsing, Essex, where he indulges in regular fifteen-mile night-time walks. One evening, on a particularly desolate stretch of road, he encounters a group of villagers gathered around the corpse of Smithers, an old farmer and orchid enthusiast whose head has been battered in. They tell Blake that the local gypsies must have killed him for the bag of money he always carries on this night of the week, bringing it from the draper's shop he owns in the next village. Examining the body, Blake sees that it has been moved, rolled over and over. When he finds the victim's hat, he notes that it is crushed on the crown, which doesn't match the injury to the back of the dead man's head. After examining the surface of the road in both directions, the detective borrows a bicycle and sets off on it. The next morning, wet through and desperately tired, he arrives in the village and is met by the local police inspector, who reports that a gypsy has been found with Smithers' watch, though the man swears that he stumbled upon it in the forest. Blake searches Smithers' house and finds in it a perfect specimen of a priceless black orchid. He then accompanies the inspector to the local magistrate's house, where he takes particular interest in that man's car. The magistrate, Harbord, has called in a colleague, Sir Arthur Moon, to hear the details of the case. The policeman tells them that a gypsy has been arrested but the money not found. Blake hands Sir Arthur a warrant for him to sign ... not for the arrest of the gypsy ... but for Harbord! Blake explains how thw various clues have revealed the motive and method of the crime.
Trivia: Again, Blake is suffering from over-strain and insomnia.
Notes: Blake is contacted by the Mother Superior of the Convent of St. Agnes, who tells him that the estabishment's safe has been emptied of a treasure in jewels. Suspicion has fallen on one of the convent girls, Molly, who has vanished. The evidence against her quickly piles up and there appears to be little doubt that she committed the crime. Blake retires to the local inn to think matters over and, while there, a young man named Cyril Bourne enters in a state of high stress, downs four whiskies, throws a telegram into the fire, and departs in great haste. Blake retrieves the missive and notes that it was sent from Holland. The message is vague but is signed with an "M." The barman informs Blake that Bourne recently lost a lot of money while gambling. The next morning, the detective crosses to Harwich and sends a wire to his friend, Mr Dove. He then encounters Bourne, who appears exhausted and anxious, and who is obviously searching for the girl. Blake introduces himself. Bourne tells him that he and Molly were engaged but after he'd sent her a jewel as a gift — a gem that a boy found in the road and sold to a market trader — she had accused him of something, though he didn't understand what, and had refused to see him. Blake realises that Molly must have thought Bourne had committed the burglary. Gaining her location from the local police, Blake hastens to her and shows her a cable he has received from Mr Dove. It states that the village blacksmith has been arrested for the theft and has confessed. Molly no longer needs to shield Bourne, who is innocent of any wrongdoing.
Trivia: Mr Dove has not been mentioned in the PENNY PICTORIAL tales since the first one, MISSING! (PENNY PICTORIAL issue 428, 1907).
Notes: Blake is visited at his Messenger Square lodgings by a country man, Chapman, whose daughter, Sally, was yesterday found shot dead. It has been judged a suicide, since a pistol was in her hand, but Chapman insists it was murder. Blake's new client is the head-keeper on Squire Borrodaile's estate, a widower, who works with the under-keeper, Wright, to prevent poaching on his master's land. Wright had been in love with Sally, as was a poacher named Baird, and it had caused bad blood between the two men. Furthermore, on the night of the girl's death, after Chapman and Wright had patrolled the grounds, Wright was half an hour late for their normal rendezvous. The next morning, the detective examines the area where Sally had been found. He finds the bullet that had gone through her. The local doctor then takes him to see the body and the detective notices a band of whiteness around Sally's wedding finger. It suggests that she had been secretly married and surreptitiously wore the ring from time to time. Blake and the doctor follow the route of Wright's patrol and the detective takes particular interest in the part of it that leads past the area where the girl died. The doctor informs him that Squire Borrodaile had fallen out with his nephew, Henry, over the latter's refusal to marry an heiress whose fortune would have helped to support the estate. The young man had been given a month to agree to the marriage. If he continued to object to it, he would be cut from the squire's will. Blake, with all this information to consider, gathers the suspects, explains how and why the murder was done, and identifies the culprit.
Notes: It's "the season" in High Society and, at and around Dangerston, a burglar is at work. Jewels have been stolen from locked rooms, and American millionaire Vansittart considers it a problem too complex for the local police. He calls in Sexton Blake. The detective discovers evidence that a French-style araiguee — "spider" — is responsible for the clever break ins. He sets a trap by having the newspapers report the presence at Dangerston of Lady Malancourt, who has brought with her the famous Malancourt diamonds. When a courting couple — Molly Tremaine and Captain Lascelles — have a slight disagreement. Molly flirts with Blake to make Lascelles jealous. Mrs Vansittart gives the detective a stern lecture concerning his unwitting role in these proceedings. That night, Blake asks Lascelles and Mr Vansittart to join him in his room, which is opposite that of Lady Malancourt, and to watch and wait with him in the dark. The "spider" strikes ... and so does Blake. Captured, the masked burglar is exposed as Molly Tremaine! The girl, not as well off as she appeared, had been using skills learned from a dishonest French tutor to increase her wealth, fearing that, if Lascelles had learned of her financial straits, he would have refused to marry her. The stolen jewels are returned and Lascelles states that he will wed Molly and take her to Canada to start a new life. Blake and Vansittart agree not to press charges.
Trivia: This was reprinted as THE FIGURE IN BLACK in THE BOYS' FRIEND issue 589 (1912) and again, under that same title, in THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 2nd series, issue 141, (1928).
Notes: Blake is spending Easter trout-fishing when a dead man is found in the river. He assesses the corpse and identifies it as that of a foreigner, perhaps Portuguese. Any forms of identifying mark, including clothing labels, are conspicuous by their absence. There's another oddity: at the back of the man's belt, there's an empty knife sheath. Closer examination reveals that, among the injuries caused by being swept against rocks, there are others suggestive of a violent fight. After an officious police constable arrives, Blake sets off along the bank and eventually comes to a spot where a struggle has obviously — to his keen eyes — taken place. This area provides a wealth of clues. A few days later, at an inquest, a verdict of accidental drowning is given. Blake remains in the town, observing everything, and sends a description of the dead man to his friend, Mr Dove, asking if he can identify him. Three days later, a reply comes. The man was Luiz Silva, a member of a gang of revolutionaries. Blake calls at the house of a novelist, Richard Benyon, whose physique matches the clues left by Silva's opponent. The detective describes the fight, the wound that Benyon received, and the accidental circumstances of Silva's death. Benyon, in turn, tells how his fiancée had been tormented by Silva, and how the man had, when confronted, tried to stab him in the heart. The punch that sent the villain into the river had been defensive. Blake convinces Benyon that, if he confesses to Scotland Yard, all will be well.
Trivia: "And he wrote a long letter to a friend of his in town, a Mr. Dove, who had worked with him on occasions before." This is another reference to the man who lent his cottage in Surbiton to Blake in the first of the PENNY PICTORIAL tales, and which the detective lived in until he had defeated the last member of The Triangle (issue 442, 1907), at which point he moved to Messenger Square.
Notes: Blake is visited by Miss Hare, who is engaged to an ex-convict known as Captain Jim. At heart a good man, Jim has been running straight for the past six months but has now been accused of burglary, his fingerprints having been found at the scene. Jim swears that he didn't commit the crime but his alibi cannot be verified. Blake examines the evidence and is particularly intrigued to see a burn-mark on one of Jim's thumb-prints. He recalls this appearing, along with the man's other prints, in a book on criminology that had been published four years previously. This leads the detective to the realisation that the prints must have been planted, since the thumb-mark is now long healed. He works out how this was done and is then able to identify — and trap — the real crook. He recovers the stolen property. All charges against Captain Jim are dropped.
Trivia: This was reprinted in THE BOYS' FRIEND issue 591 (1912).
Notes: Detective-Sergeant Mason calls on Blake and requests his assistance in a case of assault with intent to murder. A young woman named Violet Sarel was stabbed in the chest while riding in her brougham. The weapon was a glass dagger, the hilt of which broke off and is missing. On the girl's scarf and the window of the carriage, there are bloody imprints of a tiny, withered hand. Blake examines the brougham's mat and from it gleans the various clues that lead him to a vengeful woman and her companion, the owner of the tiny hand. He explains how he identified her. She confesses, explains her motive, and commits suicide by poisoning.
Notes: Blake spots a secret code in the small ads of a newspaper, decodes it, and finds that it advises the removal of "Marie" from a certain house at a certain time. He goes to the appointed place at the appointed hour and watches as a man with a blonde moustache enters the house, leaves a Gladstone bag inside, then departs. An hour later, a young woman arrives at the premises. Blake quietly enters a few minutes after her and warns that she's in danger. She concedes to his supposition that she's a member of a revolutionary group that has now become suspicious of her. When she passes out in her chair, Blake realises that the man carrying the Gladstone had set up a trap whereby heavier-than-air carbonic acid gas would flood the house, the invisible cloud slowly rising from the floor. He saves the girl and adjusts the trap to ensure that, when the moustachioed man re-enters the house, he will be caught by his own deadly device. The woman, Miss Louro, is advised to stay somewhere other than her home until he gives her the "all clear" via a newspaper ad. The leader of the revolutionaries, she tells him, is Doctor Alexander Johnstone, so Blake now sets off to confront this individual, who is widely regarded as a philanthropist. Over dinner, with forced civility, the two men challenge one another. Johnstone attempts to poison the detective but Blake turns the tables causing the villain to drink his own toxin.
Notes: Five days ago, Lord Moordale purchased a cheap painting; a portrait for which he has already developed a fondness. Two days later, Simmons, the dealer from whom he'd made the purchase, offered to buy the painting back. Upon being refused, he'd upped his offer to quite an extraordinary amount. Moordale stood firm and afterwards took the portrait to Christie's to be valued. It was judged to be worth very little. The next night, two intruders were caught trying to steal it. Moordale fought them off. Now, he approaches Sexton Blake and asks the detective to find out what has made the painting so desirable. This is becomes difficult when, the next morning, it is stolen. Blake examines the crime scene and deduces that the thief was a red-haired man with a missing thumb. Visiting Simmons, he learns that the dealer had originally purchased the painting from a man fitting the thief's description. A small square of paper had been attached to the back of the canvas. Simmons still has it and shows it to the detective. A poem is written upon it and it gives Blake a notion of the painting's secret. He takes Moordale to meet a man named James — red-haired and with a missing thumb. James has the portrait but before he can say anything he is shot dead by his former partner, Mason. Blake overpowers this individual and explains to Moordale that James had been tasked to look after the painting while Mason served a prison sentence. He'd betrayed his fellow crook by selling it, little realising that behind the canvas there was a second one: a priceless work by Rembrandt.
Rating: ★★★★☆ Lord Moordale is a wonderfully entertaining character.
Notes: Lady Ulswater, who is of Italian descent, receives a letter from an organised crime syndicate known as Mano Nera. In it, a demand for twenty thousand pounds is made. Blake advises Sir George Ulswater to take his wife on a cruise and to not return until the detective has hunted down the crooks. Sir George, however, objects that his wife is starring in a charity theatre production and will certainly refuse to miss it. During the final act, she will appear adorned in her valuable pearls. These will be delivered to the theatre each evening by a bank employee before then being returned to the vault by the same man after the performances. The next night, after the play, the banker is robbed of the pearls ... but Blake had already replaced them with fakes. Unfortunately, Lady Ulswater lets this slip to the press. On the following night, the auditorium lights go out, someone yells "fire," and the real pearls are torn from Lady Ulswater's neck. Blake makes it known that these were also fake — which is untrue — and, as a result, receives a threat from Mano Nera in which twenty thousand pounds is again demanded. The detective goes to the location where the funds are to be handed over. He tricks the crooks into giving him the "fake" necklace, distracts them with a small bomb, overpowers them, and calls for police reinforcements. Arrests are duly made.
Notes: Sir Richard Langdon's brother-in-law, Horace Barton, has been blackmailing him over some old and indiscreet letters, and — as Sir Richard's wife is also his cousin, which means that her villainous younger brother will be a beneficiary should Sir Richard die — he is now attempting murder. Weird scratching noises in his bedroom at night are making Sir Richard nervous. He calls upon the services of Sexton Blake. The detective instructs him to take Barton out for the day and, in their absence, he arrives at Langdon Hall, searches Barton's room — which is above Sir Richard's — and retrieves the letters. He then discovers a morsel of raw meat on the outer window sill and a pair of metal tongs. When Sir Richard returns, Blake keeps his own presence concealed from Barton and instructs his host to go to bed early and to take with him a fishing net, two pairs of waders, and a whip. This is done, and when Sir Richard is supposedly asleep, Blake joins him, they both put on the waders, and they wait in the dark. From the room above, Barton inserts a deadly flesh-eating spider. Protected from its bite by the leg-wear, Blake kills it. When Barton sneaks in to retrieve the arachnid, Sir Richard pounces on him and subjects him to the lash until the man faints from the agony of it. Afterwards, the villain is forced to write a confession before being ejected from the country.
Notes: This is the first in an occasional series featuring Lady Molly — The Greatest Lady Detective ... trained by Sexton Blake. On board the H. M. S. Fotrail, Admiral Sir Richard Frenton, the world's foremost designer of submarines, is enjoying an after-dinner smoke with his guest, Herr von Hocht. Challenged as to whether he can be hypnotised or not, Sir Richard bets a sovereign that any attempt would be unsuccessful. Von Hocht accepts the bet, produces a crystal ball, and asks the Admiral to gaze into it. Within minutes, his host falls into a trance. The German puts the clock back five minutes and removes blueprints for the latest submarine developments from Sir Richard's jacket pocket before snapping him out if it. Without realising that he ever lost them, Sir Richard recovers his senses and, with a glance at the time, claims victory. Von Hocht concedes that his host has won the bet and, while the Admiral is distracted, corrects the clock. Then both men go ashore to attend a ball at the house of the Mowbray family. Among the guests are Sexton Blake and Lady Marjorie Maxwell, known as 'Lady Molly' to her friends. She notices that Sir Richard is looking rather worn, which arouses her suspicions of von Hocht. Speaking to Blake, she outlines the clues that have led her to believe that the Admiral has been hypnotised and his papers stolen by the German. Lady Molly and the detective trick von Hocht into fighting a duel with Blake. The detective wins. The documents are recovered and returned to Sir Richard.
Trivia: Blake has "extraordinary" skill as a swordsman.
Notes: Lady Molly finds a message in a newspaper's 'personals' column addressed to "M. M." It requests a meeting with a person who will be dressed as Marguerite de Valois at a masked fancy dress ball being held the following day. She learns from a woman who buys and sells dresses that a rather fierce foreign lady had ordered the de Valois costume. Intrigued, Lady Molly appropriates the de Valois costume for herself and attends the ball. There, she is approached by a man dressed as a pierrot. She is asked what 'his' answer is — yes or no? Not knowing what the pierrot is talking about, Lady Molly prevaricates but, in doing so, arouses the pierrot's suspicions. He leads her out of the ball and orders a carriage, which is fetched by an eager cab boy. After a short journey, she is taken into a house and confronted by the man, whose name is Dumergue: "If you are the Princess Marie Mikaeloff, as you assert, is De Presvik, the Russian Minister, going to do as we want, or shall we have to resort to force, as in the former case?" She knows that De Presvik is considered an enemy by the Anarchist movement and realises that his life is in danger. After attempting to escape, she is identified as an imposter, bound hand and foot, and Dumergue, with an accomplice named Henri, begins to torture her for information. However, before they get very far, the cab boy climbs in through the window with a revolver in his hand. Holding the anarchists at bay, he unties Lady Molly and reveals that, beneath the disguise, he is Sexton Blake. The two of them leave the house, promising Dumergue that they will call Scotland Yard, so he had better leave the country within the next twelve hours.
Notes: Sexton Blake is in central Europe when he receives a telegram from Lady Molly Maxwell. Her cousin, Mason, an up and coming politician, has vanished while on holiday near Zurich. Blake travels there to investigate and meets with Mason's valet, Collins, in a mountain inn. The man explains that his master went mountain climbing but never returned. Collins suspicions have been aroused due to the presence in the region of some men — anarchists — who Mason had argued with some days previously. Collins has been unable to act due to his lack of language skills and fear of heights. Nervously, he leads Blake along the mountain path where he last saw his master. The detective, though, finds clues that indicate that Mason never came this way at all but went another — and following his real trail, Blake finds him dead at the bottom of a crevasse — murdered! When Blake tries to recover the body, Collins makes a slip that nearly causes the detective's death. Blake turns and snaps handcuffs on the man, revealing that he's known for some time that Collins has told lie after lie, and murdered his employer for a paltry £200.
Notes: For her birthday, Dainty Derrick receives from her father a fortune in Egyptian bonds. One of her admirers, Rupert Forbes, forges a letter which suggests that profit of £24,000 can be made if the bonds are cashed immediately. Sir Henry Derrick gives his daughter a cheque for that amount and takes back the bonds which he sends his assistant, Masters, to cash at a firm called Nortons. However, when Masters returns, the money is found to be forged. Then Norton himself turns up claiming that the bonds are also fakes. Sexton Blake is called in and immediately recognises the hand of a master forger who has been responsible for a number of financial scams in the city. Masters falls under suspicion but Blake is convinced of his innocence. After examining the evidence, and to the amazement of Dainty, Masters and Norton, Blake arrests Sir Henry Derrick. He exposes the man as an impersonator who has been acting as Sir Henry but before he can stop him, the criminal leaps out of the window and escapes. Later, Rupert Forbes arrives on business. Blake recognises him by his fingernails as the imposter and Forbes is arrested and, ultimately, given a twenty year gaol sentence.
Trivia: This story introduces Rupert Forbes and is the first of a trilogy of stories featuring the character. The second is THE GHOST OF RUPERT FORBES (UNION JACK issue 269) and the third is THE MERVYN MYSTERY (BOYS' FRIEND LIBRARY issue 96). In the latter tale, Forbes teams up with George Marsden Plummer and meets a grisly end.
Notes: In northern England, in an area where Lady Molly's father lives, annual sheep-dog trials take place. Angus Dare is the most successful breeder of dogs and the most consistent winner of trophies. However, in recent years, since a farmer named Morris returned from abroad, Dare's dogs have repeatedly met with misfortune before the trials. Last year, his main contender — 'Ranger' — went missing. This year, Lady Molly has loaned him her own dog, Ranger's son 'Jock' ... and she wants Sexton Blake to travel with her to the trials to attempt to catch Morris in the act of sabotage. The detective agrees and, the next day, is ushered into the presence of Angus Dare on whose farm he is to stay. That night, the two men, with Lady Molly, stand vigil in the barn where Jock is housed. In the early hours, the dog becomes frantic, chewing at the doors to get out. They tie a rope to its collar and let it loose, clinging to the lead as the hound races off onto the moors. It leads them to a lump of bread, dark and sticky with a mysterious substance. Blake retrieves this and, in the morning, posts it to a laboratory in London. He insists that Dare spends the day out and about with the dog, ensuring that he is seen. Later, the detective receives a telegram consisting of one word: "Yes". He then sends Dare out with Jock to walk onto the moor a specific distance, instructing him to circle around before approaching the farm from a specific direction at midnight. Near that time, another dog, which Blake has put on a lead, becomes restless and runs outside with the investigator and Molly in tow. They allow it to run some distance before stopping and securing it with a blanket and ropes. A shout comes from the distance: Dare warning him that Jock has got loose. Multiple footsteps approach. There's a scream; snarling. Lady Molly lights a lamp and by its glow they see Jock attacking a man. Blake and Dare wrestle the dog away and discover that the victim is Morris. The detective reveals that this man had lured the animals with a South American plant extract. By directing Dare to approach the farm from upwind, he ensured that Jock would not pick up the scent. Morris, hearing Blake's dog, believed his trap had worked and approached. Blake had intended to capture him but Jock arrived first and administered his own form of justice.
Notes: Sexton Blake receives a summons from Lady Molly. She has discovered, through Mrs. Winter, a woman who buys and sells cast-off dresses, a gown that has a slash in it above where the wearer's heart would be — a slash surrounded by an ominous rusty brown stain (this was mentioned in THE TWO M'S in PENNY PICTORIAL issue 488). Mrs. Winter reveals that she purchased the gown as part of a mixed lot at auction and therefore doesn't know who the previous owner might have been. The style of the item suggests to Molly that the crime must have been committed ten to twelve months ago. Blake's records show only one unsolved case that might relate to it: a young woman's body had been found in a pond in the village of Arlton, Yorkshire. She had been stabbed in the heart but, strangely, the dress found on the body showed no sign of the stab wound beneath. All labels and other identifying marks had been removed. The next day, Blake travels to Arlton and finds that the only big house, where such a dress would be worn, is that of Squire Allenby. He visits the Squire and learns that, the previous November, a young woman named Lola Le Marchant, who was an heiress, had gone missing from a ball at the house. However, Lola and the body in the pond didn't match; the the face of the corpse was disfigured and unrecognisable, but the teeth were different to those of the missing girl. Next, the detective investigates the pond and an abandoned cottage nearby. He discovers that a Mexican gentleman named Juan Almeida had hired the cottage a year ago and that, shortly after he left, his housekeeper had died, apparently of fright. According to Squire Allenby, Almeida had made romantic overtures to Lola, though she was in love with her cousin, Bayard. A week later, Blake calls on the Mexican in his London chambers. The detective reveals what became of Lola, who the dead body is, and that Almeida was the murderer.
Notes: Sexton Blake attends a Christmas shooting party at the home of Captain Maxwell. His host is disturbed because many of his guests are missing items of value. Lady Molly has taken it upon herself to investigate. During the day, while Blake is out walking, he spots two men attacking Molly some way ahead of him. She, however, is very capable of looking after herself and sees the men off. Blake peppers one with shotgun pellets for good measure. Molly reveals that the men had been hired to cause her harm; putting her out of action to give the thief time to get away from the party with the stolen items. Lady Molly knows who the thief is; and the thief knows that she knows. She tells Blake the history of the thefts and of how her investigations led to a female guest and the latter's rather ingenious hiding place for the loot. Molly feels sure that at night the woman sleeps with the stolen items beneath her pillow, so a few hours after sundown, she and Blake fake a fire in the house. Their suspect, along with other guests, is thrown into panic. Molly slips into her room, lifts the pillow and exposes the small collection of necklaces, brooches and rings. The woman is ordered to leave the house. Sexton Blake congratulates Lady Molly on the successful conclusion of her first case.
Notes: George Marsden Plummer, a detective at Scotland Yard, is the rightful heir to the title of Earl of Sevenoaks and the fortune that goes with it ... or, at least, he would be had an accident of birth not placed two others in line before him. Covering his movements with a series of masterful disguises, Plummer visits the first of the men, who having no idea that he is in line to a fortune, works as a coastguard. Plummer informs him that he belongs to an aristocratic family before, under the cover of a thick fog, pushing him over the edge of a cliff. However, unknown to the villain, his victim drops into the sea not far from a boat occupied by Sexton Blake, Tinker and Pedro. They rescue the stricken man and nurse him to health. Meanwhile, Plummer has visited the current Earl of Sevenoaks and murdered him. The police are called and put one of their best officers on the case ... Detective-Sergeant Plummer! With Blake now involved, Plummer is forced to pretend an alliance with him while actually attempting to throw him off the scent at every opportunity. Soon, though, the Baker Street detective realises the truth and a battle of wits and disguises commences. Blake gets battered over the head and shut in a burning house, while Tinker is drugged and nearly drowned, but, ultimately, Sexton Blake wins the day and Plummer is thrown into prison, vowing to escape at the first opportunity.
This story was serialised in THE DREADNOUGHT starting from issue 27 (1912) and abridged for PENNY POPULAR issue 50 as HUNTER AND HUNTED TOO (1913). An abridged version also appeared in the second SEXTON BLAKE ANNUAL (1940). The original version was anthologised in THE CASEBOOK OF SEXTON BLAKE (2009).
Trivia: The author, Ernest Sempill, was better known by his pseudonym of Michael Storm. A rather mysterious figure, he is thought to have died abroad in 1909. George Marsden Plummer was born in Australia in 1875 and, after moving to England, he joined the police force in 1893. By 1903, he had been promoted to Detective-Sergeant at Scotland Yard.
Rating: ★★★★★ The debut of George Marsden Plummer is a tremendously entertaining and well-written tale, leaving the reader in no doubt that a star criminal has entered Blake's world. Plummer is gloriously psychotic, his emotions switching from chilling calmness to twisted rage and back again in the blink of an eye. Cunning, intelligent, resentful and ruthless, he's a good match for Blake and by the end of the story it's impossible not to want more of him. This issue is where the whole 'Blake vs super-criminal' concept began, sending the series towards its Golden Age.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. Sexton Blake is in Africa visiting Sir Richard Losely and Lobangu when he receives a telegram from the Foreign Office. An anarchist named Hermann is threatening to contaminate England's reservoirs with an unknown poison from the Abara district near Liberia. He is currently travelling there for supplies of the toxin. Blake is commissioned to stop him. The detective leads an expedition to catch up with Hermann's party and, after an initial skirmish, follows him through a subterranean passage under a mountain range and into unknown territory. Here, in a mist-laden volcanic valley, Blake and his friends are captured by the Abari; a lost tribe descended from Roman Jews. These people are ruled over by a ruthless sect of priests with whom Hermann has allied himself. They are expert chemists and demonstrate to Blake their prowess in the art of poisoning. The detective's party is sentenced to death and taken to a cliff edge to be flung into a chasm but the Abari soldiers rebel against the priests and come to the rescue. Blake pursues Hermann who has left en route for England and, catching up with him, kills him in a duel.
Notes: My copy is missing the cover. Sir Richard Losely is with the besieged Matanga tribe in Africa. They are surrounded by the hostile forces of King Ubukosi, whose expanding empire has already swallowed up the neighbouring tribes. Sexton Blake, Tinker and Lobangu journey into the region with a shipment of guns. They manage to avoid Ubukosi's lookouts but it takes sham ju ju trickery from Tinker to drive away pursuing forces. Then disaster strikes when Blake's bearers desert, leaving him, Tinker, Lobangu and Pedro with thirty loads but no-one to carry them. Lobangu traps two young elephants and uses ancient tribal techniques and narcotic leaves to train them. With the elephants carrying the loads, he leaves, accompanied by Pedro, while Blake and Tinker set off as decoys. The two detectives are quickly overtaken by a pursuing party led by a rogue Belgian. They are captured and enslaved. However, it's not long before they escape with the Belgian as their prisoner. Blake fights a duel with him, unnerving the man so much that he shoots himself dead. The two from Baker Street are pursued along a river by Ubukosi's troops until they are forced over a waterfall. They survive and, after a night of exhausted sleep, awake to find that Lobangu has tracked them down. He reports that he safely delivered the rifles to Losely and guides them to the Matanga camp where they are reunited with their old friend. King Ubukosi makes his assault on the encampment but finds himself suddenly facing a well-armed opponent. He is killed and his forces are driven off.
Notes: In Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II discusses with military officers the forthcoming naval manoeuvres that are to be undertaken in secret in the North Sea by more than three hundred British ships. He muses that the British may have become aware that the Shetland Islands would make a fine base for an attacking force. He notes that the German navy has thoroughly familiarised itself with those waters. His words are leaked to the press, and when they find their way to the British Prime Minister, Sexton Blake is summoned. The detective is ordered to investigate the extent of German influence in the Shetlands. The next day, Blake, Tinker and Detective-Inspector Spearing travel north to the islands. That night, while Blake is on the cliffs, an airship passes overhead and he spontaneously grabs a trailing rope and is swung out to sea. Climbing it, he enters the gondola, which is occupied by twelve Germans. One of them proves to be the Kaiser, who attempts to bribe the detective to remain silent about the dirigible's presence. Blake refuses and, as the vessel approaches land, dives overboard into the sea. The airship descends to just above the water to search for him, which gives him the opportunity to surreptitiously secure himself beneath its gondola. He is in that way taken to the German base on one of the small uninhabited Jersey islands where he is able to spy undetected. When he sees that one of the crewmen bears a resemblance to him, he pounces on the man, leaves him bound and gagged, and dons sufficient of a disguise to masquerade as him. Joining the other Germans, he accompanies the Kaiser to a cave that contains a chart outlining all the coastal areas of Jersey that Germany has selected to use as ports. The Kaiser makes it clear that he has no real intention to attack Britain but must have precautions in place in case international relations deteriorate. When the man Blake is impersonating is discovered, the detective flees, dives into the sea, and after a long swim is picked up by a boat containing Tinker and Spearing, who have been searching for him. They take him to the British fleet's flagship where he reports what he has seen, though he omits to mention the presence of the Kaiser. A ship is sent to the island, the base is destroyed, and the Germans are captured. Blake, Tinker and Spearing, however, smuggle the emperor away, across to the mainland, and head south by train. En route, the Kaiser twice tries to escape and is twice foiled. Then, when London is reached, he is kidnapped by Anarchists who leave him bound hand and foot in a burning house. Blake performs a daring rescue, almost losing his life in the process. He then takes the Kaiser to meet with the Prime Minister. Terms and conditions are discussed, announcements are made in Parliament, and the Kaiser heads home after having received a lecture from Sexton Blake concerning the consequences of war.
Trivia: Blake notes that he knows the Kaiser and has once worked for him and twice against him.
Blake refuses a peerage the end of this case.
My copy is missing the cover. This story was reprinted in two parts in PENNY POPULAR issue 101 as THE IMPERIAL SPY and PENNY POPULAR issue 102 as THE KAISER'S RANSOM (both 1914).
Notes: My issue is missing the cover. Rupert Forbes, once a leader of society until he was discovered to be the head of an international gang of forgers, is being transported from prison to court when a train crash gives him the opportunity to escape. He takes the money and clothing of one of the crash victims, Austin Graves, and creates a new identity: Gerald Austin. In this guise, over the next twelve months, he rises to a position of power as a financial magnate. He employs Graves' niece, Dorothy Ford, as his secretary and makes romantic advances towards her, knowing that she is due a large inheritance. She rejects him, being already engaged to Donald Grey, who is the son of a casualty of Rupert Forbes's crooked dealings. Dorothy notices that Austin is a young man disguised to look older. Furthermore, she finds that he is in possession of her uncle's watch. She tells Donald Grey of this and he promises to go to Sexton Blake. However, that night, Grey is framed by Forbes for a robbery and is tricked into going abroad, where he is held captive. Dorothy visits Blake who, after piecing together the clues, is quick to conclude that Gerald Austin is behind events and is, in fact, Rupert Forbes. Meanwhile, Forbes puts into motion another scheme which deprives a baronet of two hundred thousand pounds. Blake investigates and once again sees evidence of Forbes's involvement. By now, Forbes knows that the detective is on to him and so he attempts to murder Blake but is foiled by Pedro. Sexton Blake retaliates by tricking 'Gerald Austin' into leaving examples of his fingerprints, which are then matched with those of Forbes at Scotland Yard. He then taps into Forbes's telephone and learns that the crook is planning to intercept a secret shipment of bullion meant for the Bank of England. Forbes kidnaps Dorothy and takes her to Rotterdam, not realising that Tinker has stowed away on his barge. He imprisons the girl in a cell under the house of Van Hayden, a crooked diamond dealer. Donald Grey is held in the cell next door and manages to escape with his fiancé. Blake arrives at the house disguised as Gerald Austin and is met there by Forbes, disguised as Van Hayden. The detective is exposed, captured and imprisoned on the same barge in which Tinker is hiding. The villains tow this out to sea to sink it but, under cover of a thick fog, Blake and Tinker unfasten the tow rope and make a getaway. They then fake the sinking of the barge. Believing them dead, Forbes returns to London, disguises himself as Sexton Blake, and enters the detective's Baker Street rooms to retrieve the evidence against him. Finding that the detective has foreseen this move, he leaves empty handed. With his assistant, Tony, he then travels to Plymouth to intercept the bullion while disguised as Detective-Inspector Martin. However, Blake and Scotland Yard have set an ambush and Forbes is finally captured. He receives a life sentence.
Trivia: Detective-Inspector Martin is described as being blue-eyed and a wearer of spectacles. Two of the 'street arabs' who occasionally assist Blake are named: The Weasel and Tiny. This story was reprinted in THE BOYS' FRIEND LIBRARY issue 248 (1913). It is the middle of a trilogy which began with THE MYSTERY OF THE EGYPTIAN BONDS (THE PENNY PICTORIAL, issue 491, 24/10/1908) and which ends with THE MERVYN MYSTERY (THE BOYS' FRIEND LIBRARY, issue 96, Sep. 1909).
Rating: ★★★★★ A long, extremely well-written and thrilling tale.
Notes: When Blake, Tinker and Pedro travel by train for a the day in the countryside, the detective recognises a fellow passenger as Captain Fritz Frankelbaum, who is a drug addict, a known troublemaker, and a German agent. The man has been sent to retrieve a letter from Kaiser Wilhelm that was mistakenly delivered to Emil von Otto instead of to his unscrupulous brother, Otto von Otto. In it, a plot is outlined whereby a third brother, Carl, who is in Turkey, should foment unrest that will enable Germany to annex that country. Frankelbaum kills Emil but when he makes off it is only with half the missive. Sexton Blake discovers the other half and reports its contents to the Foreign Office. He is sent on an urgent mission to the Kaiser to whom he is to make clear the consequences should the plot unfold as planned. En route to the Black Forest, where Wilhelm is hunting, multiple attempts are made by Frankelbaum to assassinate the investigator. All are defeated thanks in no small part to Emil's daughter, Thirza, who has fallen in love at first sight with Blake. The detective is granted an interview with the German emperor and, in addition to delivering the message, he also makes it known that Frankelbaum is playing his own game and cannot be trusted. Wilhelm understands that his ambitions for Turkey would now be a bad political move so writes a letter to Carl von Otto instructing him to cease operations. He entrusts its delivery to Sexton Blake. Traveling on the Orient Express, Blake is again subjected to attacks and is again saved by Thirza. When he reaches Turkey, he is captured by bandits in the hire of Frankelbaum. Tinker, Pedro and Thirza come to his rescue. Frankelbaum is killed, the letter is delivered, and political stability — what little there is of it at this point in history — is restored.
Trivia: It is made clear that Blake and Kaiser Wilhelm have met before. See, for example, The German Detective (UNION JACK issue 154, 1906).
During this case, the newspapers report that Bulgaria has just declared independence. That sets the date at 5th-6th October 1908.
Blake's red, acid-stained dressing gown has not at this point become fully established. Here, he wears a "luxurious camel-hair" one. He also has a tiger-skin hearthrug and carries a sword stick. When Blake opens his rolled-top desk, the action releases a small mirror in which he can see the room behind him.
Twice in this story, telephones are celebrated as a near miraculous invention.
My copy is missing the cover. This was reprinted in PENNY POPULAR issue 120 as A NATION'S FATE and PENNY POPULAR issue 121 as AN IMPERIAL BLUNDER (both 1915).