THE BAT AND THE CRIMINALS' CONFEDERATION

by Mark Hodder

  • An Introduction to this Crime Organisation for the Benefit of New Readers
Dirk Dolland

So entwined are the destinies of Dirk Dolland — aka 'The Bat' — and that extraordinary organisation known as the Criminals' Confederation, that both must be considered together.

Sexton Blake has, in his long career, encountered many 'gentleman cracksmen'. Aubrey Dexter, for example, is a fine specimen of that roguish species. But none has been quite as mischievous as ex-music hall artist Dirk Dolland. A thief, conjurer, mimic, quick-change artist and trickster without equal, this young man has allowed a buccaneering spirit to overtake any regard for law and order. He steals not because he covets other men's property, not because he requires wealth or luxuries, but because he regards burglary as a sport; it is a challenge, a thrill, a means to alleviate boredom.

To increase his enjoyment, he is in the habit of forewarning the police before committing one of his audacious raids. Somehow, no matter how devious their traps, his cunning is always greater and the authorities are left with red faces.

For The Bat, crime is a game which should be played with good sportsmanship and — though it may seem a contradiction — with honour. For this reason, when he becomes entangled with a more serious variety of villain, Dolland is more likely to side with Right than with Wrong. This was never more apparent than when he fell in with the greatest criminal organisation of all time — The Confederation.

Imagine a web of criminals enveloping the entire globe; each individual villain guided by the great, overpowering will of one man. This is the Criminals' Confederation. An international 'trade union' of crooks, the nefarious organisation is so vast and so veiled in secrecy that, initially, the police authorities doubt that it even exists. At it's head, like a spider in the centre of a gigantic web, lies the nebulous figure of John Smith. Seemingly a nobody, he is the powerhouse that drives this mighty engine of crime. But it is one of his lieutenants, the mysterious Mr. Reece, who causes Sexton Blake the most problems. Indeed, such is his manipulative cunning that Mr. Reece eventually overthrows John Smith's presidency and, under his guiding hand, the Confederation grows ever more daring and powerful.

The Confederation story is so long and complex that it had to be told three times, each account adding further revelations. In this overview, we shall go right back to the earliest glimmerings, to Sexton Blake's first encounters with Dirk Dolland, to his initial battles with Mr. Reece, to the first revelation of the Confederation's existence, and to Dirk Dolland's redemption and the commencement of Blake's long battle with the ultimate in villainous societies.

Chronology

Prologue

The Mystery of the Mandarin's Idol (SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 2nd series, issue 162, 1928)
Twelve years after introducing Dirk Dolland, his creator, Robert Murray Graydon, wrote this story, in which a young American — who answers in every way to the description of Dolland — arrives in London for the first time. 'Des Dean' is a 'gentleman cracksman' known as "The Jackdaw" in America. In this adventure, Doctor Satira is trying to get his hands on an idol which is rumoured to be the key to a hidden treasure. When a petty thief gains possession of it and sells it to a curio dealer, Satira sends his gang to recover it. Unfortunately, The Jackdaw gets there first and inadvertently takes the idol with a haul of jewels. Satira eventually traces Des Dean to a hotel and regains the loot but Sexton Blake is on the same trail and both Satira and the cracksman end up in police custody. Dean is extradited to America but escapes en route. Although this is blatantly Dirk Dolland's first appearance, its events don't tally with the tale written twelve years previously.

First Encounters:

1. The Hidden Hand (UNION JACK issue 680, 1916)
Detective-Inspector Coutts, Sexton Blake and Tinker are led a merry chase by an expert conjurer, cracksman, quick-change artist and mimic known as The Bat. Blake eventually exposes his true identity as ex-music hall artist Dirk Dolland — but fails to prevent the gentleman crook's escape.

2. A Case of Arson (UNION JACK issue 698, 1917)
Dirk Dolland, together with three other criminals, pulls off a massive insurance swindle. But when his fellow gang-members attempt to drown Sexton Blake, The Bat steps in and rescues him. In return, Blake allows Dolland to escape while the other crooks are rounded up.

3. The Two Impersonators (UNION JACK issue 709, 1917)
The Bat teams up with John Venn after they both survive the sinking of a transatlantic liner and the two men masquerade as a couple of the disaster's victims — an American millionaire and his assistant. In England, they make free with the dead man's money until Venn is murdered by a vengeful gang member whom he had once betrayed. Dirk Dolland makes a rapid getaway but is followed by Sexton Blake. The detective crashes his car into a river and nearly drowns but is saved by Dolland.

4. The Mysterious Mr. Reece (THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 1st series issue 41, 1917)
A well-organised criminal gang, headed by the elusive Mr. Reece, is wreaking havoc. Blake manages to break up its operations after being given crucial information by Dirk Dolland. In return, he allows The Bat to go free but orders him out of the country.

5. The Vanished Man (UNION JACK issue 747, 1918)
An eminent Egyptologist is nearly stabbed to death, apparently by his partner. But the presence of an ancient treasure is responsible for a tangled web of lust, murder and revenge which Dirk Dolland helps Sexton Blake to unravel.

6. The Bogus Bat (UNION JACK issue 751, 1918)
Sexton Blake receives a telegram from Dirk Dolland warning him that a criminal duo is impersonating The Bat and The Butterfly. With the help of Detective-Inspector Coutts, Blake brings the culprits to justice, though not before being rescued by the real Dolland.

7. The Mystery of the Vlao Vase (UNION JACK issue 753, 1918)
The Bat steals a valuable vase and swindles two collectors into buying it. He makes a fortune but is falsely blamed for subsequent burglaries against his two victims. Sexton Blake gets to the truth but once again fails to catch Dirk Dolland.

8. A Mid-Ocean Mystery (UNION JACK issue 763, 1918)
Sexton Blake and Tinker are aboard an America-bound liner unaware that Dirk Dolland is also aboard. Mr. Reece has sent assassins to kill all three in revenge for their interference in his affairs. The killers are defeated and Dolland tricks Blake into transporting a stolen necklace on his behalf.

9. The Lost Letter (UNION JACK issue 767, 1918)
Sexton Blake and Dirk Dolland are taken prisoner by Mr. Reece and narrowly escape being hanged by their necks. Tinker comes to their rescue.

10. The Case of the Clubfooted Man (UNION JACK issue 775, 1918)
Inspector Coutts catches Dirk Dolland, who has been tricked by another villain. Blake captures the culprit and Dolland escapes from custody.

11. The Vanished Police (UNION JACK issue 778, 1918)
A massive crime-wave hits London and policemen start to vanish. Blake discovers that Mr. Reece is behind the plot. He and Tinker are captured and meet Reece for the first time before escaping and rounding up most of the gang.

12. Suspended From Duty (UNION JACK issue 779, 1918)
Detective-Inspector Coutts is suspended from duty after failing to capture Dirk Dolland. He is humiliated by a braggardly fellow officer. Dolland exposes this officer as a fool before allowing himself to be captured by Coutts.

13. The Steel Claw (UNION JACK issue 782, 1918)
Mr. Reece is the guiding hand behind a villain who is stealing money from Sir Henry Carles. But when the job is done, Reece has no further use for the petty criminal and kills him. Blake and the police corner him but Reece tricks them and escapes.

14. The Silent Partner (UNION JACK issue 787, 1918)
The Butterfly arranges a cunning scheme by which Sexton Blake and Detective-Inspector Coutts are left confused by Dirk Dolland's double while the real Bat escapes from Moorlands Prison.

15. The Amazing Affair at Clanmere Mansions (UNION JACK issue 790, 1918)
A thief, commissioned to steal a diamond by Mr. Reece, asks Dirk Dolland to help him double-cross the master criminal. In response, Reece goes on a murderous rampage which draws Sexton Blake into the affair. Blake saves Dolland and recovers the gem but cannot capture Reece. The detective and the cracksman swear to hunt Reece and make him answer for his crimes.

16. Dirk Dolland's Redemption (UNION JACK issue 791, 1918)
A lawyer has been killed and diamonds stolen and all the evidence points to Dirk Dolland as the criminal responsible. But things aren't what they seem. Dolland does battle with the real perpetrator of these crimes — Mr Reece — and retrieves the gems. Reece escapes but is presumed drowned at sea.

17. The Clue of the Cuff Link (UNION JACK issue 797, 1919)
In this non-Confederation story Dirk Dolland helps guide Sexton Blake to the truth after the detective formulates a completely false theory relating to a robbery.

18. The Case of the Black Feather (UNION JACK issue 802, 1919)
In a tale of multiple disguises, Sexton Blake gets on the trail of The Bat and both men find themselves under threat by a man they had thought dead — Mr. Reece! Dolland and Blake once again commit themselves to the hunting of the arch-criminal.

The Battle Commences:

19. The Missing Crooks (UNION JACK issue 806, 1919)
Criminals in Britain, Europe and America are mysteriously vanishing. The death of an old jewel thief sets Blake on the trail and he discovers that a new organisation named the Criminals' Confederation is behind the disappearances. He captures one of its lieutenants — Mr Reece — but the master crook vows to be free within a week.

20. Tracked by Wireless (UNION JACK issue 807, 1919)
Sexton Blake and Detective-Inspector Coutts fall foul of Sir Philip Champion, a high ranking officer in the Confederation. Champion evades them, taking with him a number of new recruits and Mr Reece, who has escaped from police custody. He also takes Tinker, who is to be held hostage to encourage Blake to give up his pursuit.

21. Held As Hostage (UNION JACK issue 808, 1919)
Blake asks Dirk Dolland to resume his criminal activities in order that he be invited to join the Criminals' Confederation. Dolland does so and soon finds himself aboard the Confederations' floating headquarters, the Liberty. He rescues Tinker and both men are picked up by Blake in a torpedo ship.

22. The White Liner (UNION JACK issue 812, 1919)
Sir Philip Champion attempts to blackmail three businessmen into supplying the Confederation with coal, shipping and financial services. When the contract they sign is blown out of a window, the criminal finds himself battling Sexton Blake and Dirk Dolland for its possession. Ultimately, it is burned and the Confederation thus suffers a setback.

23. The Stolen Yacht (UNION JACK issue 816, 1919)
John Smith, president of the Confederation, spins an elaborate plot to trick Sexton Blake into helping him smuggle a million pounds worth of stolen gold bullion out of the country. The plan succeeds and, as an added bonus for the Confederation, Dirk Dolland is captured to face trial and execution for his earlier betrayal of the organisation. Blake, Tinker and Detective-Inspector Coutts are set adrift in a lifeboat.

24. Dirk Dolland's Ordeal (UNION JACK issue 820, 1919)
Blake and his companions are picked up by a cargo ship whose captain has been tricked into helping the Confederation. He sails to a rendezvous with the Liberty and weighs anchor alongside the liner. During the night, Blake rescues Dirk Dolland and the group manage to sail away after first blowing up the Confederation's wireless equipment.

25. The Masquerader (SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 1st series issue 85, 1919)

26. The Diamond of Disaster (UNION JACK issue 824, 1919)
Returning to England, convinced that they've dealt the Confederation a mortal blow, Sexton Blake and his friends find that they are mistaken. John Smith & Co. are alive and well, having settled on a remote and unmapped island in the South Atlantic. After kidnapping millionaire Gregory Canning's son, Smith now returns to England masquerading as Canning in order to sell a priceless but seemingly cursed diamond. Blake manages to uncover the scheme but Smith escapes in Canning's expensive yacht.

27. Sinister Island (UNION JACK issue 829, 1919)
The Confederation conducts piracy on the high seas from its base on an uncharted volcanic island. Intending to find its location and rescue Gregory Canning's son, Blake sails with a cargo ship, disguised as its first mate. Sure enough, the Confederation boards the ship and the crew are taken to the island as prisoners.

28. The Man from the Sea (UNION JACK issue 830, 1919)
Tinker, Dirk Dolland, Coutts, Richard Test and Gregory Canning are captured by the Confederation. Tinker accidentally reveals that Sexton Blake is on the organisation's island base. The detective, meanwhile, escapes with Canning's son and manages to liberate his friends as they arrive. They all sail away as the island erupts behind them, seemingly spelling the end for the Criminals' Confederation.

29. The Trail in the Sand (UNION JACK issue 838, 1919)
Sexton Blake is called to Pencombe Cove in Cornwall, where a number of mysterious events have occurred: there have been two murders, cattle has gone missing, and a number of men have been seen mysteriously emerging from the sea. His investigations are interrupted by repeated attempts on his life. Tinker is then kidnapped but manages to leave a note for the Baker Street detective: he has been captured by John Smith, Mr. Reece, Sir Philip Champion and forty surviving members of the Criminals' Confederation. According to Tinker, they are taking him to London.

30. Mr. Smith of London (UNION JACK issue 841, 1919)
Dirk Dolland is persuaded by Mlle. Yvonne to steal a document that details the plans of the Criminals' Confederation. Dolland makes the attempt but ultimately the document is retrieved by the villains. Mr. Smith approaches Sexton Blake and offers to return the kidnapped Tinker in exchange for the detective's vow that he will cease to hunt Confederation members. Blake refuses. A booby-trapped Tinker is delivered to Baker Street. Yvonne steps in and prevents Blake from tripping the explosive device.

31. The Informer (UNION JACK issue 858, 1920)
The Criminals' Confederation has set up new headquarters somewhere in London and is prospering despite the efforts of Sexton Blake and Scotland Yard. However, its success is threatened when one of its members makes a deal with Blake. He will reveal the organisation's location in return for amnesty, a reward and relocation. The Confederation acts quickly — it poisons the informer and kidnaps Sexton Blake and Mlle. Yvonne.

32. The Hidden Headquarters (UNION JACK issue 860, 1920)
Sexton Blake manages to escape from the Confederation's headquarters via the sewers. Though he can't retrace his steps to locate the hidden base, a message he smuggled out earlier provides a clue which leads to the Hotel Argent. The HQ is located below the hotel but an alarm is sounded and the members of the criminal organisation manage to escape with Yvonne still in their clutches.

The Rise of Mr. Reece:

33. The New President (UNION JACK issue 868, 1920)
While the police search the Hotel Argent, the Confederation kidnaps the Home Secretary and Sir Henry Fairfax and offers to return them in exchange for ten undisturbed minutes in the building. This is agreed to and a Confederation man retrieves something from a hidden compartment in the hotel. Meanwhile, Mr. Reece proposes that Blake & Co. must be killed outright. Though John Smith objects, he is out-voted. Blake and his friends are tricked into visiting a film studio where they are joined by Yvonne, tied up and left to burn. Pedro saves the day. The Confederation flees the country in a yacht.

34. Dirk Dolland's Dilemma (UNION JACK issue 869, 1920)
Smith, Champion and Reece are reported dead after their yacht sinks in a storm. Detective-Inspector Coutts positively identifies their bodies. Meanwhile, Dirk Dolland finds himself framed for a robbery. It turns out that the items stolen — money and jewels — belonged to the Confederation. John Smith is captured. He explains that Champion and Reece are alive and that Reece is now the president of the Criminals' Confederation. He also provides the evidence that clears Dolland and is then carted off to prison.

35. The Man Who Died (UNION JACK issue 873, 1920)
From his prison cell, John Smith warns Sexton Blake that Mr Reece intends to betray the Confederation by stealing its cash, which is currently in the possession of a man named Villiers. Meanwhile, Dirk Dolland intercepts a message from Reece to Villiers which tells him where they intend to meet. Dolland takes Villiers place and manages to capture Reece, who is handed over to the police.

36. the Shadow (UNION JACK issue 876, 1920)
Reece is sent to prison but a Confederation criminal named the Shadow begins to do his bidding; first murdering the judge who sentenced Reece, then strangling John Smith to death. Despite Sir Philip Champion's warning that Reece is about to escape, Sexton Blake is unable to stop the jailbreak. The new president of the Criminals' Confederation is free once again!

37. The Dog Detective (UNION JACK issue 887, 1920)
Gaining a clue to Mr Reece's whereabouts, Blake and Tinker go to London's East End where, thanks to a clever ruse, the detective is captured while his assistant is washed down a sewer and into the Thames. Pedro saves the youngster, who eventually works his way back to where Blake is imprisoned. He is joined by Detective-Inspector Coutts, who has been led there by Sir Philip Champion, who wants revenge after Reece's murder of John Smith. Meanwhile, Blake is introduced to the Shadow, who turns out to be Reece's son. The criminals flee as the rescue party arrives. Thanks to Pedro, Blake is saved. Reece and the Shadow, though, escape in a seaplane.

38. A Bid For Billions (UNION JACK issue 893, 1920)
Colonel Quartz, the Confederations' New York representative, arrives in London and befriends Sexton Blake, Tinker, Dirk Dolland and Mademoiselle Yvonne. He tells them that he has bought a stable and has a horse that is sure to win a double event. He begins laying huge bets and, after the horse wins the first of the two races, the bookmakers start to panic. Meanwhile, Villiers reveals to Detective-Inspector Coutts the whereabouts of the Confederations' stolen loot. Coutts, with Blake and Co. retrieves it but it is then snatched from him by a Confederation man named Ned Hatton. Quartz invites his new friends to the second race. Blake overhears him speaking with Hatton and the Shadow and realises that he is the American Confederation man. Quartz and the Shadow are caught and arrested, the horse is proven to be doped, but Hatton escapes with the loot.

39. The Extreme Penalty (UNION JACK issue 895, 1920)
Mr Reece gives Scotland Yard 24 hours to release the Shadow and Colonel Quartz. After that time has elapsed, if they are still imprisoned, a policeman will be shot dead every hour. A day passes and the criminal mastermind makes good on his threat. Sexton Blake attends the preliminary trial of the two captives and notices a man passing a coded message to them. Cracking the code, he learns that an escape has been planned. After arresting the messenger, he and Detective-Inspector Coutts intercept the prisoners as the break-out occurs. Blake manages to recapture the Shadow but Quartz escapes. Reece kidnaps Tinker, Mademoiselle Yvonne and Dirk Dolland, promising to kill them if the Shadow is not set free. Through the captive messenger, Blake learns that Reece is hiding out in a circus. He and the police raid it, capturing Reece and liberating Tinker, Yvonne and the Bat.

40. Crooked Evidence (UNION JACK issue 901, 1921)
John Venables instructs one of the Confederation agents to go to England to recover the Confederations' fortune. Venables will wait in a Dover hotel to receive the treasure. Ned Hatton, who had worked with Colonel Quartz, learns of this and contacts Dirk Dolland, persuading him to try to steal the booty. Dolland travels to the hotel, breaks into Venables' room, and finds him dead. He's caught on the scene and accused of murder. Sexton Blake takes up the case and is able to prove the ex-cracksman innocent.

41. The Black Duchess (UNION JACK issue 910, 1921)
Sexton Blake is kidnapped by Ysabel de Ferra, Duchess of Jorsica, who has been ordered by the Confederation to take him to Marseilles where he'll be held hostage until Mr Reece is released from the criminal asylum in which he is incarcerated. The duchess, however, falls in love with Blake and takes him instead to the tiny Mediterranean island that she rules. He spurns her advances and is rescued by Tinker, Dirk Dolland, and Mademoiselle Yvonne.

42. The Fourth Witness (UNION JACK issue 916, 1921)
Max Vogel sails for Jorsica and en route captures Blake, Tinker, Coutts, Dolland and Yvonne, who've only just escaped the island. Upon arrival, he overthrows Ysabel de Ferre's rule and sentences her to death in a giant-cuttlefish-inhabited rock pool. Mr Reece, having escaped from custody, arrives and accuses Vogel of betrayal. They fight and both plummet to their doom in the pool. Blake and his friends sail away, leaving the Black Duchess to take control of the Confederation.

43. Mr. Reece's Million (UNION JACK issue 927, 1921)
Blake and Tinker stumble upon a murder scene and are amazed to find among the dead sculptor's works a bust of Mr Reece. It and various other statues are, in accordance with the man's will, given to a museum for safekeeping until such time as a person comes forward to claim them. After some weeks, Ysabel de Ferre does just that. She is later kidnapped by Hoang Ho, her rival for the presidency of the Confederation. He demands to know the whereabouts of a million-pound fortune hidden by Reece. Blake rescues her. He also recovers the treasure, which had been hidden inside the statues.

44. Diamond Mad! (UNION JACK issue 946, 1921)
A fanatical diamond collector hires the Criminals' Confederation to steal gemstones for him. He is later attacked and his collection stolen by Hoang Ho. Dirk Dolland is accused of the crime and held in custody by the police. Ysabel de Ferre, who has been elected president of the Confederation, realises that the Chinaman has formed a rebel group. Blake identifies the Chinaman as the burglar and Dolland is set free.

45. The Confederation's Recruit (UNION JACK issue 972, 1922)
Dirk Dolland's friend, John Fade, a bored adventurer, places an ad in the personals requesting "excitement." It is answered by Ysabel de Ferre, who recruits him to the Criminals' Confederation. Fade immediately becomes entangled in the feud between the Black Duchess and Hoang Ho. The Chinaman evades the attentions of Sexton Blake and, with Fade in tow, steams away on a tugboat. However, its engines explode and it sinks. Fade is rescued by Blake. He tells the investigator that he'd been kidnapped but managed to escape at the last moment. Blake wonders whether Fade was responsible for the explosion.

46. The Diamond Clue (UNION JACK issue 973, 1922)
A stolen diamond proves to be one of the many that supposedly sank with Hoang Ho. Blake traces it to the home of John Fade, where he learns that the explorer is about to set sail from Southampton. Blake, Tinker, Coutts and Dirk Dolland race to the port, board Fade's yacht, and are immediately taken captive. The Black Duchess is aboard and the vessel is crewed by Confederation men. The yacht sails westward. When the crew demands that the prisoners be executed, Fade and the Duchess refuse and there's a mutiny. The duo sides with Blake &: co and a gunfight ensues but is interrupted when the ship runs aground. The crew abandons it, leaving Blake and his friends aboard. Fade and Ysabel de Ferre are washed up on a beach.

47. The Hunchback of St. Madros (UNION JACK issue 985, 1922)

48. The Return of Mr. Reece (UNION JACK issue 1,056, 1924)

49. The Spider's Web (UNION JACK issue 1,061, 1924)

50. The Key-Man of the Confederation (UNION JACK issue 1,070, 1924)

51. The Rival Presidents (UNION JACK issue 1,071, 1924)

52. Reece on the Run! (UNION JACK issue 1,094, 1924)

53. The Mandarin's Millions (UNION JACK issue 1,097, 1924)

54. Found — and Lost! (UNION JACK issue 1,117, 1925)

55. Reece's Republic (UNION JACK issue 1,119, 1925)

56. Condemned to the Mines (UNION JACK issue 1,125, 1925)

57. Yellow Vengeance (UNION JACK issue 1,127, 1925)

58. Into the Unknown (UNION JACK issue 1,133, 1925)

59. The Yellow City (UNION JACK issue 1,137, 1925)

60. The Great Round-Up! (UNION JACK issue 1,196, 1926)