LEON KESTREL, THE MASTER MUMMER, THE PRINCE OF PRETENCE

by Mark Hodder

  • An introduction to this popular old character for the benefit of new readers.

Leon Kestrel is an American actor, an absolute master of disguise, and an unsurpassed mimic and impersonator. His real features are indeterminate. He inspires absolute loyalty. His significant others are: The War Profits Liquidation Syndicate, Fifette Bierce aka The Princess Pretence, Father Bierce (her father), Madrano the Steeplejack, Shanghai Jim, Semiramis the Greek, Marinotte, and Beaudelaire.

Leon Kestrel

In the UNION JACK, Leon Kestrel is described as follows:

'Never before, in a lifetime of combat with crime of every kind, has Sexton Blake found himself opposed to a Syndicate so sinister and menacing as that created and controlled by the perverted genius of Leon Kestrel.

Once an actor of immense promise in America, Kestrel, drawn to crime by some queer mental kink, has brought the art of make-up and disguise to a pitch of perfection hitherto undreamed of. This uncanny skill, allied to a faculty for perfect acting, and strengthened by the beauty and disarming personality of Fifette Bierce, his principal accomplice, has enabled Kestrel to bring off criminal coups characterised by amazing audacity, and crowned only too often with a success that has been the despair of Scotland Yard and other police forces of the world.

On countless occasions Sexton Blake has crossed swords with Leon Kestrel and the coterie of clever criminals who form his "Inner Circle." Many times he has succeeded in thwarting them and in bringing their schemes to naught.

But always the elusive Kestrel himself has evaded capture, and escaped to remobilise his forces, and devise some fresh villainy, professing, with sardonic humour, a keen contempt for the police, and an amused tolerance for Blake's campaign against him.'

There is perhaps a further clue to the 'queer mental kink' that drove him to crime in THE AMAZING CASE OF THE BLIND FIDDLER (Union Jack issue 668, 1916). Here we learn that Kestrel, in his acting days, fell for a singer named Charmian Connellan. After she spurned him in May 1905 at the Theatre Metropole, New York, he never acted on stage again. Could it be that this rejection affected him so deeply as to drive him to a life of crime?

Chronology:

1. The Case of the Cataleptic (UNION JACK issue 620, 1915)
The Kestrel gang kill an old man so that his estates are inherited by one of his more disreputable relatives. When they try to frame his nephew for the crime, Sexton Blake becomes involved. He foils the plot but fails to capture Kestrel.

2. The Case of the Chinese Mascot (UNION JACK issue 641, 1916)

3. The Case of the Missing Airman (UNION JACK issue 646, 1916)
An aeronaut named Prendergast vanishes with top secret blueprints and Sexton Blake's initial invesigation seems to suggest that he has faked his own abduction. Further clues soon reveal that Kestrel is behind the mystery. Blake solves the case and wins an aerial dogfight with the Master Mummer. Kestrel parachutes to safety and escapes.

4. '913' The Case of the Aniline Formula (UNION JACK issue 651, 1916)
Kestrel frees Shanghai Jim from Bleakmoor Prison and they both help a chemist to kill a rival who has invented a new formula for dye. Sexton Blake solves the mystery of the murder and catches the chemist but Kestrel and Shanghai Jim escape.

5. The Affair of the Dutch Merchant (UNION JACK issue 655, 1916)
Leon Kestrel teams up with a crooked diamond merchant from Holland to fake the theft of some jewels then claim the insurance. Sexton Blake foils the plan and arrests the Dutchman but Kestrel gets away.

6. The Mystery of Martin Esher (UNION JACK issue 662, 1916)
Kestrel sends some of his henchmen to steal plans from a government inspector but they are defeated by the man's neighbour, an insane illusionist. Sexton Blake also falls foul of the madman and barely escapes with his life.

7. The Amazing Case of the Blind Fiddler (UNION JACK issue 668, 1916)
Kestrel impersonates a blind fiddler in order to murder the man who his one-time sweetheart married. He succeeds despite Sexton Blake's attempt to stop him.

8. The Case of the White Fugitive (UNION JACK issue 673, 1916)
Mona McArthur, who worked with Kestrel during THE CASE OF THE MISSING AIRMAN, is helped to escape the criminal's influence by Sexton Blake and the airman, Jim Prendergast. Taking her father with her, she flees to Australia to begin a new life. Kestrel avoids a trap set by the detective.

9. The Fool's Highway (UNION JACK issue 677, 1916)
Kestrel and members of his gang try to drive a rich chemist insane by tormenting his conscience with regard to a powerful explosive he has invented. If they succeed, the man's son will inherit his fortune — and the son is a drug addict, which makes him easy to fleece. The chemist, though, is friends with Sexton Blake, and the detective foils the scheme and captures two of Kestrel's gang.

10. The Poison Fumes (UNION JACK issue 684, 1916)
Kestrel is commissioned by an American metals company to kill a financier who opposes a merger that would corner the market to the disadvantage of allied forces. The Master Mummer succeeds but Sexton Blake intercedes before Kestrel can be paid. The villain escapes but the American company has been exposed and the merger will not proceed.

11. The Great Hoax (UNION JACK issue 689, 1916)
Kestrel teams up with Fifito Madrano and, posing as film actors, they carry off a huge heist in Hatton Gardens. Kestrel kidnaps Tinker and tells Blake that the penalty for his interference will be the lad's death. Blake, however, locates the Master Mummer's hideout and, assisted by Detective-Inspector Harker, he raids the place and recovers his assistant and the jewels. Kestrel and Madrano escape by means of a daring stunt.

12. The Great Office Mystery (UNION JACK issue 711, 1917)

More to come ... ...