MONSIEUR ZENITH THE ALBINO

by Mark Hodder

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

Monsieur Zenith is sophisticated, honourable, elegant and courageous but he is addicted to opium and has a death-wish. His significant others are: the Black Trinity, the Crook Crusaders, Julia Fortune, and the League of the Cobblers' Last (a branch of the Criminals' Confederation).

Monsieur Zenith the Albino

"Zenith's crimson-irised eyes were reflective. He stood there long of leg and broad of shoulder, immaculately dressed, groomed to perfection, cold as an icicle; and dangerous; transcendently dangerous."

Monsieur Zenith is an albino and, as such, an outsider. Furthermore, he is an aristocrat who exists during a time when the aristocracy is dying. He feels, therefore, that he does not quite belong to this world. It should come as no surprise, then, that he has turned to crime — for what else can offer greater risks or more heady excitement? What else can bring forgetfulness?

Arrayed in full evening dress and habitually smoking his opium-laced cigarettes, Zenith repeatedly outwits the police by doing what no sane man would dare. Such considerations as death have no influence upon his conduct. What is life to him that he should fear to lose it?

Yet, though an ambitious criminal, the albino has a strict code of conduct. Zenith's honour, which would allow him to steal or even, upon occasion, to kill, would not permit of treachery. His word is his bond and so, strangely, there are times when he can be trusted.

Where does he come from? There are those who address this most deadly of Sexton Blake's foes as Excellency. Whether the albino is in any way entitled to the rank implied by the term it is impossible to say — he may be. For in his time the albino, Prince of Crooks, has served and had the friendship of important people. In the lapel of his coat, just under the white camellia which he wears, is the ribbon of a foreign order. The insignia of another such distinction depends from his neck upon a ribbon, and is visible just beneath his white bow. Some say that he has royal blood in his veins, but it is doubtful whether anybody really knows anything. It is a matter about which Zenith himself will not speak.

Sooner or later someone, whether it might be a police constable on the beat or his arch-enemy, Sexton Blake, the private detective of Baker Street, will succeed in arresting him and conducting him towards a police station. Then he will simply smoke one of the tiny opium cigarettes which he carries in a platinum case within his waistcoat pockets. Nobody smokes those cigarettes save himself, and one of them is marked by a crimson ring. That is death; and if all else fails and he sees that he is doomed to imprisonment, there is always that cigarette which he might smoke and thus obtain release. What does it matter? Only those who enjoy life fear death; and to Zenith life is a constant reminder of his abnormality.

Chronology:

1. A Duel to the Death (UNION JACK issue 837, 1919)
Sexton Blake discovers that Zenith is the head of an international crime ring. The albino bombs Blake's Baker Street chambers but can't prevent the detective from smashing his operation.

2. The Tenth Case (UNION JACK issue 842, 1919)
James Verity is accused of murdering one of his business partners. Sexton Blake uncovers a murderous business rivalry involving the other partners. Zenith helps the detective to find the real killer.

3. The Case of the Man in Motley (UNION JACK issue 844, 1919)
Sexton Blake and Zenith compete for possession of a priceless diamond.

4. The League of the Cobblers' Last (UNION JACK issue 847, 1920)
Zenith heads a gang named The League of the Cobblers' Last. They successfully raid a store of money and valuables while the owner is caught up in a blackmail plot (for which Zenith is not responsible). Sexton Blake ultimately restores the stolen loot but fails to capture the albino.

5. The Beggars' Hotel (UNION JACK issue 856, 1920)
Zenith and Jim the Penman murder a bank manager and forge a letter from him which enables them to rob another branch of the same bank. Sexton Blake picks up their trail but is tricked into visiting a lodging house for down-and-outs (The Beggars' Hotel) where he will be killed by the assembled members of The League of the Cobblers' Last. Tinker comes to the rescue and, though Zenith gets away, the Penman is arrested.

6. The Five Clues (UNION JACK issue 867, 1920)
Blake stumbles across a murder at an isolated house and, by piecing together five clues, deduces that a crook who served ten years in prison has taken revenge on the colleague who betrayed him. However, this man employed Zenith's signature to summon the suspects, and for that he faces a death sentence from the League of the Last. The albino arrives at the scene and tussles ferociously with Blake and Tinker before making a getaway after the murderer is killed.

7. The Case of the Four Statues (UNION JACK issue 871, 1920)
An innocent man is sentenced to death for a murder committed by a member of the League of the Cobblers' Last. Sexton Blake brings the true culprit to justice but only narrowly escapes execution by Zenith.

8. The Death Spider (UNION JACK issue 875, 1920)
A mad professor runs a crooked gambling den on behalf of the League of Cobblers' Last. His enemies die a mysterious death which Blake discovers is caused by the bite of a giant tropical spider. After both the professor and the spider are killed, Zenith tries to do away with the detective but fails.

9. The Case of the Crystal Gazer (UNION JACK issue 889, 1920)
Zenith steals a diamond and arranges to have it split into smaller stones in an abandoned windmill. Sexton Blake catches up with him there and engages in a pitched fight with him. The albino escapes but Blake finds him with Mademoiselle Louise de la Beaucaire. An accident occurs and Blake saves their lives. After hand-to-hand battle the detective finds himself caught in a sheer-sided pool. Zenith returns the favour by saving his life after first extracting the promise of an hour's grace in which to make his getaway.

10. The Strange Case of the Elsingham Legend (UNION JACK issue 894, 1920)
Zenith is tries to gain possession of a painting which contains the clue to a buried treasure. When Sexton Blake discovers the secret, both men race to an island where the valuables are hidden. Blake captures Zenith but the albino tries to escape in a plane. Blake leaps aboard and they fight while the aircraft spins out of control. Blake wins but Zenith flees and calls in the Criminals' Confederation. They steal the treasure from Blake but Tinker has a trick up his sleeve, and the crooks leave empty-handed.

The First Death of Zenith the Albino:

11. The Case of the Toxic Tulips (UNION JACK issue 898, 1920)
While investigating a murder, Sexton Blake learns that the Criminals' Confederation is going to meet on Lindisfarne Island. Together with Detective-Inspector Coutts and a force of policemen, he spies on the gathering. The villainous convention is interrupted by a massive storm and everyone on the island runs for shelter. Some time later, Blake emerges to find that his opponents have escaped, except for Zenith, who has been crushed by a falling wall. After a few parting words, the albino dies.

12. The Case of the Thirteenth Bowl (UNION JACK issue 919, 1921)

The Resurrection of Zenith the Albino
13. The Return of Zenith the Albino (UNION JACK issue 928, 1921)
Sexton Blake and Tinker visit the grave of Zenith the Albino. But unknown to them, a doctor from the Criminals' Confederation had saved the albino with a blood transfusion. The donor had been a witch doctor and now Zenith is leader of the African cult of Leopard Men. When Blake foils his planned robberies, Zenith tries to kill him with a bomb. The detective is rescued by Pedro.

14. The Roumanian Envoy (THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY issue 156, 1921)
A Roumanian envoy of ill-repute is on a vital mission in England. Zenith makes repeated attempts to assassinate him but is foiled by Sexton Blake.

15. The 'Corner' in Quinine (UNION JACK issue 937, 1921)
Four unscrupulous businessmen plan to corner the market in quinine through illegal means and employ Zenith the Albino to help them. The scheme is foiled by Sexton Blake.

16. Threatened By Three (UNION JACK issue 956, 1922)
Zenith teams up with Leon Kestrel and Wu Ling to sell transcripts of cabinet meetings to a foreign power. Blake exposes their methods and gains possession of the documents but can't prevent the criminal trio from escaping.

17. The Affair of the Sacred Fire (UNION JACK issue 966, 1922)
An explorer is driven to the brink of insanity by his half-brother who wants him to die so that he might inherit the family fortune. He needs the money to pay a debt to the League of the Cobblers' Last. Zenith tells him he can clear the debt by killing Sexton Blake, who is investigating the case. The plot fails and Zenith flees having first walled the detective into a Roman Crypt. Pedro leads Tinker to Blake's rescue.

18. The Albino's Double (THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY issue 255, 1922)

19. The Case of the Atwell Aircraft Company (UNION JACK issue 996, 1922)
Zenith and a group of enemy agents attempt to restore the Kaiser to his throne by attacking Britain. Their plan is to guide a fleet of aircraft into England where they will drop acid onto cities. Blake defeats the plot and the albino narrowly escapes death.

20. The Thousandth Chance (UNION JACK issue 1,000, 1922)
Zenith teams up with Doctor Huxton Rymer, The Three Musketeers, Prince Wu Ling, Mary Trent, The Black Duchess, Leon Kestrel, George Marsden Plummer and Professor Kew to rob Sexton Blake of his collection of art and antiques. With help from Mlle. Yvonne Cartier, the detective foils the plot.

21. On Secret Service (UNION JACK issue 1,013, 1923)

22. The Case of the Crimson Curtain (UNION JACK issue 1,022, 1923)
Zenith has a very minor 'walk on part' in a case in which Sexton Blake battles with a mad scientist who has developed a technique to thicken air to the consistency of water.

23. Plague! (UNION JACK issue 1,025, 1923)

24. X, or; The Case of the Green Crystals (UNION JACK issue 1,038, 1923)

25. The Living Mask, or; Zenith's Masquerade (UNION JACK issue 1,044, 1923)

26. The Train of Tragedy (UNION JACK issue 1,065, 1924)

27. The Strange Case of the Jig-saw Puzzle (UNION JACK issue 1,082, 1924)

28. The Man in Steel (UNION JACK issue 1,091, 1924)
Zenith the Albino is virtually destitute thanks to the efforts of Sexton Blake. After many months as a labourer — blending in with the working classes — he decides that it's time to face his nemesis once again. To this end, he attempts to steal a newly invented armour-strengthening formula which he will then sell to a foreign power. He does this despite the presence of Blake. The subsequent sparring match reaches its heights with a car chase, culminating in a crash that badly injures the albino.

29. The Wizard of Wurtz (UNION JACK issue 1,098, 1924)

30. Absolute Authority (UNION JACK issue 1,116, 1925)

31. The Amazing Affair of the Renegade Prince (THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY issue 370, 1925)

32. A Problem of Proof (UNION JACK issue 1,128, 1925)

33. The Strange Affair of the Mantel Register Grate (UNION JACK issue 1,139, 1925)

34. The Mystery of the Swanley Viaduct (THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY, 2nd series, issue 13, 1925)

35. The Affair of the Crumpled Paper (UNION JACK issue 1,160, 1926)

36. Threads of Fate (UNION JACK issue 1,162, 1926)

37. The Plant of Prey (UNION JACK issue 1,171, 1926)

38. Zenith Declares War (UNION JACK issue 1,174, 1926)

39. The Mystery of the Masked Rider (UNION JACK issue 1,178, 1926)

40. A Mystery in Motley (UNION JACK issue 1,182, 1926)

41. The Mystery of the Mechanical Men (UNION JACK issue 1,188, 1926)

42. The Affair of the Were-Wolf (UNION JACK issue 1,216, 1927)

43. The Trail of the Nameless Three (UNION JACK issue 1,229, 1927)
Zenith is summoned to Smith's kitchen by members of the League of the Cobbler's Last. They are discontent at the way he treats them; this stemming from the fact that the Sillox Gang, which works for The Black Trinity has been attempting to recruit them. Zenith fights and beats their spokesman, Baxter, in a boxing match. This quells the rebellion. The albino also discovers that Sexton Blake is supposedly a prisoner of the Trinity but has, in fact, turned the tables on them. This amuses Zenith and he leaves the Kitchen without enlightening the Trinity.

44. The Case of the Friend of May Cubitt (UNION JACK issue 1,240, 1927)

More to come ... ...