Publishing: With war-time paper shortages easing by the end of the year, UNION JACK increases its size from 16 to 20 pages and THE BOYS' REALM reappears after having been suspended for a while.
The creator of Zenith the Albino, Anthony Skene (real name George Norman Philips), makes his debut. Born in 1888, Philips was a full-time surveyor in H. M. Office of Works and dictated his stories while travelling around the country. He wrote a total of 125 Sexton Blake stories before retiring in 1947. Philips died in 1972.
Blake: Sexton Blake falls victim to the Spanish flu pandemic this year and is confined to a private nursing home to recuperate. THE BATHCHAIR MYSTERY details his recovery but also hints that his illness may have been even more serious, possibly involving a complete mental/physical breakdown.
According to THE MOON OF THE EAST, Blake is without Mrs. Bardell for a period.
1919 marks the arrival of one of the most charismatic and fascinating of Blake's many opponents; the wonderful Zenith the Albino. He immediately proves himself a deadly foe by bombing Blake's Baker Street apartment.
THE BOYS' REALM · New series · Vol. 1 Issue 1 · 5/4/1919 · Amalgamated Press · 1½d
Other content: Blake, of the Blue Crusaders by A. S. Hardy; Henry St. John's Schooldays by Anon.; From Chopping-Block to Champion by Captain Malcom Arnold; Tales of St. Frank's School by Edwy Searles Brooks; Special Football Article by 'Fanny' Walden.
Notes: Serial featuring Sir Richard Losely and Lobangu.
Notes: None at present.
Notes: Sexton Blake and Tinker make a guest appearance in this Nelson Lee Library adventure.
Notes: Twenty-two years ago, John Weston and Horace Manners committed a major bank robbery in Paris. Afterward, Weston abandoned his life of crime, followed an honest path, and became rich. However, for the past ten years, he has been blackmailed by his erstwhile partner. He now confronts his tormentor but is driven away and leaves his pistol behind. The following day, Manners and his fellow crooks — Timmy Gibbs and Senorita Dolores Alvarez — carry out a heist, removing jewels and bonds from a bank's vault, in broad daylight, without being detected. Detective-Inspector Langley of Scotland Yard arrives on the scene with Sexton Blake. Through a process of deduction, Blake identifies Manners as the principal crook. Tinker spies on Alvarez as she eavesdrops on Gibbs and overhears him discussing Manners' intention to spurn her. Meanwhile, Manners demands a thousand pounds from Weston, else he'll send an incriminating letter to Pierre Lamont, the "Sexton Blake of Paris," who investigated their original crime. Weston's daughter, Elise, follows her father to Manner's apartment, sees him depart it in a state of shock, enters it, and finds Manners murdered. A young man, Jules Lamont, who lives in the same block, comes to her aid. Smitten by her, he agrees to let her go before he then sends an anonymous message to the police, which brings Langley to the crime scene along with Blake and Glory Gale, who's been dispatched to report on the murder. A letter in Manners' safe reveals that John Weston had threatened to kill Manners. Weston's pistol is found near the corpse. Another letter, addressed to Pierre Lamont, is a confession of the Paris crime together with evidence of Weston's role in it. The accused is duly arrested. He admits that he saw Manners' corpse but denies responsibility. Jules Lamont tells Elise that he will ask his father, Pierre Lamont, to investigate. Blake sets a trap for Gibbs who walks into it and is apprehended. Miss Gale discovers that Dolores Alvarez has obtained the stolen jewels and bonds from Manners' apartment and may be his true murderer. She follows the Spaniard, manages to snatch the loot, hides it in a tree, but is then captured by Alvarez and tortured for five days. She refuses to divulge the whereabouts of the fortune. Pierre Lamont arrives from Paris and, with his son, meets with Blake. The French detective reveals that, for the past two decades, John Weston has been anonymously repaying, in instalments, the money he and Manners stole in Paris. Nevertheless, and despite Jules’s protestations, Pierre is determined to have the ex-crook charged. Later that evening, a note, thrown from a window, is delivered to Blake. It's from Glory Gale, and is sufficient to enable the detective to come to her rescue. She leads him to the hidden loot. Arrested, Dolores Alvarez presents an alibi for the night that Manners was murdered. Blake, however, corners a man who did the deed on her behalf. With all the crooks rounded up, Pierre Lamont decides to drop his pursuit of Weston and allows his son to propose to Elise.
Trivia: The torture of Glory Gale is surprisingly brutal in its depiction.
Notes: In THE CASE OF THE INTERNATIONAL ADVENTURER (SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 1st series 43, 1917) Aubrey Dexter was stabbed and left for dead by Broadway Kate shortly before she was taken into custody by Sexton Blake. Surviving the attack, he now finds himself weak and castaway on a deserted island. Eventually recovering his health, he finds an ancient shipwreck and the skeleton of a man named Philip Trevour whose journal describes how some ten years previously, with his best friend George Hardinge, he had joined a band of seamen to recover a fabulous wealth of jewels from the wreck. The seamen had turned on the two friends before then killing each other in a fight over the treasure. Only Hardinge survived and Trevour died thinking that his friend had betrayed him. Weeks after Dexter's discovery, Hardinge, who is engaged to Trevour's young sister, begins to receive threatening letters from his old friend, demanding what 'he's owed'. When Hardinge's secretary, Cheam, is murdered and his safe robbed, he calls in Sexton Blake. The detective's top suspects are Jason — Hardinge's new valet who has mysteriously vanished — and Dick Glenn, a recent addition to Hardinge's social circle. Pedro leads Blake to Jason who turns out to be a private detective. He has been hunting an Italian gangster and believes that his quarry is responsible for Cheam's death, as the secretary had once given evidence against the gang. Blake helps Jason to get his man. He then turns his attention to Glenn, only to discover that he is Hardinge's long-lost brother. With these red herrings removed, the evidence of a fingerprint finally reveals that Aubrey Dexter is alive and at work. Aided by Detective-Inspector Martin, Blake sets a trap and captures the ace cracksman. Dexter is arrested and taken into custody.
Notes: This tale might come as a surprise to modern readers as it deals with a subject more commonly encountered in the New Order Sexton Blake Library: drug addiction. Sexton Blake helps to set up a drug rehabilitation clinic and among the addicts he sends there is a young woman named Edna Waine. She tells him that there is a mastermind behind the recent increase in drug dealing; a man known only as Mr Swazi. Blake's investigations reveal that a tea shop is a cover for a major opium den which is run by Israel Salman and an American, Luke O. Travers. Disguised as an addict, Tinker gains access to the den and finds there Glory Gale. She reveals that her newspaper is doing a big story about the drugs trade and she is there to collect information. Unfortunately, she and Tinker are overheard by a Chinaman, Looey Wu, who informs Salman and Travers that the den has been infiltrated. The villains capture the young couple and call Markham Dean and Sexton Blake to warn them that unless they cease their investigations Gale and Tinker will be killed. Blake responds by allowing himself to also be captured while secretly laying a trail for Pedro. In the hands of Detective-Inspector Martin, the bloodhound follows his master's trail to the secret den and, just as Blake and Tinker are being gassed, Martin and the police come to the rescue. Salman and Travers escape and hire a thug to kill Blake. However, the detective overpowers his assailant and forces him to talk. He identifies 'Mr Swazi' as Harvey Dacre, a man who had previously asked Sexton Blake to find his lost daughter. When Blake realises that the girl in question is Edna Waine, he takes Dacre to see her. Filled with remorse, the drugs baron agrees to expose the whole trade. Travers learns of this and murders Dacre before then falling into a trap set by Blake. In the ensuing struggle, Salman is shot dead and Travers is captured (later to be sentenced to death). A statement left by Dacre allows Blake to finally smash the drugs ring.
Trivia: This was reprinted as THE MYSTERY OF THE DOPE DEN in THE BOYS' FRIEND LIBRARY 2nd series issue 691 (1939). It was also rewritten by Donald Stuart that same year (1939) and published as THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 2nd series issue 690, using the original title, THE HIDDEN MENACE.
Notes: Story set in England and Morocco, featuring Hon. John Lawless, Professor Kew and Count Ivor Carlac.
Notes: 'The true facts relating to the theft of the famous and valuable McCallum Necklace, telling how Sexton Blake recovered the jewels with the assistance of Tinker and a brave and determined girl whose father was under suspicion.'
Notes: In this issue, Nelson Lee and Nipper join forces with Blake and Tinker to expose a villainous masquerade. The story is set in south west England on the Cornish coast where Blake has been sent to recuperate after a serious bout of influenza (it should be remembered that this was written during the worst global flu pandemic ever recorded). Despite his gradually improving health, Blake's faith in his own mental abilities has been badly shaken by the illness. When a patient in a bathchair mysteriously vanishes in a neighbouring garden before then reappearing as if nothing had happened, he doubts his own sanity. Tentatively, he begins to apply his talents to the odd events that quickly follow. He's joined by Tinker, whose mischievous qualities are to the fore here, making him a very likeable young fellow and the obvious father-son affection shared between the two characters is a joy. In fact, the greatest pleasure offered by this story (which has a fairly mundane plot) comes with the relationships between Blake, Tinker, Lee and Nipper. Nelson Lee is the one person Blake will turn to when an investigation stalls, while Nipper — who seems to be a couple of years younger that Tinker — regards his ‘chum' as an elder brother. The discussions and horseplay between the four is thoroughly entertaining and carries the reader through a plot which, though filled with incident, isn't particularly memorable for any other reason. It could be that the central premise, about a man impersonating his half-brother in order to claim some valuable land, just isn't interesting enough to make this mystery a worthy one.
Trivia: Part of the fun of this story is witnessing Blake's recovery from flu; it's rapid but not unrealistically so and it's not until the final pages that he's fully the detective and all-round man of action that we're familiar with (able to leap aboard a moving train without breaking his neck). A good job Nelson Lee is on hand to share the crime-fighting duties.
Notes: The following letter is found by the police: "I am in a train bound for Llantwd. My name is Henry Newfield. As representative of Mr. Lordenbury, of Bond Street, London, I am carrying thirty thousand pounds' worth of jewellery to Madame Juanita Veldos, of Tanfyn Castle. In the next carriage to me are two men who, I think, are going to attack and rob me! (Here follows a description of the men.)... If, therefore, anything should happen to me on the journey, the police should look for the two men I have described." The man disappears.
Notes: In Chicago, financial speculator James Keller becomes a much despised man after driving up the price of wheat. Upon receiving death threats, he takes out an insurance policy so that, should he be murdered, his wife and son will be made rich. One day, his hold on the market is broken and he is financially ruined. Later, when confronted by a burglar, he hires him to undertake a certain task. Weeks afterward, he gains a sudden inheritance and moves to England to start afresh. However, he sails under a false name, keeping apart from his family until the voyage is completed. Months later, in London, Dirk Dolland aka the Bat narrowly escapes capture by Detective-Inspector Coutts. Making his getaway, he climbs into a house where he finds and requisitions a disguise. As he leaves, a man mistakes him for someone else and tells him to accompany him in a taxi. Dolland acquiesces in order to get clear of Coutts. He's taken to a house, given £300 and a portmanteau, and told to go to Tor Cottage in Devon. As he gets a taxi to go to the station, he is hailed by James Keller’s son, Clive, who, to Dolland’s dismay, is accompanied by Sexton Blake. Clive had met Blake in a club and told him about his father’s continuing strange behaviour. Now, the youth has mistaken Dolland for his father. The Bat speeds away. Blake and Clive give chase, but a shot is fired—though not from the fleeing vehicle—and Clive collapses, grazed by a bullet. The pursuit leads to a block of flats. Blake identifies which apartment his quarry entered but when he knocks, the door is answered by Parker, Dolland’s valet (whom Blake doesn’t recognise), who denies that anyone named James Keller is present. Blake is then carted off by the police under suspicion of having attacked the wounded Clive. Dolland, intrigued, decides to follow his instructions and so heads for Devon. While Parker gets a room at the local inn, Dolland settles in the cottage. Meanwhile, Blake, having disentangled himself from the police, returns to Baker Street. Two days later, it is reported that James Keller has disappeared from Tor Cottage, presumed murdered, and a suspect has been arrested. Blake and Clive Keller travel to Devon and are taken to the prisoner. Blake now recognises Parker and realises that the Bat is somehow involved. He summons Tinker and Pedro. The bloodhound follows a scent from Tor Cottage to a crevasse, at the bottom of which is James Keller, dead from a broken neck. However, upon closer inspection, the corpse is found to be disguised, and isn’t Keller at all. Clive then receives a telegram from his father demanding his return to London. The summons is obeyed and Blake and Clive find that James Keller has a guest: Dirk Dolland. The ex-financier explains how, when he was ruined, he hired a burglar to murder him, had no way to repeal the commission when his fortunes changed, so fled with his family to England. There, he hired an actor to impersonate him but Dolland had blundered into the scheme. The Bat explains what happened next, the man in the crevasse turns out to be the assassin, and the mystery is solved.
Trivia: Chronologically, this tale occurs after A Mid-Ocean Mystery (UNION JACK issue 763, 1918), though fifteen Dolland tales have been published between that and this. Here, he is still a criminal, not yet working with Blake to defeat the Criminals’ Confederation, but regarded favourably by the detective.
Blake’s address is given as Upper Baker Street.
Notes: 'The circumstances under which an honest young man finds himself in the position of a scoundrel.'
Notes: 'The hero is led to believe he is acting for the films, but he is really made the victim of a wicked crime.' Features Glory Gale.
Notes: 'Thrilling Tale of a Despicable Trick played on Ex-Service Men.' Features Count Ivor Carlac, Professor Kew and Hon. John Lawless.
Notes: Sexton Blake is visited by the wife of Rupert Linnell, the British consul-general in South America who has apparently committed suicide by poisoning after being accused of accepting bribes. She tells Blake that the body in the morgue is not that of her husband and claims that Linnell's enemy, Dr. Lepperman, is behind the deceit. The next day, Blake and Tinker travel to the Linnell home where they find that their client's son, Guy, has gone missing from the study, which is now inexplicably collapsing into a state of advanced decay due to some strange chemical action. They then go to Lepperman's residence, Missledon Hall and, while Blake breaks in at the back, Tinker sees a car arrive at the front. Guy is bundled out of it by four men. The youngster bravely tackles them but is knocked senseless and captured. Blake, meanwhile, finds a drugged Rupert Linnell shackled to a bed. Confronted by Lepperman, the detective manages to escape and summons Detective-Inspector Harker to the scene. Lepperman, however, has by now managed to hide all evidence of Linnell and no charges can be levelled against him. Blake, upon learning that Lepperman's valet intends to resign, disguises himself as that man and replaces him. He spies on a meeting between the doctor and Guy Linnell's fianceé. She threatens to publicise what she knows about his activities unless he liberates her beloved. The villain gasses her into unconsciousness and plots with a South American named Carenza to kill her and Guy. Blake frees Tinker who then manages to get away with the young couple, leaving them at a hospital before he is then recaptured by Lepperman and returned to Missledon Hall. Blake finds the secret room in which Rupert Linnell is incarcerated but his disguise is pierced and he is taken prisoner and drugged. When he recovers, he finds himself aboard Lepperman's yacht, along with Tinker and Linnell. The doctor reveals that he's poisoned Blake's coffee and won't provide an antidote unless Linnell gives information about a particular mine in South America. At Blake's surreptitious bidding, Linnell refuses, and Blake — who had detected the poison in his coffee and discarded it — imitates the effects of the toxin and throws himself overboard only to then surreptitiously sneak back aboard. As the yacht reaches the west coast of Africa, Blake gathers a force of disgruntled crewmen and hijacks it. His and Lepperman's forces continue to battle until another vessel comes alongside, bringing Harker, Guy Linnell, and a force of men into the fray. Lepperman, with his schemes thwarted, sails away. Rupert Linnell is now safe and proven innocent of any wrongdoing. Blake vows that he and the doctor will meet again.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ After a promising start — the fast-decaying room scene is excellent — this deteriorates into a plotless mess in which Blake and Lepperman are both prone to inaction at inopportune moments.
Notes: 'A Detective Novel of Engrossing Interest, introducing the Council of Nine and George Marsden Plummer.'
Notes: Blake meets with Richard Draycott, whose brother, Frank, disappeared in Russia six years ago and is rumoured to be a prisoner of the Bolsheviks. While investigating labour agitators in a coal-mining town, and with help from a young ragamuffin known as Topper, the detective gets on the track of a Bolshevik spy named Vilnaski, who has a tattoo on his arm that matches a cipher that Frank Draycott once invented. Vilnaski is being assisted by an ex-crook named Tom Jeavors. Blake is visited by a Russian, Paul Darckhoff, who tells Draycott that Frank is imprisoned beneath the Kremlin. A hefty payment of gold will secure his release. However, when Blake catches Darckhoff searching Frank’s workshop, he begins to distrust him. A government official is that robbed of vital documents. Blake tracks down Tom Jeavors who reveals that he was blackmailed into doing Vilnaski's bidding. The reformed crook leads Blake to the Russian's hideout where the detective is saved from falling into a trap by Topper. The boy, however, plummets into the trap himself and is swept away by surging waters. Blake abandons his chance to retrieve the papers in order to rescue him. He succeeds but is knocked unconscious and, when he regains his senses, a week has passed and the stolen papers are on their way to Russia. Blake, Draycott, Topper, Jeavors and Darckhoff travel to Moscow where the latter, who is in fact a disguised Vilnaski, betrays his companions. Blake and his friends escape into catacombs beneath the Kremlin, forcing the traitor along with them. However, when a roof collapses and apparently kills Jeavors, the Russian is trapped behind the rubble. Blake & Co. are saved from the Red Guard by Nadia Darckhoff, the daughter of the man whose identity Vilnaski had adopted. She confesses that she was Frank's sweetheart. News arrives that both Jeavors and Vilnaski have been found alive in the catacombs. Blake captures Vilnaski and retrieves the stolen documents. He then disguises himself as the spy, attends the trial of Jeavors, and manages to liberate his friend. Draycott decodes Vilnaski's tattoo. It had been forcibly inflicted on the man by Frank and reveals that he is imprisoned in a Siberian mine. Blake shows evidence that Vilnaski, in addition to betraying everyone else, has also betrayed the Bolsheviks. He forces him, under threat of exposure, to lead the way to the mine. There, Draycott is reunited with his brother, and Nadia with her lover. The party makes its getaway — though Vilnaski is killed while escaping a pack of wolves — and, weeks later, they all arrive in England.
Trivia: Tinker is out of London on another case and doesn't receive a mention or make an appearance until the very last page.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ In the first of his five contributions to the Sexton Blake saga, Oliver Merland presents a very grim and irritable detective. Vilnaski is an excellent villain but the pointless replacement of Tinker by Topper is baffling and spoils the tale.
Notes: This adventure sees Blake, Tinker and Sir Richard Losely setting off on a rescue mission to China. Losely has received a letter from his explorer friend, Grierson. This man has been captured by a cruel race of Orientals named the Loochen after he was caught in a temple stealing a sacred jewel known as the Moon of the East. For a year they have held him in chains in a dungeon and for every day of that year they have tortured someone in front of him. The awful sight and sounds plus the constant fear that he will be next to feel the knives and burning brands have driven him to the edge of madness. Nevertheless, he has somehow managed to befriend one of the Loochens, persuading him to smuggle out a plea for help. It is this note that Losely reads to Blake. When the messenger is then murdered in front of Blake's landlady (who, strangely, isn't Mrs Bardell), the detective decides that the only way to meet the threat is head-on and so begins a dangerous voyage to China. The journey is interrupted by an attack by Loochen assassins; then there's an expedition up a winding river; a climb across a mountain range; a trek through a massive cave and, finally, a commando-like raid on some native goat herders. These poor (but vicious) Orientals provide the clothes needed as a disguise so the group can penetrate the massive citadel in which Griegson is held captive. Of course, the rescue is successful and they all head back to dear old Blighty with the Moon of the East in their possession. To modern sensibilities, it's just downright thievery, but I guess the British were a lot less sensitive about that sort of thing back in 1919!
Rating: ★★★★★ This action-packed adventure is tremendously good fun. Blake throws himself into punch-ups and gun fights without even a hint of detective work and he seems even stronger and more heroic than usual. However, matters become rather darker once the group enters the citadel, locate Griegson, and battle their way out again. Blake is positively brutal. He breaks a man's neck by forcing his head back with his bare hands. He tortures the evil leader of the Loochen by applying a white hot poker to the man's ankles ... and he blows up nearly a hundred people with dynamite. It's a pretty blood-thirsty performance to say the least!
Notes: This story is recounted in first-person by Sexton Blake. Walking home one night, he encounters two men struggling in an alley. One knocks the other to the ground and runs off. The victim is an elderly gentleman who pleads for the detective to pursue his attacker who's robbed him of a bag containing diamonds. The detective catches up with the thief and recovers the diamonds. Then, in a strangely inexplicable move, he lets the man go. Returning the gemstones to the elderly man, Arthur Hemming, he escorts him home in a taxi. However, when he is offered a flask of brandy, it turns out to be drugged, and Blake passes out. When he recovers, Hemming has gone. The next morning, a newspaper report throws light on the mystery. Lord Wraxson has had a bag of diamonds stolen by an armed assailant. Blake was the robber! He realises that the man he had thought was the victim was actually the villain and vice versa. Furthermore, Hemming was actually a young man in disguise. Blake is soon hot on the trail with Pedro at his side. Tinker, meanwhile, is off visiting his friend Nipper at Nelson Lee's town house. Blake trails his quarry to a quiet riverside bungalow where he witnesses Hemming being assaulted by two men. Once again, the diamonds exchange hands. Leaving Hemming tied up, the two new villains take shelter in a nearby houseboat. The detective bursts in, grabs the bag of gems and orders the pair to 'stick 'em up'. Unfortunately a cat gets under his feet at just the wrong moment. He manages to throw the bag out of the houseboat before the two heavies leap in, disarm him, and chain him up in a small shed. When Pedro comes sniffing around the door, the detective orders the dog home. This leads to a lovely scene where Mrs Bardell, after hearing scratching at the front door, opens it to find a sweating and exhausted bloodhound on her doorstep. She calls Tinker at Nelson Lee's house to tell him she's worried and, in response, he, Lee and Nipper come running and follow the hound back to Blake. The detective returns to the bungalow, unties Hemming and hears the full story. The plot takes another twist; it turns out that Hemming isn't a villain ... he was cheated by Lord Wraxson and is simply trying to recover what's his. He had hired the two thugs to help him but as soon as they learned that diamonds were involved they betrayed him. At this point, the two men in question return with rakes intending to comb the bank of the river for the missing loot. They are apprehended by Nelson Lee and Nipper and sent packing (still no arrests!). The diamonds eventually turn up where clever Pedro had buried them.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ This one is all a bit illogical — for example, why was Hemming ever in disguise? — and Nelson Lee and Nipper are wasted, both being thoroughly outshone by Pedro.
Notes: For most of its length, this crime mystery has Sexton Blake completely stumped. A house has been robbed and a policeman gunned down and the detective has no idea who's responsible. In fact, he suspects completely the wrong person right through to the final chapters. But it isn't due to any deficiency in his deductive abilities. It's more a case of circumstances conspiring to conceal the truth. Young Claud Desmond ‘Dolly' Dunster is a bit of a dandy, and not being blessed with anything approaching an intellect, he's easily conned into committing a robbery by an unprincipled fellow called Cosram. The house he breaks into is next to his rich uncle's home. Cosram has switched the door numbers and, what with the London fog, Dunster unknowingly robs his relative. Even worse, what starts out as a jape soon turns into a much darker affair when he catches Cosram trying to start a fire in a room full of antiques. The two men fight but, upon hearing movement upstairs, they break away from one another to make their getaway. Dunster runs out and disappears into the fog but Cosram is stopped by a policeman who he promptly shoots. The next morning Sexton Blake finds a cuff link at the crime scene. On it, the initials "C.D." give a clue to the villain's identity. Except, of course, it's the wrong villain; Dolly's just a dupe. Blake uses his deductive talents to piece together a supposition which, in truth, is wide of the mark; the evidence points in completely the wrong direction. It takes one of Blake's old foes to get to the bottom of the mystery: Dirk Dolland, aka The Bat. With the investigation steered onto its right course, Cosram is soon identified as the real villain.
Unrated ★★☆☆☆ This is a fairly ordinary tale without anything that'll lodge in your memory. But it's well written and provides a pleasurable enough diversion.
Notes: This tale is recounted from a first-person perspective by Tinker. Sexton Blake is in full Holmesian mode as he investigates a robbery that, at first glance, appears to be fairly clear-cut, but which upon closer examination turns out to be something of a surprise. To Scotland Yard's Inspector Lennard, the evidence tells an unambiguous story: four men broke into a house, physically removed a safe, carried it to a nearby grove of trees, and levered off its door to get at the gold inside. However, Baker Street's most industrious detective has other ideas. He deduces that footprints are faked, false clues have been planted, and the crime was committed not by four men but by one very powerful one: Waldo the Wonder-Man (making his second appearance in the Blake saga). Five hairs in a dropped cap set him on the trail of the ex-circus strongman. Ultimately, Waldo gets away but, unfortunately for him, he doesn't get the loot he wanted.
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Of course, right from the first page it's obvious that this particular criminal can't be caught; he is, after all, a recurring character. So when the two men confront one another, it's more of a jousting match than a fight to the death. That said, this story is thoroughly satisfying.
Notes: The tale is related by means of letters and telegrams passing back and forth between Sexton Blake, Nelson Lee, Tinker and Nipper. The case concerns a robbery and murder on an estate. The body of the steward's son — a man disliked by almost everyone — has been discovered in a ditch. Covered in frost and almost frozen solid, the corpse has a knife sicking out of an enormous chest wound ... a wound that seems bigger than anything the knife could make. All the evidence points to a man called Benjamin Stagg. He's an ex-burglar who now works as groundsman on the estate. Realising that he has no alibi, he flees the scene and heads straight to Baker Street. Sexton Blake is convinced of his innocence and decides to shelter him. Leaving Tinker to guard their guest, he accompanies Inspector Lennard to the scene of the crime. At this point, Blake goes into full 'Sherlock Holmes mode' and discovers that the blood on the handle of the knife is frozen over a layer of ice ... which doesn't make sense. From this puzzle, he efficiently untangles the truth of the matter and proves Stagg's innocence.
Rating: ★★★★☆ The letters are a marvellous contrivance and they work extremely well thanks to Edwy Searles Brooks' ability to change tone according to who's authoring the missive. On the face of it, there's not a great deal of difference between Blake and Lee or Tinker and Nipper ... but, somehow, in these letters each individual feels distinct. Blake appears to be more driven and powerful than Lee. By contrast, Lee is more relaxed and leisurely. Nipper is definitely younger than Tinker by two or three years and while both are cheeky rascals, Tinker is a little cockier. Nelson Lee doesn't really get much to do — it's more of a guest appearance than anything else — and there's not much in the way of the action and chase scenes you'd expect from a Sexton Blake story, but somehow it's very satisfying to sit back and witness the Baker Street detective doing some straightforward detecting. In many ways, this feels much more like a Holmes story than otherwise, albeit a rather simple one. Perhaps this sort of case can be regarded as 'bread and butter' work; the kind of incident that Blake can tidy up in a day or so and which, in his opinion, would be too unremarkable to set down for posterity. Thank goodness for Tinker, then, who obviously gathered together all the letters and filed them in the Baker Street Index!
Notes: Poet Horace Cromer invites his friend, Sexton Blake, to a reception to celebrate the engagement of his daughter Sylvia to Gerald Montford. During the course of the party, Sylvia is handed a small bronze monkey by an American named Earle Kennedy, who then departs. When Sylvia shows the little statue to her father, he reacts with fear and collapses. With no clue as to why this has happened, Blake returns to Baker Street. Shortly thereafter Gerald arrives and informs him that Sylvia has disappeared. Returning to the reception, Blake finds evidence that the girl boarded a car. With Tinker and Gerald accompanying him, he drives after the vehicle and catches up with it. Its driver, Kennedy, stops and Sylvia descends from the passenger seat. Upon being questioned, she declares that she has accompanied Kennedy willingly but Blake realises that she has a pistol pressed into her back. He trips Kennedy and the man flees, leaving the girl behind. As he drives away, he shoots Blake's tyres out, preventing further pursuit. The detective changes the wheel, drives Sylvia home and learns that she can offer no enlightenment as to why she was abducted. The next day, Cromer recovers and explains that many years ago he had joined an American religious cult, the Bethmites, but had long since left their ranks. However, as a cult member he must sacrifice his life if his daughter marries outside of the religion. The brass monkey was a reminder of this obligation. Later, Kennedy creeps into the house and tells Cromer that he can buy his way out of this situation by handing over £20,000. Cromer agrees and promises to get the money within two hours. Those hours pass and Kennedy and a cohort return. However, the Cromer they find waiting turns out to be a disguised Sexton Blake. The trap is sprung and the crooks, after a failed escape attempt, are taken into custody by Detective-Inspector Lennard. Blake explains that they were simply swindlers; the Bethmite cult has been extinct for at least fifteen years and Cromer is free of it.
Trivia: This case is recounted in first person by Sexton Blake. He owns a small racing car.
Notes: When an unscrupulous diamond merchant named Walter van Dusen is robbed of fifty-thousand pounds worth of gems, Sexton Blake is reluctant to take on the case. He changes his mind when he hears the thief described and concludes that it must have been Rupert Waldo. Blake tracks the villain to a barn in the countryside but falls into a trap. Waldo drugs him and places him on a Pacific-bound schooner to keep him out of the way while the criminal completes his business. Tinker learns of this and discovers that the vessel has set sail. So he rushes to St. Frank's School to employ the aid of Nelson Lee and Nipper. The trio borrow a speedboat and manage to intercept and board the schooner, rescuing Sexton Blake. The next day a man named Edgar Brunton visits the detective and tells him that Walter van Dusen had stolen diamonds from him and that he had told his lodger about this. The lodger had disappeared the same day that van Dusen was robbed. Blake surmises that this man must have been Waldo and, after searching the lodgings, finds himself back on the trail, which leads to Southend. Detective-Inspector Lennard accompanies him with a squad of policemen and they attempt to capture the criminal in the house he has hired. A terrific fight breaks out which ends when a roof collapses on top of Waldo. Faking serious injury, he is taken away in an ambulance from which he then escapes. Days later, Edgar Brunton receives diamonds through the post to the value of those that had been stolen from him by van Dusen.
Trivia: This story is told in first-person by Tinker.
Notes: Having just finished a case and arrived back in London's Victoria Station, a disguised Sexton Blake and Tinker notice Dirk Dolland aka The Bat — also in disguise — waiting to board a train to Bournsea on the south coast. He seems to be travelling with a man named H. Hamish, though the two take care not to be seen together. Blake follows them onto the train. During the journey, Hamish mysteriously receives a black feather. The sight of it causes him to die of fright — though it later emerges that he's been poisoned. During the resultant confusion, the detective notices that Dolland exchanges bags with the dead man. He follows The Bat to the Hotel Magnificent and takes the next-door room. When his neighbour goes out for a walk, Blake enters the room, hoping to examine the bag, but in the dark he finds another intruder who attacks him before fleeing, unseen. The next morning it is reported that two guests, Lord and Lady Follis, have had their jewels stolen and Blake decides to confront Dolland... but when he does so he discovers, to his dismay, that the disguised young man isn't Dirk Dolland at all! The detective's confusion increases when a telegram is forwarded from Baker Street — it was sent from Bournsea by Dolland and requests that Blake come at once. The detective finally makes contact with the cracksman and learns that the black feather is a death threat. Hamish had once been part of the Mr. Reece gang. With Reece dead, he wanted to recover the criminal's hidden money and invited Dolland to help. But it turns out that Reece isn't dead at all — it is he who murdered Hamish and then stole the Follis jewels... and the Dolland lookalike is a member of his gang. Blake identifies which hotel guest is, in fact, the disguised Mr. Reece but the master criminal gets away.
Trivia: There's a very illogical start to this story where Coutts doesn't recognise the made-up Blake even though he's just been working with him in that disguise — then he himself turns up in false beard etc mere minutes later.
Notes: This story is told in first-person by Tinker who notices that a Canadian millionaire named Leighton Bower is impervious to pain and realises that the man is, in fact, Rupert Waldo. Waldo is inveigling his way into Earl Stacey's circle — for the Earl owns one of the finest collections of rubies in the world. Sexton Blake tries to warn Stacey but is rebuffed. On his way back to Baker Street, he bumps into Nelson Lee and Nipper. Meanwhile, Waldo is made guest of honour in Earl Stacey's manor. He is shown the rubies and Stacey explains to him how the security systems work. That night, Waldo uses this knowledge and breaks into the safe. He is interrupted by the recently employed butler and footman but when they try to capture him they are overpowered. Earl Stacey, confronted by this scene, immediately believes Waldo when the villain states that he had caught the two servants trying to steal the gems. They are bundled away to the police station where it's revealed that they are Nelson Lee and Nipper. Blake and Tinker come to their rescue. Back at the house, with everyone returned to their beds, Waldo makes a second attempt on the rubies. This time he gets away and disguises himself as a travelling knife-sharpener. Unknown to him, Blake, Tinker, Lee and Nipper are on his trail, as is Inspector Lennard. By means of a strong net, the detectives capture their prey and Waldo, for the first time in his criminal career, finds himself in custody.
Notes: Sexton Blake learns from Detective-Inspector Coutts that criminals in Britain, Europe and America are mysteriously vanishing. Meanwhile, in a shabby lodging house, a recently released criminal dies of old age and a younger man, passing himself off as the nephew, makes off with his clothes to prevent the corpse being identified. Blake, however, establishes that the departed was known as Diamond Joe. The next day Coutts calls Blake to Dalling on the East coast where the body of the 'nephew' has washed up on the beach — shot through the heart. He is wearing a strange uniform with solid gold buttons marked "CC" and has in his possession the Carnby diamonds which Diamond Joe had stolen ten years previously. Also hidden on the corpse is a codeword and an address — which Coutts recognises as that of the Discharged Prisoners Association. A policeman is sent there to investigate and promptly vanishes. When Blake and Coutts follow, they find the house empty and the policeman tied and unconscious in the cellar. They hide in a cupboard when two men arrive — one being a recently released prisoner. The other proves to be Mr Reece, who offers his companion a position in the newly formed Criminals' Confederation, a massive organisation of crooks. Reece is a lieutenant in this Confederation. Blake and Coutts leap out of hiding and hold him at gun point. Blake narrowly avoids a booby-trap and Reece is taken into custody, vowing to be free within a week.
Trivia: Tinker owns a two-seater Cameron sports car which was given to him as a gift from Sexton Blake in recognition of work undertaken during THE RACING CAR MYSTERY (an unrecorded case!).
This was reprinted in UNION JACK issue 1,469 as A CORNER IN CROOKS (1931).
Rating: ★★★★★ This is the first tale in the great Criminals' Confederation series — and it gets things off to a superb start.
Notes: This is a direct sequel to THE MISSING CROOKS. Sexton Blake uses a wireless to contact the Criminals' Confederation. Pretending to be Mr Reece, he learns that at least one member of the villainous union is located in the village of Dalling on the East Coast, where he and Detective-Inspector Coutts had been the previous night. Blake and Coutts return to the village and discover that the body of Diamond Joe has been stolen from the shed where it had lain pending the inquest. Sir Philip Champion, who had been appointed to take charge of the proceedings, invites the two detectives to Dalling Hall. There he traps them and reveals that he is a high ranking officer in the Confederation (Reece's superior). He drugs Blake and Coutts and, placing them in their car, sends it careening off a cliff. Fortunately they are thrown clear just before the vehicle crashes to the rocks below. After they call up reinforcements, a cordon of police is thrown around Dalling Hall but Champion, together with new recruits for the Confederation and Mr Reece, who has escaped from police custody, makes a dash through a secret tunnel and escapes on a yacht. Blake is left with nothing but a letter which reveals that Reece has captured Tinker who will be held hostage at the Criminals' Confederation headquarters. He will be unharmed providing Blake gives up his quest to bring the villainous organisation to justice.
Trivia: Sexton Blake's telephone number is 0022 Regent.
This story was reprinted in UNION JACK issue 1,472 as CONFEDERATION CALLING (1932).
Notes: After six months on the Continent, Dirk Dolland returns to England. En route from Dover to London by rail, he meets Detective-Inspector Anstey of Scotland Yard who asks him if he would mind delivering a note to Sexton Blake. Dolland agrees though he feels strangely mistrustful of the police officer. When he arrives home, he discovers that Blake has been calling for him every day for the past six weeks. He rushes over to Baker Street where he discovers that Tinker has been kidnapped by the Criminals' Confederation and has been missing for two months. Blake and Detective-Inspector Coutts tell him the history of the villainous organisation and ask him to help infiltrate it by pretending that he's back in business as a cracksman. Dolland agrees and The Bat is reborn. Suddenly he remembers the note given him by Anstey. It proves to be from Tinker, who writes to say he is in good health. Blake realises that Anstey is, in fact, Sir Philip Champion. A few days later London is in uproar after a daring jewel robbery by The Bat. Dolland seeks refuge in a hideaway owned by a Chinaman and quickly finds himself confronted by Detective-Inspector Anstey who reveals his true identity. Dolland is enrolled in the Confederation and taken aboard a cargo ship named the Jessamine to embark on a ten-day sea voyage. At its end, the Jessamine is approached by a large liner and the passengers transfer aboard. The Liberty is the floating headquarters of the Criminals' Confederation. Learning that the President — whose identity remains unknown to Dolland — and Mr Reece are away for a fortnight, The Bat settles into his new cabin only to find himself alerted by a tapping at the porthole. It's Tinker! Learning the position of the ship from the lad, Dolland breaks into the wireless room and sends a message. It's picked up by a nearby vessel, relayed to the Admiralty and from there to Sexton Blake. The Admiralty loans the detective a torpedo boat and Blake and Coutts set off to hunt the Liberty. Four days later, Dolland overhears a wireless message which informs the Confederation ship that there is a spy on board. During the night, he and Tinker make a quick getaway in a small boat and are picked up by Blake. The Liberty slips away in the darkness.
Trivia: This was reprinted in UNION JACK issue 1,476 as REECE'S RECRUIT (1932).
Notes: This story is comprised of letters sent between various characters, including those from Tinker to Nipper.
Notes: 'The Story of Philip Wymerton, a Youth who Struggled Against a Frail Nature, Fell a Victim to Craft and Villainy, and was, after a Bitter Lesson, Saved from the Coils of Fate and Restored to Honour and Happiness by SEXTON BLAKE, the Famous Detective.'
UNION JACK · New series · Issue 812 · 3/5/1919 · Amalgamated Press · 1½d
Illustrator: H. M. Lewis
Other content: A Dead Man's Secret (Nelson Lee) by Maxwell Scott; With Bow and Blade by Anon. (probably Morton Pike; continued in THE ROBIN HOOD LIBRARY No. 1); Lone Wolf's Quest by Anon. (continued in THE PRAIRIE LIBRARY No. 1)
Notes: A month has passed since the events recounted in HELD AS HOSTAGE! (UNION JACK 808). Sir Philip Champion meets three businessmen — Lord Garrock, Thomas White and Sir Dutton Sykes — in an office and blackmails them into providing coal, shipping and financial services to the Criminals' Confederation. They each put their signature to a contract but as they open the door to leave a draught blows the document out of the window. In the street below, a young clerk is seen to pick up and read the paper before suddenly dropping dead. A crowd gathers and among the throng is Sexton Blake. He ascertains that the clerk has been shot through the heart. When he recovers a fragment of the paper, most of which has been snatched by somebody else, from the corpse's hand, a shot is fired at him too. It comes from the block on the other side of the street and there, in a window, the detective sees Champion. Blake, Tinker and Inspector Carver rush in to apprehend the villain but find no trace of him. They do, however, encounter Garrock who, unknown to them, has been forced to provide Champion with a hiding place. That night, Blake is awoken by a telephone call from someone named Raymond Caxton who claims to be in danger from Champion and the Confederation. The call ends with a scream. The detective rushes around to the man's flat and finds him unconscious with a broken skull. Blake calls Detective-Inspector Coutts for assistance but while he is waiting for the Yard man to arrive, someone else turns up — Dirk Dolland! The Bat reveals that he has been hired by a Sir Dutton to recover the contract. Lord Garrock is the next unexpected arrival and he tells the detective the full story. Blake finds evidence that Thomas White had been in the apartment before Caxton, who had taken the contract from the dead clerk and intended to use it for blackmail, was assaulted probably by Champion. Believing that White might have gained possession of the document, the men rush to his home and arrive in time to hear a gunshot. Champion flees as they enter having shot White in the arm... but too late, White has burned the contract and the Confederation has suffered another setback.
Trivia: The President of the Confederation makes his first appearance here, though he remains unnamed. Sexton Blake confirms in this story that he has taken a degree in medicine though he doesn't practise. This tale was reprinted in UNION JACK issue 1,480 as WIND BLOWN BLACKMAIL (1932).
Notes: An American named Trouble Nantucket approaches Sexton Blake on Baker Street and asks for his help. He says that trouble follows him wherever he goes and on this occasion it has come in the form of a murder. Nantucket is staying at the Thelma Hotel where the man in the adjoining room has been found dead. Inspector Bore has identified the corpse as Dasher Harry, a well-known cracksman — but the mystery is why Harry shaved off his beard and moustache shortly before being killed. Blake goes to the hotel and finds that the dead man's room and that of Nantucket are connected via a door. While looking through this door at the murder scene, he sees a man searching the body and begins to suspect that this character is working with the American. Tinker sees the same man at the inquest the next day and learns that his name is Mr Velton. Following him, he watches as he meets with Dasher Harry's wife and is covered by a pistol which she unexpectedly produces. While Velton is held by her, another man silently breaks into one of his other rooms and though he doesn't see him, Tinker is sure that the intruder is Trouble Nantucket. When his presence becomes known, Tinker has to make a quick getaway and reports back to Baker Street. Sexton Blake formulates to theory that the dead man isn't Dasher Harry at all and his further inquiries lead him to believe that the still-alive Dasher is hiding out in a thieves' kitchen known as the Rabbit Warren. He and Tinker, disguised as gypsies, go there and confront the one-time cracksman and his wife. Dasher reveals that he had been hired to recover a jewel case by a man who looked just like him; a man who then had a heart attack and died while they were both in the hotel room where the case was meant to be. Dasher had fled the scene and afterwards someone had taken the jewel case. Events lead to a confrontation with Trouble Nantucket who reveals that he took the case and has been working against Velton, who is blackmailing an American woman. The lookalike was her brother who had died trying to protect his sister. The complex plot is untangled by Blake who realises that Nantucket — who purposely lured him into the affair — is something of a hero. Furthermore, Dasher is innocent and Velton is a scoundrel. The villain is defeated and Dasher and his wife leave for America to begin a new life. Blake feels sure that he and Trouble Nantucket will meet again.
Notes: Denys Maryat lives with her guardian, Sir Richard Greville, in Strangeways Hall, and is in love with that man's son, Evan, who was serving in the Navy before being captured by the Germans. He is now expected to be repatriated. One night, the french doors burst open and Evan staggers in, dishevelled and bleeding, his uniform in tatters. Sir Richard hurries out to fetch water. Evan, blaming Denys for his condition, glares at her in hatred and raises his pistol toward her. She faints. When Sir Richard returns with his butler, they find the door to the room locked. The butler breaks it open. Evan has gone. Sir Richard sends for his friend, Monty Halloren, a snobbish aristocrat who has designs on Denys but the man is of little assistance. The next day, a message arrives from Evan in which he claims to be in trouble and requests five thousand pounds to get him out of it. Having seen the state of his boy, Sir Richard sends the cash to the stated address. He then consults Sexton Blake, who arrives at Strangeways with Tinker and Pedro, gathers clues, and reveals to his assistant that they suggest that the man who burst into Strangeways was not Evan. A new Scotland Yard detective named Rashley visits Baker Street with a constable. They drug Pedro and Mrs Bardell, hold Blake and Tinker at bay with a pistol, take possession of all the evidence, then bind the investigators to chairs before making their getaway. Blake and Tinker return to Strangeways where further clues misdirect them into suspecting Halloren. Evan Greville then shows up claiming to have just arrived from Holland. Blake finally realises the truth when the young lieutenant describes the character of Lionel King, a man with whom he was a prisoner of war. King was, undoubtedly, Leon Kestrel. The Master Mummer is, at this point, and unknown to Blake, leading a double life as "Ralph Kenway," an artist of some repute, inhabiting a secluded house with Father Bierce. He is drawing his old gang back together — Madrano is on his way from Paris — and also intends to draw Bierce's beautiful daughter, Fifette, into his orbit. His henchmen, Lessing and Ball, return from Baker Street with the evidence they stole. When Kestrel spots a small ad in a newspaper, he recognises it as a trap set by Blake. He avoids it and sends five thousand pounds to Evan with a note apologising for having "borrowed" the money. He also gives notice to Blake that he is resuming his criminal career.
Trivia: The First World War caused a break of a little over two-years in the career of Leon Kestrel. In fact, he has been presumed deceased, word having reached Sexton Blake that, in the spring of 1917, the Master Mummer was shot dead in Chicago by a member of his own gang. However, it later emerges that, despite a history of working for German interests, when that country fell out with America, he joined up to fight on the side of the allied powers. Captured, Kestrel spent the remaining period incarcerated in a German prisoner-of-war camp. This story recounts his first encounter with Blake after that enforced absence.
In truth, the long pause in Kestrel's career was due to the fact that his creator, Jack Lewis, was serving as a naval lieutenant.
Notes: Dirk Dolland, also known as The Bat is enjoying a game of billiards in his club with a new acquaintance when Sexton Blake walks in. The detective immediately recognises Dolland's companion as a disguised Sir Philip Champion and arrests him. That evening a nondescript little man who calls himself John Smith visits Baker Street and, to Blake's astonishment, announces that he is president of the Criminals' Confederation. Holding the detective at gunpoint, he complains that his plans have been interfered with once too often and Blake's hounding of the organisation must cease immediately. He then asserts that Champion will be free within twenty-four hours and his escape will be aided by Blake. He also declares that a million pounds in English sovereigns will be stolen that night. He then leaves the house and eludes pursuit. Next morning, Detective-Inspector Coutts informs Blake that a million in gold bullion has gone missing en route to Southampton. Furthermore, Champion has declared that he wants to turn King's evidence against the Confederation. The criminal promises to lead Blake and the police to the location of the Liberty — the Confederation's ship and HQ. Sexton Blake consults his friend Richard Test and borrows his steam yacht which has been fitted out with guns. He, Tinker, Coutts and Dolland escort a securely manacled Champion aboard and set sail for the South Atlantic. Nine days later, as they approach the area where the Liberty had last been spotted, Blake suddenly finds himself confronted by a well-armed John Smith. The president has been hiding in the hold, where the stolen gold is also secretly stored. To the detective's dismay, it turns out that the whole crew are Confederation men. Blake, Tinker and Coutts are put aboard a life boat and set adrift. Dolland remains a prisoner of the Confederation; he is to be tried and executed for his betrayal of the organisation. The tale ends with Blake & co. being picked up by an American cruiser.
Trivia: At this point in the history of the Confederation, Sir Philip Champion has greater authority than Mr Reece. This tale was reprinted in UNION JACK issue 1,484 as ENTER THE PRESIDENT (1932).
Notes: This case is recounted in first person by Tinker. Leonard Stewart visits Sexton Blake late one night after having attended a seance at Talbot House. It had been hosted by an elderly woman named Mrs Harley-Crosse. The medium was an armless man named Brampton who had recently become fairly famous for his spiritualist powers. During the seance, a strange headless shape had materialised and snatched Helen Manners, Stewart's fiancee, from the room. When the lights were put on, she was gone, with no visible means of exit. The detective agrees to investigate and accompanies Stewart back to the house. Brampton falls into another trance and warns that the spirit is roaming the grounds and everyone should remain inside until dawn. Blake, Tinker and Stewart ignore this and they go outside only to find themselves attacked by a huge headless apparition. Blake declares that he can't oppose a ghost and he and Tinker return to Baker Street where they find Nelson Lee and Nipper waiting for them. Blake tells his friend that, judging from the strength of the 'ghost', he suspects that Rupert Waldo might be involved. When Detective-Inspector Lennard arrives and informs the detectives that Waldo has escaped from prison, the suspicion is confirmed. Blake sets Tinker the task of keeping watch on Talbot House. Tinker sees Mrs Harley-Crosse leave the place to meet a young woman, who he then follows into a derelict sewer. He hears her talking to a prisoner — Helen Manners — and races away to alert Sexton Blake. Unfortunately, he is caught and rendered unconscious by the headless ghost. Nipper, who secretly followed Blake's assistant, returns to Baker Street to tell the two detectives what he's witnessed. Blake and Lee visit Talbot House where they reveal the trickery behind the ghost before unmasking the disguised Waldo. The Wonder-man has been working for Helen Manners' uncle who is in line to inherit her fortune should she disappear 'presumed dead'. Waldo escapes but realises that heavy rainfall will flood the sewer, drowning his captives. He sets them free and Blake, in gratitude, allows him to evade capture.
Notes: 'This enthralling yarn deals with the Army of Occupation and takes the reader to Cologne and the Rhine.'
Notes: Having been abandoned at sea by the Criminals' Confederation, Sexton Blake and his companions are picked up by the crew of The Florence Gray and made guests of Captain Rawling. After explaining the reason for their plight, Blake learns that Rawling suspects that his passenger, Mr Piper, might be a member of the nefarious organisation. The Captain claims to have been duped into delivering this man to the Liberty and he is very loathe to do so now that he realises the truth. Piper is made a prisoner and The Florence Gray continues its mission with Blake now in charge. The detective and his friends remain in hiding while Rawling sails alongside the Liberty and informs Sir Philip Champion that Piper was killed in an accident. Champion believes this and orders Rawling to weigh anchor until morning. During the night, Blake and Tinker swim across to The Speedy where it lies tethered to the criminals' liner. Finding it empty, Blake sends his assistant back to fetch Detective-Inspector Coutts and Richard Test from the The Florence Gray. They recapture the yacht while Blake boards the Confederation HQ. He arrives in time to witness the trial of Dirk Dolland, who is sentenced to death for betraying the villainous organisation. Piper escapes and arrives at the end of the trial to inform Mr John Smith, Champion and Mr. Reece that Blake is aboard. In the ensuing confusion, the detective rescues Dolland and they swim back to The Speedy which then opens fire on the liner, destroying its wireless equipment before making a getaway.
Trivia: This story was reprinted under the same title in UNION JACK issue 1,492 (1932).
Notes: While Sexton Blake, Tinker and Hon. John Lawless are holidaying on the west coast of Scotland and awaiting the arrival of Lord Alec Drummond, Tinker sees a man stealing potatoes before sailing away with them. Drummond arrives accompanied by Juan Alvarez, a South American. Lord Alec describes how, among the crew of his yacht, there was a young man named Sam Wade who vanished just after Alvarez came aboard. The latter then discovered that he had been robbed of a small jewel case. Suspecting that Wade might be hiding on Oag Island, Blake, Tinker and Lawless sail to it and, the moment they set foot on its shore, are astonished to be greeted by New York detective Trouble Nantucket. He informs them that Wade is really Philip Malvey, the son of a rich Texan, who has been on the run after erroneously thinking he'd killed his cousin during a quarrel. Alvarez, he explains, is an enemy of the Malveys, and is intent on gaining the oil-rich land that Philip Malvey has unknowingly inherited. The South American has just three days left in which to make Malvey sign over the land, else it will be legally the property of the family's solicitors. Nantucket has rented Oag for the hunting season, believing that the young man fled to it after seeing Alvarez. He shows a photograph of the fugitive and Tinker immediately recognises the potato thief. When the detectives split up and begin their search, the youngster encounters Alvarez, who has snuck onto the island and is aiming a sniper rifle at the distant Blake. Tinker interferes but Alvarez gets the better of him, binds him hand and foot, places him in a boat, and sets him adrift in perilous waters. The villain then gets into a scrap with Nantucket but is overpowered by Blake and discovered to be carrying a deed selling the Malvey land and signed by Philip Malvey. Nantucket, declaring that the signature was obviously gained under false pretences, tears the document to shreds. While the New Yorker keeps watch over the crook, Blake takes a boat and continues to hunt for Malvey along the shoreline. Meanwhile, upon hearing Tinker’s cries for help from his hiding place, Philip Malvey swims out and boards the boat. He cuts the youngster loose but then sees that the craft is without oars and realises that they are slowly being dragged into a raging whirlpool. Blake comes sailing to the rescue, they board his boat, and there then commences a terrific struggle to row against the pull of the waters. By means of a supreme effort, the three of them are able to stay out of the sucking vortex. They return to Oag and are met by Lawless, Nantucket, and their prisoner, Alvarez. The latter is forced to sign a confession detailing his swindling of Malvey and the attempted murder of Tinker. He is given two days to get out of the country.
Notes: Jim Reeves works as a mechanic in a secluded car factory owned by Mr Carr. He spends his days receiving parts which have been reclaimed from wrecked vehicles and reconditioned by a talented South American named Mirlano. However, Jim is not happy ... Carr and Mirlano are as thick as thieves and they keep him locked in his workshop throughout the working hours, refusing him access to the rest of the factory. He believes they're up to something ... and when he overhears them mention a man named Count Victor Novaille, who has recently purchased a car of the model they specialise in, he decides to investigate. Travelling to London, Jim tracks down the car in question and befriends the Count's chauffeur. He takes a special note of the vehicle's serial number. The young chauffeur asks him to demonstrate the timing of the gears and, before he knows it, Jim finds himself running his new friend and the Count down to Maidenhead. Errand completed, he takes his leave of them and catches the train home, little suspecting that he has been in the company of a disguised Sexton Blake and Tinker, who are setting a trap to catch a gang of very efficient car thieves. Their plan works; a few nights later their car is stolen. They follow it to the factory where they catch sight of Mr Carr and realise that he is, in fact, Count Ivor Carlac. Unfortunately, they are spotted and captured by the criminal. That night, Jim Reeves finds proof — in the form of the serial numbers he had noted — that he is working for car thieves and tackles Carlac. He manages to overcome his foe long enough to free Blake and Tinker but the three men find themselves in a tight corner when Carlac sets fire to the factory. They escape, as does Carlac, and drive to Southampton, where the stolen cars are due to be shipped to Professor Kew, who runs the other end of the operation abroad. The detectives, with the police, take possession of the vehicles and arrest Mirlano.
Notes: The Cope Diamond has an evil reputation. Everyone who has ever owned it has died in tragic circumstances. The American multi-millionaire, Gregory V. Canning, has no fear of superstition, though, and purchases the gem at an auction, much to the disgust of his rival, Jerome Saker, who wanted the stone himself. So Saker makes a wager with Canning: if disaster strikes within six months, Canning will guarantee to sell the diamond to Saker at a fraction of the price he himself paid for it. With that, the men go their separate ways, Canning to take his consumptive son on a sea voyage. Within days, the millionaire is back in port, his yacht docked in Southampton, after his boy's death aboard ship. Meanwhile, another vessel has arrived home: the Speedy, owned by Richard Test and with Sexton Blake, Tinker, Detective-Inspector Coutts and Dirk Dolland aboard. All have returned after their battle at sea with the Criminals' Confederation. Coutts heads off to London while the rest seek recuperation in a local hotel. There, Blake is astonished to find himself spied upon by John Smith, the Confederation President and a man he had thought lost at sea. That night, Blake goes to bed wondering whether he can believe the evidence of his own eyes. Dirk Dolland also has a restless night. He has heard that the Cope Diamond is aboard Canning's yacht and cannot resist the temptation. Giving in to his criminal tendencies, he leaves the hotel, rows out to the vessel, and sneaks on board. There he witnesses an argument between Smith and a man he takes to be Canning. The millionaire is overcome by means of a gas pistol and Smith callously tosses him overboard. Dolland rescues the unconscious man and takes him ashore where he is met by Blake. Followed by a team of policemen, they lead a raid on the yacht only to find that Smith has vanished. However, locked in a room, they discover a man who claims to be the real Canning. Having been freed, he says he will remain on the yacht while his rescuers head back to find out who the man Smith threw overboard really is. He turns out to be Jerome Saker, who explains that he had visited the yacht to buy the diamond but had found only Smith there. When he describes Canning, Blake realises that the man they had discovered on the yacht isn't the millionaire. Racing to the quayside, he sees that the yacht has gone; he's been fooled by the Confederation!
Trivia: This story was reprinted under the same title in UNION JACK issue 1,496 (1932).
Notes: A young doctor, Marlow, is accused of stealing radium from the safe of Professor Futrelle. While on bail, he attempts suicide but is saved by Sexton Blake. The detective discovers that Marlow, who is married, has had his head turned by the professor’s beautiful daughter. Sensing that things don’t add up, he interviews the daughter and finds that she isn’t the beauty that the professor described. It quickly emerges that the woman’s new maid has been impersonating her in order to trick Marlow into aiding and abetting the theft. Blake identifies this imposter—who by now has absconded—as Fifette Bierce. She, it turns out, is a new member of Leon Kestrel’s gang. The Master Mummer, feeling over-confident, pays Blake a visit, but the detective sees through his disguise and has him arrested by Detective-Inspector Harker. Kestrel escapes and scores a win, as he is later able to sell the radium for a tidy profit. Marlow, at least, is proven innocent.
Trivia: This story introduces Fifette Bierce and her father.
Notes: A 'tale of the pretty girl who is tempted to steal for her lover's sake' — 'The scene of the yarn is laid in the Scottish Highlands'.
Notes: Seven weeks have passed since the Criminals' Confederation ship, the Liberty was put out of action by Sexton Blake and his friends. Now the Confederation has made a base of an uncharted volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean, from which it conducts its nefarious operations. Currently, it is holding hostage the son of American millionaire Gregory V. Canning (see THE DIAMOND OF DISASTER, UNION JACK issue 824) and has also taken possession of his yacht, the Susquehanna. Sexton Blake and Detective-Inspector Coutts make little progress in their hunt for the criminal organisation until they hear the story of a sea Captain who lost his ship to it, giving the detectives an approximation of where the island HQ might lie. They are then approached by Canning, who informs them that he has received a ransom demand; his son will be returned in exchange for a million pounds. The meeting is interrupted when a message is thrown through Blake's window. It says that the deal is now delayed for a month due to Canning approaching the detective. Blake sees this as an opportunity to rescue Canning Junior, and so arranges to be taken aboard a cargo vessel bound for the South Atlantic as first mate. After growing a beard and dying his hair, he is unrecognised when the Confederation boards the ship in an act of piracy. Taken prisoner, he and the rest of the crew are incarcerated on the island. Will he rescue young Canning and escape? The story continues in the next issue!
Trivia: Parts of this were rehashed for UNION JACK issue 1,500 VOLCANO ISLAND (1932).
Notes: This issue is a sequel to UNION JACK 830. Tinker, Dirk Dolland, Richard Test, Detective-Inspector Coutts and Gegory V. Canning are aboard the Speedy trailing some miles behind Sexton Blake, ready to respond should he signal for help. When the S.O.S. comes, they leap into action only to find that they've been tricked by the Criminals' Confederation. The Speedy is boarded in an act of piracy and the friends are taken prisoner by Sir Philip Champion. Tinker accidentally reveals that Sexton Blake, in disguise, is now on the Confederation base — a small and uncharted volcanic island in the South Atlantic. Champion radios ahead to warn John Smith, the Confederation's president, of his unwelcome guest. Meanwhile, Blake explores the island and meets Dexter Canning, the millionaire's kidnapped son. With the lad's assistance, he manages to climb to the base's radio room, which is located at the top of a jagged peak. After intercepting Champion's message, Blake and Dexter climb down to the beach in time to watch the Speedy arrive. Its captured crew, including Blake's fellow adventurers, are left guarded by one man while Champion and Mr. Reece go to see why Smith didn't respond to their radioed warning. Blake takes the opportunity and overpowers the guard. With the yacht recaptured, Blake & Co. sail away. Behind them, the island suddenly erupts, leaving no trace of the Confederation.
Trivia: Parts of this were rehashed for UNION JACK issue 1,500 VOLCANO ISLAND (1932).
Notes: The story is told through the means of letters posted between characters, especially between Tinker and Nipper (Nelson Lee's assistant).
Notes: 'A Story of Underground London.' No record exists that credit this story to a particular author but the style is that of E. W. Alais and the presence of one of his characters, Inspector Kite provides further evidence.
Notes: The Rev. Hartley Groves is young and wealthy. His beautiful wife, Norah, was once married to a brutal drug-addict named Eustace Bynge, but he died in Africa, and though she is haunted by her past, she is now happy. One night, though, Bynge reappears and blackmails her, forcing her to open her husband’s safe. He makes off with a fortune, and when Hartley Groves spots him escaping and gives chase, Bynge shoots the reverend, almost killing him. Sexton Blake investigates and soon discovers Norah’s history. When he finds a witness to Bynge’s death in Africa, he learns that the man had been beaten to death in Lagos by a strange young American named—Leon Kestrel! Kestrel, it appears, had courted and been rejected by Norah, and is now seeking vengeance by impersonating her first husband. After rescuing the young woman from attempted suicide, Blake recognises her maid as Fifette Bierce. He has Kestrel’s beautiful accomplice arrested and incarcerated in the local police station. Kestrel and Father Bierce mount a violent rescue, and the three crooks escape.
Trivia: The young Kestrel is described as having a face “like a hawk.”
Blake drives the Grey Panther.
Notes: UNION JACK increases in size with this issue from 16 to 20 pages. The story features Leon Kestrel.
Notes: This story marks the first appearance of Sexton Blake's most charismatic opponent, Monsieur Zenith the Albino. Zenith's entrance is typically dramatic. Blake, Tinker and Pedro are staying in a seaside hotel having just finished a rather uneventful case. Late one evening during a ferocious thunderstorm, the gas lights die, plunging the room into darkness. Tinker gets up to relight them but is halted by a voice: "Leave it to me." The lights are restored, revealing the albino. The villain claims that he is the person responsible for a spate of recent crimes and is visiting Blake merely to make his acquaintance. The discussion is interrupted when the police arrive. The albino makes his escape with the help of some henchmen and the subsequent action-packed car and speedboat chase provides the modern-day reader with a delicious line: 'Events move pretty rapidly when one is travelling at thirty miles an hour ...' Zenith separates from his cohorts and is followed by Blake while Tinker trails three of the henchmen into a riverside alleyway where they mysteriously vanish. Blake, having learned that Zenith is running an international crime ring, joins Tinker and deduces that the warehouse adjoining the ally is used as a clearing house for stolen antiquities. However, when the police batter down the door and rush in to make their arrests, they find the place abandoned. Zenith has outfoxed the great detective! Later, Blake and Tinker return, landing a plane on the warehouse's roof. Zenith captures Blake and leaves him to die in cold storage. Tinker rescues him but, the following day, Zenith bombs their Baker Street apartment. Surviving, but faking his death, Blake sets an ambush for the albino and his gang. Zenith gives them the slip. Later, he turns up at Blake's apartment disguised as a soldier and tries to poison the detective. Blake sees through the make-up and a fight ensues before Zenith takes flight. His next disguise, though, is far more ambitious. He enters Blake's rooms in the guise of Mrs Bardell! This time Blake is ready for him and the albino only just manages to evade capture. In the end, neither detective nor criminal emerges from the duel triumphant. The story closes with a personal ad in the Times: 'S.B. — To our next meeting! — Z.'
Trivia: This was anthologised in THE CASEBOOK OF SEXTON BLAKE (2009).
Rating: ★★★★★ The cut, thrust and parry between the two adversaries is a joy. Again and again Zenith places himself in a position where he might be caught, as if the lure of competition is irresistible to him. Were he anyone else, this self-destructive streak might seem a little improbable, but Anthony Skene has created a paradoxical personality for whom dicing with death is the very stuff of life. By contrast, Blake does everything in his power to shut down the albino's criminal activities and makes a pretty good job of it ... except when it comes to catching the elusive man himself, who constantly wriggles out of traps before coming back to taunt the detective. This story is an excellent introduction to a truly fascinating character.
Notes: Mysterious events are occurring in Pencombe Cove, Cornwall. A whole herd of cows has disappeared, men have been spotted marching from the sea to the cliffs where they inexplicably vanish, and there have been two murders. When Sexton Blake discovers that a thumbprint on one of the victims matches that found at the scene of a murder on a remote island in the Atlantic, his suspicions are aroused. He, Tinker and Detective-Inspector Coutts travel to the seaside town to investigate. As they arrive, an attempt is made on their lives. They then find a letter that warns them to return to London. Down on the beach, Blake is shot at while examining footprints in the sand. The attacker escapes, even though there appears to be no way out of the cove that he could have taken without being spotted. Then Tinker goes missing. Blake finds his assistant's collar upon which is scrawled a message: 'Imprisoned in an old tin-mine. In the hands of the Criminals' Confederation—Mr. Smith, Mr. Reece, Sir Philip Champion, and forty others ... ' The note describes the mine shaft in which the criminals are hiding but, when Blake and the police raid it, their birds have flown. A further note from Tinker reveals that they have gone to London.
Trivia: This story was rehashed, under the same title, for UNION JACK issue 1,504 (1932).
Notes: After three months spent abroad, Dirk Dolland aka The Bat returns to London and books a room in a hotel. A beautiful veiled woman is staying in the room next door ... and her jewels prove irresistible. Falling back into his old habits, Dolland attempts a burglary only to find himself caught in the act by the mysterious woman. She bargains with him: if he steals a sealed envelope from a room farther along the corridor, she will let him go and won't report him to the police. Dolland agrees but when, after retrieving the envelope, its owner is alerted, the woman begs Dolland to escape and deliver it to Sexton Blake. Dolland tries but is attacked and knocked unconscious. He awakens to find the envelope gone. When he visits Blake, he learns that Tinker has been kidnapped by the Criminals'Confederation (see THE TRAIL IN THE SAND Union Jack issue 838). The detective receives a call from the room from which the envelope was stolen and, when he goes there, is confronted by Mr. Smith, who demands that he signs a vow to desist in his battle with the villainous organisation. In return, Tinker will be given his liberty. Blake refuses and Smith escapes. Through evidence found at the hotel, the detective is able to identify the mysterious woman as Mlle. Yvonne. It turns out that she had recognised the captive Tinker when Smith had tried to hire her yacht. Since that time she has followed the criminal and was spying upon him when the future plans of the Confederation were placed in an envelope. It was this that she had asked Dirk Dolland to steal. Now, a bound, gagged and booby-trapped Tinker is returned to Baker Street. Yvonne intervenes and saves Blake and his assistant from destruction. The tale ends with the Confederation still in possession of its plans.
Trivia: Parts of this story were rehashed in UNION JACK issue 1,504 THE TRAIL IN THE SAND (1932).
Notes: Inspector Coutts has arrested a young man — James Verity — for the murder of one of his business partners, Brookes. The two men had been working together in an office at the top of their business premises beside the river when Brookes was shot dead. No one other than Verity was in the room, the door was locked, the window was shut and screwed down, and there was no other means of entry. Verity, however, swears he didn't fire the gun and pleads for Sexton Blake's assistance. Blake uncovers a murderous business rivalry involving the other partners and nearly loses his life when he and Tinker are trapped in a burning crane. Our heroes make their escape but the criminals get away and the trail goes cold. With only circumstantial evidence in his favour, it looks like James Verity will hang for murder. Blake goes to Smith's Kitchen, a luxurious underground club for villains that operates on a strict 'members only' basis. Upon entry he, like everyone present, is required to wear a mask. Thus disguised, he sits at a table and watches as a similarly masked guest gives a virtuoso performance on a violin. This youth then joins him at his table and reveals himself to be Zenith the albino. Blake knows that he's in a jam. If he doesn't find a way out, he will be killed within minutes. Asked why he is there, he admits that he wants to know how Brookes was murdered. Obligingly, Zenith calls over another masked guest who proves to be the murderer. Assured that Blake is about to die, this man confesses and describes how the crime was committed. He then picks a fight with Zenith. Blake, taking advantage of the distraction, escapes and returns to Baker Street. He receives a note from Zenith informing him that the murderer has met with an unfortunate and fatal accident but that before this occurred, he signed a confession. The latter is enclosed with the note. Verity is proven innocent and the case is closed.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ The cover banner of this issue of UNION JACK proudly proclaims 'An Amazing Story of ZENITH, the Albino! (See within)'. Obviously, for a Sexton Blake fan, 'seeing within' will be uppermost in the mind and I highly recommend that the eager reader follows this directive without pausing to look at the cover art. Why? Because this story concerns a seemingly impossible murder the solution to which has Blake baffled until the last but one chapter ... but, unfortunately, the solution proved so novel that the editor couldn't resist putting it on the front cover in the form of a beautiful black and white illustration! So, even before you begin this story, the mystery is solved. Having said that, even if readers follow my advice, they will still probably feel rather disappointed as, out of the seven chapters, the albino only appears in the sixth. Even then, he's incidental to the plot.
Notes: Sexton Blake is invited to fence with a master swordsman and finds himself crossing epées with Zenith the Albino. After the mocking repartee that always marks their encounters, the master villain declares that he's off to steal a diamond and evades the pursuing detective. During the subsequent car chase, Blake manages to catch a glimpse of a clown sitting beside the albino. The next morning, the clown is found dead in a solicitor's office. Blake realises that the body has been placed there to look like the victim of murder when, in fact, the clown died elsewhere after falling from a height. He deduces that he was climbing to the window of an adjoining building when he fell. The window leads to the rooms of an eccentric inventor, Professor Lees-Cranmer, who has been receiving death-threats demanding that he hands over a worthless glass goblet that was given to him by his now-deceased uncle. The most recent note states that, since he won't give up the goblet, it will be destroyed at precisely twelve o'clock. Blake, Tinker, Pedro, Inspector Coutts and the professor stand guard around it but, at twelve sharp, it shatters. The professor's untrustworthy servant had planted a tiny radio-controlled explosive in the decorations around its base. It seems as if Zenith's criminal organisation has won. Back in Baker Street, Blake ponders over the case. He can't understand why the goblet is considered so valuable. He sends Tinker to recover the fragments but his sidekick reports that they have already been collected by the disposal men and are now heading for the city dump where they will go into the incinerator. Sexton Blake rushes to the dump and comes face to face with Zenith. They fight, precariously balanced on a gangway above the incinerator. The albino manages to elude the detective but, later, they meet again. They are both on the marshes where the ashes from the incinerator are spread. Blake now knows that a diamond had been concealed in the base of the goblet. It would have survived the processing and must be somewhere here on the marshes. Both he and Zenith have come to search. This time, they both have men in tow and the numbers are evenly matched. Instead of fighting, they agree to a truce. Zenith and his men will not start a fight if they are left to search the marshes for 24-hours. To his companions' astonishment, Blake agrees to this. Bending to tie a knotted handkerchief to Pedro's collar, he leads the hound away from Zenith and returns to Baker Street. There he reveals that he has the diamond. Having spotted it at his feet, he had picked it up and concealed it in the handkerchief. What a fabulous coincidence that he happened to be standing in exactly the right spot! Zenith has lost.
Trivia: This was anthologised in SEXTON BLAKE AND THE MASTER CROOKS (2020) with slight edits for racially insensitive language.
Rating: ★★★★★ This is Sexton Blake's third encounter with Zenith the Albino and it's the best one so far. With thrilling scenes, mysteries and the characteristic polite but threatening banter, it shows both the hero and the villain at their most charming, dangerous and determined. Their game of cat and mouse, begun in A DUEL TO THE DEATH and continued in THE TENTH CASE, is much more deadly now. Zenith seems genuinely affronted by Blake's incessant interference, while Blake is resolute in his quest to put the pale villain behind bars.