by Jess Nevins
The text here, except where otherwise credited, is © copyright 2003 Jess Nevins, and may not be duplicated, in part or in whole, without my permission.
Thanks to: Alicia, as always; John Burt; Rick Lai; Guy Lawley; Mark Hodder.
Updated 20 October 2003
Added a new link.
You'll have noticed by now that this site does not get updated all that often. I apologise for this, since I do want to make this the best Sexton Blake site on the Internet, and I certainly have enough material to add to this site.
However, this site is strictly a hobby and sidelight. When I had no paying work besides my day job I was happy to devote hours to this site. But now that I have writing which I'm being paid for, or will be paid for, I'm forced to cease work on this site and spend my time elsewhere.
So, I'm sorry to say, there won't be any substantive update to this site for the next couple of years. Instead, I've written the The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana (cover to the left) based on my Fantastic Victoriana site, featuring a 1500-2000 word entry on Blake, and published by MonkeyBrain Books in November 2005. I'm currently writing The Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes, based on my Pulp Heroes site, featuring a smaller entry on Blake as well as an entry on Zenith the Albino, and coming out from MonkeyBrain Books in fall 2008. After that I'll write The Encyclopedia of Golden Age Superheroes, based on my Golden Age Heroes Directory site, and (probably) coming out from MonkeyBrain Books in fall 2009.
I will try to sneak in some more information while I'm writing the books, but there won't be anything major until I've finished my paying work. I trust you'll understand this.
-- Jess Nevins, 20 September 2004.
Sexton Blake is one of the most famous detectives in the English language. He has appeared in penny dreadfuls, story papers, dime novels, slicks, novels, movies, plays, radio shows, tv shows, comic books, and quite possibly hieroglyphics. This site is meant to provide some information on him. (There's no other site on the Internet devoted to Blake, so why shouldn't I do it?)
Blake was created by "Hal Meredith" and debuted in "The Missing Millionaire" in The Halfpenny Marvel #6, appearing on 20 December 1893. "Hal Meredith" was actually Harry Blyth, but Blyth, who died in 1898, only wrote a few Blake stories and was not responsible for the stories which gave rise to Blake's enormous popularity. Really, the creator of Blake isn't so important as the character itself; after all, the character and franchise has passed through so many hands that credit for the character should go to the writers in toto, rather than just to its creator. Around 177 authors wrote Blake stories, including Blyth, Edwy Searles Brooks, Robert Murray, George Hamilton Teed, Gwyn Evans, Anthony Skene, Lewis Jackson, John Hunter, John G. Brandon, Mark Osborne, Coutts Brisbane, Andrew Murray, William Murray Graydon, Cecil Hayter, Walter Tyrer, Anthony Parsons, Donald Stuart, Rex Hardinge, Gilbert Chester, John Creasey, Jack Trevor Story (an excellent site about whom, done by a gentleman named Guy Lawley, I highly recommend), Lord Berners (!) and Bill O'Nuallain, aka "Flann O'Brien" (!!!). Blake appeared in The Halfpenny Marvel, Chips, Union Jack, Answers, Boys' Friend Library, Boys' Herald, Penny Popular, Penny Pictorial, The Jester, Boys Journal, The Sexton Blake Library, Sports Budget, Pilot, Knockout Fun Book, London Evening Standard, Thriller, and undoubtedly still more magazines I'm unaware of. His adventures were published more or less continuously from 1893 through 1968; he's appeared in just about every medium there is; and he's been translated into at least 15 languages that I know of. Blake is most likely the third-most published character extant, Nick Carter being the most published. (W.O.G. Lofts has said that Blake only had 3848 original stories, but that Dixon Hawke logged over 5500, making Hawke the most published character of all time. This, obviously, bears further studying.)
Sexton Blake's Origin
The following is largely taken from the writings of W.O.G. Lofts, one of the foremost scholars of Blakiana.
In 1893 Alfred J. Harmsworth, the publisher of the Amalgamated Press, decided to start a new magazine. This new boys' paper, The Halfpenny Marvel Library, was intended to contain stories of a good quality, so that no parent could object to it. This was in contrast to the penny dreadfuls whose stories could be quite gruesome and which Harmsworth so detested. Although Halfpenny Marvel had an editor of its own, Somers J. Summers, Harmsworth was the real power behind the magazine, and it was Harmsworth, rather than Summers, who was looking for new talent, especially a writer who could write a new series. Harmsworth, reading the London Sunday People, noticed the "Third Class Crimes, or, The Undiscovered Crimes of London" series, written by Harry Blyth. The two hit it off when they met, and Harmsworth commissioned Blyth to write detective stories for him.
What happened next remains a matter of some dispute. Blyth and his son Harry always maintained that they were responsible for naming Blake. The story both always told was that Blyth asked his son which name he liked better, "Sexton Blake" or "Gideon Barr." The son, then a teenager, said that he preferred the former, and so "Sexton Blake" was chosen as the name for the new character. Blyth, unfortunately, sold the rights to Blake to Harmsworth for £9.9s, this being in the days before authors customarily retained the rights to their creations, so Blyth never profited from his character's phenomenal success. And, as mentioned, Blyth died of typhoid fever in 1898, before Blake really took off, so he never saw his character become popular, either.
The Blyths' story of Blake's creation was disputed, however, by former members of the Harmsworth Press group, including William H. Maas, the second editor of the Halfpenny Marvel. Maas stated that the
original intention was to call the detective Frank Blake, but somehow the first name did not seem 'lurid' enough, and so either Somers J. Summers or even possibly Alfred J. Harmsworth changed this to 'Sexton' Blake, which sounded so much better!The last name of "Blake" was not chosen at random, however. At the time the Aldine Publishing Company, Amalgamated's chief rival, was publishing reprints of the American dime novel hero the Fresh of Frisco, whose real name was "Jackson Blake" and who appeared in stories entitled "Jackson Blake, the Bouncer Detective." These stories were quite popular, and it is quite likely that Alfred Harmsworth, by giving his new character the same last name as the more popular Jackson Blake, hoped to confuse Aldine readers into buying his new character's stories.
Whichever story of the creation of Blake is the true one, however, the facts remain that the final product was a successful one. Not immediately, however.
Sexton Blake, the Man
Blake is sometimes unjustly described as a "Sherlock Holmes rip-off," although this ignores the fact that when Blake began he had none of the characteristics of Holmes. He wore a curly-brimmed bowler, not a deerstalker, was muscular rather than tall and lean, and used a heavy walking stick. He was more mercenary than Holmes, having a (quite reasonable) interest in what his clients were going to pay him. (This isn't to say he wasn't a good man, though. In his very first story he expressed his creed: "If there is a wrong to be righted, an evil to be redressed, or a rescue of the weak and suffering from the powerful, our hearty assistance can be readily obtained. We do nothing for hire here; we would cheerfully undertake to perform without fee or reward. But when our clients are wealthy, we are not so unjust to ourselves as to make a gratuitous offer of our services.") Blake rode a bicycle around London, rather than taking a hansom. He lived not on Baker Street but in New Inn Chambers, with his offices on Wych Street, off the Strand. And he was not a lone investigator, but was rather paired with Jules Gervaise, a French detective. (To quote E.S. Turner, whose wonderful Boys will be Boys provided a good deal of the information here, "in those days it was a privilege to be linked with a French detective, so well had Messrs. Gaboriau and Leroux done their work.") It wasn't until a few years later, at some point in the mid- or late 1890s, that Blake became more Holmesian.
In most of the important ways, however, Blake was never truly Holmesian. Jack Adrian, in the anthology Sexton Blake Wins, has a very good essay on Blake's history and character, and makes the following point regarding Holmes-v-Blake:
In sheer longevity Blake wins hands down, having outlasted Holmes by upwards of forty years, and in feats of physical prowess there is really no comparison. While Sherlock pondered, Sexton rolled up his sleeves. Holmes was of course no stranger to the fistic or defensive arts (he'd boxed at college and had even mastered 'baritsu' before it had been invented), but his adventures were on the whole physically undemanding. During the course of an investigation rarely was it the case, for instance, that a skillfully wielded blackjack caused a Stygian pit of black unconsciousness to rear up and engulf him till he knew no more. Blake, on the other hand, in case after case, went through the mill. He was slugged, clubbed, chloroformed, gassed, knifed, dynamited, run down, gunned down, injected with poison, ejected from planes, hurled from cliffs, pushed in front of trains, almost devoured by man-eating plants, virtually sucked dry of his 'life essence,' nearly shot to the Moon in a rocket--and the number of times the floor suddenly dropped from beneath him must run into four figures.Blake, as mentioned, started off in an office on Wych Street, partnered with Gervaise. He was supposedly based on a famous, real life detective. He was a good detective and fighter. Although he had a certain amount of fame he was distrusted by the police on account of his amateur status. Apart from these features, he was mostly colorless. As time went on, however, he was fleshed out and made more interesting. His early stories, in the Halfpenny Marvel in 1893 & 1894, kept him on the dull side, but when his stories began appearing in Union Jack, in issue #2 on April 4, 1894, Blake started to become more distinctive. He became an outspoken and devout patriot ("I would rather work for nothing for a naval man like yourself, one of the best protectors of our precious flag, the pride of England, than I would take bank-notes from those who are careless of the honour of old Britain"), his features grew "hawk-like," he became tall and lean (his official weight was thirteen stone), his intellect "incisive," and he began wearing a dressing gown and smoking a pipe in order to help himself think. His dialogue became less Johnsonian and more...Holmesian, it must be admitted. He gained Mrs. Martha "Hevvings!" "Lawks-a-mussy!" Bardell, mistress of the malaprop and housekeeper of his new house at the north end of Baker Street. A "Mrs. Blake" was occasionally mentioned, although this never seen individual soon disappeared from the Blake stories, leaving Blake a committed bachelor. (See below for more on this.) Likewise, Jules Gervaise quickly faded from the pages, leaving Blake a lone operator. (Gervaise appeared in at least one story at about this time in which he was the hero and Blake was referred to only in passing.)
During these early years Blake went through a few assistants. The first was a (possibly Chinese--the secondary sources are contradictory on this point) boy named We-Wee or We-Wee Griff; his first appearance was in the Union Jack on 1 June 1895. The second was either a street waif named Griff or, according to W.O.G. Lofts, "a sort of half-beast boy" not named Griff. The third was a British boy (or man) named Wallace Lorrimer (who appeared, as we'll see below, in 1901). The fourth, if such it is, appears in "Nalda the Nihilist," Union Jack v3 n69, and is described as "the household terror" and
the young person who smuggles away the choicest of my cigars to give to her 'young man,' who breaks my valuable bits of old Chelsea and maligns the cat, who condescends to receive my Christmas-boxes, in season and out of season, and who is supposed to attend to my needs and generally wait upon me--who is supposed to do so, but doesn't.This may be Blake referring to a housekeeper, perhaps the predecessor to Mrs. Bardell, but in context Blake seems to be referring to an assistant, which if true makes this unnamed woman Blake's fourth pre-Tinker assistant. It wasn't until 1904 that he settled on the assistant who was to side-kick and fag for him for the rest of his fictional life: Edward Carter, better known as "Tinker," an intelligent, cheerful looking youth of indeterminate age with curly hair. Tinker, a Cockney, had been left on the street due to the deaths of his parents. He'd hovered on the fringes of the underworld (later revisions of his history had him become a full-time crook, and then a soldier) before becoming, in the words of Josie Packman, "one of the apparently homeless but sharp Cockney newsboys of the period" (see: Nelson Lee's Nipper, Dixon Hawke's Tommy Burke, Falcon Swift's Chick Conway, and so on). He was able to help Blake in a case, and Blake, in term, rescued Tinker from a Life Of Crime in London's East End. Tinker was, in the words of E.S. Turner, "irrepressible, resourceful, susceptible to female charm, addicted to suits `which would have made Solomon want to retire from the glory business,' and possessing a fathomless admiration for the `Guv'nor.'" Blake educated Tinker himself rather than sending him to school, but Tinker was in need of less education than many teenagers of his age. By the 1920s, in Blake's Golden Age, Tinker was a tough, wise-cracking young man who could drive a car, fly a plane, fire a gun, and detect crimes nearly as well as Blake himself.
Tinker arrived in Blake's life on October 1, 1904, in "Cutting Against Skill," issue #53 of Union Jack. Blake had appeared fairly steadily, in Union Jack, from 1894 through 1902, but sometime in November or December of 1902 he was dropped from the magazine and did not appear again until Union Jack #107. William H. Back, the editor of the Union Jack in the early 1900s, decided to bring Blake back; his hunch paid off, with the new Blake being quite popular. In some ways the post-interregnum Blake was very new. He had Tinker, for one thing. For another, some (needed) change was introduced fairly quickly into Blake's world. Only two months after Blake's return he "retired." To quote Howard Baker,
Feeling unable to cope any more, wishing only to escape from the monstrous regimen of success which his brilliance as a detective had created, Blake dismissed all his staff and repaired to the country to live out the rest of his life in retirement under the assumed name of Henry Park.But Blake could not stay away from the game for good, and was drawn back to London to continue fighting crime; "Henry Park" was accused of theft, and Blake was forced to clear his own name. Once back in London Blake resumed his practice as a consulting detective. He gained Mrs. Bardell. He began smoking other kinds of pipes as well as cigars and even the occasional cigarette. In Union Jack #100, 9 September 1905, he acquired a faithful, wise, and ferocious bloodhound named Pedro; Pedro was originally owned by Rafael Calderon, ex-president of a South American State, but after performing various services for Calderon Blake was given Pedro by Calderon, under the guise of "Mr. Nemo." Blake bought a bullet-proof Rolls Royce called the Grey Panther--this, at a time when most other sleuths were still taking cabs. (For a short while Blake flew a Moth monoplane, which he had designed, also called the Grey Panther, though this did not last for long.) He even, for very short periods of time, took on other assistants besides Tinker, such as Barry and the Chinese boy Ah Wo.
Tinker, alone, escaped the axe.
'Tinker would always remain,' the chronicler tells us. 'They were part and parcel of each other's lives.'
Biographical information on Blake was somewhat skimpy. He was a very good chemist, a specialist in poisons, an authority on fingerprints, inks, and firearms. He had various hobbies: microphotography, the study of religions, and the unravelling of codes and ciphers. He was proficient (from continual practice) at shooting, boxing, jiu-jitsu, and fencing. He was "famous" at various sports, including cricket. He was always working on his magnum opus, the Baker Street Index, the definitive encyclopedia of crime. He was, like Holmes, an accomplished author of monographs (from the classic work on German crime, Der Verbrecherkreig [Criminal War]). Among his works were such titles as "Some information on the use of methylene blue as an anti-toxin," "Single-print classification," "Finger-print forgery by the chromicized gelatine method," and "Speculations on ballistic stigmata in fire-arms." Blake was an honored figure at the police congresses of Europe, and was world-renowned for his skill as a detective. Blake had trained as a younger man as a doctor and was educated at either Oxford or Cambridge (there are conflicting reports on that), and graduated "loaded with honors." (Reginald Cox says, "I am assured by a correspondent that this [attending both Oxford and Cambridge] is precisely what did happen--'after a time at Oxford Blake got enough money to enable him to take the medical course at Cambridge.'")
After graduating Blake moved to London and took cheap lodgings near the Angel, Islington. And then...well, nobody knows. Darkness descends for a period, as Reginald Cox says. However, as Cox goes on to point out, there is an explanation for this. He got married. Cox quotes Maurice Bond to the effect that in 1901 and 1902, in one of the companion papers to the Union Jack Library, a serial entitled "The King of Detectives" portrayed Blake as being married and being assisted by Wallace Lorrimer, a younger assistant. W.O.G. Lofts identifies this serial as beginning in the Union Jack Christmas Number for 1901, and states that Blake (and presumably his family and Lorrimer) was living at Norfolk Street on the Strand. Neither Blake's wife nor Lorrimer were ever mentioned again, however.
Of Blake's family, little was known, and that, contradictory. In the pre-Baker Street days, that is, before 1904 and the commencement of the Blakeian Golden Age, Blake's parents were said to have been murdered before he enrolled in St. Anne's, the school in which he was educated and at which he was known as "Bravo Blake." (There are conflicting texts (Union Jack v6 n138, for one) which state that he was educated at the Public School of Ashleigh. Or at "Ashleigh Public School, St. Annes."(sic)) In the first issue of Detective Weekly, however, he was given a new origin. His father, Berkeley Blake, was a Harley Street surgeon, from a long line of doctors; his mother was...rarely mentioned. Both were said to have lived long enough to see Blake give up medicine for criminology, a choice that Blake's parents disapproved of (although they eventually applauded him for it). The dark secret of the family, though, was Blake's brother Nigel, a forger and general rotter, who brought their "old father's grey hair in sorrow to the grave." Berkeley had hoped to see both Sexton and Nigel practise medicine and join him on Harley Street, but Blake went into the law, and Nigel failed his examinations. (As it happened, Nigel's son, once grown, became a policeman and set off in pursuit of a forger in Pardue, only to catch him and find that it was his own father. Sexton, heart wrenching, sheltered Nigel, only to have Nigel steal Sexton's Magnetic Picklock and begin using it to steal from everyone in sight. Thus Sexton himself had to go after Nigel, and eventually captured him and had him confined to a private home in Buckinghamshire.) Blake actually had a second brother, Harry, who appeared in “Sexton Blake’s Honour.” (When and where that story appeared is another question. F. Vernon Lay claims that it was in Boys’ Friend Library n10 in 1905, but that not be possible, since n10 of the Boys’ Friend Library New Series appeared in 1901 and didn’t contain any Blake stories. My best guess is that Lay meant the tenth issue of volume 5 of the Boys’ Friend Library New Series, which appeared on 12 August 1905 and is properly numbered #218. I’ve seen another source credit the issue to 1907, but I prefer my own supposition. Further complicating matters is that Lay speculates that this may have been a reprint from an earlier story.) Like Nigel, Henry was a crook. Sexton does not initially know Henry’s identity, but Sexton’s life is saved by the criminal he is chasing several times, and the two finally confront each other. Sexton wrestles with his conscience and his love for his brother, even allowing Henry to twice elude Inspector Spearing. Spearing, for his part, realizes what is going on and shows a surprising sympathy for Blake’s dilemma. Henry, alas, comes to a bad end, just as Nigel did.
Blake lives, as mentioned, in a large house at the north end of Baker Street. The house has a consulting room, a sitting-room, various bedrooms, a laboratory, a dark room, and several offices. It also has a garage in which is housed the Grey Panther. His morning routine usually consists of an early walk in Regents Park or Hyde Park, dressed in a soft hat and heavy Harris tweed overcoat, and then back to his house, to read the morning mail, making appointments, and filing correspondence, while Tinker pastes news clippings into the Baker Street Index. In the words of Reginald Cox, "At the end of a days work Blake loves to stand at the window in the gloaming, peering down at passers-by or at the black shapes of cars and listening to the beat of the traffic, which is dearer to his urban soul than the sound of the sea."
As time passed Blake went through the usual activities that most famous detectives go through, although as with most things Blakeian his adventures were like others', only more so: he arrested his double (Leon Kestrel, the Master Mummer); was framed and thrown in jail, nearly being lashed at Bleakmoor; arrested and helped convict the crooked chief of Scotland Yard; lost his Baker Street lodgings to dynamitards; went undercover in the French Foreign Legion (alongside Tinker, naturally) to winkle out a thief; got stuck in the Gobi Desert with a bullet-riddled water bottle and no help within a ten-day march; fought with, in Jack Adrian's words, "a crazed, sabre-wielding aristo atop a plunging Alpine cable-car with a thousand feet of nothing below and the cables fraying;" went back into the French Foreign Legion, this time in search of Tinker, who had been offended by Blake's unjustly harsh words and who had joined the Legion, but who ended up finding not just a murderer he'd previously let go free but also the corrupt French General Chanrellon, a former enemy of Blake's; dealt with a lunatic cult run by a con man who committed an Impossible Murder using infra-red, all with the backdrop of a complete eclipse; he turned down a knighthood; was offered the job of Chief Commissioner of Police by no less than the Home Secretary; acted as the Lord Mayor of London; was given the number 11 in the British Secret Service, with Tinker bearing number 12; had the British Secret Service invest him with an authority above that of even Scotland Yard; went to America's West, met Kit Carson, tangled with a black-masked Robin Hood type, and deduced that Carson was the masked thief; discovered The Secret of Monte Cristo; and was reported dead, to universal grief and mourning, by his Fleet Street collaborator and friend, Derek "Splash" Page after an enemy, disguised as a blind beggar, stumbled into him in the street and injected him with poison.
Page was one of Blake's friends, one of the many who helped him and who he helped. Blake teamed with Nelson Lee on a number of occasions; see the Nelson Lee Page for more information on their crossovers. Another of Blake's friends and fellow detectives was Ronald Sturges Vereker Purvale, aka "R.S.V.P.", who was later turned into Arthur Stukeley Pennington. Another of Blake's friends and helpers was Granite Grant, a "King's Spy...a Secret Service man...high in the confidence of the British government." Grant was in turn often helped (and occasionally hindered) by the beautiful Mademoiselle Julie, ace agent of the French Secret Service, and the pair usually worked together (and, it was implied, were lovers), aided by Pompom, Julie's Ethiopian servant. There was Bertrand Charon, top agent of the French Crime Bureau; he, too, sometimes worked with Granite Grant and Mlle Julie. Another Secret Service agent--British, this time--was Julia Fortune, who was similar in several respects to Mlle. Yvonne Cartier (see below). Still another of Blake's friends was Havlock Preed, Solicitor. There was Topper, introduced in the early 1920s, who was an extra assistant to Blake and a sort of rival to Tinker. And, of course, Blake was friends with and occasionally collaborators with Sir Richard Losely, who had been Blake's fag in school and remained a close friend, and Lobangu. There was the American detective Jefferson Hart. There was Captain Christmas, a British officer representing the Empire in Africa. There was Captain Dack, the crooked (but good-hearted) and very strong and tough captain of the tramp steamer Mary Ann Trinder; Dack made uneasy alliances with Blake on a number of occasions, all of which ended with the real bad guys in jail or dead. There was Edward Hector "Big Ted" Flanagan, six-foot-three of muscle, ham-sized fists, and a jaw of granite, an unsubtle and good-natured man who helped Blake out of a few tough spots, fights being the thing Big Ted was best at. There was Matthew Quin, the "wild beast agent," whose life Blake saved (and vice-versa) and who Blake encountered in several different situations. There was the Honourable John Lawless. There was Archie Pherison, Algy Somerton and Reggie Fetherston, three do-gooding vigilantes who went by "The Three Musketeers." There was Sir Gordon Saddler, aka "Hsui Fai," the "Mystery Man of Frisco." There were Kit and Cora Twyford, brother and sister detectives who had their own series in Pluck but helped Blake out in Union Jack. There was the Zulu king Shumpogaas, whose life Blake saved and who saved Blake’s life in return. And there was Gordon Lindsay, Blake's "Montreal correspondent," who traveled to England to carry on at Baker Street when Blake took one of his infrequent vacations.
There were, of course, a number of Scotland Yard officers who assisted Blake. As it happened, many Blake writers created their own Scotland Yard officers and featured them in their stories, so one way to tell who wrote a Blake story is to see which Yard man is helping Blake. The most popular of Blake's "Friends at the Yard" and the longest lasting was Chief Inspector Coutts of Scotland Yard, who eventually became so popular that other authors besides Robert Murray, Coutts' creator, began using Coutts; this was not usually the case with Blake's police contacts. Coutts was tall and broad, with a small gut and an awful taste in cigars. Although he was initially quite begrudging in his consulting of Blake, as time went by he became more and more willing to unapologetically ask Blake for help. There was a real affection between the two, and Coutts even went so far as to propose Blake for a knighthood. Coutts, in the words of Rex Dolphin, was "a typical averagely-good man who plods steadily along with no flashes of brilliance, doing a difficult job to the best of his ability, assisted by nothing more extra-ordinary than common sense and training." There was also Detective Inspector Harker, whose longevity exceeds Coutts but whose popularity was less. Harker lacked Blake's logic and observation but had, in Lewis Jackson's words, "singular determination, vast experience, and the somewhat rare gift of sheer commonsense." Harker is cheerier than the dour Coutts and is a better hand-to-hand fighter.
Besides Harker there was...well, I'll let Rex Dolphin tell it:
There is E.S. Brooks' Chief Inspector Lennard, a burly, square jawed officer, who is quick-witted, patient, and a relentless questioner of witnesses....G.H. Teed's Detective Inspector Thomas, astute, sympathetic, tactful, and like Coutts, a lover and borrower of Blake's cigars. Hylton Gregory's Detective Inspector Rollings, a deep-chested, sandy-complexioned man with twinkling blue eyes and a sarcastic manner. W.M. Graydon's Detective Inspector Widgeon, a tall man with a big fair moustache--who dislikes Blake's "high-handed methods."There was the conceited Superintendent Venner and his assistant Detective-Sergeant Belford. And, finally, there was Sir Henry Fairfax, the Chief, the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis.
Women played a far larger role in the Sexton Blake Universe than they did in the Holmesian universe, or even in that of Nick Carter, who is the figure most apposite for a Blake comparison. Blake, as you might imagine, encountered a fair number of women during his cases, but many of them were not in the roles you might expect. There were very few simpering women wringing their hands on the sidelines and waiting for Blake to save them. Women, in the Blake stories, were active, and while it was usually Blake who ultimately saved them, and the day, from danger, it was hardly unheard of for Blake and Tinker to be rescued by them. Many of these women were adventuresses, a figure with connotations to the Victorian audience that we today would have a hard time imagining. Many of them developed feelings for Blake, and their interactions were charged with rivalry and romantic feeling. Some of these adventuresses included:
- Mademoiselle Yvonne de Cartier (see below).
- The Black Duchess (see below).
- Mademoiselle Celeste and the other Mme Yvonne clones (see below).
- Olga Nasmyth (see below).
- Mademoiselle Roxanne Harfield (see below).
- Marie Galante (see below).
- Princess Lara. She was a “fugitive from an Eastern Zenana” (go ahead, look up ‘zenana,’ I had to) who escaped from a seraglio in a Turkish province and fled directly to Blake. Lara had married an Englishman but he had been captured by the Turks, whose leader, the Grand Vizier Ahmed Pasha, wanted to marry Lara. She, naturally, would have none of it, and sought out Blake. He installed her in his chambers (never taking advantage of the situation, of course, despite her hints that she would not be opposed to an ‘arrangement’ with him) and worked to resolve her problem. Blake eventually visited the Sultan and convinced him to take care of Pasha, who was plotting against the Sultan. Eventually Lara and her husband were reunited, thanks (of course) to Blake’s efforts.
- Cora Twyford. Cora, mentioned above with her brother Kit, were detectives and had various adventures of their own. She would have preferred to adventure with Blake, but he, of course, had his mission.
Blake's cases took him around the world, to nearly every country on Earth. Blake served every kind of leader and client, from the very small (he was hired to save a "Highland laird" who was falling prey to alcoholism) to the very large (the P.M., concerned over Red Agitators, granted Blake "all powers over all and sundry of our subjects whatsoever" for twenty-four hours on 11 January 1925). Blake went to all the large cities of England, taking on the criminals and gangs that plagued Manchester etc and defeating them all. Blake went into countries inimical to England on a number of missions for the Crown. Before World War One Blake was very friendly with Kaiser Wilhelm, rendering him services on a number of occasions and turning down the offer of a position as head of the German Secret Service. (Blake was a patriot through and through, though, and always remained faithful to Queen/King and Country.) During the War he was mostly busy stopping both German spies and madmen intent on gassing London and kidnaping P.M.s, but he did spend some time in the Low Countries in disguise, engaging in some guerrilla work.
In 1921 Harold Twyman became editor of the Union Jack, and it was under Twyman that the Golden Age of Sexton Blake came about. Twyman was an editor with a great amount of drive and energy and an even greater number of ideas, and it was under his stewardship that Blake reached his zenith. In Jack Adrian's words,
It was Twyman who, more than any other writer or editor connected with the saga, created the Blake of the Golden Age: the lean, limber manhunter, by turns implacable and compassionate, by no means humourless, capable at one moment of lightning-fast and ferocious action, the next displays of dazzling deductive pryotechnics. It was Twyman, too, who sorted out the Blake image by talent-spotting a young artist, Eric Parker, in the early-1920s, whose Blake (tall, spare, high-browed, lantern-jawed, with the eyes of a hawk, the profile of an eagle) so triumphantly out-Holmesed Holmes that Parker grew old with the character.The image at the top of the page is an Eric Parker image I scanned from Boys will be Boys, so now you know what Adrian means about Parker's Blake. W.O.G. Lofts states that Parker based Blake "on a commercial traveler he once knew at a club. He used to sit alone, a tall distinguished figure, making a big impression on his mind. He was also lean, smoked a pipe, and had slightly receding hair."
The stories of Blake's Golden Age are quite fine, indeed, but after WW2 he changed, becoming much more like the disillusioned American detectives, at which point I lose interest in him and will leave the chronicling of his adventures to someone else. The basics are that in the late 1950s he gained female assistants, including the delectable Paula Dane, and that his firm suddenly had stringers in various cities around the world. It was an attempt to update Blake for a more modern era, and while it was somewhat financially successful the charm, I think, went out of the series. (Most of the older Blake fans seem to have agreed with me, for what it's worth.)
Michael Moorcock, among others, made the point that Blake, on his own, was not particularly interesting, but what made the Blake stories so much fun were the villains. And, indeed, Blake had one of the all-time great Rogues Galleries, full of villains any self-respecting hero would be proud to face. Many of them were despicable and vile and wicked and all the rest, but as Rex Dolphin points out a few of them, including Dr. Ferraro, Monsieur Zenith the Albino, Waldo the Wonderman, and Dr. Huxton Rymer, were "sportsmen." The sportsmen played by the rules of the game and conducted themselves with a sense of honor; their word was good. There was a respect between Blake and the sportsmen, and at certain times truces were declared and they allied against a worse opponent.
My favorite among Blake's enemies is Zenith the Albino. Zenith, though, deserves a page of his own, and since I have enough material on him that including him here would greatly expand this page beyond reasonableness, I've gone ahead and given Monsieur Zenith his own page, the Zenith the Albino Page. So if you're curious about him--and you should be--go there. Suffice it to say that, as the Sexton Blake saga is a great one, so too is Monsieur Zenith one of the great creations of pulp fiction.
Zenith, of course, had plenty of company in Blake's Rogues Gallery, and many of his fellow criminals were only a little short of his equal.
There was Prince Wu Ling and the Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle. Prince Wu Ling was one of a number of their Fu Manchu-like Yellow Peril characters that Blake, Nelson Lee, Dixon Hawke, Dixon Brett, and similar story paper detectives faced. Prince Wu Ling was the "descendant of a dynasty which could trace its philosophy back to the time when the Anglo-Saxon race was unheard of." Ruler of five million Chinese and possessor of the legendary Ling Tse Vase, Prince Wu Ling longed "from the innermost depths of his princely nature to feel the hell of the East on the West, to carve a path of saffron through a field of white, to raise on high Confucius, Buddha, and Taoism across all the world." (Somewhat confused, that, but oh well.) The Prince was not completely despicable, though, because, in Blake's words, he was "honest in (his) purpose and--by his own lights--honourable in his methods." And, of course, he admired Sexton Blake, telling him "I have for you the love of a brother, Sexton Blake." Not that this ever stopped him from trying to kill Blake, but as with Zenith the Albino there was a weird kind of respect and affection between Blake and the Prince. After Blake recovered the Ling Tse Vase from the Prince, Wu Ling became obsessive and relentless in his efforts to recover the Vase. Of course, Prince Wu Ling had other goals besides the recovery of the Vase. During WW1 Wu Ling allied with Germany and attempted to undermine the British war effort, working from the Chinese quarter of the Cardiff docks. In this battle he and the Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle fought viciously against the British and against Blake, with the struggle becoming so bitter that Baron Robert de Beauremon and the Council of Eleven, who had initially been the Prince's allies, finally turned against the Prince. Later, in 1927, Blake takes the battle to the Prince, in China itself. The Prince was controlling a rebel Cantonese army backed by Bolshevists and was planning a mass uprising on the day of an eclipse. Blake and Nipper go to China and make their way into the Temple of Many Visions; they do this with the help of Kan Tse Wen, a notorious river pirate and a member of the Four Lakes Tong, of which Blake was a blood brother. In the Temple of Many Visions they have an interview with a 140-year-old prior who demonstrates clairvoyance as well as the Temple’s advanced, world-viewing television.
The Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle were the Si-Fan-like organisation who served Prince Wu Ling unto death; they were headquartered in Boston, of all places. The Prince's lieutenant was San, a very capable and deadly figure in his own right. On occasion, Prince Wu Ling and the Brotherhood fought against Mlle Yvonne Cartier. On two occasions ("Threatened By Three," Union Jack #956, 11 February 1922, and "In League Against Him," Union Jack #969, 6 May 1922) the Prince teamed up with Monsieur Zenith the Albino and Leon Kestrel to fight against Blake and Mlle Yvonne. (It didn't work, naturally.)
There was George Marsden Plummer. Although as mentioned my personal preference is for Monsieur Zenith, other Blake fans often rate Plummer as Blake's most important criminal opponent. Created by Mark Osborne, he was used by other Blake writers, which was not usually the case with those creating the Blake stories. Moreover, he was, I believe, the only criminal to appear in Union Jack Library, Sexton Blake Library, and Detective Weekly. Plummer was a Scotland Yard inspector turned renegade and become a master criminal. He was a son of the Earl of Sevenoaks, but was born too late to receive the title’s annual £60,000. Instead he became a Scotland Yard inspector, and by dint of natural ability and hard work rose to the rank of detective sergeant. Unfortunately, his investigations often gave him information about the nobility and the wealthy, and he used this information to blackmail them. Blake exposed him, leading Plummer to go fully rogue.
Plummer was a tall, burly, bearded man with emerald eyes. Like many of Blake's enemies, he had a number of female accomplices. It was never explicitly stated that they were lovers, but it's the obvious assumption to be made. Originally, Plummer teamed with Kathleen Farland, aka Kitty the Moth, who prided herself on being the only woman Plummer had ever worked with. (That didn't last.) After Farland Plummer went on to team with Muriel Marl, Plummer's own daughter, and most memorably Vali Mata Vali. Plummer wasn't as ferocious or bloodthirsty as many of Blake's enemies; Plummer was more the sort to impersonate a dead man to get his fortune, or conspire to marry an heiress to get her oil fortune, or pretend to be Sakr-el-Droog, a Bedouin chieftain, for his own ends. He was an adventurer and a super-crook, rather than a vicious mad scientist or criminal mastermind. He was also a master of disguise, not quite on the level of Leon Kestrel, but as good as Blake. Plummer also teamed up with Huxton Rymer on a few occasions. Another of Plummer’s allies was Rupert Forbes, who fagged for Blake at school and whose life Blake had saved; this created a bond between Blake and Forbes, with Forbes helping Blake on several occasions before he died.
There was Mademoiselle Yvonne de Cartier. While not one of Blake's sportsmen criminals, Mlle. Yvonne was still one of Blake's most important adversaries. She was The Woman to Blake, his Irene Adler. She was also the model on which a number of other opponents for Blake were constructed. She was, in many respects, the archetypal adventuress, and while she was not as personally appealing as some of the sportsmen criminals she was still pretty darn neat.
Mademoiselle Yvonne de Cartier was actually an Australian. Her parents had been swindled by eight crooked financiers when she was very young. Bankrupt and humiliated, and convinced that they had no way to recover, they died of heartbreak. Mlle. Yvonne grew up grew up gripped by the conviction that the best and only way to achieve real justice was to work outside the law. Of course, her idea of real justice was vengeance against the men who had ruined her parents. By doing this, she became Blake's opponent. She cheated her way to her first fortune by becoming a jockey, cheating to win and using her ill-gotten gains to drive the first of the financiers to suicide. After that it was robbery and other means to her ends. During her quest for vengeance she gained a great deal of respet for Blake, and vice-versa, but despite their growing attraction they were opponents. After all of her enemies were dead she began to more closely toe the line of righteousness, and during this phase she became oh-so-briefly romantically entangled with Blake. (It didn't work out; he couldn't give up his mission.) (Well, that, and Blake was what we would think of today as a sexist, to whit: "It is the old story. A woman is at the bottom of every piece of mischief. It has been so since the days of Delilah, and it will always be the same.") In these post-vengeance stories Mlle Yvonne pretended to be French and worked about half the time as a spy (Agent No. 6 of the British Secret Service) and the head of a detective agency ("Mademoiselle Yvonne, Consultant"), on the side of the angels, fighting against Prince Wu Ling, Dr. Huxton Rymer, the Criminals' Confederation (who caused the destruction of her beloved yacht, the Fleur de Lys), Zenith the Albino, Leon Kestrel, and the Council of Eleven, among others. The other half of the time she was the head of an international crime cartel, bent on becoming filthy rich, and teaming up with the likes of Nirvana, and, in Australia, the Lone Horseman. Like Blake, she had a rotter, Bob "Spike" Carter, for a brother; he was a diamond-digger and gold-seeker who made his criminally-gotten money in Canada. Unlike Blake, Mlle Yvonne had a helpful uncle, "Uncle Graves," who assisted her in her crimes and in her good deeds; in the words of Harry Homer, he was a "lazy-seeming aristocrat and lover of the good and luxurious way of living who can yet rough it and scrap with the toughest at the call of duty." Yvonne's home base was a refuge on a remote and unknown island deep in the South Pacific; Yvonne was the undisputed ruler of this island, which she attempted to turn into a socialist/communist paradise--but real communism, and not the corrupted, evil Soviet version of same. It didn't work, of course, human nature being what it is, but on the island Yvonne's true sympathies, for the workers against the exploitive rich, were clear. Eventually Jim Potter, a young and attractive Canadian man whose family was ruined by crooked bankers, just as Yvonne's was, appeared on the scene, and the two were paired off, if only momentarily.
And there was Dr. Huxton Rymer. Dr. Rymer came from a good family and had been sent to Vienna for his medical and surgical training during the early 1900s. While there he had flourished as a surgeon, making a number of innovations and discovering the special hip operation which made his name. In Blake's words Rymer "was one of the ablest surgeons living, and medical men flocked from all parts of the world to Vienna to hear him lecture and to see him demonstrate at the Franz Josef Hospital there." Unfortunately, Something Went Wrong. Rymer suddenly disappeared, to reappear as a criminal as brilliant in his crimes as he was in his operations. He never entirely abandoned medicine, and was still an accomplished surgeon as well as the author of several well-regarded monographs and treatises; when intent on medical and scientific work, he could focus so much that his surroundings--in one case, the deck of a deserted ship on a raw, cold December day--are completely forgotten about. And he is never completely lost to evil; during WW1 he went to the front and served honourably as "Lt. Colonel de Loulay," winner of the ribbon of a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and the saviour of countless injured French men and women. Most of the time, though, he was a criminal mastermind. He was also an opium addict, an alcoholic, a compulsive gambler, a doctor to the underworld, and even a vivisectionist; he sometimes indulged his penchant for getting lovely young women put into his care and then mutilating him. He was assisted in this by various beautiful (and not a little twisted themselves) surgical assistants, foremost among whom was the well-educated, well-heeled artist Mary Trent. (The implication was that he was romantically involved with her, as well, but there were other surgical assistants and other women for him, too.) Among the people he teamed with were Marie Galante, Mlle Yvonne Cartier, Council of Eleven, George Marsden Plummer, and Hammerton Palmer. (He was romantically involved with Galante in a few stories and fell in love with Mlle Yvonne.) He also teamed up with Prince Wu Ling, but that was more out of desperation than mutual affection; Rymer was addicted to opium and only the Prince held the cure to his addiction. Interestingly, Rymer was brought in to no less than three Nelson Lee serials to act as a Lee foe and companion to Mlle Miton, the Black Wolf, Lee's version of Mlle Yvonne Cartier. (See the Nelson Lee Page for more information on these stories.) In Union Jack #1000, 9 Dec 1922, Rymer hosts a convention of Blake's foes at his home, Abbey Towers; every big name (and many of the little ones) attended, though their combined efforts to kill Blake and steal his art treasures failed.
Later, as the stories went by, Rymer became more involved in high diplomacy, turning himself into a global threat. He also became more mellow, saving Tinker on several occasions and becoming more of a sportsman, as mentioned above, towards Blake. Rymer was "deep of chest and broad of frame. His shoulders were built with a sweep of extraordinary power, and his limbs were as thick and strong as the trunks of small trees...his eyes were dark and full of fire, while his face showed deeply tanned above the neatly-trimmed, pointed beard and moustache. His hands...reflected as much strength as the face...." In scientific circles he was known as "Professor Andrew Butterfield," the mysterious author of the landmark treatise "The Emanations of Radium in Relation to their Action on Cancer and the Curative Power Thereof;" Mary Trent was the world's only contact with "Professor Butterfield," and it was through Trent that Rymer was able to publish the research that was his first and truest love. For a long while Rymer's stated goal was to gain enough money to retire to his beloved home, Abbey Towers, a large estate in the South of England, and live a quiet and fulfilling life, but somehow he never quite achieved this, and that goal was forgotten as time went by. Unfortunately, Rymer ended badly; in his final appearance, in Sexton Blake Library (Second Series) #608, January 1936, Rymer went insane, turning into a mass and serial murderer, finally dying in the flaming ruins of Abbey Towers. Or so it was thought for two decades, until Rymer (or more likely his son, going by his name) reappeared in 1958, albeit in a much more limited and frankly disappointing way.
Some of the other notable members of the Rogues Gallery were:
- The "Terrible Three," a trio of highly-placed murderers and blackmailers.
- The "Red Lights" of London, a gang of scoundrels plaguing the well-to-do of London.
- Nalda the Nihilist, a man out to violently overthrow the Czarist regime of Russia and someone willing to kill anyone who gets in his way. (This story, unfortunately, has Blake displaying a bit of anti-Semitism, but considering the date--Union Jack v3 n69--we can excuse it as being out of character for Blake.)
- The Brotherhood of Silence.
- Mr. Reece, who began as the leader of a small group of criminals and only later was revealed to be the head of the Criminals' Confederation. Reece was ruthless and malevolent. He was also a dwarf, with green eyes, a dome-shaped head, and a thin, piping voice: "The profile showed and enormous dome-shaped forehead, heavy overhanging eyebrows and a powerful beaklike nose. For a long minute that seemed like hours the figure remained as motionless as a statue; then the great head lifted a trifle and a voice sounded from the other side of the screen, a voice that set The Bat's hair rippling on his scalp like the back of a startled cat." (This was when the Bat made the mistake of stealing from Mr. Reece.)
- The Criminals' Confederation. The Confederation was a group of hundreds of criminals from around the world whose base was located in Volcano Island, in the South Atlantic. They were led by John Smith, a suave, brilliant, and corrupt man; Mr. Reece; the Chinese mastermind Hoang Ho, leader of the Eastern branch of the Confederation; the Black Duchess; the sea pirate and renegade baronet Sir Philip Champion; and later, after Mr. Reece's death, by the thoroughly evil Professor Jason Reece, brother of the deceased Mr. Reece. Among the agents that the Confederation used were the Shadow, a cold and callous murderer who was also the son of Mr. Reece; Colonel Elias B. Quartz; the Frenchman Max Vogel, briefly a leader of the Confederation; Fan Too, Hogan Ho's son aand the leader of the Brotherhood of the Red Spider, and a rival to the Black Duchess and Jason Reece; Dr. Deeming Stain, the Hunchback of St. Madros, the self-titled "Dream Doctor" and "Mind-Stealer;" Black Michael Breedon, in Blake's words "one of the foulest ruffians unhung;" and John Richard Fade. One of their many branches was the League of the Cobblers' Last. The Confederation troubled Blake no end as well as capturing Mademoiselle Yvonne on one occasion; the sequence, which went on for fifty stories, is ranked by many as being Blake's finest. For more information on them, see below.
- John Richard Fade. Fade was a handsome explorer and adventurer who grew so bored with the world that he joined the Criminals' Confederation solely for the excitement. He was in it for the kicks, and got those a-plenty, but as time went by he feel in love with Ysabel de Ferre, the Black Duchess, and at the end of the Criminals' Confederation sequence the two were married.
- The Black Duchess. The Black Duchess was actually Ysabel de Ferre, the Duchess of Jorsica. She was an adventuress associated with the Criminals' Confederation. She was similar to Mademoiselle Yvonne (many of Blake's female enemies were adventuresses similar to the very popular Mlle Yvonne) and tried, unsuccessfully, to seduce Blake. (She was actually in love with him, though.) After that she kidnaped him and then Yvonne, being defeated in the end (of course). The Duchess eventually fell in love with and married John Richard Fade.
- Mademoiselle Celeste, still another Mademoiselle Yvonne-clone. There were a number of them, including June Severance, Claire Delisle, Eileen Hale, Lola de Guise, the Greek adventuress Madame Goupolis, and Julia Fortune.
- Gilbert & Eileen Hale, a brother-and-sister pair of "champion" thieves.
- The Hooded Stranger, "the most dangerous crook in Europe."
- Leon Kestrel, the "Master Mummer." (Also the "Prince of Pretence.") Kestrel was an American actor and crook who was a master of disguise. His skill at becoming other people was such that no living person knew what he really looked like; he was so good at disguise that he even successfully impersonated Blake for a time. In his time he posed as any number of things, including a High Court judge. He fought against Mlle Yvonne as well as Blake, and teamed up with Monsieur Zenith the Albino and Prince Wu Ling on one occasion. He was also the organiser of the War Profits Liquidation Syndicate. Kestrel was assisted by Beaudelaire, a hunchback.
- The War Profits Liquidation Syndicate, organised by Leon Kestrel, was designed to profit from the black market created by WW1. Other members of the Syndicate involved Fifette Bierce (aka "The Princess Pretence"), Father Bierce (Fiftette's father), Madrano the steeplejack, Shanghai Jim, Semiramis the Greek, and Marinotte.
- Waldo the Wonder Man.
- Mr. Mist, the Invisible Man. Mr Mist had discovered the secrets of invisibility and used his new power for criminal ends. He stole the Mace from the House of Commons. He robbed jewellers of London's West End and various wealthy patrons of the arts. He decided to embarass the standing government and so publicized a budget scandal in which the Chancellor's wife was being blackmailed. As with many of Blake's enemies, he felt a sort of friendliness towards Blake, so much so that when he decided to retire he sent Blake a note that began "Morituri te salutant."
- Prince Menes, the Reincarnated Man, the Man From Everywhere. Prince Menes, an Egyptian, discovered that he was the reincarnation of the original Prince Menes, the brother of Menetakhman, the ruling Pharaoh of Egypt from thousands of years ago. Menes, as the reincarnation of the first Prince Menes, became the High Priest of the Ancient Order of Supreme Ra and so attempted to fulfill his divine destiny of conquering the world. The Ancient Order of Supreme Ra was a global organisation, a cult which had only recently come to the attention of the West. As part of Menes' attempt to conquer the world he tried to become the king of the white slave trade so that he could send virginal young white women off to Egypt, where they would be sent to Menes' 10,000-years-old temple beneath the sands of the Sahara and there be subjected to various unspeakable rites. At another point he posed as a fortune teller using the steaming Blue Bowl to tell the future of those unfortunate enough to sit in front of him. The Blue Bowl would take Prince Menes' victims' senses completely away. Menes didn't need the Blue Bowl to dazzle others, though; he was a powerful hypnotist. In one story he hypnotised Zanona, a princess of an ancient cult, and took her into the past to trace the incarnations of the various priests who had betrayed him, back when he was the first Menes. (Naturally, when he discovered the modern incarnations of those priests, he began to murder them.)
- Dr. Ferraro. Ferraro was of Italian descent, and was an accomplished surgeon (even while a criminal he could be persuaded to operate, for the right price) and scientist, but like Huxton Rymer he set aside the legitimate fame he could have earned and instead chose to match wits with society and Blake. Rymer was a former head of the Camorra, and though the details of his background were never revealed it was clear that when he had left the Camorra he had taken many of their members with him. He was the leader of an international criminal organization, although the organization itself was left somewhat nebulous. He never had any lieutenants, instead running everything himself. In his first appearances he was thoroughly bad, being described as "evil" and "diabolical;" he maimed and killed without hesitation and was forever leaving ingenious booby traps behind for Blake (and innocent passers-by) to discover. But as time went on he mellowed out, so that his jousts with Blake took on the character of a game. He was a master of disguise, rarely being seen without some sort of makeup on; as himself, he is (borrowing Rex Dolphin's description here) "tallish, heavily built, middle-aged, with black hair turning slightly grey, a dark complexion and a sardonic smile. He has been known both clean shaven and with a small pointed beard. He keeps himself in perfect physical and mental condition. His manner is sarcastic, elegantly charming, or brusque, according to the situation." Dr. Ferraro's schemes tend towards the large, with enormous sums of diamonds, gold, and/or platinum on the line, or estates and scientific inventions at risk. When he invented the super-explosive "atomising element" Nihilite, he threatened to blow up London unless he was paid £1,000,000 (this was 1914 money, remember, when the pound sterling meant something). Ferraro has been active in Africa, Europe, and the Americas. He even married twice, the first time to an innocent English heiress and the second time to an unknowing American aviatrix.
- The vile Dr. Satira, who had "the eyes of a snake, the head of a vulture, the face of a fiend, and the voice of a cooing dove," and whose pets were a pack of vicious, bloodthirsty Missing Links. He was assisted by Beppo the Dwarf.
- Count Ivor Carlac, a Parisian arch-criminal who nearly killed Blake, Tinker, and Splash Page by importing a horde of army ants and unleashing them on Blake's flat. He often teamed up with Professor Kew.
- Professor Kew, "the man who stole life." He had once been the chief surgeon at St. Stephen's Hospital, in London, where he had done his job with extraordinary skill and quite distinguished himself. However, he was convicted of "a serious offence" and "sentenced to a term of penal servitude," following which "he perforce abandoned medicine and took to a life of crime." Just what his original crime was, the stories never said, and Blake himself declined to discuss it, saying, "Well, we needn't go into all the sordid details." During the stories Kew was quite gone over the top; he used a machine of his own creation to drain the "life energy" from his victims. He could be rather kindly in manner, but was ruthless nonetheless. The machine, needless to say, was used (unsuccessfully) on Blake. Professor Kew teamed-up with Count Carlac on a few occasions, as well as with the Owl. He was dwarfish, bald, and hook-nosed, perhaps not coincidentally similar to Mr. Reece of the Criminals' Confederation.
- Paul Cynos. Cynos, a Greek, had been jailed by a jury of stout British citizens and by Mr. Justice Swain, and, ultimately, by Sir Thursby Thomas, K.C. and Counsel for the Crown. Sixteen years later, Cynos and his seven sons returned, trying to avenge their father's imprisonment on everyone responsible. (There was a daughter, but she did not play much of a part in the story.) The seven sons were: John Selby Waite, the Home Secretary; Latimer Biggs, K.C.; Edgar Reid, the Manager of the Meldrum Street branch of the National British Bank; Maximus Cynos, a scorn-filled type who was his father's twin; Professor Septimus Cos; Detective-Sergeant Siburn, C.I.D.; Dr. Harper Garrick. The House of Cynos was assisted in this by Jabex Knowland, Cynos' former business partner. The motto of the House of Cynos was Lupus Est Homo Homini, or "Man is a wolf to Man." Blake stopped the House of Cynos, however, jailing the sons, with Paul Cynos himself meeting a rather ghastly end.
- Broadway Kate. Kathleen Maitland was Broadway Kate, an adventuress seemingly based on the infamous "Chicago May." Maitland was the widow of Ezra Q. Maitland, an American crook. Broadway Kate was not lucky in love, for she later fell for Aubrey Dexter, only to have him flee from her. She pursued him and stabbed him.
- Aubrey Dexter. Dexter was a British criminal who had fought in WW1 and been invalided from the army. He was a somewhat ordinary thief, rather than one of the exotics like Monsieur Zenith or Prince Wu Ling. He first became entangled with Broadway Kate, unhappily, and then with more success with Sonia Yoseff.
- Krock Kelk.
- Dearth Tallon, a rather reckless and ruthless adventurer. He was assisted by Sandra Sylvester, another of the Blakian beautiful-but-amoral adventuresses.
- The Owl, Count Bonalli, who teamed up with Professor Kew.
- Baron von Kravitch, a "luxury-loving aristocrat by night and picker-up of cigarette ends by day." He was assisted by his wife Else, who was just as criminal as he.
- King Karl II, the King of the Balkan state of Serbovia, the director of the Double Four gang (which included a female impersonator, a strong man, and a baby-faced midget) and a man who knew the proper use for and of an Iron Maiden.
- 3 A.M. Smith, the dead-of-night second story man.
- Furg the Fur-Man.
- "Lightning" Jim, the quick-change artist. He was a "notorious rascal who defied Sexton Blake, and announced beforehand the crimes he would commit, inviting apture. His genius for lightning changes of costume was developed into a fine art, and he evaded capture by entirely new tactics, and never broke his word." Lightning Jim was good enough to impersonate Blake himself as well as saunter through the precincts of Scotland Yard untouched.
- The Black Trinity (see Zenith the Albino).
- The Council of Eleven, a group of criminals led by Baron Robert de Beauremon. They sometimes worked with and fought against Mlle Yvonne and Huxton Rymer and Prince Wu Ling.
- Hammerton Palmer, the publisher-turned-blackmailer (and a jibe at Sir John Hammerton, head of biweekly publications at Amalgamated Press). On at least one occasion he teamed up with Huxton Rymer.
- Miss Death, whose mask was a silken skull and who had six months to live and spent her time breaking the law so as to help the underdog.
- The Crime Minister, the so-called ruler of the criminals of England. He only appeared in two stories, though, both of which are described as "woeful" and "stillborn," so I don't think we can really count the Crime Minister as meriting a place among all these other criminal worthies.
- Olga Nasmyth, the Girl of Destiny, who bore a bloodthirsty grudge against the enemies of her families but who also tried, at least once, to vamp Blake. There were feelings between them, but it could never work out, not least because of her bloodthirsty nature. She was one of several attempts to duplicate the successful Mlle Yvonne formula.
- Aristide Dupin, the "Laughing Cavalier" of crime and France's greatest thief. He jousted with Blake several times and even bettered him on occasion. He was likely Gwyn Evans' attempt to create an Arsène Lupin-like opponent for Blake; in this he was successful, for not only did Dupin have methods, he had his general approach to life. Between Dupin and Blake there was a grudging respect; after being beaten by Dupin during the one of the League of the Onion Men episodes, this is how Blake reacts: "He rose to his feet and crossed over to the sideboard and helped himself to a whisky-and-soda. Blake recognised a good opponent, and there was a twinkle in his deep-set eyes as he drained the drink. 'To our next meeting, Aristide!' he murmured. 'There is still the last round.'"
- Andreas Lamotte, an illusionist/magician thief.
- The Slasher, the Phantom, the Vulture, the Raven, and other, similarly-named "megalomaniac banditti" (E.S. Turner's colorful phrase).
- Inez Novarro, the psychotic Spanish beauty.
- Mademoiselle Roxane Harfield, a sultry adventuress. Her background and motive of vengeance was similar to Mlle Yvonne Cartier, who Roxane is described as a "more torrid version of." (Or, if you'd prefer to be uncharitable, she was a later attempt to reprise the success of the Mlle. Yvonne stories.) There was the potential for a relationship between Mlle Roxane and Blake--Blake found her "very, very lovely and very, very desirable"--but, again, Blake's mission and Mlle Roxane's disaffection for the law got in the way. ("If I admit any of the softness of what you suggest into my life it means my career would suffer. I have always put it first, and must continue to do so.") She was a French-Canadian adventuress, who (like Mlle Yvonne) carried out a "brilliant war" against the men who had swindled her out of her inheritance. She operated from her "motor yacht," La Brise. She and Blake nearly let their passion carry themselves away into an action that Blake undoubtedly would have later regretted, but then Felix Dupont, an amoral photographer, saw the two of them entertwined, faked a photograph of the pair of them in a compromising position, and tried to use it to blackmail Blake.
- The atrocitious Dr. Cagliostro, who built and managed a vast underground Coliseum and used it to stage scenes of torture, savagery, and combats-to-the-death, all for the amusement of millionaire dilettantes and sensation-seekers.
- Trouble Nantucket.
- Gunga Dass, the "Hindoo arch criminal," who Blake could never quite seem to defeat for good. He was the son of a white woman and the deposed Rajah of Northern India. He was a master criminal, based in India, whose plots stretched from New Delhi to London. Among his other plots was an attempt to oust the Raj from India by fomenting a native rebellion.
- A carnivorous Persian "Death Plant." Thanks to Rick Lai I can tell you that the Death Plant was owned by an elderly crook who was teamed with Zenith the Albino.
- Punch Bennett, the air pirate.
- The Phantom Bat. The Bat was Dirk Dolland. For years, beginning with his debut ("The Hidden Hand," Union Jack Library #680, 21 October 1916), he was a gentleman cracksman, the "cavalier of crime," a version of Raffles done for the Blake saga. In the words of Harry Homer, he was "a crook but a gentleman, who never used violence and was imbued with a strong sense of humour and good sportsmanship." He had "an audacious, even impudent, career of crime;" when first he met Blake, he was responsible for a series of "daring and unsolved crimes" as well as a series of "impudent" notes and telephone calls to the police, all of which had driven Inspector Coutts "almost to a state of apoplexy." His skills came in large part because of his career, as a civilian, as an expert stage magician and well-known music hall expert. Dolland later reformed, in "Dirk Dolland's Redemption," Union Jack #791, during the Criminals' Confederation epic (see below), and became one of Blake's trusted friends and helpers. Dolland's assistant, in his early, criminal years was the Butterfly, a female crook, but she disappeared from the scene jsut before Dolland turned to the good, during the Criminals' Confederation series. Dirk's younger brother Denzil was known in the States as "Mr. Moonshine."
- Mogollon. Mogollon was half-White and half-Native American; his name meant, in English, “One-who-has-no-name,” and was given to him by a tribe of Apache. Mogollon was actually the son of Sitting Bull, however, which made him half-White and half-Hunkpapa Sioux. (Not that Mogollon’s creator would truly have appreciated such distinctions.) He was a millionaire, living and working in Chicago, and something of a mystery to those in Chicago who knew him. He was very influential in the beef and agricultural industries of the American Midwest and West, but he wanted still more power, and was willing to slaughter many other men and women to do so, including the Apache chief “Chiricahua,” Blake’s old friend. Naturally, Blake avenged Chiricahua’s death by story’s end and destroyed Mogollon’s plans, although the death of Mogollon was at the hands and gun of another.
- The League of Robin Hood.
- Digby Farren & Otto Bruner. This pair was quite nasty. Digby was large and fat, "smooth and naked as oily porpoise." He never sweats. Otto Bruner, the half-caste "Brute of Saigon," is even fatter, with benignly twinkling eyes and vile personality and habits.
- The Living Shadow, an Invisible Man lift.
- Basil Wicketshaw, the "prince of rogues," whose nefarious plots took him around the world. Blake defeated him solo and with the help of Matthew Quin.
- The League of Onion Men. The League were from Brittany, in France, and were what might ungenerously be called peasants. "They were a queer crowd, penetrating with their poles of onions...inland from the coast to the most unexpectedly remote places, and then so mysteriously disappearing." They were led by Sebastien Quirot, and their goal was to recover the "five keys of Gille de Rais." These keys were enormously valuable to the Onion Men, because they, among others, were part of a "gigantic conspiracy, financed by M. le Duc de Bretaigne, self-styled leader of the French Royalists. It was a conspiracy to place on the throne of France Prince Louis de Rais, who claimed to be the descendant of that Dauphin, son of Louis XVI, executed during the Reign of Terror." The five keys had been scattered throughout Britain after having been "scrounged" by some Tommies during the bombardment at Rheims during WW1. The Onion Men wanted the keys, and Blake kept interfering with them, stopping their attempts to kill the current owners of the keys and claiming possession of them for himself. Blake beat them for good, eventually, but not before having Aristide Dupin steal the keys from him after he'd gained, through much hard work, three of them.
- The Crook Crusaders. The Crusaders were another of the conspiracies of criminals who plotted to enrich themselves and to kill Blake. They were led by Mr. Proud and teamed up, briefly, with Zenith the Albino.
- Marie Galante. She was "the beautiful, exotic creature who had her lair far back in the hills of unknown Haiti, who was the mysterious head of the secret Empire of the Blacks which has today stretched its tentacles clear across the Atlantic to Liberia, and who, on more than one occasion had been assisted by Dr. Huxton Rymer in her strange practices...Sexton Blake and Tinker penetrated into the hidden fastness of her retreat, arriving at a time when the snake and blood rites of the terrible voodoo practices were in full swing...." In at least one later story her headquarters were shifted to Santa Marta, a "small South American republic," from which she would plot and become involved in intrigues and rebellions--two things she loves--not just in South America but around the world. Her presence, and that of her conspiracy (I trust I don't need to point out how outrageously racist the "secret Empire of the Blacks" concept is?), corrupted Santa Marta, requiring Blake to travel to Santa Marta and fix things. Blake even, very briefly, had a romantic interlude with Marie.
- Henri Garrock, the Snake.
- Max Lupus, hideously vulpine and possessed of a diabolical plan for ridding the world of Sexton Blake. Thanks to Rick Lai I can tell you that one of his plots involved a fake werewolf and that in one story he teamed up with Zenith the Albino.
- Peter the Spider and the Whisperer, who unfortunately were both mere gangsters, rather than something more interesting and exotic.
- The Green Jester, who left, for his intended murder victims, cards that "Believe me, my charming Miss Rothe/To end your long life I am loath/But in a blow with a poker/In the hand of this joker/Will be best, I am sure, for us both."
- Dr. Queed.
- The Sniper. He is one of five members of a criminal conspiracy, and every time Blake got too close to one of the members the Sniper would knock them off. The Sniper was Silvio Pladner, the head of the Bunda Colliery Company.
- Lavrinoff, a Russian criminal mastermind who was crippled from the waist down but had more than enough malice to make up for it.
- The Black Brotherhood, a group of African-Americans under the leadership of the Reverends Sephiniah and Roscoe Lincoln. They are, of course, venomous and Bad, out to kill Whitey. They have the help of the vicious and deadly Simon de Montfort, a black mortician. They ended up fighting against the Shadow Club.
- The Shadow Club, a group of six WW1 veterans who suffered facial injuries so bad that they could "never venture openly among men. They returned to Britain as the grey-hooded, grey-robed "Shadow Club," dedicated to outlawing war and frustrating the schemes of financiers and others who would bring about war. They ended up fighting against the Black Brotherhood.
- The Black Eagle and the Black Rat, a pair of criminal brothers. Well, it's not quite that simple. The Black Eagle was John Hasford, a formerly happy-go-lucky student who'd been framed for murder while in Paris and sent to "the worst living hell on Earth - Devil's Island." He returned a bitter man, intent on avenging himself on those who'd framed him. He spent years doing just that, acquiring a terrible strength; Hasford could break a man's neck with his hands and tear three packs of cards in half. The Eagle later teamed with Prince Menes to overthrow the British in Egypt, committed various crimes in America and Britain, and then allowed his mansion, off Edgware Road in London, to become the headquarters of a gang which included Prince Menes, Wu Ling, George Marsden Plummer, and the Three Musketeers, all of whom were working for Matthew Cardolak (see below). The Black Rat was Stephen Hasford, who had run away to sea as a boy and been brutally treated, which turned a "simple deformity" into a grotesque misshapenness. The Black Eagle was the only person who ever showed Hasford any kindness, and Hasford was the only person for whom the Black Eagle cared at all.
- The League of the Cobbler's Last, still another ring of criminals. They were a branch of the Criminals' Confederation.
- The Crimson Conjuror, a magician/thief who used a traveling circus as his cover and as the means by which to steal from town to town.
- Vedax the Dwarf.
- Nirvana. She was a wily dancer and adventuress who had first met Tinker when they were both only ten years old, and on the streets of London's East End. Years later, in 1925, when they were both teenagers, they met again and fell in love. Nirvana teamed up at least once with Mademoiselle Yvonne.
- Alfred Proud, The Man Who Died Six Times. Well, okay, it wasn't as exotic as all that. In 1932 the editor of Union Jack asked six Blake authors, Edwy Brooks, Gwyn Evans, Donald Stuart, Anthony Skene, G.H. Tead, and Gilbert Chester, to write six stories, all of which would end with the bodies of Alfred Proud (dead) and Sexton Blake (unconscious) found on top of a tram in a depot; the authors were not to confer with each other. So for six weeks running in Union Jack Proud was created to die by story's end. Among other things he did was head up the Crook Crusaders, ally with Mlle Roxane and Waldo the Wonder Man, work as a jewel thief and rebel-rousing convict, be a guilt-ridden murderer, and have ties to the League of Onion Men.
- The Jack Ketch Society, which dealt, Four Just Men-style, with guilty people who were not touched by the courts.
- Matthew Cardolak, the rogue millionaire and vicious benefactor of a gang of super-criminals which declared war on Sexton Blake. This gang included Three Musketeers, the Black Eagle, Prince Menes, Wu Ling, and George Marsden Plummer.
- The Crimson Ramblers. The Ramblers were a crooked football team which had invented a device to put in the heels of their boots which allowed them to run much faster than the other team and score all the goals. Blake and Tinker discovered the secret to the Ramblers' speed and put them in their own boots; they then played the Ramblers and beat them at their own game.
- Ralph Forbes, who fagged for Blake while the two of them were in school and then later turned to crime and duelled Blake. Forbes died, repentent, in Blake's arms.
- Marcus Gilley, "the Wallflower," who also fought Arthur Stukeley Pennington.
- Mademoiselle Osaki du Channe, a Yellow Peril femme fatale, who later fought Arthur Stukeley Pennington.
- and, in E.S. Turner's words, an "endless succession of German spies, Soviet trade spies, anarchists, apaches, mad scientists, hooded terrors, fraudulent Atlantic flyers, crooked lawyers, rascally rajahs, American racketeers, and human bats."
Blake, of course, never lost when fighting all of his enemies. He had temporary set-backs, and sometimes the best he could manage was a draw, but in the long run he always won and the villains always lost. Sometimes, though, he had help, and engaged in team-ups and crossovers. By "team-ups and crossovers" I mean that characters from other series appeared in his stories and helped him beat the cads and bounders. I mentioned some of these other characters above, and gave links to their individual entries in my Pulp Heroes and Fantastic Victoriana sites, in the Blake's Friends section: Nelson Lee, Matthew Quin, R.S.V.P. (who later became Arthur Stukeley Pennington), Sir Richard Losely & Lobangu, Havlock Preed, and Captain Christmas, among others. There were also, on some few other occasions, crossovers with other, non-Blakian characters. In Boys' Best Weekly #54 the dime novel detective Jeff Clayton specifically requests a bloodhound to help him: "Yes...I've wired to Tinker to send Pedro down by the next train." Jeff Clayton appeared as a Jesse James foe in Adventure Series #42 & 43, and then went on to star in Adventure for almost 50 issues as a detective in his own right. Blake also crossed over with Raffles twice, in Sexton Blake Library: Second Series #577 & #601; in both stories, each written by Barry Perowne, the two jousted inconclusively. Blake teamed up with Ferrers Lord, the first time taking place in Union Jack #742, 29 December 1917. Lord Peter Wimsey, in Whose Body?, says that he's "Ready to tackle Professor Moriarty or Leon Kestrel or any of 'em." (Wimsey, for what it's worth, apparently was based on Arthur Augustus D'Arcy, who apparently appeared in a couple of Blake's stories.)
The Criminals' Confederation
While there were more than a few Sexton Blake stories that should be described at length here, the one that is generally regarded as Blake's best is the fifty story Criminals' Confederation sequence, a pulp fiction epic worthy of the name. Lucky me, I've found two excellent descriptions of it, one written by Harry Homer and one by J. Edward Leithead, and so I'm going to summarise it here.
The Confederation was a criminal organization which had branches around the world, with hundreds of the most clever criminals on its rolls. It was led by several very clever and dangerous criminals, and Blake lost most of his battles against them except for the very last one. The series, which was written by Robert Murray, began with "The Missing Crooks," Union Jack Library #806, 22 March 1919, and ran, as mentioned, for fifty issues, finally ending with "The Great Round-Up," in Union Jack Library #1196, 18 September 1926. (Fourteen issues of the sequence were reprinted from 1931-1933, but they were only reprints, and not a sequel.) As you might suppose, the series didn't usually appear one after the other; some stories appeared in sequential issues, while some others appeared after a space of months.
The Criminals' Confederaton series really began with the debut of Mr. Reece, in "The Mysterious Mr. Reece," in Sexton Blake Library First Series #41, June 1916. In that story, and in the stories which followed in the Union Jack Library and the Sexton Blake Library, he was simply a master criminal, sometimes working alone and sometimes with a gang of men. In SBL #41 Dirk Dolland, the Bat, makes the mistake of breaking into a safe that Reece's men had their eyes on. Dolland is therefore sent for by Reece and forced to abase himself in front of Reece, thus adding to Dolland's dislike for Reece. (Dolland's first reaction to Reece was revulsion, and his actions and statements only confirmed it. This would be important later.)
In "The Missing Crooks" Reece not only confronts Dirk Dolland, but the hints about the organisation behind Reece begin to appear: gold buttons on a dead man's "queer uniform" which bear the letters "C.C." and the Morse code signal "CRIMCON" being repeatedly broadcast towards London. In the following stories of this first part of the Confederation series, the Confederation emerged and became a real thing, a world-wide criminal conspiracy with branches and members everywhere. Mr. Reece was captured by Blake and then escaped. Sir Philip Champion was introduced. Tinker was kidnaped. John Smith was introduced and built up as the President of the Confederation. Disgusted with the evil of Reece, Dirk Dolland finally gave up his life of crime and joined the Confederation as a way to find the Tinker; Dolland traveled far out to sea, to the great white liner Liberty that Sir Champion had hijacked and which was used as the Confederation's headquarters, and rescued Tinker. Dolland, Blake, and Tinker returned, and in battle the Liberty and Champion's personal yacht were both sunk with Champion and Reece on it, leading the Confederation to relocate their headquarters to the volcanic Sinister Island, deep in the untracked wastes of the South Atlantic.
This ends the first part of the Confederation saga. A few months pass, and then part two begins. Tinker disappears down an old tin mine in Cornwall, a prisoner of the Confederation, but manages to get a message out to Blake telling him that the Confederation are back in England and that they have him prisoner. The Shadow, the vicious son of Mr. Reece, is introduced. Mlle Yvonne comes on stage to join the fray. Blake is checked for a time, all his inquiries and efforts in London defeated by the Confederation, whose tentacles extend not just across England but also the Continent, from the lowest dock bar to the highest of high society; even Blake's disguises do him no good. Finally an informer, Simon Martin, gets word out about the Confederation, but he is killed and Blake and Mlle. Yvonne captured by the Confederation, and Tinker and Coutts are helpless to do anything against the Confederation. Finally Blake escapes via a sewer and is swept out into the Thames. He rejoins Tinker and Coutts, and they go after the Confederation, who are temporarily lodged in the poshlust Hotel Argent. Many criminals are captured, but the chiefs escape.
Then the Confederation begans to rot from within. Mr. Reece begins to make a bid for the Presidency of the Confederation, working against Sir Philip Champion and John Smith. Reece, using the Tip-Top film company as a cover, manages to capture Blake, Tinker, Coutts, Dolland, and Mlle. Yvonne, but Sir Champion & John Smith do not want the five put to death. Reece overrides them and are left to a very gruesome and horrible death. They are saved at the last moment by Pedro, which frees them to go after Reece. Dolland is arrested by Coutts, who never really trusted the Bat. Reece is captured and put on trial. The Shadow reappears and begins to demonstrate his own malignity, among other things killing Mr. Smith. Sir Champion temporarily (and ineffectively) dissolves the Confederation following the murder of his friend, Mr. Smith. Colonel Elias B. Quartz, Confederation Member #444,444, is introduced and begins working as Reece's agent. Reece escapes from prison and begins using a circus as his cover, working as a cripple on stilts. Reece is again arrested, but escapes the gallows due to the declaration, by the "famous alienist Sir Huxley Webb," that Reece is insane. (It is later revealed that Webb is, of course, a Confederation agent.) Ned Hatton, a cracksman and ally of Col. Quartz, briefly takes charge of the Confederation, but then betrays the Confederation and absconds with £500,000. He is pursued both by the Confederation and the police, and he shifts the blame on to Dirk Dolland.
The Black Duchess is introduced. Mr. Reece is killed off, and Professor Jason Reece, the brother of Mr. Reece, escapes from a chain gang on the French prison island of Tutea, returns to civilization and takes command of the Confederation. Col. Quartz disappears. Blake and Tinker hound Reece out of the British Isles, pursue him across Central and South America, and finally capture him. They bring him into court, he receives a death sentence, and then, nearly at the last possible moment, discover that the real Professor Reece had escaped and put a double in the prison cell. Blake and Tinker repeat the chase. The great competition for the Presidency of the Confederation begins, with Ysabel de Ferre, Max Vogel, and Hoang Ho now vying for mastery. Blake et al continue to have difficulties defeating the Confederation, but the battle for the Presidency takes its toll on the Confederation's membership. Ryan Saul tries to hire the entire Confederation for his own purposes. John Fade joins the Confederation out of world-weariness. Dr. Deeming Stain allies with the Confederation. The C.C. moves its headquarters to the island of St. Madros. Hoang Ho and Max Vogel are killed off, leaving a three-sided competition for the Presidency, between Ysabel de Ferre, Fen Too, and Professor Jason Reece. The Duchess and John Fade fall in love. Blake saves Professor Jason Reece's life when Fen Too tries to kill him, and in gratitude Fen Too frees Blake, Tinker, Coutts, Dolland, Fade and Ysabel.
The battle for the Presidency dwindles down to West versus East, Professor Jason Reece versus Fen Too. Reece, having recovered the million-pound C.C. reserve fund, instigates a revolution in the small South American republic of Santa Costa and has himself installed as President. He then repudiates all extradition treaties and makes Santa Costa a haven for criminals from around the world. Fen Too begins moving against Prof. Reece in Santa Costa, and Blake travels there to foment a counter-revolution. Blake's counter-revolution succeeds, and Prof. Reece is toppled from power, falling into the hands of Fen Too. Fen Too brings him into the hinterlands of South America, pursued by Blake. The Black Duchess is captured by Reece's men, and John Fade pursues them. Coutts captures Reece and the Duchess, and both are put on trial. Reece escapes, as his late brother did, and gains control of a due-to-be-scrapped R.N. cruiser. Reece uses it to hijack the liner Andillaria, which was on its way to N.Y.C. with five million pounds of war debt repayment. Reece, pursued by every navy in the world, flees to the Arctic. He returns to London to briefly marry the Black Duchess in an attempt to weld together the various components of the Confederation, but this fails and he goes back on the run.
The series ends disappointingly on Jorsica, where the island's volcano blows up. Blake et al escape, but Reece, Fen Too, and the rest of the Criminals' Confederation are killed.
That was Sexton Blake, the hero of one of pulp fiction's great sagas. I'm always interested in learning more about Blake, so if you know something that I don't, or if I made an error, please write me and tell me about it.
In the time since I've started this page a few other Sexton Blake sites have sprung up. I find this quite gratifying, really. I had nothing to do with their existence, naturally, but I find it gratifying that other people are also translating their interest in Blake into web sites. I recommend each of these sites without hesitation.
Juvenile Story Papers and Pocket Libraries Index
This site, primarily composed by Steve Holland, is a goldmine of information for those interested in the subject. Simply, it's a massive listing of which stories and which authors appeared in which issues of which magazines. So, for example, if you want to know which issues Anthony Skene stories appeared in, you simply click on the Authors link and then follow it to Anthony Skene. The Index is incomplete, as there's a nearly incomprehensible number of magazines to be index, but Steve and his contributors, of which I'm proud to be included, have made substantial progress. Steve is also the compiler of the Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, which I'm even prouder to say I've contributed to.
Jack Trevor Story
This site, compiled by Guy Lawley, is a very thorough and quite well-done look at Jack Trevor Story, one of the later Blake authors. It's got images, quotes, and lots of biographical and bibliographic information.
This site is an excellent look at Blake. It's got scads of illustrations, far more than I could ever manage here, and lots of good information on Blake. It also has, and this is just as important (to me, at least), information on the publishing history of Blake. In all, an invaluable site for Blake aficionados.
Sexton Blake (II)
Mark Hodder's amazing Blake site. Its recent revision has made it not only the best Sexton Blake site on the Internet but the model for all other author and character sites. "Impressive" does not begin to describe this site.