Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"One Rash Move from Any of You Will Mean Her Death"

"The Smiling Mask."
By Anonymous.
First appearance: Adventure, September 17, 1921.
Short story (14 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus HERE (set page selector to 3).
(Note: Text is faded but readable.)
"An Enthralling New LONG COMPLETE TALE of Mystery and Adventure, introducing DIXON HAWKE, the renowned Detective, Tommy Burke, his fearless young assistant, and the amazing character known as The Black Duke."
Despite the hyped-up introduction just above, this story doesn't "introduce" the character of Dixon Hawke to the world (that was years earlier) but only to the readership of Adventure, a durable British boys' magazine that ran to more than 1,800 issues over sixty years.
Chapter titles:
   One: "Thanks from the Black Duke."
   Two: "The Price of Silence."
   Three: "What the Morning Brought."
   Four: "A Clue Removed."
   Five: "Yokota Makes a Bonfire."
   Six: "A Trail Across the Marshes."
   Seven: "A Surprise for Dixon Hawke."
   Eight: "Hawke and Tommy Go Fishing."
   Nine: "An Eventful Night."
   Ten: "A Confession."
   Eleven: "The Mysterious Man is Found."
   Twelve: "The Sealed Envelope."
   Thirteen: "The Duke at Bay."
   Fourteen: "A Change of Destination."

The set-up is classic: a fabulous jewel, the Star of Jalna, is stolen right out from under the noses of an assembly of fifteen men by the infamous thief known as the Black Duke. Almost immediately the reader learns who- and howdunit, who in fact the notorious Black Duke is; to his own surprise, though, the thief becomes a victim of blackmail—and, again, almost imme-diately we learn who the blackmailer is.

Comes the dawn, however, and the blackmailer has himself been murdered, "an ebony-handled knife protruding from his breast, his eyes staring sightlessly upward—rigid in death," in a locked room in a country house no less, with a note signed by the Black Duke nearby; but the reader will doubtless agree with the police inspector when he remarks, "I haven't much use for this dramatic stuff, and I don't believe a fellow who committed a crime like this would leave his visiting-card behind him." Of course, that could be a double bluff. Enter Dixon Hawke, for whom this case isn't a mere robbery any more, but a full-blown locked room murder puzzle with a surfeit of suspects.

Principal characters:
~ Montague Eldridge:
   "What is the use of locking them away in a safe deposit? I like to have them near me, so that I can examine them when I like. My safe is fire-proof, and burglar proof—"
~ Matthew Staples:
   "No safe is burglar-proof."
~ Julian Leppard:
   "Are you suggesting that one of us has the diamond, Mr. Hawke? I suggest we submit to a search."
~ Dixon Hawke:
   "Present day miracles are capable of explanation."
~ Mrs. Abbott:
   "Oh, you—you mustn't think Miss Margaret had anything to do with killing her uncle."
~ Margaret Childs:
   "I hate him! Sometimes, I—I feel I shall kill him."
~ Gilbert Kendall:
   "I—I think I hate him, too, for the way he treats you."
~ Yokota:
   "I burn some rubbish, sir, that inconveniently encumbered the yard."
~ Tommy Burke:
   "My hat! it's a gloomy sort of a show, guv'nor. Reckon I'd get the creeps if I had to hang out here."
~ Inspector Robert Goodair:
   "Bit of a puzzle, Mr. Hawke. There isn't a mark on the flower border nor on the soft gravel, so it's dead certain a ladder was not used. If it wasn't for that locked door, I'd say this was an inside job."
~ Hookey Noakes:
   "I'll scoot back and get the boys together. Seems to me rather a risky game . . ."
~ Arthur Childs:
   "I was innocent of the charge brought against me; my uncle hated me, and I believe he knew the truth. He let me go to penal servitude, and I believe he blackmailed the man who was really guilty."

Typos: "Hwake"; "thn girl."
- Background articles on Dixon Hawke (a Sherlock Holmes/Nick Carter clone who allegedly appeared in over 5,500 adventures written by uncounted authors of highly variable abilities) can be found HERE (Public Domain Superheroes), HERE (Mystery*File article by David Vineyard: "The most important thing to note about Dixon Hawke is that young Kenneth Millar, Ross Macdonald, was a fan, and the Hawke books are fun, but they are much closer to the comics than even the hero pulps"), and HERE (The Crime Fighters by Lofts and Adley), the last summarizing the character this way:
Dixon Hawke was called by many 'The Scottish Detective' because he was created and issued by the powerful publishing firm of D. C. Thomson of Dundee, Scotland. Hawke first appeared in 1919 in the Dixon Hawke Library, which ran through 576 issues right up to 1941, followed by Dixon Hawke Case Books, consisting of short stories. He also appeared in short stories in The Adventure. In the early 1970s he was still appearing in the The Sunday Post newspaper. Dozens of authors are known to have written the exploits of this famous sleuth.
Dixon Hawke was tall and aquiline, wore a dressing gown, and smoked a blackened briar. His assistant was Tommy Burke, and he had a bloodhound called Solomon. Hawke was a very influential detective, well enough known to dine with the Prime Minister. His friends at the Yard were Detective Inspector Baxter, Chief of Scotland Yard’s C.I.D. and Flying Squad, and William Baxford, Chief Assistant to Detective Inspector Duncan McPhinney. Hawke’s rooms were in Dover Street, just off Piccadilly and opposite the Ritz Hotel, and his house-keeper was a Mrs. Martha Benvie. A strange assortment of garments and disguises was littered in a small windowless room, sandwiched between two bookcases and hidden behind a curtain, and his rooms also had a somewhat hidden back flight of stairs, which few people knew about and which allowed him to get out unobserved. Hawke had a big Sunbeam roadster and a two-seater sports car that Tommy Burke drove. — W.O.G. Lofts and Derek Adley, The Crime Fighters

The bottom line: "Two and two, Mrs. Kendall, always make four."
— Dixon Hawke

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