Monday, January 18, 2016

France's Answer to Moriarty

RAOUL FLACK was an evil genius, an arch-criminal in the Moriarty mold, who appeared in a half dozen stories in The Popular Magazine just prior to America's entry into the First World War:

   (1) "Stalemate," November 7, 1916 [below]
   (2) "His Master’s Voice," November 20, 1916
   (3) "The Vanishing Ambassador," December 7, 1916
   (4) "Virus X," December 20, 1916 [below]
   (5) "The Black Angora Rabbit," January 7, 1917
   (6) "A Trade in Treason," January 20, 1917

Two of those tales are available for your perusal at the Comic Book Plus site. If you envision Mission: Impossible with the team working for nefarious ends you'll have a good idea of what we're dealing with here.

By Robert Welles Ritchie (1879-1942).
First appearance: The Popular Magazine, November 7, 1916.
Short story (20 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus HERE (set page selector to 116).
"The first in the best series of detective stories we have had in POPULAR in years. The plot centers around Raoul Flack, a French criminal who escapes from the lime pits of a tropical hell, flies to America and gathers about him a band of expert lawbreakers to make war on society."
Missing rocks bring these diverse personalities together:
~ Edgerton Miles, Wall Street plunger and peccant husband
~ Mrs. Juliana Cope Miles, the imperturbable object of both Edgerton's love and his unfaithfulness
~ Miss Dandelion, the volatile object of both Edgerton's unfaithfulness and his love
~ Henri, the too-well-placed jeweller
~ Gaspard Detournelles, Viscount Allaire, a man about town with acquisitive fingers
~ Raoul Flack, once known to the Paris Sûreté as "The Phantom," paradoxically crowned with the "great white head of an ascetic, an anchorite"
~ and Roger Boylan of Boylan's Confidential Agency, looking for all the world like "the owner of a hardware store in a town of ten thousand."
Edgerton Miles has lots of money, but not enough self-control to stay out of a serious bind; when Mrs. Edgerton's valuable necklace is stolen he calls in Roger Boylan:
. . . "Last night my wife was robbed of a sapphire dewdab worth fifty thousand dollars, between the first act and final curtain, at the Metropolitan. Can you get it back for me?"
"I never make promises," the detective answered, the wrinkles of a smile clustering about the corners of his blue eyes.  . . .
What neither one of them knows at the time is that Miles has been victimized by a thievery ring run by none other than that mysterious master criminal Raoul Flack, "whose body has been well-nigh broken by society, but whose intellect, sharpened by suffering almost to the absolute of mathematical logic, is dedicated to a single object—the compassing of revenge upon society for five years of torture." Such a person, of course, should be avoided at all times—unless, that is, you're a determined detective not afraid of gunplay:
. . . Bang! A bullet threw lint from the carpet into Boylan's eyes. Swift patter of feet followed.  . . .
Even with death a real possibility, the proximate cause of all this violence still displays its fatal allure:
. . . With a crisp rustle and click of gold filaments, a glittering heap of yellow and royal blue color spilled under the light and lay sprawling there—an evil toy to incite covetousness, to inspire murder, even.  . . .
Comment: This first story in the series clearly aims to set up the adversarial relationship between the two major characters, Raoul Flack and Roger Boylan, much like Holmes vs. Moriarty, Nayland Smith vs. Fu Manchu, and Bond vs. Blofeld. The writing is engaging and witty at times and, when he wants to, the author can invoke vivid atmospherics.

* * *
"Virus X."
By Robert Welles Ritchie (1879-1942).
First appearance: The Popular Magazine, December 20, 1916.
Short story (13 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus HERE (set page selector to 162).
"The most valued member of Raoul Flack's interesting company of international crooks finds a rich field for his endeavors in the person of a millionaire whose life was one long battle with germs."
An imperious but weak-minded One Percenter runs afoul of people with no regard whatsoever for anyone else. In this diabolical scenario we have:
~ T. Stacey Crump, a mysophobic precursor of Howard Hughes and "one of the biggest fish in all the Wall Street pool"
~ Mrs. Crump, T. Stacey's long-suffering wife
~ Gaspard Detournelles, Viscount Allaire, a suave predator in a dinner jacket who, even from long range, knows a sucker when he sees one
~ Nan Madden, a talented actress with a treacherous beauty
~ "Dr. Flack," bad news in any language
~ Henri, the devious diamond setter
~ and Roger Boylan, "the detective without frills," whose deceptive appearance suggests "anything but the confidential solver of society's delicate problems" that he is.
Once again the unprincipled Raoul Flack steals a march on detective Boylan with an elaborate scheme to defraud a wealthy Wall Streeter by preying on his greatest weakness—and if he should go insane or die in the process, what of it?

As in the previous tale our detective is too late to prevent a crime, being able only to keep it from coming to full fruition. Because, therefore, he is far more reactive than proactive, Roger Boylan can't assume the mantle of a Great Detective.

Comment: Overall both stories are entertaining enough to hold one's interest, with the author's ornate style suggestive of the early Ellery Queen. The folks at Amazon might want to track down the other four stories and compile them in one of their megapacks.

- Not to be confused with the rapper or The West Wing character, Robert Welles Ritchie, highly prolific in several pulp genres (and not being one to spurn the inverted sentence was he), has a FictionMags listing HERE; nearly five dozen of his stories were adapted to film in the '10s and '20s, according to the IMDb HERE; and a few of his longer works are online HERE.
This is not our author.

The bottom line: "He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organised."
Sherlock Holmes

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