By Harry Blyth (1852-98; pen name: Hal Meredeth).
First appearance: The "Halfpenny Marvel", October 6, 1894.
Reprinted in Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection (1992).
Novelette (39 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
|Our story actually appeared in No. 48.|
"I am glad I have no Sexton Blake with me. He would inevitably ride a bicycle, plunge into a stream, or stop an engine in full career, before he got to the end of this business."The wedding date has been set, and the father of the bride couldn't be more pleased; but when the groom disappears from a train he never traveled on, some people stand to lose considerably because of it while, as you may surmise, others stand to profit from it. Only a French detective intent on retirement ("I shall raise my cabbages") will be able to find a missing man, solve a murder, squelch an insurrection, foil several attempts at fraud (including a forced marriage or two), and in the end reunite two young lovers.
~ Jules Gervaise ("of Paris"): Described as "the most astute of cosmopolitan detectives, the expertest unraveller of mysteries, the most profound of observers, a terror to evil-doers . . . thin, wiry, alert, and wonderfully keen-eyed."
~ Saul Lynn: Indebtedness blinds him to the obvious.
~ Daisy Lynn: Saul Lynn's daughter ("a fair, sunny creature"), betrothed to George Roach; as Gervaise archly notes, their wedding "will include that rare combination of a love-match enveloping a business necessity." If only it were that straightforward . . .
~ George Roach: For him it really is the last train to Glasgow.
~ Rupert Peel: A former rival for Daisy's affections and (surprise!) the one she really loves.
~ Felix Sark: He learns a lesson about boiling pitch.
~ The (unnamed) chief of the French secret police: Anxious to export criminals and revolutionaries ASAP.
~ Julia Barretti: The "infamous English adventuress" with a good memory for shadows.
~ Madame Ollivier: Not her real name.
~ Den Lockier: Not her real name's brother; he carries a gun and doesn't hesitate to employ it.
~ Lord Sellford: Conspicuous by his absence.
Gervaiseisms: Smoke from a jacket alerts Gervaise to the presence of blood; he recommends photographing bootprints; he recognizes the evidentiary value of burned ashes in a fireplace; and in normal conversation he is able to detect when someone is attempting to learn a new language. Quotes: "One may plunder a man, yet not condescend to pick his pockets." - "It savours of madness for me to pursue this case, for I shall not get even the husks of thanks for my pains." - "I think it better for the police to discover such things for themselves." - "I shall not be the first detective who has set out in chase of such airy and unsubstantial nothings."
A warehouse: "It appeared to have been accidentally jammed in between two larger build-ings, and it wore a constant look of pain, as though suffering from the tightness of the squeeze."
A cashier: "The bottoms of his trousers showed a marked tendency to creep up to his knees, while his sleeves were absolutely eager to get about his neck. He had a hairless, parchment-like face, and his eyes might have been of glass for all the expression there was in them."
A reception: "Light streamed from every window, while inside all was colour, movement, and melody. The very air seemed rich with delight and harmony."
- Making a far bigger splash than Jules Gervaise (one of many detectives to rush in after the Sage of Baker Street's precipitous plunge) was "the poor man's Sherlock Holmes," Sexton Blake; our author made history with that character:
The first Sexton Blake story was "The Missing Millionaire." Written by Harry Blyth (under the pen-name Hal Meredeth) it appeared in the story paper The Halfpenny Marvel Number 6, on 20 December 1893. He appeared in a few more stories by Meredeth. — "Sexton Blake," WikipediaAs for Gervaise, possibly the prototype of Hercule Poirot:
Blake's first associate from The Halfpenny Marvel No. 6 ("The Missing Million-aire") is the Frenchman Jules Gervaise, who gives him the first recorded case. By issue No. 7 ("A Christmas Crime") they set up an investigative firm together. In the third story in issue No. 11 ("A Golden Ghost") Gervaise is not mentioned. — "Sexton Blake," op. cit.- Volumes have been written about Blake, including a fine account by researcher Jess Nevins, who says:
. . . Blyth, who died in 1898, only wrote a few Blake stories and was not respon-sible 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. — Jess Nevins, The Sexton Blake Page- Some info about Harry Blyth is HERE, FictionMags has more HERE, and Derek Hinrich has a very readable page ("Sexton Blake's Partner," with a few SPOILERS) discussing Jules Gervaise HERE.
The bottom line: "I've given my memoirs far more thought than any of my marriages. You can't divorce a book."
— Gloria Swanson
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