Friday’s Forgotten Book: Blackshirt Passes By by Roderic Jeffries

Blackshirt Passes By (Hutchinson, 1953) is the third Blackshirt adventure by Roderic Jeffries in the continuation of his father’s series. Blackshirt has had a long and unusually varied career. Graham Montague Jeffries (1900-1982) under the pen name Bruce Graeme created the character of Richard Verrell, a well-known author whose alter ego Blackshirt dresses completely in black and finds stealing exhilarating. This Blackshirt appeared in stories released between 1925 and 1947, mostly in the 1930s.

Using the name of David Graeme, supposedly Bruce Graeme’s cousin, Jeffries also wrote a series of books about Monsieur Blackshirt, Richard Verrell’s 17th-century French ancestor. They appeared in the 1930s, except for the last one which was released in 1963.

During World War II Jeffries wrote several short stories about the son of Richard Verrell, who used the name Lord Blackshirt. He imagined the son of Blackshirt living in a post-war England and carrying on the family legacy. These stories were also attributed to the authorship of Bruce Graeme.

Super Detective Library featured illustrated Blackshirt adventures during the 1950s.

Jeffries’s son Roderic Jeffries revived the Richard Verrell/Blackshirt character under the name Roderic Graeme, releasing 20 novels about the gentleman burglar between 1952 and 1969. In this particular outing, ruthless thieves target a figurine in a museum display of artifacts on loan from the Middle East. The horse-shaped figurine is made of gold and has a huge ruby for a saddle. Its value is incalculable. The local thug talent drafted for the actual theft are assured that no violence will be involved and consequently are stunned when the ring leader offhandedly shoots the guards who try to stop them.

Richard Verrell, Blackshirt’s alter ego, is walking down the street across from the museum, intent on an innocuous errand, when he sees the gang driving frantically away in his own car, which he housed in a nearby garage. The police question him closely as a witness to the get-away. When an international incident over the theft threatens, the Inspector in charge of the case, desperate to save his career and who knows about Verrell’s hobby of burglary, blackmails him into finding the figurine and identifying the culprits.

The ensuing adventure, full of creative characters and narrow escapes, reminded me of The Saint’s exploits, except that this one is more violent.

The book Literary Afterlife: The Posthumous Continuations of 325 Fictional Characters by Bernard A. Drew (McFarland & Company, 2010) and the invaluable website Stop, You’re Killing Me! (http://www.stopyourekillingme.com/) served as my resources for this review.

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