Monday, October 25, 2010

The Adventures of Blackshirt

I've just found this thriller from the 1920s, which contains one of the most wonderfully absurd, cliché-ridden pieces of prose that I've ever read:


Episode I - The Voice on the 'Phone

"WELL, that's that! Now the devil himself couldn't get those diamonds," exclaimed Sir Allen Dunn emphatically.

"Except, perhaps - Blackshirt!" replied Marshall with a grin.

"Blackshirt?" There was a rising inflection in Sir Allen's voice. "Sounds to me like a Fascist!"

Marshall smiled. "You are on the wrong track, I am afraid , sir, for whereas the Fascisti stand for law and order, Blackshirt is responsible for many mysterious affairs which are decidedly against the law."

"A criminal-eh?"

"Say rather a super-criminal."

"A super-criminal - bah! It is all tommy-rot, this 'super' business. Beside, no criminal can stand up long against the long and very strong arm of the law. I am surprised that you, a detective, should spin me such a tale.No one can be 'super' Marshall, no one. A fairy story! The only 'supers' are in the theatrical profession, and they are the very antithesis of the meaning, otherwise they would be leading men and women instead of in the chorus." Sir Allen laughed at his own humour.

"Let me assure you, once and for all, Sir Allen, that I was not exaggerating in the slightest degree; I may have even been too modest.

Sir Allen's forehead wrinkled in a puzzled frown, whilst his lips puckered at the corners of his mouth, a mute testimony of his incredulity. "What, and who, then, is this - er - Blackshirt?"

Marshall abstractedly pulled his pipe and pouch from his pocket. Unconsciously he filled up and applied a match to the tobacco, meanwhile settling himself more comfortably in his chair.

"Your first question, Sir Allen, has already been answered. Blackshirt is a criminal, a man who, it is believed, moves in Society circles and is the intimate of Society people. It is assumed that by day he lives the life of a well-to-do gentleman. When night falls, however, the tale is different. He becomes a nighthawk, a crook, an audacious burglar."


Masterly.

I particularly like the line "no criminal can stand up long against the long and very strong arm of the law".

15 comments:

Annabel said...

I can just imagine that as a Python sketch with Palin and Chapman as the two gents. Wonderful stuff!

Sam Jordison said...

Is it wrong of me to want to read more? I'm intrigued by the idea that Marhall might actually be pro-fascist. Is he going to whack Blackshirt with a copy of the Daily Mail?

The Poet Laura-eate said...

It's like the Famous Five - for adults.

Anne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steerforth said...

It's a great pity that the last comment was deleted as it was a wonderful pastiche of Blackshirt and really made me laugh.

Can we have it back please?

Anne said...

Something in his manner niggled at me. There was something devilishly fishy in the way the fellow lit his pipe. How did he know so much about Blackshirt? Why did he say he was being too modest? Suddenly, everything clicked into place. I started bolt upright in my seat. "Why, you - you are Blackshirt!" I exclaimed.

"You silly little fool," he hissed. "You have just made a mistake you will live to regret."

Universal Acknowledgement said...

I'm intrigued. Marshall says that he may have been "too modest". One interpretation is that he must therefore be Blackshirt himself. I think we should be told. Or possibly you could put up (perhaps each Friday, which in our office is Bacon Roll day, Cake Club day, and Ever-So-Slightly-Dress-Down-Day) a chapter a week....

Steerforth said...

I'm afraid to say that I binned Blackshirt, as the book was covered in spores and stains of an uncertain origin.

However, Anne could probably provide us with far more entertaining version.

Anne said...

We need an etymologist on the case. I have a hunch that back then "modest" didn't just mean "having a humble estimate of one's own merits" [COD] but also something like "understated" - ie, in expression. So when Marshall says he's being "too modest", he's not making any claim for his own virtues or vices, merely saying that he's understating the descriptiion of Blackshirt.

Steerforth said...

Yes, it's one of those words like fantastic that has undergone a shift in meaning:

"Your daughter has been kidnapped by circus dwarves? Why that's fantastic!"

Anne said...

I'm afraid to say that I binned Blackshirt, as the book was covered in spores and stains of an uncertain origin.
Steerforth, how can you do this? It's part of our heritage. Now all we have to go on is a fragment. From this we can deduce that Sir Allen Dunn is rich (he has diamonds), probably unpricipled (he has diamonds), and also naive (he believes he can put his riches beyond expropriation). Stupid too, as he won't hear a word about that "tommy-rot", "super-criminal" fairy story. He has an ambiguous relationship with Marshall. M defers to him superficially, using the appropriate honorifics, yet appears to make himself very much at home, both in his pipe-smoking and in his mode of address as the conversation progresses. M's lack of respect offers a faultline we could explore...

Steerforth said...

It was a rash act that I now regret.

Brett said...

There are still copies of Blackshirt held by a handful of libraries, including a copy at U Oxford.

The series continued with The Return of Blackshirt (1927), Blackshirt Again (1929), Monsieur Blackshirt (1933), and The Sword of Monsieur Blackshirt (1936).

magiciansgirl said...

http://www.internationalhero.co.uk/b/blakshir.htm

Blackshirt's real name is Richard Verrell and he is pre-deceased by his intriguingly foreign ancestor "Monsieur Blackshirt."

Blackshirt's 'superpower' is that "he is able to climb surfaces most people would consider sheer and unattainable." kim

Joanne said...

That's a fantastic start to a novel, I'd certainly read the rest. Forget all that solipsistic Booker nonsense, this sounds like just the kind of rip roaring adventure to keep any red blooded chap company by the fireside on a drear winter's night.