Stan Dare: Boy Detective

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Could he have been the grandfather of the famous Dan? Well his adventures were began in the Amalgamated Press story paper Pluck in 1903. And the descendants of Amalgamated Press eventually came to possess Eagle too!

Pluck was a paper that was founded in 1894, and was in a similar style to the Halfpenny Marvel and Union Jack, 16 half tabloid pages for a halfpenny. The other two began with a complete story and an editorial page (occasionally less than a page), I presume Pluck was the same. However by 1903 all three featured a complete story and 1 – 2 serial stories. In these issues of Pluck (I have the first 6 months of 1903) there are two serials running, the “newer” one being given longer installments than the “older” one.

Pluck’s complete stories, whilst being complete in each issue, were also organised into loose ‘series’ with recurring characters, and that is the form in which Stanley Dare appeared. I own the first five stories, though his adventures appear to have continued sporadically into at least 1911. All five of these first stories appear to be written by Alec G. Pearson (though the first is uncredited) and feature a few recurring characters. Apparently in later stories he was helped regularly by a Professor MacAndrew, though that character does not appear in these five.

The five stories are also a fantastic microcosm of the tropes of the detective stories of the day. Our hero roams around “large, old fashioned houses” with “queer, rambling passages”. These regularly burn down, their “elderly timbers” being “as dry as brushwood”. We meet a young apprentice criminal who wants to go straight, we sneak into the meetings of masked and robed secret societies. Stan is flung from a speeding train, trapped in endless secret chambers and drowned in a murky swamp yet always shows up in time to frustrate the villain’s plot. Not bad for somebody who today would only have been out of school a year!

The Shadow of Guilt – Pluck issue 431, 23/02/1903

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“Pluck” is an old-fashioned word for bravery

Stanley Dare is  a clerk at the Capital & District bank when we first meet him, he is falsely accused of stealing a large quantity of money from the vault of the bank, having been the only person to be left down there on his own. However most of the managers and staff don’t really believe he is guilty, but the evidence is too strong. They don’t press charges in the hope he can get a job somewhere else. He decides to do some detective work and try to discover the real criminals.

He investigates the vault and finds footprints that are made of clay, as you’d find on the shoes of somebody who had been digging a deep hole. He searches the surrounding area for evidence of digging, but can’t find any. Then he spots a man with the same sort of clay on his boots and follows him. This man goes to a house, then appears at the window looking completely different! He must have been walking around in disguise, which nobody honest would be doing.

Stan sneaks into the empty house next door, and discovers that the criminals have found an old Roman aqueduct under their house, and are using it to get around London unseen. He makes his own way down into the aqueduct, but the rope he is using snaps. He then blunders into an ancient well but is rescued by a mad old man who also found his way down there somehow. This man then leads him right into the clutches of the criminals!

The criminals know who he is, but ask him to join them, because he knows about bank vaults and their locks and so on. He pretends to be considering it, while they make a plan for a second robbery on the Capital & District. Then he smashes the lamp they are using in the room (which is an ancient and dried-up Roman bath) and escapes.

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That could be an ancestor of Judge Dredd in the black hat!

Stanley runs around the tunnels for a while, but is trapped in a dead end, which was once a secret room. The criminals shut the door and leave him to starve. However the ceiling has fallen in and he is able to escape back to the tunnels after many hours of crawling. He then creeps up into the criminal’s house and out into the street. He tells the managers of the Capital & District of the coming robbery, and the criminals are caught in the act. The inspector who had originally arrested him helps him to set up as a private detective.

Shadowed! – Pluck issue 435, 28/03/1903

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Hey modern American comic makers, THIS is how you do a cover!

A man called Harper Wayne receives a coded letter in a mysterious manner, and then loads of people try to kill him. His cousin, who looks similar to him, is murdered. He had given this cousin a little watch chain ornament he had found, a black snake. Stanley realises that the coded message belongs to a gang called “The League of the Black Serpent” (NB – Actually this name is not used in the comic, but is far cooler than just “The Serpent Gang”, which is!). All the police forces of Europe have been trying to capture this gang, but none have succeeded.

Stanley decodes the message and finds it relates to a secret meeting, which he attends in disguise. The League all meet in black masks and hooded robes. However when “too many” members show up Stanley is exposed, but is able to brand a man with a red-hot poker before he escapes. Oh and the house is set on fire in the initial struggle and burns down.

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For a while at primary school a load of us wanted to be “gangsters” (inspired more by Grease than gangsta rap). We ought to have called ourselves The League of the Black Serpent!

He later tracks the branded man down on a train, but the man see’s through his disguise. After a struggle over a poison dart gun Stanley is thrown off the train, directly into the path of another! The League arrive at their destination. Walsingham Grance, which they intend to rob. They creep in and, having overpowered a man sleeping in the same room as the safe, are about to finish him off when Stanley shows up with a posse of constables!

Stanley had escaped by twisting as he fell, and then had laid huddled up between the two rushing trains. As he goes to walk out of the tunnel he was dropped in, he finds the poison dart gun. It’s handle is a storage compartment which contains a piece of paper with a message relating to “the broken post”. By some contrived luck he discovers that there are some valuable diamonds at Walshingham Grange, he also discovers a broken post nearby and is able to ambush the Serpents. Their leader, Michael Scarfe, escapes at the last minute. He says he’ll meet Stanley again, but doesn’t in any of the stories I have.

The Vanished Heir – Pluck issue 437, 11/04/1903

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The amount of clinging fog rolling across the scene is left for you to imagine.

The description calls this “The Boy Detective’s Strangest Case”, actually it’s probably his most ordinary one! Colonel Thurston calls Stanley in when his son mysteriously disappears. He was dressed in a fancy costume for a party, but a servant claimed to see him in the grounds dressed normally only a few minutes after he was last seen, which is impossible. The colonel leaves and Stanley returns to his room (which is in a “rambling” and “old fashioned” hotel). He spots a shadow and a secret panel in the wall, somebody had been listening to the meeting!

He visits the colonel the next day, and that man says he was attacked while driving home from the hotel, but drove off his assailants. They then investigate the grounds and Stanley discovers and obvious clue, one that the original searchers ought to have found. It seems that the missing son was still in the house to start with, and was taken away afterwards. They walk further and see an old mansion which is now being used as a school. The headmaster passes by, Stanley notices strange dust on that man’s clothes. He decides to investigate the school later that night, but is tricked into an old shed, knocked out, and thrown in a nearby stagnant pool.

The story then switches to a school story for a bit. A new boy called Samuel Flopp arrives at the school, which is not a very good one and rife with bullies. The new boy beats up most of the bullies single-handed, which earns him respect from the other pupils. After being at school for a while he goes for a midnight wander to an unused, forbidden wing of the mansion. There he finds somebody is being held prisoner. He is almost caught by the one other teacher, but escapes into the night.

Later Stanley is back at the colonel’s house, explaining that he landed on an old tree that was submerged in the pond, and his dog rescued him. He also says that the colonel’s new footman, who claimed to see his son in the garden on the night of the disappearance, is one of the villains! They surprise this man as he is trying to destroy some evidence, and he is arrested.

Samuel Flopp shows up at the school assembly the next day, and accuses the headmaster of being a kidnapper! The police them march in and Samuel Flopp is (surprise surprise) revealed to be Stanley Dare! The headmaster ruses off to murder his captive, but Stan is quicker because he rushes around the outside of the building and climbs a ladder into the room where Harold Thurston is held. He arrives just in time to save him from the headmaster, who throws a bottle of chemicals onto the floor that burst into flames.

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The headmaster goes mad and then collapses on the fire. Stanley picks up Harold, shoots the lock off the door and collapses into the arms of the policemen, waking up again outside as the burning school collapses.

The Crimson Clue – Pluck issue 438, 25/04/1903

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More secret rooms and trapdoors

A farmer called John Norton brings Stanley a note he found tied to the foot of a pigeon. It is addressed to the boy detective by a dying man, and is written in his own blood! The man writes that his daughter is in peril and mentions a grey house. He also says he has been mortally wounded by “an awful, unaccountable thing”, adding to the mystery.

Stanley and the farmer track down the rough direction the pigeon came from, and walk until they hit upon a village, where a badly-mauled body has just been discovered. The victim appears to have been bitten in the throat by some sort of huge wolf, yet there are no tracks of such a creature. Stanley does, however, find horseshoe-shaped impressions several hundred yards apart along the road. Tracing these back he finds a grey house occupied by a Mr Moreland, and tricks his way inside past the hideous, hunchbacked servant. The pair hear a girl’s scream, but Mr Moreland says it was actually a Hyena that he keeps as a pet. Stanley notices revolvers bulging in the man’s pockets and they leave.

At midnight he and John Norton return and break in. They sneak into the cellars, but are suddenly dazzled by a bright light. Moreland and his servant are behind it, covering them with revolvers. However the current is interrupted and Stanley and John run further down into the cellars, where they are attacked by huge wolves. They fight these off, but are shut in the cellar.

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Screentone!

John Norton says he could easily break the door down, but then a panel opens and a gun is fired through it. John is wounded and Stanley, dodging, trips a secret trapdoor and falls into a deeper cellar with no exit! He is knocked out, but comes around many hours later and finds a note from Mr Moreland, saying he likes to keep people down there to see how long it is before they go insane. Stanley spends the whole day there, but when the servant comes to feed him he pulls that man down through the trapdoor, and climbs out.

He explores the house, and while looking through a window spots a huge bat-like creature landing in the garden and walking into the house. He hides as it passes him. He then steals some food, and also some “queer-looking apparatus”. Then he comes across John Norton, who is locked in a room but not badly injured. Together they rescue the woman, Marguerite Woodward, and escape the house.

By the time they have got the police, the criminals have discovered the prisoners have escaped, and have escaped themselves. However Stanley tracks them down to a dodgy guest house in London’s docklands where they are arrested. He explains that the “awful, unaccountable thing” that had been murdering people in the district of the grey house was Moreland, using spring-loaded shoes and bat-like wings to glide with.

The Clue of the Painted Face – Pluck issue 442, 16/05/1903

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Stanley is accosted by a Ramsay Marshall whilst out walking. Mr Marshall has been expecting a Niece, who he has never met or seen, to visit from Australia. However when her ship arrives he is told she left it in France, since then she has vanished. Then suddenly he gets a letter in her handwriting, telling him to go to a house in a run-down district. He does and finds a woman in a trance. He rushes out, runs into Stanley Dare and returns, only to find her missing!

Whilst the pair are looking around the room a painting is removed into the wall and a ghastly, corpse-like face stares out at them. Suddenly all the candles go out and by the time they are re-lit, the face has disappeared. Mr Marshall leaves the house, whilst Stanley searches further. He discovers a secret room, leading off from the room where the woman vanished. He climbs down into this and discovers an obvious secret door with a button to press, however the button is a trap, and a mechanical claw grabs his arm!

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Is he supposed to look Chinese or Jewish?

The man of the corpse-like face emerges from the shadows, and prepares to kill Stanley with a blow-pipe. However Stan has been fiddling with the secret door mechanism and it swings open, blowing out the candles. Stanley escapes through into the next room, which is a cellar with a window, and from there into the yard. He finds a lost wallet as he makes good his escape.

The next day he returns with John Norton, that worthy man itching for a rumble. The house is apparently back to normal. Suddenly “the real owner” walks in and threatens to call the police. Stanley tells him to go ahead as “we are anxious to meet with your late tenant, who took a great deal of trouble to try and murder me last night!”. No more clues can be picked up at the house, so Stanley then tracks down Jim Slideaway, the owner of the lost wallet. It was he who, whilst trespassing in the back yard of the house to find something to steal, was given the note by the captive woman.

Stanley then tracks down the man of the painted face and the woman to a seaside village called Rottingdean. This “old eccentric and his invalid niece”  are looking for a housekeeper, which job Stanley’s landlady Mrs Bowen applies for and gets. Slideaway Jim is posted in a tree outside the house, and Stanley soon has confirmation that these are the people he is looking for. However the man with the painted face, now “Doctor Marengo”, visits him in another disguise, as “Reverend Ingram”. The worthy reverend is going to prick Stanley with a poisoned needle hidden in a cigar case, but it is stolen from his back pocket by Jim, who is hiding in the cupboard.

John Norton is called in, and together they kidnap Ann Parsons, the mystery woman’s jailer. They then rescue her. As Stanley goes to leave the house he runs into Doctor Marengo, who throws a jar of chemicals to the floor, which burst into flames. Stanley, probably muttering “not again”, daringly escapes the blazing building and Doctor Marengo is consumed in the flames. The mystery woman turns out to be Violet Forsyth, the missing Niece. Doctor Marengo had planned to use her, in a hypnotised state, as a sort of remote control burglar. She is restored to her family, who also give Slideaway Jim the chance to “go straight”, working on their farm.

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