H. BEDFORD-JONES “The Case of the Kidnaped (sic) Duchess.” Novelette. John Solomon. First published in Argosy, 05 January 1935.

   â€œThe worst kind of a job sir. One that you and me might swing together and ’elp out the most beautiful woman in Europe, Mr. Carson. But it’s a werry dangerous business, sir. That ’ere Duchess o’ Furstein is in a werry bad ’ole and if we give ’er a ’and it means risking our necks.”

   That’s the voice of John Solomon, ship’s chandler, mysterious millionaire, operator of one of the best private espionage operations in the World, the short, stout (think Edmund Gwenn as Santa but minus the beard) Cockney adventurer who first appeared under the by-line Allan Hawkwood, but who, by 1935, was appearing under Bedford-Jones’ own name and commanding the cover of Argosy with the little Cockney’s adventurers.

   This one is a mystery novelette that begins in foggy London where engineer Carson, an American, and one of a long line of engineers, grocers, doctors, and the like to act as assistant to Solomon’s myriad schemes in all ports of call, has received an urgent message to join him before they sail that night for Europe to assist the Duchess o’ Furstein.

   If this sounds all very Holmesian, keep in mind Bedford-Jones also wrote a Holmes pastiche so successfully it passed for a lost Conan Doyle story among some scholars.

   But our guide here is Solomon, not Holmes, though he is just as high-handed, clever, and dangerous to know as the Baker Street sleuth, if less cerebral and more given to flashing guns.

   Carson has hardly arrived at the tobacconists where he’s been summoned when Solomon rushes by, drops a wallet, which he commands Carson to hide, and seconds later is in the hands of a constable accused of picking the pocket of a ’toff, soon to have Carson “up to his neck in emeralds, Sicilian palaces…” as the wallet belongs to Sir Basil Lohancs, who has already kidnapped the duchess, and is delivering her to London on his yacht that werry, I mean very, evening.

   Baghdad on the Thames was never more so. Heady stuff in the pulp era.

   The Duchess has been using her wealth, estates, and is threatening to use her fabulous emeralds, to continue social work in Palermo. Lohanc’s can’t have that. The result as Solomon says is that the Duchess is in “a werry bad fix, as the old gent said when ’e buried ’is third wife.” Lohanc is a bad one “Money, brains and nor scruples whatever, sir. What ’e goes after ’e gets, that’s ’is boast,”and later, “Murder don’t mean nothing to ’im.”

   Scotland Yard and the French police have been fooled, and now the Duchess’s only hope is Solomon and Carson, boarding a yacht full of kidnappers and potential murderers to make a rescue on the fog bound docks with the information her loyal Sicilian maid died getting to them. Without getting all Sax Rohmer on us, Bedford-Jones evokes Limehouse and its environs and a sense of romance built out of the reality and not vague menace and shadows. His Limehouse is that of Thomas Burke and Arthur Morrison.

   Solomon gives Carson an automatic and instructions to get on the yacht while it works its way up the Thames to London, an impossible job. “There ain’t nothing impossible, sir, if so be you ’as a ’ead,” Solomon advises and he proves right, Carson getting on board and making contact with the Countess. Now what ever happens depends on Solomon and his plans, and as always Solomon’s plans are played close to the vest, Carson is captured and drugged by Lohanc and Dr. Vecchhi the murderous doctor in his pay.

   Meanwhile the usual close calls, disasters, and last minute rescues follow until the last possible moment when Solomon plays his last card, the love of a Sicilian whose wife died to protect her mistress.

   If it strikes you that with a little bit of tweaking here and there, this might well be the outline for a thriller by John Buchan, or later Victor Canning, you aren’t far off.

   It’s no great mystery, but as action adventure goes, it’s splendidly told, replete with villains who deserve their just rewards, noble heroes and heroines, and always, the presence of John Solomon, one of the great captains of pulp fiction, part adventurer, part avenger, and always righter of wrongs, cherry cheeked and wispy haired man about adventure. There is nothing quite like him or his kin in most modern fiction today.

   For anyone interested you can download or read this at Internet Archive under their Pulp Collection. The issue also includes a dog story by Albert Peyson Terhune and serial chapters by F. Van Wyck Mason, Theodore Roscoe, and Fred MacIsaac, a pretty good issue.