There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A dish served cold: The Channay Syndicate by E. Phillips Oppenheim (1927)

"Hush!" he whispered.

They both listened. It was a night with scarcely any wind, but the little there was came from westward where the marsh broadened out into a creek-riven wilderness, bounded a mile or so away by a high bank. A curious sea bird went floating through the obscurity with a wailing cry. In the distance there was the rise and fall of the sea; presently a splash in one of the pools of water, which might well have been a stray duck or a fish left behind by the tide.

"My fancy, I suppose," Fogg muttered. "I thought I heard voices."

The Channay Syndicate by E. Phillips Oppenheim (1927)

Gilbert Channay is released from prison after three years. He had been framed-up by business partners, and sets about executing his revenge. Sadly for them, he has "the mind of an eagle, and the brain of a Rothschild." (Or at least a Michael Corleone.)

He reveals his feelings about his enemies to Catherine Fogg, daughter of his only ally:

"I should like to bring flaming tragedy into his life, to bring him up against such a situation that he should spend his last hours in agony with a revolver and a brandy bottle at his side...."

Welcome to the adventuring, thrilling world of E. Phillips Oppenheim's modern retelling of Monte Cristo.

Not all Channing's enemies are white-collar criminals he can socially disgraced. Edmund Drood is a villain of the first water, a cold-blooded City swindler with footsoldiers from London's underworld.

Channing lures Drood and his gunsels to the countryside, to the salt marshes near Seaman's Grange, Blickley.

Plenty of action at night ensues.

....On the following morning Parsons came to his master with an air of grave concern. The garage had been broken into and all four tyres of the car had been cut. Channay listened to the recital with the air of a chess player who watches with mild amusement a move on the part of an inferior player.

"When you go to the village this morning, Parsons," he directed, "telephone to Norwich for a fresh set. Have them sent out by car and have the man who puts them on drive the car down to Jarvice's Garage. Ask them to put it in a lock-up box and give you the key, and to be sure they tell no one it is there."

"Very good, sir," Parsons replied. "And shall we be leaving these parts soon?"

"Almost at once," his master promised. "Are you nervous?"

"It isn't I, sir. It's the missus," Parsons explained, apologetically. "All last night she kept on waking and hearing footsteps around the house and the sound of oars in the creek. If you'll pardon my saying so, sir, I think they've got us pretty well hemmed in."

"If they have they don't seem to do much about it," Channay rejoined. "These fellows who come out on jobs like this are generally cowards. They want to try and hit upon a plan by means of which they risk nothing. They mayn't find it quite so easy."

"I've got padlocks on the back doors and I've moved heavy furniture up against the lower windows," Parsons reported. "You'll keep indoors after twilight as much as possible, sir."

Channay promised, but on the following night the lust of excitement crept into his blood. There were masses of black cloud all over the sky and a strong wind blowing, but here and there were clear spaces overhead, and from behind the jagged edge of the rolling clouds there was at times a gleam of moonlight. Channay took some number three shot he kept for geese, filled his pocket with cartridges and with his automatic in the hip pocket of his breeches, left the house during a moment's darkness. He followed the creek for some distance and then turned round and stole across the dyke bank from seawards. Arrived at the spot where he usually stood he lay down upon his stomach and watched. Presently he heard the coming of duck. He made no movement. Almost simultaneously, his eyes becoming trained to the gloom, he saw a dark figure about eighty paces distant. He lifted his gun and, still without rising from the ground, fired at the duck already out of range. Almost immediately a bullet whistled above him, just where his head would have been. Still upon his stomach he returned the fire with his shot-gun. He saw the black form stagger and heard a cry of pain. Instantly he scrambled to his feet, crossed the dyke, climbed up a bank of shingle, and dropped on to the sands. Listening intently he could hear a rush of feet toward the spot where he had been standing. He waited, tense and expectant. In a moment or two one of the party climbed cautiously up and stood on the bank, looking around. Channay fired again and with an oath the shape disappeared. There was a murmur of angry voices, and this time Channay delayed no longer. He took to the hard sands and ran. He heard his pursuers floundering in the marsh land, but they had no chance of cutting him off. He reached home safely, and at once bolted and barred all the doors and windows.

After Drood is dealt a defeat, action moves to Paris, then Monte Carlo. Here Channay comes to grips with the remainder of his former syndicate investors.

Fans of fiction where wronged men turn tables on foes and out-maneuver them will enjoy The Channay Syndicate as much as I did.

3 March 2018

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