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Blackshirt. Blackshirt was created by “Bruce Graeme,” the pseudonym of Graham Montague Jeffries (Pierre Allain, Monsieur Blackshirt, Theodore I. Terhune), and appeared in eight stories and thirty novels and story collections from 1924 to 1969, beginning with “Blackshirt” (The New Magazine, Dec. 1924-July 1925).
Richard Verrell is a respected member of society who is also, unbeknownst to anyone, the dreaded gentleman cracksman, the Blackshirt.
Verrell’s beginnings were mean. He was found wandering the streets of London as a child, his biological parents unknown. He was adopted by a pair of drunken thieves who teach him their tricks and force him to steal so they can drink. The pair are killed in an accident, leaving Verrell to fend for himself. He educates himself, makes a new personality for himself, begins writing at age twenty-two, then enters the armed services during World War One and becomes a decorated hero. After the Armistice he returns to London and writes his first novel, which is immediately popular and leaves him well-regarded by society and the intelligentsia. Nine months after the Armistice Blackshirt appears. He is called Blackshirt because of his outfit: black from head to toe, from shoes to gloves to the mask that hides his face. He steals and steals and steals, but is scrupulous never to carry a gun--it wouldn't do, and his crimes are planned and executed skillfully enough that he doesn't need to carry one.
Verrell does this out of love for excitement, not from monetary need. His novel was making him rich, and he wrote sentimental stories for the popular magazines and sells them. Verrell "adored every moment when he was engaged in his nefarious enterprises." He is successful for a short while, unsuspected by the police, but then he gets a phone call, threatening him with exposure unless he begins following directions. The caller is a woman. She knows everything about him, and so there is no alternative for him but to follow her directions. He does so, and steals many things for the woman on the phone, eventually discovering that the woman is Bobbie Allen, one of the targets the voice told him to go after. But Verrell has fallen in love with Allen before he discovers who she is, and so, having already agreed to marry her, he disposes of the Blackshirt identity.
Such things never last, and he returns to a life of crime following a train accident which gives him amnesia. Bobbie lives through the accident and woos him again, finally persuading him to stop stealing. Then, as stories go by, he becomes more of a Robin Hood and less of an A.J. Raffles. Eventually he and Bobbie have a son who takes up the Blackshirt identity, and so a new generation of wrong-doers learns to fear the Blackshirt.
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