The chief protagonist, a typical Wallace anti-hero vigilante, one Henry Arthur Milton, aka The Ringer, a legendary assassin who killed for personal vengeance. The main character Inspector Wembury of Scotland Yard, who is having a very bad day. It is his first day as the new commander of Deptford Division; his immediate superior, the brutish, inappropriately named Chief Inspector Bliss, is back from America full of ideas like Tommy guns on the streets of London and a British FBI: his fiancée has just taken a job as secretary to a local lawyer Maurice Meister, an outwardly respectable but actually murderous criminal who Wembury knows - but cannot prove - was responsible for his fiancee’s impressionable younger brother ending up doing a 4-year jail term for a robbery. Wembury’s day is made miserably complete when the news is received that The Ringer, having been confirmed dead in Australia, is back in London and desiring vengeance against Maurice Meister, for Henry Milton left his only sibling, a much younger sister, in Meister’s wardship when he left London and after Milton was supposedly confirmed dead her body was found floating in the River Thames.
259 pages with a reading time of ~4 hours (64858 words), and first published in 1925. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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The Assistant Commissioner of Police pressed a bell on his table, and, to the messenger who entered the room a few seconds after: “Ask Inspector Wembury if he will be good enough to see me,” he said.
The Commissioner put away into a folder the document he had been reading. Alan Wembury’s record both as a police officer and as a soldier was magnificent. He had won a commission in the war, risen to the rank of Major and had earned the Distinguished Service Order for his fine work in the field. And now a new distinction had come to him.
The door opened and a man strode in. He was above the average height. The Commissioner looked up and saw a pair of good–humoured grey eyes looking down at him from a lean, tanned face.
“Good morning, Wembury.”
“Good morning, sir.”
Alan Wembury was on the sunny side of thirty, an athlete, a cricketer, a man who belonged to the out–of–doors. He had the easy poise and the refinement of speech which comes from long association with gentlemen.
“I have asked you to come and see me because I have some good news for you,” said the Commissioner.
He had a real affection for this straight–backed subordinate of his. In all his years of police service he had never felt quite as confident of any man as he had of this soldierly detective.
“All news is good news to me, sir,” laughed Alan.
He was standing stiffly to attention now and the Commissioner motioned him to a chair.
“You are promoted divisional inspector and you take over ‘R’ Division as from Monday week,” said the chief, and in spite of his self–control, Alan was taken aback. A divisional inspectorship was one of the prizes of the C.I.D. Inevitably it must lead in a man of his years to a central inspectorship; eventually inclusion in the Big Four, and one knows not what beyond that.
“This is very surprising, sir,‘” he said at last. “I am terribly grateful. I think there must be a lot of men entitled to this step before me–”
Colonel Walford shook his head.
“I’m glad for your sake, but I don’t agree,” he said. And then, briskly: “We’re making considerable changes at the Yard. Bliss is coming back from America; he has been attached to the Embassy at Washington–do you know him?”
Alan Wembury shook his head. He had heard of the redoubtable Bliss, but knew little more about him than that he was a capable police officer and was cordially disliked by almost every man at the Yard.
”‘R’ Division will not be quite as exciting as it was a few years ago,” said the Commissioner with a twinkle in his eye; “and you at any rate should be grateful.”
“Was it an exciting division, sir?” asked Alan, to whom Deptford was a new territory.
Colonel Walford nodded. The laughter had gone out of his eyes; he was very grave indeed when he spoke again.
“I was thinking about The Ringer–I wonder what truth there is in the report of his death? The Australian police are almost certain that the man taken out of Sydney Harbour was this extraordinary scoundrel.”
Alan Wembury nodded slowly.
The very name produced a little thrill that was unpleasantly like a shiver. Yet Alan Wembury was without fear; his courage, both as a soldier and a detective, was inscribed in golden letters. But there was something very sinister and deadly in the very name of The Ringer, something that conjured up a repellent spectacle…the cold, passionless eyes of a cobra.
Who had not heard of The Ringer? His exploits had terrified London. He had killed ruthlessly, purposelessly, if his motive were one of personal vengeance. Men who had good reason to hate and fear him, had gone to bed, hale and hearty, snapping their fingers at the menace, safe in the consciousness that their houses were surrounded by watchful policemen. In the morning they had been found stark and dead. The Ringer, like the dark angel of death, had passed and withered them in their prime.
“Though The Ringer no longer haunts your division, there is one man in Deptford I would like to warn you against,” said Colonel Walford, “and he–”
“Is Maurice Meister,” said Alan, and the Commissioner raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“Do you know him?” he asked, astonished. “I didn’t know Meister’s reputation as a lawyer was so widespread.”
Alan Wembury hesitated, fingering his little moustache.
“I only know him because he happens to be the Lenley’s family lawyer,” he said.
The Commissioner shook his head with a laugh. “Now you’ve got me out of my depth: I don’t even know the Lenleys. And yet you speak their name with a certain amount of awe. Unless,” he said suddenly, “you are referring to old George Lenley of Hertford, the man who died a few months ago?”
“I used to hunt with him,” mused the Commissioner. “A hard–riding, hard-drinking type of old English squire. He died broke, somebody told me. Had he any children?”
“Two, sir,” said Alan quietly.