|Dixon Druce faces off with the villainous Madame Sara|
Earlier the same writing duo attempted to create a female Napoleon of Crime in Madame Kalouchy. She appears in the stories that are collected as The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings (1895). Although Madame K. acts as the head of this secret society of criminals and guides their nefarious acts she is not operating alone. She pales in comparison to Madame Sara who is described repeatedly by our hero Dixon Druce as a genius of evil and unscrupulous on all counts. When he hears her name he all but gasps and warns everyone to stay away. But her gullible prey find it impossible to believe that Madame Sara is anything but charming, kind and extremely helpful. Oh, the folly of seeing only the surface character!
When we first meet this most fatal of femme fatales she is the proprietor of a perfume business. Here she also has a laboratory purportedly set up for researching and manufacturing all sorts of beauty aids. What she's really up to is anyone's guess. Usually it involves some fiendish deathtrap that will ensure she gets her hands on someone's fortune. In addition to chemical laboratory skills Madame Sara is adept at concocting poisons, constructing wigs, applying ghostly make-up, supplying custom dentures and tooth stops with extra surprise ingredients. She is a Renaissance woman by way of the gates of Hell. You most assuredly don't want her as your cosmetician or your dentist.
Madame Sara's primary adversary, Dixon Druce, is the manager of the Solvency Inquiry Agency, a government watchdog and protector against fraud. He spends much of his time overseeing the practices of wholesale and retail businesses and confesses to being witness to some of the best in financial chicanery. He is assisted in his battle against the scheming villainess by Dr. Eric Vandeleur, a police surgeon. Vandeleur is the de facto detective in the stories. He steps in at the final moment and reveals all by lecturing and pontificating and unveiling all sorts of devilry like the booby-trapped artificial palm tree that disperses carbon monoxide gas. That's only one of the bizarre murder methods employed by Madame Sara who seems to have one of the most outrageous imaginations in Edwardian fiction.
|Dixon Druce (left) and Dr. Eric Vandeleur (right)|
Reading this from a modern perspective and therefore being familiar with so many later works that have most assuredly been influenced by Meade and Eustace (even if unknowingly) may lessen the power that these stories first had more a century ago. But I still find in them an inventiveness and an energy that makes them enlivening. Of the six stories I was surprised that more than half of them had true early 20th century ingenuity invested in the plot. The impassioned dialog is priceless. At one point Vandeleur says of Madame Sara, "Hunting her as recreation is as good as hunting a man-eating tiger." And watching the hunt take place is just as good.
The Madame Sara stories are:
"The Blood Red Cross"
"The Face of the Abbott" (a haunted castle and a ghost - the only attempt at supernatural in this series)
"The Talk of the Town"
"The Teeth of the Wolf" (which includes Mrs. Bensasan, a wild animal trainer who is trying to tame a Siberian wolf, and a horrid hunchbacked dwarf betrothed to her beautiful young daughter. It's the most Gothic and nasty of all the tales.)