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Book Review: The Black Mask

The Black Mask by E.W. Hornung
This is another collection of tales about Raffles, self declared gentleman thief.

No Sinecure
After the catastrophic events of ‘The Gift of the Emperor’, Bunny did 18 months in jail and is a social pariah whilst Raffles is presumed dead. Naturally Raffles isn’t dead and shows up to lure Bunny back into a life of crime. This was good but grim Bunny is excluded from society due to his disgrace and Raffles pretends to be an invalid and lives under self-imposed house arrest for fear of being recognised.

Best Lines:
“I had made my bed, and I could go and lie and die in it. If I ever again had the insolence to show my nose in that house, I should go out faster than I came in.”

“Then why on earth lie in bed, Raffles?”
“Because it’s better than lying in gaol.”

“I am dead, and my one terror is of coming to life again by accident. Can’t you see? I simply dare not show my nose out of doors - by day. You have no idea of the number of perfectly innocent things a dead man daren’t do.”

“Stand by me, Bunny - if there’s a row.”

A Jubilee Present
Raffles and Bunny pilfer a gold cup carrying on as if it is a schoolboy prank. Bunny does not even think of extirpating himself from Raffles’ orbit. It is lucky for them that the concept of fingerprint evidence does not exist. Good.

Best Line:
“Raffles uttered these blasphemies under his breath.”

The Fate of Faustina
Raffles shows no alteration in his behaviour, yet Bunny has resolved to stand by him again. Raffles fills in what happened in the interim between him jumping off the boat and reuniting with Bunny. This is a good sad tale of Raffles’ descent to the gutter.

Best Lines:
“Raffles must never show himself at any of the windows.”

“But what a place! Napoleon couldn’t stand it, you remember, but he held on longer than I did.”

“And that’s all I’m going to tell you about that, Bunny, cursed be he who tells more!”

“I slept in the streets. I begged. I did all manner of terrible things, rather hoping for a bad end, but never coming to one.”

“Why if I went to Scotland Yard this minute, to give myself up, they’d chuck me out for a harmless lunatic.”

The Last Laugh
Their unsuspected club, cricket and Albany days are far behind them. Now Raffles encounter with the Camorra after his ‘death’ comes back to haunt him. Okay.

To Catch A Thief
Someone is imitating Raffles’ MO. Raffles seeks out his imitator and there is no honour amongst thieves. Okay.

Best Lines:
“Not the Rational Drink fanatic?”
“Yes.”

“But this fellow’s one of themselves, with the right of entrée into houses which we would only “enter” in a professional sense.”

An Old Flame
Raffles goes burgling on a whim in his crape mask, only to run into a married woman who knows him and wants him. There is no mention of Mackenzie or Raffles‘ sister. Raffles fakes dying of typhoid to escape her. Social form is all important. Bunny is only 30. This was good.

Best Lines:
“I had sunk as low as they dig.”

“A man whose personal liberty depended on a universal supposition that he was dead.”

“Raffles could no longer show his face with perfect impunity in any quarter or at any hour.”

The Wrong House
Raffles and Bunny live together in a new set up pretending to be brothers. They ride bicycles and burgle a house, the wrong house. Bunny throttles a schoolboy into unconsciousness and various other schoolboys give chase. Good.

Best Line:
“We heard them kicking at the pantry door.”

The Knees of the Gods
The Boer war rages. Raffles and Bunny decide to do penitence on the Veldt. Or is Raffles the adrenalin junkie at it again? The duo route out a spy. Raffles is finally recognised. Bunny is wounded and Raffles is killed mid-sentence. This was okay even if Raffles death wish, acquired after Mackenzie exposed him, is finally realised.

Best Lines:
“You’re bloody liars both, but I know something else that you are.”

“You’ve simply got to come back.”
“To what?”

“The gallows-bird.”

“Hang on to that like a ferret.”

“Raffles the burglar! Raffles the society thief! Not dead after all!”

“The sentence was not finished, and never could be in this world.”
Tags: 2nd hand book store find, book review, raffles
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