Sunday, October 8, 2017

Beware Clubfoot

Several years ago at one of the Friends of the Library sale, I came across a book titled "The Mystery of the Gold Box" by Valentine Williams. It was published by Collier, had a gilt-impressed spine and a brown cover embossed SECRET SERVICE SERIES. At the time, the author was unknown to me and I knew nothing of the story, but since it was obviously part of a uniform edition I immediately began looking for the other volumes...such is the nature of obsession. And I found them:
  • The Man With the Clubfoot (1918)
  • The Return of Clubfoot (1923)
  • Clubfoot the Avenger (1924)
  • The Crouching Beast (1928)
  • The Mystery of the Gold Box [AKA The Gold Comfit Box] (1932)
  • The Spider's Touch (1936)
  • Courier to Marrakesh (1944)
Thus I was introduced to Valentine Williams (1883 - 1946), military hero, war correspondent and real life British spy, and to his greatest creation, a villain named Dr Adolph Grundt, a "repulsive crippled ape," also known as Clubfoot. When we first meet Clubfoot, in The Man With the Clubfoot, he is the Kaiser's most efficient and brutal spymaster, and he ends his nefarious career in Courier to Marrakesh as an agent of Adoph Hitler, a junior league psychopath compared to Grundt. And the period between the wars? Up to no good, believe you me.

Lt Valentine Williams...
...and his creation, Clubfoot

One of the most remarkable aspects of Williams' novels is his attitude toward Germans and Germany in his depiction of Grundt and his espionage activities. It was common at the time of his first book for English writers to insert any number of "nice" Germans into their fictions. They were emphatic that the German people had been led astray by a very few evil men. Not Williams. He was more in the camp of contemporary Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose depictions of Germans in the Tarzan books were so brutal that one has to wonder why they were so popular in Germany. But popular they were, and so were the books of Valentine Williams, at least until a fellow with a funny moustache took over Germany. Then not so much.

His books are not as easy to find nowadays, but a few have been brought back into print and into ebook format. They are well worth the effort to find for spy fiction fans as they faithfully depict the techniques and dangers of spycraft at the times in which they were written. He had a very lucid and straightforward writing style, possibly stemming from his journalistic work. His novels will, of course, jar some of the modern reader's sensibilities from time to time, but that's always a danger when reading something written in an era when people saw much more clearly than they do now.


  1. Hello, I have accumulated 15 titles in the uniform edition you describe. I don't how many were in the edition total, but the ones I have are:
    Clock Ticks On, The
    Clubfoot the Avenger
    Crouching Beast, The
    Dead Man Manor
    Death Answers the Bell
    Eye in Attendance, The
    Fox Prowls, The
    Key Man, The
    Man With the Clubfoot, The
    Masks Off at Midnight
    Mysterious Miss Morrisot
    Mystery of the Gold Box, The
    Portcullis Room, The
    Spider's Touch, The
    Three of Clubs, The

  2. Here is a link to a bibliography too >>