Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Gray Seal

While I was in elementary school an uncle, Rev Victor W. Skaggs, was serving a church only a few miles from where I lived with my parents. We visited often. In his bookcase I discovered several volumes of Frank L. Packard's Jimmie Dale stories. They date from the 1910s and '20s (my uncle was born in 1918). I devoured them and have since acquired a few of them. Today a review in the Weekly Standard reminded me of the books. They gave me a great deal of pleasure then. I wonder how they would seem to me now. I came across this description at a site called The Dusty Bookcase:
.... As with Buchan and Richard Hannay, Packard returned to his hero repeatedly throughout his career.

Jimmie Dale owes everything to his late father, who made millions manufacturing the finest safes money could buy. You might say that the fortune came through protecting those of others. Jimmie himself dabbled in sketching and writing before turning to breaking and entering. Donning a black silk mask, he'd sneak into the expansive homes of New York's well-to-do, crack open their safes, and affix a diamond-shaped grey seal in place of a carte de visite. Nothing would be taken – Jimmie has never wanted for anything – the thrill was payment enough.

One night, all went horribly wrong. Jimmie's secret identity as the "Gray Seal" was discovered by a mysterious, unseen woman who threatened to expose him unless he turned his talents toward combatting crime. The millionaire playboy did just that – resulting in even greater thrills. ....

.... There's a gritty reality in the depictions of New York's impoverished and its criminal class, aided I think by the access Packard was granted to NYPD stakeouts and raids. Then there is the Sanctuary, a secret lair in which Jimmie transforms into Larry the Bat, to all appearances a down-and-out cocaine addict who moves through the city's underworld. As both Larry and the Gray Seal, Jimmie wears a wide leather belt holding the tools of his crime fighting trade. ....

The mystery the reader is left with is how such an influential character can be so forgotten. Why has there been no revival? How is it that The Adventures of Jimmie Dale is out of print? Most of all, why did it take me so long to get around to reading it? .... [more]
The first two of the books in the series are downloadable, free, for Kindle or Nook or other electronic readers:  
The Adventures of Jimmie Dale
The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale