Jimmie Dale and the Blue Envelope Murder by Frank L. Packard

Packard, Frank L., Jimmie Dale and the Blue Envelope Murder. Garden City: Doubleday, Doran & Co. Inc., 1930.

Completed: 6 August 2010

My thanks to Brian Busby at The Dusty Bookcase for turning me onto Frank Packard. His post brought to my attention the existence of Packard and the fact that he was once a bestselling Canadian author. Packard wrote 31 books in his lifetime along with an unknown number of short stories. His books were published in the US, Canada and the UK and went through a number of printings. None of them seem to have survived to today in that they are all out of print. I have noticed that the Print-on-Demand folks are busy trying to make a buck off of Packard so new printings of his work is now becoming available at outrageous prices.

A search of my collection revealed that I actually had a Packard book. Jimmie Dale was one of Packard’s more popular characters. In the end he wrote five Dale novels, of which Blue Envelope Murder was the fourth. The story is that of a modern Robin Hood. Jimmie Dale is a wealthy socialite who is also the Gray Seal a notorious and feared criminal. Dale has a number of criminal aliases and a number of secret lairs. The police want to capture the Gray Seal and the underworld wants him dead.

In Jimmie Dale and the Blue Envelope Murder the character is already well developed and I was left with a sense of much had gone on before. There were numerous references to events, people and places that had obviously been fleshed out in the previous novels. Never the less, nothing was lacking to comprehend and enjoy the story at hand. A good friend of Dale’s has received a mysterious blue envelope. The contents of this envelope could prove fatal to Dale’s friend. Dale is tasked, as the Gray Seal, to steal that envelope. Doing so will remove all threat from his friend, Ray Thorne, and put it onto the Gray Seal. He suceeds in stealing the envelope but find out in the morning that Thorne has been murdered and the Gray Seal is being blamed for the murder. The Gray Seal leaves a calling card, a gray diamond paper seal, at each of his ‘crimes’ so there is no doubt as to who committed the crime. Jimmie must therefore find out who killed his friend, unravel the mystery of the envelope’s contents and dodge the police and the underworld, both of whom would be happy to see him dead.

Packard was a good story teller. The stories are well paced. Their main drawback is that Packard makes his characters rely heavily on impenetrable disguises (in a time when only grease paint existed for creating disguises) and overheard conversations. There is too much of being in the right place at the right time to hear just the right thing. Still, the story was fun. David Vineyard, in his Overview of Jimmie Dale notes that Packard “established many of the tropes of the modern superhero in comic books.” If we accept Vineyard’s argument then Packard must count as a very important, if forgotten, Canadian author who’s presence and influence is still being felt today.

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