To them there were no marks of the natural about the sudden ending of this young life. There was no common touch of humanity about the girl’s death. She had lain there, her life suddenly arrested, and, as they had all heard, no apparent wound or blood was there to account for her death. . . . Surely, thought I, they were not going to ascribe the death to Spring-heeled Jack!
This passage comes from “The Flying Man,” one of four novellas in The Revelations of Inspector Morgan, written by Oswald Crawfurd and published in 1907. I came upon this in my ongoing search for occult detectives. At the risk of committing a spoiler, I’m sorry to say that Inspector Morgan will not be joining my Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives. Nonetheless, it’s a fun (if somewhat slow) story.
In a way,”The Flying Man” is almost a variation on Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901-02). Both involve what, to some characters, seem to be the actions of a legendary, supernatural creature. In Doyle’s work, it’s a hell hound that plagues the Baskerville family. In Crawfurd’s work, it’s none other than Spring-heeled Jack! In addition, both are set in the West of England. Traditionally, Spring-heeled Jack makes his mischief on the streets of London — though he did get around quite a lot. Perhaps Crawfurd anchored Jack in the West Country to take advantage of the desolate landscape of moors and mires that Doyle uses so effectively.
I was introduced to the legend of Spring-heeled Jack through the wonderful three-episode audio drama The Strange Case of Springheel’d Jack. You can download it for free from Wireless Theatre Company, where it holds firm among their top downloads. (See my review of it here. I discuss two other Wireless productions, “We Are Not the BBC” and its sequel, “We Are the BBC,” here.) If the Spring-heeled Jack legend is unfamiliar to you, I nudge you to give Wireless’s production a listen first. Even though Crawfurd’s “The Flying Man” doesn’t have quite the same bounce as the audio drama, the novella works better when one knows that Crawfurd is playing with a legend that would have been recognized by many of his original readers.