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Savoy Books 
Monsieur Zenith the Albino

Anthony Skene


2001

b/w illustrated

240mm x 158mm

Hard covers

Original hardback of 1936
Sampson Low edition

300pp

ISBN 0 86130 109 9

Monsieur Zenith

 

 

"Zenith's crimson-irised eyes were reflective. He stood there long of leg and broad of shoulder, immaculately dressed, groomed to perfection, cold as an icicle; and dangerous; transcendently dangerous."

The second title in Savoy's new Millennium book line, Monsieur Zenith the Albino is a rare gem from the golden age of the pulps. This novel by Anthony Skene has been out of print—and virtually unobtainable—since 1936.

  • Introduction by Jack Adrian / Foreword by Michael Moorcock
  • Numerous illustrations by the original Zenith artists from Union Jack and Detective Weekly

Jacket design by John Coulthart.


A few copies of this title are still available.

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"Monsieur Zenith is an albino. Craving excitement because it brings forgetfulness; thrust into crime by his abnormality, by his illimitable egotism, by the caprice of his recalcitrant nature, he finds himself involved in the quest for a mysterious something on the finding of which life—and more than life—depends.

Indifferent to gratitude or reward, asserting—and, perhaps, believing—that he seeks only the final diversion of the damned, to dice with death; threatened on the one hand by the police, and, on the other, by political chicanery, this strange creature crashes through.

Monsieur Zenith is the strangest, most bizarre, character ever devised in thriller fiction."

Original jacket notes


 

Reviews

"This is the second in Savoy's series of classic reprints, and while it isn't as essential a publication as the first, The Exploits of Engelbrecht, it's still well worth a look. Skene was a pulp writer working principally with 'the sleuth of the second-rate', Sexton Blake, from 1916 to 1948. Zenith was conceived originally as one of Blake's more colourful villains, jockeying for position with 'reincarnated High Priests of Ancient Egypt' and 'avenging toffs', and became from his first appearance one of the most popular adversaries in the Blake universe. Readers just couldn't get enough of the albino's deathly pallor, immaculate grooming and death-defying opium habit, and Skene wrote almost sixty novellas along with fifteen full-length novels featuring the dapper yet freakish master criminal. Here Zenith appears without Blake, and is pitted instead against examples of the more crassly criminal element, as well as two typically hapless policemen.

Notwithstanding Sexton Blake's reputation as 'the office boy's Sherlock Holmes', Monsieur Zenith has more than a little of Conan Doyle's creation himself, being, as already mentioned, a prodigious user of opiates, a master of disguise and a virtuoso violinist. Although Zenith operates on the wrong side of the law, he is morally on the side of justice, for all his amoral posturing: when a lady's welfare is at stake Zenith knows just what to do.

Despite Skene's punchy, highly readable style, this isn't a forgotten masterpiece; but as a criticism this misses the point. Zenith is a character delirious enough to deserve to live on—equal parts Holmes, Fantomas and Diabolik, as well as having been a formative influence on Moorcock's Elric—and Savoy's presentation here makes the volume nothing less than a paean to weird pulp in all its crazed glory. Not only is the original text incredibly obscure—the publishers are aware of only three extant copies—but Savoy have also included original Zenith illustrations, including a number of covers from the likes of Detective Weekly and Union Jack, as well as new illustrations from Savoy stalwarts Kris Guidio and John Coulthart, an exhaustively researched foreword by Jack Adrian and a fascinating reminiscence on the contemporary pulp scene by Moorcock. This is about as far as it gets from cynical hack publishing—but then Savoy sets higher standards than most. Recommended."

JAMES MARRIOTT, Headpress

 

"Anthony Skene's Monsieur Zenith the Albino is a remarkable rediscovery from the heyday of Britain's forgotten pulp pages. Skene's crimson-eyed crook first appeared in 1918 as a worthy opponent of Sexton Blake—the detective once known as the office boy's Sherlock Holmes—and his blood-strewn adventures continued for the next two decades, as he proved himself a villain on a par with Professor Moriarty or Fu-Manchu. Skene soon disposed of the superfluous sleuth and devoted whole books to Zenith alone. This wonderful new edition of a 1936 adventure reveals crime writing at its most elegant and machiavellian. With a fascinating introduction by Michael Moorcock, who claims that Zenith inspired his own albino fantasy anti-hero Elric, this is a fabulously designed book, and one that only a small press would have had the courage to produce."

MAXIM JAKUBOWSKI, The Guardian

 

"Monsieur Zenith the Albino is the third title in Savoy’s new and exciting hardback publishing programme that is set to climax with an illustrated edition of William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland.

Monsieur Zenith first appeared in 1918 in "A Duel to the Death" and he went on to become a one of the most popular adversaries of the celebrated detective, Sexton Blake. He appeared in regular publications such as Detective Weekly and Thriller, both of which were hugely popular after the First World War.

Zenith is an elusive criminal. He is suave and sharply dressed with a violent streak, cutting tongue and a distinct fearlessness. Perhaps of particular interest to ENIGMA readers is the fact that he was a direct inspiration upon Michael Moorcock’s fictional character, Elric of Melnibone.

This novel is essentially a ripping yarn yet it somehow stands apart from typical pulp detective writing. Firstly, Zenith is very much the protagonist despite his heartlessness, violence and criminal ways. He holds an appeal not unlike Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter. Despite his distinctive appearance, like Hannibal, the police have great difficulty catching him and when he is caught, he escapes. Like Hannibal too, he seems to sometimes appears as the charitable criminal, a modern day Robin Hood. But this is mere chance; Zenith steals for the fun and the excitement.

Moorcock describes this book as a treasure in his introduction. It is certainly a rare book and Zenith is a masterly creation, a truly unforgettable character. This edition has been published with great care, it is full of illustrations with embossed boards and an overall design by the infamous Lord Horror artist, John Coulthart."

MATT LEYSHON, Enigma/Waterstone's

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