Published: Judy Picture Library #192
Artists: Ian Kennedy? (cover); unknown (story)
June Mason and her father are on holiday in Germany and enjoying a Rhine steamer cruise. Then, one night an unknown man seizes June and throws her overboard. As he does so, June notices a scar on his right wrist.
A woman named Hanna Schmidt rescues June. The attack remains unsolved and of course June has been traumatised. In gratitude to Hanna, the Masons grant her request to stay with them for a few days, at their fine home near Dover.
All seems well until June is surprised to see Hanna out walking on the estate in the dead of night. But Parker the gamekeeper mistakenly fires a warning shot at Hanna because he mistook her for a poacher. Hanna’s story is that she could not sleep because of a romantic conflict of interest: she has fallen in love with an Englishman named Roger Mills while already loving another man in Germany. She asks the Masons if she can invite Roger over. June and her father think it is an awkward situation, but as they are grateful to Hanna, they agree to her request, but Roger must stay in the village.
As Hanna sets off to post her reply to Roger, Parker suddenly gets shot. Apparently his gun went off, and the injury is serious. When Roger arrives, he is allowed to take over Parker’s job and lodge temporarily because he has gardening experience.
Then June notices a scar on Roger’s wrist and recognises it as the one she saw on the assailant who threw her off the steamer. Soon June is drawing the right conclusions: Roger and Hanna are carrying out some sort of criminal plot. Roger threw her into the river for Hanna to “rescue” so Hanna would gain the Masons’ confidence and access to their property. Roger deliberately shot Parker so as to get his job and access to the Masons’ estate. June decides against telling her father for now in case he does not believe her, but is going to watch Hanna and Roger very closely.
June steals an opportunity to sneak into the gardener’s lodge and search Roger’s belongings in search of clues. She finds a rough map of their property that looks very aged and faded. On the map are the words “next to the elm” and “summerhouse” in German. She realises Hanna and Roger are after something hidden in the grounds. Her guess is confirmed when she finds Roger digging near the roots of an elm, and knows it is not because of rotting roots as Roger claims.
June goes to tell her father – only to find a note that he has gone to Manchester on urgent business. But in fact Roger has drawn Mr Mason away with a phony call.
Worse, Hanna saw June snooping in the lodge. When she tells Roger, they realise they must act fast. The trouble is, Roger has discovered the summerhouse has been moved since the map was drawn. This has left them with dozens of elms to check now and created an unforeseen delay when they had anticipated only a short time was required. They decide to work through the night, when June is asleep.
However, June is not asleep; she is keeping watch and sees Hanna sneak off into the woods. She follows, but Roger catches her. They leave June tied up, gagged and locked up in the gardener’s lodge, and they return to work. They intend to vanish for good once they find what they are looking for.
But Hanna and Roger have made two mistakes. First, they neglected to bind June’s legs, so she can still use them. Second, they did not see the dog-flap in the lodge. So, though still bound, June manages to escape. She flags down a lorry, and once the truckers see her bound and gagged they untie her and then come with her to stop the plotters. They arrive in time to see Roger and Hanna unearth what they have been looking for: a cache of valuables buried under an elm. The truckers seize the criminals and June calls the police.
The whole story comes out under police interrogation. Hanna’s father had been a WW2 pilot who looted a stately French home when the liberation of Paris started. He fled across the Channel in his plane, but was shot down and also wounded. Despite his injury, he managed to parachute into the grounds with the loot, bury it under the elm, and draw the rough map of its location. He was captured and spent the rest of the war in a British POW camp. His wounds prevented him from returning to retrieve the treasure, so he entrusted the job to Hanna.
Parker pulls through and is expected to make a complete recovery. Hanna is handed over to the German authorities while the British police charge Roger. The French government sends a letter of deep gratitude for the return of the valuables, particularly for the part June played. June then tells Dad she fancies their next holiday to be in Switzerland. Dad jokes they will have to make sure nobody pushes her off a mountain.
This is a very straightforward mystery story. It gets off to a very catchy start when a shadowy assailant attacks June on the steamer and throws her into the Rhine. Being pushed overboard would a terrifying, traumatic experience for anyone. The artwork makes the attack even more frightening with its use of black-and-white used in silhouette. The assailant and his motives are completely unknown. It can only look like attempted murder. Readers would very likely be set off in the direction of why anyone would want to kill June.
When June goes home she thinks she is safe, but the reader knows better; there wouldn’t be any point to the story otherwise. The attacker is sure to strike again, and the reader reads on in suspense to see when and how he will return. We wonder if he will strike at Hanna as well when she tags along with the Masons. Things get even tenser when the two shooting incidents occur, though they seem to be mishaps and nothing to do with the assailant.
When June sees the scar on Roger’s wrist and recognises it, she exhibits impressive powers of observation and deduction. Despite the shock, she had managed to notice the scar on her assailant’s wrist and remembered it. And once she sees it again, it only takes her a few minutes to work out the truth. She also shows tremendous courage in snooping into Roger’s belongings and realising she has to stand on her own when her father is called away on a phony call. She also shows resourcefulness and quick thinking when the crooks tie her up in the lodge. They think they have her secured, but she escapes quickly due to her superior knowledge of the lodge and their forgetting to tie her feet.
Roger and Hanna do have to be admired for their craftiness. The Masons realise the criminals must have spent months watching them in order to know about their Rhine cruise and put their scheme together. Their plan to gain access to the Masons’ property to start their search was extremely cunning. But things can go wrong with even the best-laid plans; in this case, the relocation of the summerhouse causing an unexpected delay and giving June more time to work out what is going on. And criminals have to make mistakes at some point. This happens when they try to secure June, but make the two mistakes noted above. Mr Mason also believes that attacking June outright on the steamer was another mistake and gave them away. It certainly did when June saw the scar during the attack. And suppose someone had witnessed the attack and caught Roger? They would have been far more clever to stage an accident for June on the steamer and make it look like an accident.
There are two quibbles with this story. The first is the title, which does not sound very descriptive of the story. “Fear from the Past” sounds like the protagonist has to overcome some fear in her past or something. Couldn’t they have found a better title, and one that summed up the cover (showing the attack on the steamer) more appropriately? The second is the second panel on page 51, where June escapes through the dog-flap. A speech balloon is used for June here, but it shouldn’t be because June is gagged. It should be a thought balloon. This is clear sloppiness on the part of the letterer and editor.
Still, this is an engrossing story. The early attack on the steamer makes it even more gripping, particularly as the attacker and his motives remain unknown. The plotting is well paced and tight, and there is no meandering into red herrings. The use of black inking and the contrast of white space add to the atmosphere and tension of the story, and also to the night scenes, when a lot of the plot developments occur. There are plenty of panels where the artwork is simply sumptuous, such as the one where June falls into the Rhine. We can see that the artist would be brilliant at a ballet or gymnastics story.