sphinx_bk_tss argosy_us_19350518 argosy_us_19350330 argosy_us_19350223
Full Name: John Barnes
Codename: The Sphinx
Nationality: American
Organization: American Intelligence
Occupation Agent

Creator: Henry Bedford-Jones
Time Span: 1935 - 2015


John Barnes, aka the Sphinx, is an agent with American Intelligence.

Formally, he is nothing of the kind. There are no agents, apparently. The activities of Barnes and his compatriots take place just a couple years after the U.S. State Department suspended all intelligence work it had been involved in (Secretary Henry Stimson's line "Gentlemen do not read each other's mail" comes to mind).

So it will fall on the shoulders of independent men (and women) to take over the very dangerous and unheralded work of spying on other nations and organizations to keep America from being totally in the dark. Barnes is one such man.

In the first adventure, at the very beginning, an Ambassador, sending him on what appears to be his first mission, warns, "It's a new deal all around, Barnes, at home and abroad. We're fighting these Europeans with their own weapons for a change. Remember, you've no earthly connection with Washington! You and the other chaps in the game are taking your chances - long chances, Barnes. You're devoting your time, money, and lives to a cause. You'll have no reward except the satisfaction of serving your country. If you're caught - goodnight!"

This self-reliance is echoed in the second adventure when an opposition leader rather unflattering comments, "Certain Americans like Barnes are working for their government. Idealistic fools, who place themselves and their brains and money at the service of their country; they have no standing, they have no acknowledged connection with Washington. They are free-lances who prate of bringing a new deal into diplomacy, of fighting us here in Europe with our own weapons. Barnes is one. He pretends to be a fool, but is smart enough."

In order to accomplish all that was needed to be done in the ever-changing landscape of post-WWI Europe (and Asia), people already experienced with the area are chosen. "Barnes knew Europe. He had lived abroad for several years. He had been in business in Paris. Level-eyed, quiet, seldom losing his head, Barnes was no Herculean figure; that was how he got results. Few people suspected his capabilities."

As his time progresses, his cleverness and his intellect will bring together a small but impressive network of agents. Also growing is the unofficial admiration (and oddly aggravation) by the high-level diplomats who make use of the intel he gathers. And, unfortunately, the number of people who would love to do away with him for the successes he has achieved.

Barnes got his nickname of the Sphinx at the end of the first recorded adventure when Marie Nicholas (read the tale to learn more of her and how she became one of Barnes' best operatives) chided him with, "oh, how you tricked us all! You, with your innocence, your naive cantrap, your pretended childishness; a Sphinx, that's what you are! A rascal!" He was rather taken with the sobriquet. [Oh, cantrap means "a charm, an incantation, adroit mischief" - you're welcome!]


Number of Books:13
First Appearance:2015
Last Appearance:2015

1 The Sphinx Strikes The Sphinx Strikes
Written by Henry Bedford-Jones
Copyright: 2015

Collection of the three adventures of John Barnes, aka The Sphinx:
Spy Against Europe
Free-Lance Spy
The Sphinx Strikes
buy from Amazon


Number of Stories:3
First Appearance:1935
Last Appearance:1935

1 Spy Against Europe Spy Against Europe
Written by Henry Bedford-Jones
Copyright: 1935

Published in Argosy, Feb 23, 1935. Reprinted in Black Mask, Spring 2018. Collected in The Sphinx Strikes
Several agents from different countries have been killed recently and there is suspected a leak in the Paris Embassy. Intelligence on the assassination of a Balkan king as well as others planned was needed and John Barnes was the man sent to get it.

2 Free-Lance Spy Free-Lance Spy
Written by Henry Bedford-Jones
Copyright: 1935

Published in Argosy Magazine, Mar. 30, 1935. Collected in The Sphinx Strikes
John Barnes is scheduled to meet in Paris with several diplomats to get and transport the signed draft of an Abyssinian treaty. A notorious free-lance spy, Rothstern, is out to get it from him, killing him in the process.

3 The Sphinx Strikes The Sphinx Strikes
Written by Henry Bedford-Jones
Copyright: 1935

Published in Argosy Magazine, May 18, 1935. Collected in The Sphinx Strikes
A man named Charteris sat alone in the compartment on the train from Calais to Paris, quite dead. At his feet was a portion of a torn envelope on which was a partial address of John Barnes. He was but one of several men to die by the order of the rich Armenian looking for vengeance. Barnes was to be another.


I love a good romp of an adventure, especially in the pulp variety. Such daring these fellows were not only able to do but wanting to do. Dashing and daring and willing to face all dangers, regardless of the dangers of death because that's just the kind of fellows they were. Lots of them died, of course, but never those we follow. Just those that were "the other guy" but our heroes will toast the brave fallen and carry on.

If you think I am making fun of them, think again. Yes, they were over the top but they were delightfully so and from a lad who grew up with Doc Savage (reprinted by Bantam, luckily) and to a lesser degree The Shadow (not as many reprinted adventures but a lot spookier with his slouch hat and his glowing ring) the pulps were something that had already gone by the time I was around but in these days of the Internet, my goodness how I have soaked up the thrills from the 20's and 30's.

I never knew about The Sphinx, aka John Barnes, until a year ago and there were only the three (that I know of) but I really liked them and found through them the terrific and prolific writing skills of Henry Bedford-Jones. Barnes was the first hero of his I read but it will not be the last.


My Grade: B


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