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Wallace, Edgar

Page history last edited by Jon 12 years, 3 months ago

Edgar Wallace

Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (April 1, 1875–February 10, 1932) was a prolific British crime writer, journalist and playwright, who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and countless articles in newspapers and journals. Over 160 films have been made of his novels, more than any other author. In the 1920s, one of Wallace's publishers claimed that a quarter of all books read in England were written by him.


Born in London, he was found abandoned at the age of nine days in Billingsgate by a fishmonger, who subsequently brought him up as his own son. His career started as a war correspondent for the Daily Mail in the Boer War, following which he turned his hand to writing crime thrillers at a prolific rate. He is generally credited with inventing the modern thriller novel.


Wallace wrote an immense number of novels in the last ten years of his life, oftern recycling plays or short stories which he had written years earlier. There is a famous anecdote in which visitors to his home actually observed him dictate a novel in the course of a weekend. He also invented and patented the Edgar Wallace Plot Wheel. The wheel has written on it several events, such as "murder", and when turned one comes up and should be incorporated in the storywriting.


Wallace was among the first British crime novelists to use policemen as heroes. Among his series characters are the Four (later Three) Just Men, a group of super-criminals who take the law into their own hands; the "Sooper", an apparently plodding but actually inspired police detective; and JG Reeder, an investigator from the Public Prosecutor's department, who also hides heroic qualities behind a mask of mildness. Most of his novels, however, are independent stand-alone stories. A popular non-detective series began with Sanders of the River, set in colonial Africa.


Wallace was also a popular playwright. His play The Ringer was the Mousetrap of its day.


He died in Hollywood on 10th February 1932 of pneumonia while working on King Kong and is buried in Little Marlow, England.


Some of Wallace's books are available through Project Gutenberg and Gutenberg Australia. His GAD works tend to be those featuring 'The Sooper' (Superintendent Minter of Scotland Yard) and Mr JG Reeder of the Public Prosecutor's Department (Room 13 (1924); The Mind of JG Reeder (1925); Terror Keep (1927); Red Aces (1929); The Guv'nor and Other Stories (1932)) His other series characters were the Four Just Men, TB Smith and Sergeant (later Inspector) Elk.


Mike Grost on Edgar Wallace


Zangwill's The Big Bow Mystery (1891) anticipates in tone Wallace's The Four Just Men (1905). Both books are full of liberal satire, both feature crimes that are public cause celèbres, both are locked room stories, and in both the motive behind the locked room is partly to create The Perfect Crime. Both are also novella length. Zangwill's finale, where one of his characters penetrates rather threateningly to the Home Secretary, reminds one of the central plot in Wallace against an English minister. The Four Just Men surprises with its liberal attitude toward politics and social justice. It is far more openly liberal than about anything in modern mystery fiction. Current mystery writers suffer from their disinterest in politics, society, science or just about anything else out of the common range of interests. Wallace's book seems like a model of openness in a desert of right wing Tom Clancyness. Wallace also includes mountains of sparkling social satire in his book.


Wallace was still writing impossible crime stories fourteen years later in "The Stolen Romney" (1919). There is the same attempt by sympathetic, idealistic criminals (and Robin Hood types) to penetrate a government protected sanctum here as in The Four Just Men, and the same defiant warnings from the criminals to the cops. The first half of Code No 2 (1916) is another good crime tale in the same mode, with agents sneaking up on a government code book. Although Bland is a spy with England's' Secret Service, this story is close to the puzzle plot mystery.


Wallace went on to become an immensely popular writer of thrillers. I cannot justify these books as mystery classics - their plotting is often routine and the writing perfunctory - but I always enjoy the raffishness and brio of Wallace's characters. They lead the sort of lives of adventure that most people would enjoy. Wallace was noticeably internationalist in scope, and his characters come from every ethnic group, and globe trot around the world.


The Three Just Men tale, "The Man Who Sang in Church" (1927), also employs ambiguity in an unusual way. Here, the detective and the reader get only the sketchiest idea at the start of the story, about the backgrounds and activities of a criminal and his victim. The mystery in the tale involves the detective's attempt to figure out this background, and give a consistent, logical explanation of the few strange and apparently illogical clues he has about this background. This is an unusual structure for a mystery tale. While a typical mystery story involves a mysterious crime, here the mystery is in the lives and background of the people involved in the crime - the blackmail crime itself is not especially mysterious. This story can be considered an "experimental" work. Like Erle Stanley Gardner, Wallace is a writer with a prolific outflowing of plot, a gift that sometimes help him construct stories that experimental in form.


The details on police incompetence at the start of "Death Watch" are also interesting; they give the lie to the statement that British Golden Age fiction always depicted the police in a favorable light.


"Death Watch" is a novella, more a thriller than a mystery. It is one of what seems to be a whole genre of British thrillers, mainly novels, in which a country villa is under siege by night by "supernatural hauntings". Such works include Georgette Heyer's first crime novel, Footsteps in the Dark (1932), and Elsie N. Wright's Strange Murders at Greystones (1931). William Hope Hodgson's "The Searcher of the End House" (1910) from Carnacki the Ghost Finder is an early version of this tale, although it has quite a few differences from the later stories. One wonders if there were silent movie melodramas with similar plots. These books are only on the fringe of the mystery proper, being closer to the thriller. They have elements of mystery: they are usually seen from the point of view of the innocent inhabitants of the villa, who have no idea what is going on, and who treat the happenings as unexplained mysteries. However, there are no ingenious solutions, just the exposure of the bad guys. The bad guys are a gang, so there is not a revelation of a single hidden criminal, either, the way there is in a murder mystery. There always seems to be a hidden tunnel into the cellar. The residents of the villa tend to be middle class, and very proper, with touches of satiric humor, whereas the crooks tend to be small potatoes British crooks, bad guys, but not terrifyingly lethal. The servants of the villa always seem to know more than they are letting on, and have hidden ties to the criminals. There is definitely a touch of comic class warfare to these tales, with the middle class inhabitants versus the working class servants and crooks.

Wallace's Short Stories by Doug Greene


Wallace's first general book of short stories was Forty-Eight Stories (Newnes, 1929)


Newnes then divided the book into a series of (now quite scarce) paperbacks, also published in 1929: The Cat Burglar, The Governor of Chi-Foo, Circumstantial Evidence, Fighting Snub Reilly, The Little Green Man, and The Prison-Breakers.


They were successful enough that Newnes followed with a few more paperbacks with stories which were not collected previously: For Information Received, The Lady From Little Hell, The Iron Grip, Killer Kay, and Mrs William Jones – And Bill. (All 1929 and 1930).


Some of the covers are shown in the Wallace entry in Penzler/Steinbrunner, Encyclopedia Of Mystery And Detection.


In 1930 in the US, International Fiction Library collected some of the tales from Forty-Eight Stories into The Stretelli Case and Other Mystery Stories


In 1933, World published The Governor of Chi-Foo and Other Detective Stories, from the same source.


In 1934, World issued Nig-Nog and Other Humorous Stories and Fighting Snub Reilly and Other Stories (reprinted as Circumstantial Evidence and Other Stories).


And finally, ten years later, World ended its Wallace run with The Edgar Wallace Reader Of Mystery And Adventure – a reprint of some material from earlier World collections.


The Four Just Men (1905)

Angel Esquire (1908)

The Council of Justice (1908)

The Duke in the Suburbs (1909)

The Nine Bears (1910) aka Silinski, Master Criminal; The Cheaters

The Fourth Plague (1913)

Grey Timothy (1913) aka Pallard the Punter

The Man Who Bought London (1915)

The Melody of Death (1915)

A Debt Discharged (1916)

The Tomb of T'Sin (1916)

The Just Men of Cordova (1917)

The Secret House (1917)

The Clue of the Twisted Candle (1918)

Down Under Donovan (1918)

The Green Rust (1919)

Kate Plus 10 (1919)

The Man Who Knew (1919)

The Daffodil Mystery (1920) aka The Daffodil Murder

Jack O'Judgment (1920)

The Law of the Four Just Men (1921)

The Angel of Terror (1922) aka The Destroying Angel

The Crimson Circle (1922)

Mr Justice Maxell (1922)

Captains of Souls (1923)

The Clue of the New Pin (1923)

The Green Archer (1923)

The Missing Million (1923)

The Dark Eyes of London (1924)

Double Dan (1924) aka Diana of Kara-Kara

The Three Just Men (1924)

Educated Evans (1924)

The Face in the Night (1924)

Room 13 (1924)

The Sinister Man (1924)

The Three Oak Mystery (1924)

Blue Hand (1925)

The Daughters of the Night (1925)

The Fellowship of the Frog (1925)

The Gaunt Stranger (1925) aka The Ringer

The Valley of Ghosts (1925)

A King by Night (1925)

The Mind of Mr JG Reeder (1925) aka The Murder Book of Mr JG Reeder

The Strange Countess (1925)

The Avenger (1926) aka The Hairy Arm

The Black Abbot (1926)

The Day of Uniting (1926)

The Door With Seven Locks (1926)

The Joker (1926) aka The Colossus

The Man From Morocco (1926) aka The Black

The Million Dollar Story (1926)

More Educated Evans (1926)

The Northing Tramp (1926)

Penelope of the Polyantha (1926)

The Square Emerald (1926) aka The Girl From Scotland Yard

The Terrible People (1926)

We Shall See! (1926) aka The Gaol Breaker

The Yellow Snake (1926)

Big Foot (1927)

The Feathered Serpent (1927)

Flat 2 (1927)

The Forger (1927) aka The Clever One

Good Evans! (1927) aka The Educated Man

The Hand of Power (1927)

The Man Who Was Nobody (1927)

The Mixer (1927)

Number Six (1927)

The Squeaker (1927) aka The Squealer

Terror Keep (1927)

The Traitor's Gate (1927)

The Double (1928)

Elegant Edward (1928)

The Brigand (1928)

The Flying Squad (1928)

The Gunner (1928) aka Gunman's Bluff

The Orator (1928)

The Thief in the Night, (1928)

The Twister (1928)

Again the Ringer (1929)

Again the Three Just Men (1929) aka The Law of the Three Just Men; Again the Three

The Big Four (1929)

The Black (1929)

The Cat Burglar (1929)

Circumstantial Evidence (1929)

Fighting Snub Reilly (1929)

For Information Received (1929)

Forty Eight Short Stories (1929)

Four Square Jane (1929)

The Ghost of Down Hill (1929)

The Golden Hades (1929)

The Lone House Mystery (1929)

The Governor of Chi-Foo (1929)

The India-Rubber Men (1929)

The Little Green Man (1929)

The Prison-Breakers (1929)

The Lady of Little Hell (1929)

Red Aces (1929)

The Reporter (1929)

The Calendar (1930)

The Iron Grip (1930)

Killer Kay (1930)

The Stretelli Case and Other Mystery Stories (1930)

The Hand of Power (1930)

The Thief in the Night (1930)

White Face (1930)

The Clue of the Silver Key (1930) aka the Silver Key

The Lady of Ascot (1930)

The Lady Called Nita (1930)

The Devil Man (1931) aka The Life and Death of Charles Peace

The Man at the Carlton (1931)

The Coat of Arms (1931)] aka the Arranways Mystery

On the Spot: Violence and Murder in Chicago (1931)

The Ringer Returns (1931) aka Again the Ringer

Mr J G Reeder Returns (1932) aka The Guv'nor and Other Stories

Sergeant Sir Peter (1932) aka Sergeant Dunn, CID

When the Gangs Came to London (1932)

The Steward (1932)

The Frightened Lady (1933)

The Green Plague (1933)

The Last Adventure (1934)

The Woman From the East and Other Stories (1934)

Nig-Nog (1934)

The Mouthpiece (1935)

Smoky Cell (1935)

The Table (1936)

Sanctuary Island (1936)

Death Packs A Suitcase (1961)

The Undisclosed Client (1962)

The Man Who Married His Cook and Other Stories (1976)

The Road to London (1986)

The Jewel

The Shadow Man


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