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Old 03-08-2018, 11:15 PM   #1
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Edgar Wallace is still a good read

Some time in the 1960s I picked up a paperback Edgar Wallace with the catchy title "The Indiarubber Men". I knew nothing about Edgar Wallace, but enjoyed the book, which was a fast-moving crime/action novel set in London and on the Thames river.

The book was first published in 1929, but didn't seem old-fashioned, probably because Wallace had what I call a "conversational" rather than formal writing style, and didn't go into elaborate descriptions of the cars, guns etc., which can rapidly date a book. The "conversational" style was helped by the fact that he dictated his work straight into a Dictaphone, and this no doubt tended to reflect his everyday speech style.

It was a fun book, if preposterous overall. There is a crime gang using gasmasks and tommy guns (the rubber gas masks giving the gang its name); a master criminal of great improbability; a beautiful young heiress who didn't know she was one; and the hero/detective is with the River Police. I'd never heard of the River Police, but it really was (and probably still is) one of the Met's divisons.

In the grand finale, the master criminal is revealed; he and his gang steal a Navy destroyer (!) to make a getaway down the Thames, only to be blown out of the water by the big land-based guns. The master criminal survives, to be hanged in due course for various murders. It moves along at a very fast clip, and despite numerous plot complications Wallace wraps it up in about 70,000 words. Today's thriller writers would need at least twice that to tell the same story,.

Unlike other crime/detective writers of his era, Wallace (1875-1932) saw society from the bottom up rather than the top down. He was the illegitimate son of an actress, and was adopted out. His adoptive father was a porter at the Billingsgate fishmarkets, and they lived in Deptford, then a tough dockside slum area.

He eventually made his escape by enlisting in the army aged 21, was in South Africa for the Boer War as a war correspondent, and discovered his gift for narrative. By 1910 he was already famous as a thriller writer, starting off with "The Four Just Men" (1905).

I have read probably all his work except the Sanders of the River series, set in Colonial Africa. Much of it is hastily written, and forgettable. Whenever he was short of a few bob, he's dash off another short story and flog it to anyone who wanted to buy it,and then forget all about it, which is why "new" Wallace short stories are still turning up from time to time, having recently been discovered in, say, the "Wantabadgery Gazette and Billabong Bulletin" for March 12 1921, the only place it was ever published.

However, he was capable of careful work, and could sustain an entirely different "voice" when needed. "The Adventures of Heine" is a series of chronological short stories written in the first person by an inept, vain, boastful German spy master based in London during WW1. "Master" is a strong word; he is foiled at every turn. The stories are all humorous and entertaining, leading up to poor Heine's final humiliation.

Wallace's action thrillers are now the ones best remembered: The Indiarubber Men; The Flying Squad; The Twister; When the Gangs came to London; The Squeaker; The Green Ribbon; The Forger; The Dark Eyes of London; The Crimson Circle― these are some of the better ones. (The Forger and The Crimson Circle both feature strong women).

He also wrote hundreds of short stories, often as a series later collected into book form. The Mind of Mr J G Reeder; The Law of the Four Just Men; Again the Ringer; The Brigand; Chick (comedy); Educated Evans; The Mixer, etc Many stand-alone stories have been republished in EQMM etc, and anthologies, ever since.

He also tackled a supernatural, sort of, novel: Captain of Souls, one of his longest and most ambitious novels.

Wallace is PD in all +50 and +70 jurisdictions. Many of his book are in the Patricia Clark Memorial Library here; all of them are now available in ebook form (except of course any other stories as yet undiscovered in obscure journals). Project Gutenberg Australia and its affiliated site Roy Glashan's Library are active in tracking down forgotten Wallace yarns and epublishing them; their sites are very comprehensive.

Definitely still a good read.
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Old 03-09-2018, 08:03 AM   #2
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Interesting, thanks.

This kind of ties together to threads in the general topic (Edgar Wallace verses Agatha Christie and book reviews). I hadn't really heard about Wallace before he was mentioned in the other thread and was trying to figure out what book of his to try and where to get it. You have answered my questions for me.

Just downloaded the Indiarubber men from the library and put it in my to read queue.

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Old 03-09-2018, 08:35 AM   #3
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I've enjoyed many of Wallace's books. I'd particularly recommend his books about "Mr J. G. Reeder", an omnibus edition of which I created for the MR library:

Mobi ePub

Well worth giving a go.
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Old 03-09-2018, 09:09 AM   #4
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I've enjoyed many of Wallace's books. I'd particularly recommend his books about "Mr J. G. Reeder", an omnibus edition of which I created for the MR library:

Mobi ePub

Well worth giving a go.
Thank you very much. Looks very interesting.
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Old 03-09-2018, 05:06 PM   #5
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I've enjoyed many of Wallace's books. I'd particularly recommend his books about "Mr J. G. Reeder", an omnibus edition of which I created for the MR library:

Mobi ePub

Well worth giving a go.
In the queue
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Old 03-12-2018, 04:51 AM   #6
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I've only read a clue of the twisted candle. Liked it very much.
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Old 03-12-2018, 08:57 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
I've enjoyed many of Wallace's books. I'd particularly recommend his books about "Mr J. G. Reeder", an omnibus edition of which I created for the MR library:


Well worth giving a go.
The Reeder stories were turned into a very good TV series many years ago in the UK. I remember them fondly.
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Old 03-12-2018, 10:07 AM   #8
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I liked the only book of his that I have read, The Door with Seven Locks.
His stories were popular with German filmmakers, especially the so-called krimis during the 1960s.
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Old 03-12-2018, 10:28 AM   #9
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Delphi Books has the Complete Works Of Edgar Wallace available. However, the US version doesn't have anything published after 1922, which means it has less than half of the books of the non-US version.

https://www.delphiclassics.com/shop/edgar-wallace/
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Old 03-12-2018, 11:04 AM   #10
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Delphi Books has the Complete Works Of Edgar Wallace available. However, the US version doesn't have anything published after 1922, which means it has less than half of the books of the non-US version.

https://www.delphiclassics.com/shop/edgar-wallace/
That will be the case no matter where you get the books from. His books published after 1922 are not in the US public domain.
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