Thursday, 5 July 2012

edgar wallace; on the spot quotes

Read a good old Edgar Wallace - my first, Bethan picked it up I think - a few months ago, On The Spot. Cover tag line: 'Gang meets gang - with hot lead - in CHICAGO'. First published 1931, this Arrow paperback edition 1962. The main character drawn on the cover is obviously Jimmy Cagney, which places the novel perfectly in its 30s gangster movie style (indeed I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it had been filmed). It's very well-written and fast paced, tight and well-constructed. (A review on this crime fiction site (Golden Age Mysteries forum) says it was based on a play he wrote in four days; read elsewhere he was notorious for writing at speed.)

I picked up a handful of other Edgar Wallaces, after some searching in secondhand bookshops, and finished the first of those, Big Foot, last night. It's not nearly as good (it was a detective thriller, but a bit all over the place I thought, and the detective's speech tended towards the 'spelled as spoken' which usually annoys me); and as Edgar wrote scores of books I will obviously have to try to choose carefully if I can (the Wikipedia entry has I presume a comprehensive bibliography; the entry itself looks like a biographical essay chopped up, not approved style at all; entry credits him as most famous for his involvement in the King Kong screenplay, not sure if that's really true). Big Foot was also a yellow-spined Arrow paperback, though not exactly same series style (first published 1927, this Arrow 1961). The cover image - of a boat chase on the Thames by night - is striking in that it depicts the very last scene on the last page of the book. One of the reasons I chose it, if I had a choice, would have been the cover giving a clue that it was set in London. I like reading stories set in London.

(I was reading an Agatha Christie on the bus a few weeks ago and Hercule Poirot was going to Charing Cross station, which I passed on the bus minutes later, looking (with its hotel frontage) pretty much as it would have to Hercule, if he were not a fictional character.)

(There's a memorial to Edgar Wallace on Ludgate Circus, as he was a noted journalist as well as author, which I see regularly from the bus.)

I wonder if I can find the covers of those editions online? Let's see. First hit in a Google Images search for On The Spot comes up trumps. The Big Foot cover comes up in the third row of its search, in this Ebay listing, don't know if it disappears after auction closes.

I noted three quotes from On The Spot:

First, p32, opening of chapter 2; Tony Perelli is the gang boss:
From the broad balcony with its venetian balustrading Tony Perelli could look down upon the city which he was to rule. He loved Chicago, every stone of it.
Chicago was home and kingdom. The endless trails of cars which passed up and down the broad avenue beneath him bore his subjects to their daily work - his subjects and his partners. Beneath every one of those shiny roofs was a man or woman who kept "the best" in their cellars. Visitors who came to dinner would have the best brought to the table - the best in gilt-necked bottles, the best in sparkling decanters.
It was against the law that the best should be made or sold at all; every furtive case or keg smuggled into the cellars stood for lawlessness, every purchaser contributed to the smuggler who purveyed it and the gunman who protected it. Rather than that they should be denied the satisfaction of parading the best upon their tables, they tacitly agreed that any person interfering with its delivery should be shot and flung from a moving car on to the roadside. They would have been horrified at the suggestion, but they paid for the shells that wiped these vexatious people from the face of the earth, and unconsciously subscribed to the flowers that went to their funerals.

'Killing a man seems pretty awful - in cold blood!'
Perelli shook his head.
'Killing a guy in hot blood - that's awful, because nine times in ten you make a mistake, and you kill somebody you wouldn't kill, that you didn't oughta kill. Look at the war, Jimmy - I was in that. Killing guys we didn't know - regular fellers, some of them. They'd done nothing wrong, but we just sailed in and killed them and they killed us. There's no sense to it. but when we bump off a man there's a reason, and when we do it it's been worth doing. The things you do in hot blood are generally fooolish, and the things you do in cold blood are the worth-while ones.'
So Jimmy had his first lesson in the ethics of gangland, and, being young, he was impressed.

p87: - ah, only noted because of the name of a character introduced, who doesn't play a large part, one of three henchmen:
'The most important of these, "Spike" Milligan, weedy-looking, hatchet-faced, sandy-haired, with the appearance of a well-furnished bank clerk, by nature more deadly than a ring snake, turned to the more pressing business of reprisal.'