Saturday, 23 November 2013

four just men

I finished Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace on Friday 5 April. It was good, and I enjoyed it. Edgar Wallace is one of those writers who was massively popular in his time, and prolific (more than I could ever hope to read), but who hasn't survived into regular reprinting, just the occasional volume in a niche/classic reprinting series (The Four Just Men was, according to the blurb, his first great success), and one of those who make you wonder why some people endure and not others. Certainly to an extent it's true that if someone wrote a couple of classics which are still considered classics, their other works are more likely to survive too. (I often think this in relation to Shakespeare and his contemporaries in particular, when you compare some of his plays which get regularly produced with other rarely-produced 16th/17th century plays you do get to see.

Here's a paragraph from the introduction by Jack Adrian (pxv in my Dent edition ('Classic thrillers' series) of 1985):
A remarkable feature of the book is that although on the surface it seems to be a straightforward and seamless narrative it is no such thing. It is in fact a series of smoothly linked short stories. Not every chapter comprises a self-contained tale but certainly 'The Faithful Commons', 'The Outrage at the Megaphone', 'The Messenger of the Four' and even the 'inquest' chapter at the end have a beginning, a middle and a natural conclusion, and each is so constructed that either a problem is devised and then solved, or a shock or twist is contained in the climax. It was a style of storytelling - a series of minor mysteries solved in sequence throughout the book while the major mystery was only revealed at the end - that was to be refined over the years until it was recognisably the Wallacean method, to be cheerfully pinched by an entire generation of thriller writers.

I will post separately a good section, from near the end (p121 of 140), when the date and time are approaching when the Four Just Men have stated they will kill the Foreign Secretary, Sir Philip Ramon, having already demonstrated impressive feats which suggest they could do it.