All Things Mysterious Volume Seventy-Six
One Of Every Four?
One day, the telephone rang at Edgar Wallace’s house.
Housekeeper: ‘Mr. Wallace’s residence.’
Caller: ‘May I speak to Mr. Wallace, please?’
Housekeeper: ‘I’m sorry, he’s quite busy. He’s writing a new novel.’
Caller: ‘That’s ok, I’ll wait.’
True story! (Well, maybe.) Edgar Wallace (1875-1932) was a very prolific writer, although perhaps not so much as the above anecdote suggests.
Over the course of his approximately 30 year writing career the numbers vary according to the source but he produced perhaps 150 novels, a couple of dozen plays, hundreds of short stories, non-fiction, as well as poetry, criticism, and whatnot. Prolific indeed, but not Creasey-level output (see our last post).
Edgar Wallace is remembered today for two things: That he wrote the story upon which the film(s) King Kong is/are based, and that at one point it was said that one out of four books purchased in the UK were titles of his! That this cannot be verified, and that this tidbit was put out by his publisher at the time, means that there is room for skepticism.
After a stint in the Army, Richard Horatio Edgar Freeman (so his foster parents named him) tried his hand at crime reporting in London where he used Edgar Wallace as his pen name. ‘Wallace,’ it was said, came from Lew Wallace, who wrote Ben-Hur. In so doing, the aspiring novelist didn’t make much money, but that inconvenient fact didn’t prevent him from living like a magnate anyway. In 1902 he was offered a post as editor of a South African newspaper, where he’d served during his military service, but while there, his infant daughter took ill and sadly died, whereupon he and his wife decamped back to London where he returned to journalism. Interestingly, he was booted from the staff of the Mail newspaper when incorrect facts in his stories generated libel suits. That was the end of his journalism career for the time being. Previously, while covering the conflict between Russia and Japan, he fell in with a group of spies which gave him an idea for a novel. His first mystery, The Four Just Men, was published in 1905 with an unusual gimmick--there’s no solution! He invited readers to solve the mystery and offered a cash prize to anyone who could do so. Unfortunately for Edgar, the crime was more easily solved than he’d realized and he had to pay a lot of winners, reducing him once again to bankruptcy. Thereafter he started prolifically turning out novels to satisfy his many creditors. It is said that he kept the plot outline of numerous stories in his head, never making notes, and allegedly wrote the first page, and only the first page, of each book in longhand, then dictated the remainder to a secretary. He didn’t go in much for series work and even after he introduced his most durable character, J. G. Reeder, the stories stand alone and need not be read in any particular order. Reeder was a former Scotland Yard detective and a shy, retiring fellow who was often called upon to help solve the Yard’s most baffling cases.
Finding a bit of success as a novelist helped him make his way back to journalism and he regularly published articles on horseracing. Even though he finally crawled out of debt and started making scads of cash, Wallace spent fortunes gambling and living a lavish lifestyle that was difficult to sustain. He stood for election to Parliament but lost, after which he decamped to Hollywood to try his hand at polishing screenplays, including The Hound Of the Baskervilles. He is best known for King Kong, of course, but sadly died before the script was completed, leaving other writers to finish it, so he never saw the work with which he would be most associated.
Here at Mysterious, we’ve got some paperback reissues:
Evans, the horseracing tout and devout Cockney, is back:
Who is Four Square Jane? Well, for one thing, she's a daring and audacious crook!
We've got several vintage hardcover titles from Edgar Wallace, very collectible and very reasonably priced, as always!
Also check out the new series of facsimiles from Collins Crime Club! They are bringing back some of their memorable titles from yesteryear, including The Terror from Wallace, which also includes White Face. Two titles from Agatha Christie, among many other notables, make the Collins series a go-to for your reading and gift-giving pleasure!