Monday, March 2, 2020

The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace (1920)

About the author (Goodreads): Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (1875-1932) was a prolific British crime writer, journalist and playwright, who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and countless articles in newspapers and journals.

Edgar Wallace

Major characters:

The Four Just Men:
  • George Manfred, the leader
  • Leon Gonsalez
  • Poiccart
  • Miguel Thery, a.k.a. Saimont
  • Bernard Courtlander, a replacement
Sir Philip Ramon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Billy Marks, pickpocket turned informant
Detective Superintendent Falmouth
Charles Garrett, reporter for The Megaphone
Countess Maria Slienvich, a.k.a. The Woman of Gratz


Synopsis: "The Four Just Men" (FJM) are a group who seek to enact justice outside the law. They are responsible for the deaths of 16 people over time, who in their opinion, escaped justice. 

Part I: Sir Philip Ramon has come to their attention. Ramon is Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and while having committed no crime, is responsible for the introduction of a bill which the FJM oppose. This is the Aliens Extradition bill, which will allow the expulsion of persons who have come to England for sanctuary. The FJM have just replaced one of their number with Spaniard Miguel Thery. They groom him to execute Sir Philip, in the event he fails to withdraw his bill as they demand. The FJM, although killers, are exceedingly fair; and warn their victims in advance. Extraordinary measures are taken to protect Sir Philip. Newspaper ads are also placed offering rewards for the capture of the FJM, but it appears his end is inevitable.

Part II: An anarchist organization, the Red Hundred, is now the target of the FJM. After Miguel Thery meets his end, a new fourth is added -- one who goes by the name Bernard Courtlander. Manfred's cat-and-mouse game with the Woman of Gratz continues. Manfred winds up arrested and imprisoned, where he maintains he will escape to avoid the death penalty. 

Review: The Four Just Men are like four Simon Templars all at once. They go after those who escaped justice, and mete it out themselves; to the wink-wink of the authorities. Part I, the affair of Sir Philip Ramon, is exciting and winds up as a locked-room puzzle. Part II becomes confusing and hard to follow, as there are three distinct groups (FJM, Red Hundred, the police) - then four (adding the cult-like Rational Faithers) all against each other simultaneously. It then turns into a locked-room mystery as Manfred looks to escape from the condemned cell at the prison. The attitudes of the prison authorities are interesting as they treat Manfred with great respect as they reluctantly bring him to the execution house. Will he escape? If there is to be a sequel (and there are several!) he must!

One aspect which I found a bit annoying: Sherlock Holmes-like references to fictitious previous cases which are not authored anywhere. At least when the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew plug a different case, it really exists!

Also see this Wikipedia article.

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