Monday, August 17, 2020

The Dark Eyes of London by Edgar Wallace (1929)

About the author: 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 (Goodreads). In terms of production, by cranking out one novel per month, he was the British equivalent of Erle Stanley Gardner. See this Wikipedia article.

Edgar Wallace

Major characters:
  • Inspector Larry Holt, Scotland Yard
  • Diana Ward, his secretary
  • Patrick Sunny, his valet
  • Gordon Stuart, a Canadian, drowned as the story opens
  • Clarissa Stuart, his daughter
  • Police Commissioner John Hason
  • Dr. Stephen Judd, director of Greenwich Insurance Co.
  • Strauss, a.k.a. #278, Judd's Butler, an ex-con
  • Flash Fred Grogan, a natty blackmailer
  • Rev. John Dearborn, playwright, runs a boarding house for the blind
  • Blind Jake Bradford, a.k.a. Big Jake Bradford
  • Fanny Weldon, an impersonator
  • Emma, a charwoman
Locale: London

Synopsis: Scotland Yard Inspector Larry Holt is called back from Paris to look into the suspicious death of Canadian Gordon Stuart. What's suspicious? He was found drowned on the Embankment, but above the waterline, as the tide was coming in. How can this be? Clearly, someone else was involved. Stuart had left a theatre at intermission, he had been attending a show with Dr. Stephen Judd.

Inspector Holt returns to find he has been assigned an efficient secretary, Diana Ward, whose analytical skills keep Holt in awe.

Dr. Judd has a visit from slick crook Flash Fred Grogan, who is blackmailing him over knowledge about the death of his brother, David Judd.

Suspicion turns to Todd's Home, a boarding house for the blind, run by Rev. John Dearborn. While investigating, Diana is kidnapped right from under Larry Holt's eyes. Dearborn himself raises some eyebrows, he is supposedly blind himself. He writes plays which are produced at a nearby theatre, and underwritten by Dr. Judd. There are mysterious connections between Dr. Judd, Blind Jake Bradford, and other underworld characters. Meanwhile, the search for Clarissa Stuart, heiress to Gordon, continues.

Review: This story has a lot of creepy things happening all at once, a great read for your dark and stormy night. Blind Jake is a character, large and menacing, with the disconcerting habit of entering a room and immediately squeezing the light bulb and popping it to put you in the dark; so you on equal footing with him. (Ouch! He would have appreciated LED lights!) The boiler room hideout (called The Tubular Room) is dark, claustrophobic, and nasty. Secret passages abound, and even an elevator with a fake paper floor waiting to drop you down the shaft when you step in. There is so much going on, this could have easily been split into two novels. There are also a few secret identities to be revealed, and a surprise happy ending. 

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