Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Calendar by Edgar Wallace (1930)

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:

  • Garry Anson, horse owner/player, our protagonist
  • Jack Anson, his wealthy cousin
  • Hubert Hillcott, his butler
  • Lady Wenda Panniford, Garry's best friend since childhood
  • Lord Willie Panniford, Wenda's drunken lout of a husband
  • Molly Panniford, Willie's sister
  • Henry "Harry" Lascarne, employee of the War Office
  • Peter Hepplewayne, the warned-off horse owner
  • John Dory, bookmaker
Locale: England

Synopsis: The Racing Calendar is a popular newsletter for the horse racing/betting crowd, eagerly perused by our characters, and the social media of its day. Many of the events of the story are chronicled there.

Garry Anson learns from his best friend, Lady Wenda Panniford, that her marriage to Lord Willie Panniford is on the rocks; and she wants to "borrow Garry's name" (that is, name him a co-respondent in a divorce action, despite the fact there is no affair happening). Wenda hints she may interested in marriage once the divorce goes through. Garry is conflicted - he never felt for Wenda in a romantic way, like he does for her sister-in-law Molly Panniford. Wenda and Willie head to Italy for a vacation for a last chance to straighten things out.

Garry's wealthy uncle, "The Colonel" passes away and leaves the bulk of his fortune to his other nephew, Jack Anson. The papers get the story mixed up and state it went to Garry, which makes Wenda all the more enthusiastic about her plan - hoping to eventually marry Garry's wealth. 

Garry, getting deeper and deeper into gambling debts, is planning to run his horse, Rangemore, in the Ascot. Then he finds he can come out ahead financially by not winning Ascot, but saving Rangemore for a later race, the Northumberland Plate, in which he more likely to win against rival Silver Queen. Wenda has a big bet on Rangemore, so at the last moment, Garry sends her a note telling her he is "stopping" Rangemore in the race (that is, telling the jockey to intentionally hold back and not win); and cancels her bet to avoid a big loss.

However, intentionally losing a race is a serious violation; and now he has sent Wenda a written note stating that is exactly what he is doing. This had happened recently to another owner, Peter Hepplewayne, who was caught and "warned off" (disqualified from all future racing). Garry has a change of heart, and does not tell the jockey to slow down. Rangemore comes in second, but a technicality disqualifies the first place winner, Silver Queen, so Rangemore is promoted to be winner. Wenda, in possession of the incriminating note, now has power over Garry.

Review: I never know quite what to expect from Edgar Wallace, whether it will be a murder mystery, or thriller, or something completely different. This is one of the completely different ones. There is no mystery at all, and no one gets murdered*. Listed as "A Racing Romance" on the dust jacket, it is a soap opera set at a race track. I know nothing about horse racing, but was able to follow the story easily and found it fascinating, although discussions of figuring odds was beyond my comprehension. It turned out to be Kentucky Derby weekend while I was reading, so it was a perfect fit.

It was a refreshing change - no murders, no detectives. The best character is butler Hubert Hillcott. He is an ex-con and lacks some of the social graces, never closes a door (so he can hear what's going on), and is a bit uncouth and sarcastic. He does come in handy when Garry needs to learn some safe-cracking technique.

*One (natural) death to a minor character does occur "off-stage", so I was able to count this one for the Medical Examiner challenge

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