Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Stranger Than Fiction by Neil Clark

The full title of Neil Clark's new book is Stranger than Fiction: The Life of Edgar Wallace, The Man Who Created King Kong. That rather suggests an anxiety that people may not know who Edgar Wallace was. And it's true that, inevitably, given that more than eighty years have passed since his death, his name is much less well known than it used to be. But it remains the case, I think, that it is still fairly well known.

I first came across Edgar Wallace as a teenager, in the days when some of his books were being reprinted as Pan paperbacks. I wasn't so keen on the thrillers,but I remember that I quite enjoyed The Clue of the Silver Key, which was closer to the sort of detective story that I loved. I also caught several episodes of that long-running TV series, Edgar Wallace Mysteries. Later, I read The Four Just Men, which strikes me as very interesting as a slice of social and political history. It's also revealing, in that Wallace discusses a society fearful of immigration, and his instincts are clearly liberal.

Neil Clark discusses Wallace's interest in politics, as well as his journalism, his gambling and various other escapades. He was in many ways a rascal - I've always felt that his role in the Crippen case, when he was desperate to tease a confession out of Crippen, was discreditable. He wasn't a reliable or particularly trustworthy man. But he had a number of very important gifts. Above all, he was a great story-teller.

I'm involved in a Wallace-related project myself at the moment, and I found this book useful, as was the much earlier biography by Margaret Lane. The publisher of Clark's book is The History Press, who, perhaps I should mention, also recently published my CWA anthology, Truly Criminal. As usual, they have produced an attractive book that is well worth reading. I regret the lack of an index, which seems to me to be a mistake, but overall this is a book which I am sure will help to remind people of what an interesting writer and character Edgar Wallace really was. And yes, his life story was indeed stranger than fiction.

1 comment:

Bill Carlin said...

I'll certainly look out for this book, Martin. I agree that Wallace has suffered a fall from the firmament from the 60s when I used to look for the "Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine" in newsagents' shops or train station kiosks. Such was his fame in the UK, and his association with crime and mystery fiction, that when I first heard of the Edgar awards as a teenager I assumed that they were named after him ! I still find the J.G. Reeder and "Four Just Men" stories enjoyable but more as period pieces rather than puzzles. As always your blog remains one of my "must reads".