The Terror (1929) and White Face (1930) by Edgar Wallace

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt: Chandelier/Candle

Source: Review Copy (Harper Collins)

The Terror

It is very rare to start a book surprised but this was certainly the case when I began reading the introduction to this book, written by Martin Edwards, as it turns out that this book was not one story but two, the title on the cover The Terror (1929), is actually a novella, so a full length novel White Face (1930) has also been added. It is a nice surprise to find you have got two stories for the price of one. Edgar Wallace is not a new author to me but I haven’t read much of his work, only The Mind of J. G. Reeder (1925) and The Feathered Serpent (1925), the former a collection of short stories and the latter one of Wallace’s thriller novels. I found it interesting that both The Terror and White Face began life as plays before becoming books, with the former’s play being written in 5 days! I have decided to review both stories within one post, as I thought it would be interesting to compare them at the end.

The Terror

The story opens with a gang of thieves heisting a convoy of Australian sovereigns. Yet all does not go well for the robbers. One is shot at the scene and two of them are arrested and sent to prison. But what about their leader ‘mad’ O’Shea? It seems he has managed to evade capture and hold on to the loot. The story then shifts to a decade later to Monkshall, which is run by Colonel Redmayne and his daughter Mary, whose childhood was unstable until he came into the money to buy this property. However, all is not well as the Colonel seems permanently stressed and Mary, along with some of the servants and boarders (which they take in) become increasing frightened and nervous due to all the night time noises they hear such as screams or the eerie tones of an organ.

Although it has been ten years, Superintendent Hallick is still keen to trace the money and O’Shea, but neither of the two arrested will talk, their sentences will be soon over and they too want to track down O’Shea, but for slightly less legal reasons… These events lead to an increase of visitors at Monkshall, such as Ferdie Fane, an alcoholic who is interested in Mary and a vagrant who asks a lot of curious questions about the place. The tension mounts though when a dead body is found in the lounge late at night and the action occurs at a rapid rate after this moment, leaving the residence of Monkshall in terror, well of the Terror! A gunman on the loose, sightings of a monk on the lawn and a secret passage way:

‘Underground passages! Why, that’s the last resource, or resort – I am not certain which – of the novel writer… I never pick up a book which isn’t full of ‘em!

all make this a pacey read. A sneaky aspect of this story is that as a reader you feel fairly confident you know all the ins and outs of story, especially as to why certain events are happening and who people really are. In some ways this is true, with one of the boarders putting down in black and white the theory the reader probably believes is correct. But on the other hand in some ways the reader (well me anyways) ends up being wrong as to identifying who the murderer is. Edgar Wallace in my opinion, is an expert at sudden twists and changes, you think you know what’s happening, that in fact too much information has been given to you, but then Wallace turns everything on its head. This story definitely has gothic overtones and reminded me a little of The Phantom of the Opera (1909) by Gaston Leroux.

The narrative style is one of Wallace’s greatest strengths and I liked the fact he kept me guessing and still managed to surprise me. However, a couple of things niggled with me such as I feel the ending could have been developed further as it was a little too rushed for my liking. Also, I found the character of Mary a bit annoying, as did Superintendent Hallick no doubt (she’s not the world’s easiest witness) and overall she is a character I find hard to warm to. But these are rather minor issues.

Rating: 4/5

White Face

White Face begins in the more thriller romantic vein with Michael Quigley, a crime reporter dining with the woman he loves, Janice Harman, only to find out that she is interested in a man she has been corresponding with and has now arrived in England from South Africa. As the details filter through, both Michael and the reader smell a rat, but Michael’s jealousy means Janice decides she never wants to see him again. To cap off the evening, the famous jewel thief, White Face (called so because of his white mask), raids the restaurant, stealing a valuable necklace. Janice is a relatively wealthy woman who has chosen to be a nurse in a London East End clinic and a bit creepily we are also told despite being only 23 has a tendency to be motherly towards men. Though this creepiness transfers into being a twit, as it soon seems that Janice is less in love with Donald Bateman (her letter lover) than she says, being uncomfortable when he kisses her, but weirdly is happy to discuss marrying him. All a little bit odd…

Alarm bells really begin to ring in the readers’ head when it seems Janice is planning to buy a farm for Donald in South Africa, worth thousands of pounds, a man she has only actually met in person for 10 days. However, Wallace soon shifts from Janice’s weirdness to murder! A man is found stabbed outside Doctor Marford’s clinic, where Janice works and that man just so happens to be Donald. But where is the knife? How come no one saw the person who did it despite there being three witnesses? And why does a woman who arrives at the scene believe her husband did it, a statement she makes before going unconscious? In some ways the police think this case will be simple, Louis Landor was seen to punch Donald, shortly before his death and has now perhaps guiltily vanished. Tracking down Landor it seems will solve the case. Or will it?

Some of Donald’s history comes to light, proving the readers’ and Michael’s suspicions correct, but in turn this widens the field of suspects. How many other people has he tried to trick and defraud around the world? And how many of them want to get even? Around this point the creepy romance angle makes its final appearance with the power in Janice and Michael’s relationship reversing, though when it comes to a girl crying, Michael makes a speedy exit. Although a rather small part of the plot its dysfunctional nature makes it an intriguing one. However, from this point on, the plot comes across as more like an early police procedural with the focus being on the efforts of the police investigating the case, a case which becomes increasingly baffling with the police divisional surgeon disappearing and White Face weaving their way throughout events.

The solution to this case is a really good one with Wallace in my opinion using a narrative which is slippery, yet fair, in the way which is reminiscent of Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), which means that the revelation of the killer is a complete surprise and I did have to go back and reread the previous chapter to go and spot the narrative tricks. Something I wasn’t expecting from this novel was the moral ambiguity and complexity surrounding the killer, a person whose actions are wrong, yet you get to see what events led up to this moment and how other characters, who won’t get arrested are nearly equally as bad and contemptible.

Rating: 4.25/5

Comparing the Two

On the surface there are a number of differences between the two stories such as the fact that The Terror, is a country house thriller, with the police having little involvement in events, whilst White Face is set within a grimy urban setting and being for the most part a police procedural of sorts. Moreover, the issue of class, poverty and criminality is much more key to White Face than it is to The Terror, and this was a feature I found interesting when reading White Face, as it was intriguing to see how the different police officers dealt with impoverished suspects and habitual criminals. In addition, in the competition for who is the greatest prat, I think Janice definitely wins hands down in comparison to Mary.

However, there are also some similarities such as the fact that in both stories there is a policeman called Elk and that both stories are structurally quite episodic, giving them their faster pace, though White Face is probably a bit more episodic. Moreover, both stories also switch the perspective of the story to get different characters’ viewpoints, enabling readers to access different bits of information, meaning there isn’t an overload of police interviews.

 

Overall, I enjoyed these two stories, as Wallace is good at telling a story with a quick pace and his sneakiness and ability to provide twists is very strong indeed. Harper Collins will be releasing this book later this month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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7 Responses to The Terror (1929) and White Face (1930) by Edgar Wallace

  1. John says:

    I would like to read more of Wallace’s traditional detective novels rather than his master criminal/police procedural thrillers. It’s good to know that THE TERROR falls into the first camp. Det. Sgt Elk eventually rises to the rank of Inspector and appears in several other Wallace novels , enough for him to be considered a series character. He’s in The Fellowship of the Frog, Silinski-Master Criminal, and a couple of others. Isn’t there an impossible crime or locked room feature in THE TERROR? I remember buying this book (still unread, surprise!) because it was listed in Adey’s bibliography. But you don’t mention this aspect above.

    Formatting issue: What about the HTML editor in the WordPress? Doesn’t that fix formatting probelms? From what I know it’s a far superior system than Blogger which is what I use . I have a similar issue when working on my windows based PC at work. There is some odd problem with our version of Windows Explorer and Blogger. But when I use my laptop (a Mac with access to the internet via Firefox) everything is fine. Still, I can always fix paragraph formatting in Blogger when I switch to the HTML coding window rather than the text window. Doesn’t WordPress have something similar?

    Liked by 1 person

    • In The Terror, the man killed in the lounge is within a house which is supposed to be locked to prevent anyone going in, which is kind of impossible crime like, but it is assumed that the butler let the victim in, so don’t think the impossible crime aspect is that pronounced if it is there at all. Didn’t realise Elk was such a regular feature in Wallace’s work so thanks for the info and thanks also for the formatting advice. You might well be right, so I’ll have to investigate.

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  2. JJ says:

    I’ve read some of Wallace’s “Just for Men” stories and enjoyed them on a pulpy level – he clearly wrote at high speed and without so much as a handbrake, so 5 days to write a play means he probably had a day off in the middle – though it has to be said that some of his plot developments do veer rather out of left-field. However, he had a fertile imagination (and a strong sense of justice) and I probably should get back to him at some point.

    I might give his J.G. Reeder stories a go at some point, as I get the impression that rather like Isaac Asimov his shorter form is his stronger form – what did you think of the ones you read?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think these stories probably don’t veer off course too much or seem too rushed because they were based on existing plots. It would be interesting to see how different the stories are from the plays and whether he has improved the play plots. As far as I can remember J G Reeder is quite likeable witty character, who is so ordinary and white collar but always seems to be able to catch the criminal. The collection I read was The Mind of J G Reeder, which I enjoyed but no specific stories stuck in my mind (it has been 2 years and hundreds of books later after all!). I think I would have to return to his short stories again to see if he is better in short story format, as I thought his narrative style in these longer stories quite strong and you don’t have to worry about the narrative dragging on or anything.

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      • JJ says:

        If I say I’ll add the Reeder stories to my TBB it’s unfortunately starting to sound like a platitude – that theoretical pile of books is going to theoretically crush me one of these days. But I will. And at least I’ll die doing what I love.

        Oh, and I of course meant “Four Just Men”. Just for Men is hair dye, and obviously a latent fear at the back of my Freudian mind.

        Liked by 1 person

      • haha I was thinking that I had never heard of Just For Men as a Wallace story. The benefit of buying short story collections is that you can read them over a longer period of time as I think for the Max Carrados collection I read one story a day, which made it more manageable and only took up a small amount of my day, meaning I could still read novels at the same time. And with your theoretical TBB pile – at least when it crushes you it is only theoretically – surely got to be less painful than a literal TBR pile.

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  3. Pingback: Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt 2016: Wrap Up Post | crossexaminingcrime

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