Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Face in the Night (1924) by Edgar Wallace

A recent Facebook post by Curtis Evans reminded me of the Wallace title which has been sitting in my TBR pile for a quite a while and I decided to give it a read. He is not a writer I have read much by and to be honest this book is not likely to change this.

A number of narrative threads come our way in the opening of the book. A criminal courier decides to have it out with his mysterious employer, Malpas, in Portman Square, London. Given the dangerous work he is doing he wants a better reward, but a drunken desire to see the face of his employer leads to a prompt watery grave. Meanwhile, Captain Dick Shannon of Scotland Yard is at the American embassy ensuring the Queen of Finland’s necklace is not stolen from her. But whilst it remains safe at the party, the drive home ends in disaster.

We soon know who has stolen the necklace and who is now holding it; Dora and Martin Elton. They are about to send the item on when Dora’s half sister arrives. Their mother is dead and the chicken farm is earning too little and has been sold. Audrey expects a welcome but at first she gets the cold shoulder, until Dora decides to use her sister as a courier. Naturally Audrey, who is unaware of her sister’s crooked employment, is taken in and when she does realise it, she still insists on not ratting out her family member, (who has never liked her), and she is sentenced to 12 months in prison, accordingly, for being an accessory to robbery, despite only being a hapless dupe.

So runs the first 40 pages of a 288 paged book. Suffice to say other bad guys enter the picture and Audrey’s release from prison only entails further jeopardy for herself, as Shannon desperately tries to keep her out of further danger. I would not be surprised if this story had been serialised in the newspapers given the high level of incidences in each chapter. What doesn’t happen to Audrey quite frankly? Add to which we have disappearing and reappearing bodies, an heiress who doesn’t know she is one and a sinister booby-trapped house, with a stash of stolen diamonds.

Now I like action packed plots, but this one just takes the biscuit! I don’t think Wallace left any plot tropes out! Yet despite the high number of events included in this book, the story some how managed to equally have a slow pace, to the extent that it became very dull. The book quite frankly is too long for this type of the plot, as whilst there are so many details, you just stop caring; the characters in contrast don’t really come off the page. Audrey is equally a grade A idiot, who has walking into danger down to a fine art and she is completely incapable of reading people for who they are. It makes Shannon’s infatuation for her all the more boggling. If he marries her she is the sort of wife you would worry to let out of the house, more for her own health and safety, as opposed to her actively choosing to do something wrong.

I did wonder if this book had a sort of locked room element in it. A man gets into an observed house without being seen, someone who lives in the same house is also able to leave without being detected. A body also manages to disappear and reappear in the same building. If it is then I wouldn’t read it for that, as your brain will have nearly died of boredom getting to the locked room part of the plot, and the ultimate solution is fairly basic and unsatisfying. There is the odd clever clue but they don’t redeem the story as a whole.

Perhaps this book was better left forgotten…

Rating: 3/5

5 comments

  1. Apart from The Four Just Men, Wallace’s novels are nothing to get excited about. His short story collections on the other hand are much more satisfying. I can definitely recommend The Mind of Mr J G Reeder, The Brigand, Again the Ringer, and Again the Three.

    Liked by 1 person

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