British crime writer Edgar Wallace’s fourth publication in his “Four Just Men” series appeared three years after “The Just Men Of Cordova” and shows a marked change in structure as instead of being a novel this consists of 10 short stories. I was very interested in finding out how the author was able to use this form and hoping that it might be used to provide a bit of back story. Within the three novels I have read there are a number of references to previous cases which seem to represent a so far uncatalogued glory days for the foursome and this seemed like a perfect opportunity for Wallace to explore some of these cases in a short story format.
He hasn’t done this. Instead these unlinked stories fit chronologically into the pattern the Wordsworth “Complete Four Just Men” uses being probably set after the events of the previous novel where, confusingly, considering the title, there are only two Just Men operating. This does allow a little more insight into character, perhaps the most significant is Leon Gonsalez, who has remained fairly under the radar in the previous novels who here has an interest in linking physical attributes and crime, which was probably a bit of an issue around the time this was published. So, large and long front teeth = probable murderer in “The Man With The Canine Teeth”. In a number of the stories it is the quirks of an individual which stands them out as a suspect, thus we get “The Man Who Hated Earthworms”, “The Man Who Loved Music” (well, the 1812 Overture) and “The Man Who Hated Amelia Jones” as titles.
Luckily, Wallace did not offer the same incentive to purchase as he did with his “Four Just Men” debut where readers were offered £500 to solve the case in a move which almost brought about financial ruin as people did and he was obliged to pay the sizeable amount to all those who did for this is very predictable fare with the odd twist but nothing like we have come to expect in short crime fiction in the intervening years.
This collection passed the time but probably wouldn’t be one that I would return to. I enjoyed the trickery involved in obtaining justice, my favourite being in the downfall of a drugs pusher in the elaborate “The Man Who Died Twice”.
The formula of these stories is pretty much the same as in the novels, a criminal has evaded justice and this has come to the main protagonists’ attention, somebody usually says something like “isn’t is a shame the Four Just Men aren’t around anymore” and the plan for retribution swings into action. Starting with this collection wouldn’t necessary put you off reading the novels but Wallace might be better at the more extended form.
The Law Of The Four Just Men was first published in 1921. I read the version printed in the Wordsworth paperback “The Complete Four Just Men”.
First published in the last year of World War I this was Edgar Wallace’s third novel in his “Four Just Men” series. There had been a ten year gap between “The Council Of Justice” and this reflected a time when he was writing prolifically as well as getting very involved in horse racing, starting up his own newspapers on the subject. Horse racing does feature as a major set piece which for its duration reads like a predecessor of a Dick Francis work.
The Just Men take more of a back seat with their identity still foxing and fooling those they come up against. The identity of one of the four is not even known by two of the others and that also builds up in the plot until this particular mystery is revealed.
Once again there is the odd turgid moment in the build-up. Central to this novel is Colonel Black a dodgy businessman whose opponents seem to be dying suddenly. There’s undetectable poison administered with a feather which keeps the plot ticking over until, and this seems to be typical of a Wallace novel the tension is cranked up for a more tautly written last third. This is where we get the aforementioned horse race where whole fortunes are staked and its aftermath which makes for some gripping reading and which excuses the business machinations in the earlier part of the novel which are not always easy to fathom for the modern reader and which may get the attention wandering slightly.
Typical of many adventure novels where the audience demands action some of the characters are underwritten but Wallace has here created one of his strongest characters I’ve read to date in Police Constable Frank Fellowe who has his own reasons for attempting to resolve the foul play.
Once again, by the end of the novel Edgar Wallace has whetted my appetite for more of the same which would go some way to explaining his contemporary popularity and longevity as a writer. There are three more novels to go in this Wordsworth “Complete Four Just Men” collection.
The Just Men Of Cordova was first published in 1918. I read the version printed in the Wordsworth paperback “The Complete Four Just Men”.
Prior to this I have read two Michael Crichton novels and they are not the ones you might expect. He is most famous for creating “ER” for which I will be eternally grateful; but also for “Jurassic Park” (1990) and its sequel (1995); his debut in his own name “The Andromeda Strain” (1969) and “Westworld” (1974). I haven’t read any of these, the two books I have read are “State Of Fear” (2004) a startlingly complex merge of environmental issues and science combined with a gripping, readable thriller which I thoroughly enjoyed and “Timeline” (1999) which grappled with quantum physics and time travel and which unfortunately did not work nearly as well and came across as tosh masquerading as science. It’s the application of science which Crichton specialises in and with “Next” it’s the complex (for my little brain anyway) field of biogenetics.
If like me, your sole knowledge of biogenetics is limited to an awareness of the existence of GM crops, cloned animals (Dolly the sheep) and that nightmarish picture of a mouse with a human ear growing on it then you might think that all this might be a tad too complex for you. Well it is, but that actually doesn’t matter as Crichton guides us along the issues in another very readable novel.
Interestingly, there’s no discernible main character in “Next” which is a little off-putting for those of us who like a central character for relationship dynamics to bounce off and this does mean that there isn’t really the depth of characterisation that a main protagonist and their relationships with others would provide. What is there are a lot of interweaving plot strands, which Crichton keeps good control of. I did find myself having to leaf back a number of times to recall what was happening to certain characters as and when their story was resumed although that often proved to be needless as the author is good at prompting our memories. You can see from this how he could manage long-running television drama with its ongoing story lines. I know some readers balk at this style of writing but here it has been done well.
Basically, it is a novel of ideas with the plot developed to illustrate these. The practice of patenting genes has impeded medical research and has potentially ludicrous legal ramifications when “ownership” of genes, cells and tissues gets called into question. This is an area Crichton is keen to highlight, using real news stories along the way, demonstrating that he is not dealing with fictional flights of fancy here as his ideas are embedded in fact. There’s a couple of genetically-modified animal hybrids including ape/human combinations who can talk and an African-grey parrot who can not only talk like a human but think like one too. At times these plot threads come across as a little “cutesy”, but it’s the way they fit into a tale of medical research so rooted in fact that becomes alarming.
This sits in the middle of the three Crichton novels I have read. It’s not as good as “State Of Fear” which had a stronger element of gripping thriller writing and was the novel which immediately preceded “Next” but it is considerably better than “Timeline”. Michael Crichton died in 2008 yet his 18th novel under this name, the recently discovered “Dragon’s Teeth” was published earlier this year.
Next was published by Harper in the UK in 2006