Sunday, 12 June 2011

Edgar Wallace, 'The Green Archer' [books]

Edgar Wallace The Green ArcherAnother rip-roaring tale from Edgar Wallace, The Green Archer features a beautiful girl looking for the mother from whom she was stolen as a baby, her kindly foster-father (who conveniently became a millionaire, Beverly Hillbillies-style, after oil was discovered on his land), a redheaded journalist, a very secret policeman who is also a master of disguise, an Anglo-Indian petty criminal and his wife, assorted villains and, at the centre of it all, Abel Bellamy, a very ugly, very rich man who's bought a castle near Reading. Running through it all is the mysterious Green Archer, the castle's ghost, who appears to be walking once more.

The figure of the Green Archer pulls the story together and makes it more than a series of set-pieces. As Valerie tries to find out where her mother is, thereby arousing the interest of Bellamy, who is determined to do her harm because he hates her mother so. The Green Archer is always there, tramping through the castle and occasionally bumping off Bellamy's less pleasant associates. It is quote good fun trying to guess who the Green Archer really is, and while you're certain to get it, Wallace lays a good trail of red herrings.

Featherstone, the policeman, falls in love with Valerie. He's quite an odd character. We initially meet him masquerading as a chinless wonder to keep an eye on Valerie, and later he infiltrates the castle as the butler. With his ability to dress up he could be good fun, but he's the hero and so has to spend his time defending the girl.

Spike (the journalist), John Wood, a philanthropist he associates with (and who gets drawn into the action) and Coldharbour Smith, a Docklands villain, are all seen less often. Interestingly, most of the characters are either American or have lived in the States: Bellamy, Valerie, Spike and John Wood are all American, while Valerie's foster-father is an Englishman who emigrated. I don't know much about Wallace, so don't know if this was done to improve his sales in the United States, or whether it was because a British audience would more readily accept the frankly unlikely plot if it had foreign characters, but it seems a pretty high number to me.

My favourite characters are Jules Savini and his wife, Fay. As soon as it was mentioned that he was Eurasian (what would be called Anglo-Indian nowadays) my heart sank a little, and early in the book Wallace does manage some ghastly comments along the lines of him being half-English, half-Indian and combining the worst of both. Jules starts off working as Bellamy's secretary, trying to work out the best way to part his employer from a chunk of his fortune. However, the nasty comments die off, Jules and Fay both prove capable of heroic acts, and they end the book drying off a big pile of stolen money with a toasting-fork. They're fun, unlike Valerie and Jim, who are your standard 'nice' leads.

I'm not going to say The Green Archer is racism-free, it's not, and as well as Bellamy calling Jules an n-word* there are unpleasant terms used for Chinese people too. But compared to a lot of the period, it is extremely mild. If you're wondering why I keep reading books like this when racism annoys me, it's because I love a good ripping yarn. However, I don't want anyone picking up a book I've read and getting an unpleasant surprise. I did actually enjoy this book, finding it more coherent than, say Bulldog Drummond, which lurches from set piece to set piece.

*You won't see that word appearing on this blog. While I'm not in favour of external censorship for anyone, I'm happy to censor my own blog!

2 comments :

  1. My grandmother used to have a lot of hardback Edgar Wallaces. I wonder where they all went?

    Incidentally, would you recommend Blogger as a platform? I'm getting kind of tired of Wordpress, which just brought in a 'comment with your Facebook ID' feature with no opt-out and has been annoying me in various other minor ways.

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  2. It's bizarre how popular he was, to have been so forgotten. I often feel that way about John Creasey too - over 200 books published, barely remembered outside crime novel circles.

    As for Blogger, I really like it. I've never tried Wordpress so can't do a comparison, but I find Blogger easy to use, there are loads of free templates online (mine is from Shabby Blogs) and I love the little Stats tab that enables me to see how many page views I've got, where they've come from and so on.

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