RogerBW's Blog

The Angel of Terror, Edgar Wallace 08 August 2018

1922 thriller. James Meredith is found guilty of murdering his romantic rival, and sentenced to prison. But there's a question of inheritance, and a hasty marriage leaves an outsider in danger. vt The Destroying Angel.

One cannot help but think that in some ways the 1920s were a more innocent age. It's not just that Lydia Beale, indebted illustrator, is willing to contract a marriage of convenience with Meredith (he had an eccentric father, and if he's not married by age thirty…); it's not even that Lydia is unwilling to believe that Meredith's former fiancée is the monster that Meredith's cousin Jack Glover, who's organising all this, claims she is. It's the willingness with which various people, not just Lydia, are willing to write self-incriminating letters and such like, and to carry on trusting Lydia as ever more near-fatal "accidents" happen to them. (There's a trick here pinched from a Father Brown story, but without the cleverness that Chesterton's murderer used.)

When Aix was full he was certain to be found at the Palace, in the Deauville week you would find him at the Casino punting mildly at the baccarat table. And after the rooms were closed, and even the Sports Club at Monte Carlo had shut its doors, there was always a little game to be had in the hotels and in Marcus Stepney's private sitting-room.

And it cannot be denied that Mr. Stepney was lucky. He won sufficient at these out-of-hour games to support him nobly through the trials and vicissitudes which the public tables inflict upon their votaries.

But this is never any sort of mystery: we meet the beautiful fiancée, Jean Briggerland ("she's so beautiful she can't possibly be evil" is a recurring observation from characters of both sexes), and observe her conspiring with her father to do away with all obstacles between herself and the pots of money. It might have been interesting to have written it without those scenes, since with the reader's additional knowledge Lydia starts to look unpardonably naïve not to say stupid, but Wallace chose the straightforward approach and the scenes themselves are enjoyable.

"Don't you think we'd better give this up and get back to London? Lord Stoker is pretty keen on you."

"I'm not pretty keen on him," she said decidedly. "He has his regimental pay and £500 a year, two estates, mortgaged, no brains and a title—what is the use of his title to me? As much use as a coat of paint! Beside which, I am essentially democratic."

And when even Wallace thinks he might have stretched plausibility a little too far, he's happy to hang a lampshade on it.

It was a most amazing single-handed capture—even Jean could never have imagined the ease with which she could gain her victory.

But in spite of all the problems (not least that if Lydia had simply znqr n jvyy vzzrqvngryl nsgre ure jrqqvat, nf Wnpx jbhyq fheryl unir nqivfrq ure gb qb, she would never have become a target in the first place) it's all fun; it's clearly written as escapism and relief from the real troubles of the day, and there's never any doubt that the villain will come to a Bad End… though it's not the end one might have expected.

This was my first Wallace, and I shall probably indulge in more. Freely available from Project Gutenberg.

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