Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Crimson Circle (Review)

The Crimson Circle (1922) by Edgar Wallace

The Crimson Circle is a secret criminal society run along the lines of the Black Hand and other such organizations. Its leader demands that prominent business men and wealthy aristocrats pay up or be killed. The vast organization includes ruined men of business and petty thieves--none of them know each other and none of them have seen the face of their leader. After a few example are made of stubborn men, most of its victims hand over the cash with little struggle. But James Beardmore ignores the warnings and the demands for £100,000 and calls upon Scotland Yard's methodical Inspector Parr to track down the evil mastermind behind the Crimson Circle. Parr, in turn, requests the help of Derrick Yale, an amateur detective with incredible powers of observation and perception.

Unfortunately, this duo is unable to prevent Beardmore from becoming another victim after he ignores his final warning. When Beardmore's neighbor and rival Harvey Froyant receives a demand for money as well, Parr is determined that this will be the last demand the Crimson Circle will make. But is the Inspector up to the task and will Yale's skills be the help that he needs? 

As a sideline, Jack, Beardmore's son, has fallen for Froyant's secretary--a young woman with a mysterious past of her own and whose talent for liberating the property of others gets her into a great deal of trouble. Jack is certain that she's not really a bad girl, but is his heart getting in the way of the facts? Is Thalia Drummond really part of the Crimson Circle or just a poor girl who has gotten some bad breaks? Jack doesn't realize how important the answers to those questions will be to the solution of his father's murder.

Fair warning from the start: This is a fast-paced, detective-adventure not a sedate, Golden Age puzzle plot with clues strewn about for the quick-witted reader to gather and try to solve the mystery before the detective. Edgar Wallace was one of the most prolific crime writers with 130 novels (18 written in 1926). Writing at such a clip, it isn't a surprise that he didn't spend a lot of time on red herrings and clues with double-meanings. But that doesn't mean that this isn't an enjoyable read. Wallace's fast-pace carries over into the story and the reader is carried along, swallowing the various improbable events along with the more normal ones until she is brought to a screeching halt at the solution.  I suspected where Wallace, my driver, was taking me, but thoroughly enjoyed the scenery along the way. 

Parr is an understated detective. You think he's a plodding copper who may not be quite as swift on the uptake as what one might like in an Inspector--but he gets there in the end and, in fact, has a few tricks up his sleeve that we (and the Crimson Circle) never expect. This is only my second Wallace novel--the first was read back in the early 1990s, long before blogging so I have little record or memory of it--but it won't be my last. [Particularly since I've been accumulating them on my TBR mountain range...] I look forward to hopping in Wallace's crime fiction race car again sometime in the near future. ★★ and 1/2.

If you would like more info on Edgar Wallace, Michael Mallory over at Mystery Scene has written a very informative piece on him.

*This fulfills the "Locked Room" category on the Golden Just the Facts card. In the course of the investigation, Parr and Yale set a trap for the Crimson Circle. They are certain that their quarry will not be able to take the money demanded without capture. But somehow he gets into the room and out again without being caught--despite there having been only one entrance and that under observation the entire time. Those who have been reading locked room and vintage mysteries for quite some time may spot the method--and may even cry foul on part of it. But I'm quite sure it was very mysterious to most readers at the time.

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