Friday, November 10, 2023

The Four Just Men

 The Four Just Men (1905) by Edgar Wallace

The Four Just Men are killers--but only in the cause of justice. They operate by strict rules--to never kill for personal gain and whenever appropriate to give the marked man plenty of warning. Those on their list are men and women who have committed crimes against the public and yet the law has been unable to touch them. So the Four Just Men dispense the justice due. They have assassinated corrupt military contractors, embezzlers of public funds, and unjust judges. They have killed a murderous despot using his own public gallows. And now they have their sights set on England's Foreign Secretary who is the primary backer of an unjust Aliens Extradition Bill. The four men send Sir Philip Ramon several messages with fairly explicit terms of what will happen if he does not with draw the bill by their deadline. Scotland Yard pulls in every available man to post a cordon around Ramon's house as well as to have a man in every room of the house. And yet Sir Philip is killed in his locked study, with windows sealed and shutters barred, and no entered or left the room. How was it done? And why was one of the Four Just Men killed as well--and who did it?

When Wallace's thriller first came out, that's where the story ended. The public was challenged to submit their solutions for prize money and it wasn't until the contest was over that the final chapter was printed and the solution revealed. I'm pleased to say that I might have won a prize. I definitely spotted the how. I wasn't quite positive about who killed the Just Man, but if a real prize had been dangling in front of me I just might have gotten there. The build-up to the assassination is very good, but given the length of the book it far outweighs the attention given to the actual murder and investigation thereof. It feels unbalanced and while I don't hate inverted mysteries they're not my favorite. When I read one, I at least would like to see more of the detective's efforts in tracking down the culprit/s. However, this was Wallace's first effort and I think it a pretty good one. ★★

First line (prologue): If you leave the Plaza del Milna, go down the narrow, where, from ten till four, the big flag of the United States Consulate hangs lazily; through the square on which the Hotel de la France fronts, round by the Church of Our Lady, and along the clean, narrow thoroughfare that is the High Street of Cadiz, you will come to the Cafe of the Nations.

First line (1st chapter): On the fourteenth day of August, 19--, a tiny paragraph appeared at the foot of an unimportant page in London's most sober journal to the effect that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had been much annoyed by the receipt of a number of threatening letters, and was prepared to pay a reward of fifty pounds to any person who would give such information as would lead to the apprehension and conviction of the person or persons, etc.

Last line: It was Gondsalez who had placed the "clue" for the police to find.


Deaths =  12 (four shot; five hung/strangled/asphyxiated; one poisoned; two electrocuted)

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