Born in 1875 the illegitimate son of an actress, Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace was adopted by a Billingsgate fish-porter and grew up in the poorer streets of London. He wrote more than 170 books, mostly thrillers, and also plays and countless newspaper articles. In the late 1890s he served in the Royal West Kent Regiment and the Medical Staff Corps. As a war correspondent for The Daily Mail in South Africa he sent back reports that led Kitchener to ban him as a correspondent until the First World War.

In his day Wallace was King of the modern thriller, with classic Wallace novels featuring sinister criminal acts, numerous plot twists and plenty of shadowy killers and secret passageways. Although his works could be described as unsophisticated page-turners, the often gripping narratives have been hugely influential and more of his books have been made in to films than any other twentieth century writer.

As one of Britain’s most prolific writers, Wallace was selling five million books a year, one out of every four books sold in the whole market. This brought him a fortune but this was lost due to his extravagant lifestyle and obsessive gambling. He died in Hollywood in 1932 on his way to work on the screenplay of King Kong.

key books

The Mind of J G Reeder

‘I see wrong in everything,’ said Mr Reeder, ‘I have the mind of a criminal.’ At first glance J G Reeder is an ordinary, slightly shabby little man with red hair, weak eyes, whiskers, square-toed boots and a chest protector cravat. However, working for the Public Prosecutor he finds plenty to stretch his extraordinary mind. Here are eight thrilling, highly original tales from one of the greatest talents ever applied to detective fiction

The Clue of the Twisted Candle

Kara hates candles. He also believes that there is a great criminal lost in John Lexman, the detective-story writer involved in a plot more fantastic than any of his own ingenious mysteries. It is no secret that Kara had hoped to marry the beautiful Grace, but she is now Lexman’s wife. Lexman owes Vassalaro the Greek money-lender, and Vassalaro has threatened to kill him. A tense and powerful tale that moves dramatically between London and the Balkans

The Rule of the New Pin

Jesse Trassner is more than careful with his money. He is rich and he does not trust banks. His nephew Rex Lander enjoys high living but is all too often short of funds. After going out to avoid meeting an acquaintance from his past, Trassner is found in locked inside a vault. He is dead. This is no static mystery but a gripping tale of adventure involving memorable characters in locations ranging from Yeh Lin’s London restaurant to Ursula Ardfern’s Hertfordshire cottage.

When Gangs Come to London

Tough, ruthless gangsters from Chicago descend on London and for two weeks their violent campaign of murder and intimidation holds the city in a crushing grip of fear. Scotland Yard has never seen such an onslaught. When a lull ensues, Captain Jiggs Allermain of the Chicago Detective Bureau suspects the rival gangs of forming an uneasy alliance. Suddenly a shot rings through the House of Commons – unleashing an outburst of terror even more bloody.

The Four Just Men

When the Foreign Secretary Sir Philip Ramon receives a threatening, greenish-grey letter signed FOUR JUST MEN, he remains determined to see his Aliens Extradition Bill made law. A device in the members’ smokeroom and a sudden magnesium flash that could easily have been nitro-glycerine leave Scotland Yard baffled. Even Fleet Street cannot identify the illusive Manfred, Gonsalez, Pioccart and Thery – four just men dedicated to punishing by death those whom conventional justice can not touch.

Big Foot

Footprints and a dead woman bring together Superintendent Minton and the amateur sleuth Mr Cardew. Who is the man in the shrubbery? Who is the singer of the haunting Moorish tune? Why is Hannah Shaw so determined to go to Pawsy, ‘a dog lonely place’ she had previously detested. Death lurks in the dark and someone must solve the mystery before BIG FOOT strikes again, in a yet more fiendish manner.

The Frightened Lady

Everyone tried to conceal the truth but the Frightened Lady is unable to hide her fear. Chief Inspector Tanner quickly realises that many things about the household of Lord and Lady Lebanon are not easily explained. Why are two American ‘toughs’ employed as footmen? Why is Lady Lebanon so unwilling to answer any questions? What he does know is that the only obviously innocent person is utterly consumed with terror. Here is Inspector Tanner’s first real clue.

The Coat of Arms

It is a small world and the possibility of old criminal acquaintances meeting at a Surrey roadhouse is by no means remote. Sketchley, where the Coat of Arms roadhouse stands, is a place of strange happenings. There are thefts of valuable gold plate, a suspicious old man, seen but not caught, a burglar who returns stolen valuables. When the local manor burns down the owner and guests move to the roadhouse, old vendettas intensify. Interests clash. Murder is committed.

The Angel of Terror

Jack Glover of Rennet, Glover and Simpson does not believe his cousin Meredith killed Bulford. Meredith’s father was an eccentric and unless Meredith is married by the age of thirty his sister inherits everything. She is dead and Meredith, now in prison, is thirty next Monday. Meanwhile Lydia Beale is struggling to pay her dead father’s creditors. When Glover offers her money she is shocked. However, despite the strange conditions attached, it is a proposal she cannot afford to ignore.

The Crimson Circle

When James Beardmore receives a letter demanding £100,000 he refuses to pay – even though it is his last warning. It is his son Jack who finds him dead. Can the amazing powers of Derrick Yale, combined with the methodical patience of Inspector Parr, discover the secret of the Crimson Circle? Who is its all-powerful head and who is the stranger who lies in wait? Twice in a lifetime a ruthless criminal faces the executioner.

The Forger

Forged notes have started to appear everywhere. Mr Cheyne Wells of Harley Street has been given one. So has Porter. Peter Clifton is rich, but no one is quite certain how he acquired his money – not even his new wife, the beautiful Jane Leith. One night someone puts a ladder to Jane’s window and enters her room. It is not her jewels they are after. Inspector Rouper and Superintendent Bourke are both involved in trying to solve this thrilling mystery.

The Man Who Bought London

King Kerry is going to buy London. This morning he is on his way to buy shops in Oxford Street. Elsie Marion is late for work when she falls into conversation with him. Suddenly two shots ring out. They miss, but King Kerry seems to know his attacker. From a high office window a man shakes his fist: someday, the man vows, ‘I will find a bullet that goes to its mark – and the girl from Denver City will be free!’

The Man Who Knew

A youth is lying dead in Gray Square, Bloomsbury. Constable Wiseman is at the scene, as is the handsome Frank Merril, nephew of rich John Martin. Also there is May Nuttall, whose father was the best friend Martin ever had. A small, shabby man in an ill-fitting frock coat and large gold rimmed spectacles pulls a newspaper advertisement from the deceased’s waistcoat pocket. ‘At the Yard ,’ whispers the constable to Frank, ‘we call him The Man who Knows.’

A Debt Discharged

Thomas Maple lives on Crystal Palace Road with his niece Verity. He works for a firm of bank note engravers. However, the dollar bills he shows Wentworth Gold are forgeries – perfect except for the missing Treasury sign. When Verity meets her new employer she develops serious misgivings, and arriving back home she can hear a menacing voice. What power do these men hold over her uncle? Who is the mysterious he? She hesitates, then follows them.

Room 13

Recently released from prison, John Gray visits his old friend Peter Kane. Although it is the day of his daughter’s wedding, Kane agrees to an audience with Emanuel Legg, the criminal and cop-killer with whom he has some business. Gray wanders into the garden and a tornado of fury sweeps through him. The debonair Major Floyd, the new husband to whom Kane has entrusted his precious daughter, is a fraudster of the most sinister kind.

The Man Who Was Nobody

Bearing a letter from her employer, Marjorie Stedman, confidential secretary and niece of Solomon Stedman, enters the drawing room of Alma Trebizond, actress and wife of Sir James Tynewood. Tynewood is unpleasantly drunk. When a second delivery is required Marjorie travels again to Tynewood Chase. Left alone by Doctor Fordham, she hears a shot. When she opens the door she discovers Sir James lying in a pool of blood. The man holding the revolver is someone Marjorie has seen before…

The Feathered Serpent

Reporter Peter Derwin suspects the card mysteriously left in the handbag of actress Ella Creed is a publicity stunt. But Joe Farmer, the boxing promoter, has received one too. Then, after leaving the house of millionaire philanthropist and African explorer Gregory Beale, Daphne Olroyd is followed: she is at her employers’ offices when Leicester Crewe opens the front door. A dead man falls into the hall. In his hand is the card of The Feathered Serpent.

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