Incredibly, Edgar Wallace wrote over 170 books in the early part of the last century. More than 50 of them are available from the publisher House of Stratus. The Four Just Men just scrapes into the CWA top 100.
Gonsalez, Poiccart, Manfred and Thery are the Four Just Men, an implacable and seemingly omnipotent cabal of principled assassins who kill in the name of ending injustice. This time around, their target is Sir Philip Ramon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who is passing a Bill that will allow the Spanish government to extradite certain political prisoners. He is given a choice (written in the ‘flourishing effeminate handwriting of the Latin races’): Withdraw the Bill or die.
Essentially this is a reverse locked-room mystery, with the Just Men’s plan only revealed in the final chapter: a how-will-they-have-done-it. However, unlike The Day of the Jackal, say, we don’t get to see enough of the mechanics of their art to build respect for their skills. They simply seem to know everything and be able to achieve anything they like.
This is a short book, but to be honest it reads as a curiosity rather than a classic. I think there are better ways to spend a couple of hours. Wallace’s low profile today – despite apparently being filmed more than any other author – is a reflection of how dated his work seems.
Having said that, he does write with a certain ironic wit:
‘To all students of criminology and physiognomy, Thery must need no introduction… You may, if you are inquisitive, and have the necessary permission, inspect his photograph taken in eighteen positions. There are also photographs of his ears.’
Final destination: Back to the library