The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace
As the Just Men threaten to kill their victim at a particular hour this fulfils “When – timing of the crime is crucial”
Who are The Four Just Men? This is the question asked by both the police and the press.
They have murdered sixteen people who they believe have committed serious injustices which the law cannot touch. Now they threaten the life of the British Foreign Secretary if he continues to pass a piece of legislation.
The Just Men believe that the new law “will place in the hands of the most evil government of modern times men who are patriots and who are destined to be the saviours of their countries”. Sir Philip Ramon believes that it “will remove from this country colonies of dangerously intelligent criminals, who, whilst enjoying immunity from arrest, urge ignorant men forward to commit acts of violence and treason”. The reader is not given enough information to judge who is right, but then with any current news story how often are the public provided with sufficient unbiased evidence with which to form a proper conclusion?
A media storm ensues and as each communication from the vigilantes causes a ring of protection to be drawn closer around the target the question becomes how can the quartet possibly carry out the sentence of death which they have pronounced? And if they do, can they escape with their own lives?
Edgar Wallace’s first novel (in my opinion his strongest, but then I feel he was much better suited to short story collections such as “The Mind of Mr. J. G. Reeder” and “The Brigand”) and it made his name due to a large self-funded advertising campaign and the promise of prizes for those who could solve the mystery before the final chapter was published. Wallace omitted to put a limit on the number of potential prize winners and even though the book became a best-seller, he could not cover his costs and declared himself bankrupt.
One other interesting fact, revealed very early on, is that one of the original Four Just Men has already been killed. An alternative opening line would have to be: “Merel was dead to begin with.”
Whilst the other three novels are not as good, this Complete edition from Wordsworth is well-worth picking up just for the first novel and the two collections of short stories.