The Writing Style of Edgar Wallace
by Evelyn Hepburn

The British author Edgar Wallace is best known today for his input on the story of the 1933 film King Kong, but the legacy this author leaves extends beyond Hollywood. Wallace's prolific bibliography of over 175 novels and 24 plays was quite popular during his time. As a contemporary to mystery writer Agatha Christie, Wallace's work combined Christie's cerebral style with fast-paced action. Through this quick pace, along with a knack for fantastical and sensational storylines, experimental plot structures, and unique characters, Wallace achieved great success in the English-speaking world.

The fast pace of Wallace's novels is one element that engages the reader. Wallace introduces the storyline and the situation quickly, often within the first chapter of the book. A conflict will often occur between two characters early on, throwing the reader directly into the action. This action builds steadily until the climax occurs, usually located in the next to last chapter. Because of this fast pace, Wallace's books are quick to read, making them popular choices for casual reading.

Wallace's background as a journalist appears in his novels through their sensational storylines. Playing upon the public's desire for amusing, shocking information, Wallace was unafraid to push the boundaries. His first work (and the first book in his most famous series), The Four Just Men, had to be self-published due to a threat placed by the book's protagonists in the text. This sensational writing style proved to be popular with the public, enabling Wallace to publish through more traditional channels. Satire and a lack of reverence for the monarchy are additional elements found within Wallace's work that subvert the establishment.

His obsession with sensational stories often crossed into the fantastical. Wallace is considered a chief author of the “impossible mystery,” a case solved by a fictional detective that could not be solved in the real world. With more emphasis on physical evidence than Agatha Christie's works, Wallace's novels utilize a clipped version of the psychological deduction found in many detective novels of the day.

Despite his tendency to produce implausible storylines, Wallace often wrote works with experimental plot structures. Unlike other serious authors of his era, Wallace wrote by the seat of his pants, sometimes dictating up to 80,000 words over the course of three days to a secretary. The lack of formality and quick editing resulted in novels that, at some points, blurred the lines between formal fiction and stream of consciousness. This is also the secret to Wallace's prolific output: he constructed stories in his head, a composition method that further reflects his background as a war reporter.

In contrast to most detective writers, Wallace preferred to write stories with different protagonists; The Four Just Men series is the exception to this. While many of Wallace's characters are quaintly British, his stories often contained characters with international intrigue. Understanding that the public would be interested in characters hailing from locations away from home, Wallace enjoyed employing international elements. Although East Asia and Africa remained curiosities in Imperial Britain, a diminutive attitude towards these characters prevailed in his prose.

The legacy of Edgar Wallace is significant. Few authors can claim to have been as prolific. With 300 million volumes sold, the popularity of his fast-paced detective novels has made Edgar Wallace's name synonymous with the suspense genre.

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