Saturday, July 18, 2015

Edgar Wallace’s Big Foot

Edgar Wallace’s 1927 thriller Big Foot is one of his more obscure novels but it’s actually rather a treat.

Wallace had a knack for creating wonderfully colourful and eccentric detectives (such as Mr J. G. Reeder). Big Foot features another Wallace detective who is just as much fun. Detective Superintendent Patrick Minter (universally known as Sooper) is scruffy, elderly, cantankerous, possibly a bit senile and his best days are long behind him. At least that’s what he hopes wrongdoers will assume. In reality Sooper is as sharp as a tack. He belongs to the popular category of detectives who rely on appearing to be no threat at all to a clever criminal.

Sooper rides an ancient and horrifically noisy motorcycle, keeps chickens and regards modern scientific methods of detection with contempt. He has no time for the’rising and he abhors anthr’pology and psych’logy. He believes a detective should keep his eyes open and rely on dogged perseverance. 

Sooper’s bête noire is retired lawyer and keen amateur detective Cardew. Cardew is an enthusiast for scientific criminology, much to Sooper’s disgust.

Both Sooper and Cardew are anxious to solve the mystery of Big Foot, an ingenious murderer who always seems to stay one step ahead of them. The murder of Cardew’s housekeeper is especially baffling - the cottage in which she was slain was under close police observation at the time and the murder seems to be quite impossible.

Sooper’s young friend from the Public Prosecutor’s office, Jim Ferraby. is drawn into this mystery and in the process falls in love with Cardew’s beautiful young American secretary.

This being an Edgar Wallace thriller there are naturally plenty of bizarre elements - giant footprints and a singing tramp being the most noteworthy.

Wallace wrote some fine tales of pure detection but most of his books are thrillers rather than detective stories. Big Foot has a mystery plot at its heart but the tone places it squarely in the thriller camp. Wallace does however display considerable skill in misdirection and he does provide enough clues to point the reader in the right direction (although he still managed to fool me quite successfully).

It’s the personality of Sooper that carries this book. He really is a delight. He’s irascible, slovenly and in his own offbeat way outrageously egotistical but it’s impossible not to love him. He’s both the hero and the main comic relief character and he succeeds splendidly in both roles. 

Wallace’s frenetically energetic and amusing style adds to the fun.

Big Foot is Edgar Wallace at the top of his game. Highly recommended. 

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