Sunday, August 16, 2020

Edgar Wallace's On the Spot

On the Spot is a 1931 Edgar Wallace crime thriller set in Chicago during the heady days of Prohibition.

Tony Perelli is a Big Shot, one of the biggest racketeers in Chicago. He’s ruthless but he’s smart. Tony don’t want no trouble. If someone is causing trouble, Tony gets a couple of his boys to take the guy for a ride. There’s nothing personal in it. It’s just business. He’s not a mere hoodlum. Tony would never have some body bumped off just for the hell of it. But sometimes it’s necessary.

Tony’s main rival is Irish gangster Mick Feeney. Feeney is tough but he’s not as smart as Tony. Feeney’s chief lieutenant, Shaun O’Donnell, is another matter. O’Donnell is clever and patient. And Feeney’s gang have been muscling in on Tony’s territory. Something will have to be done about that.

Tony had had plenty of women, but he’s never had a woman like Minn Lee. Mine Lee is half-Chinese and all beautiful. And she’s not your typical gangster’s moll. Tony doesn’t really understand her, but insofar as he is capable of loving a woman he loves her. He loves her the way he loves all his other possessions. He likes to be surrounded by beautiful things. All the beautiful things money can buy including women. He thinks maybe she loves him, but he’s not quite sure.

Everything on the home front is going just swell for Tony until he meets Maria. Maria is Con O’Hara's woman. O’Hara is an out-of-town torpedo who does a lot of jobs for Tony. He’s a killer and he’s good at his job. There’s no subtlety to the man but if some guy is causing trouble O’Hara is the boy to take care of it. He’s been killing professionally since he was a teenager. Unfortunately O’Hara is pretty attached to Maria.

Then there’s Jimmy McGrath, a nice college boy from the east. Tony thinks he can find a place for Jimmy in his organisation but he’s not sure what that place might be. Maybe Jimmy could be a fixer. A fixer has to be smart and be able to present himself as respectable. Tony already has a fixer, a really good one, Victor Vinsetti, but he’ll find something for Jimmy. Of course first Jimmy will have to kill for him. You can’t trust a guy until he’s killed for you.

Jimmy is in love with Minn Lee. Vinsetti is in love with her as well. She has that effect on men. They don’t just want her, they fall in love with her.

Of course anyone with a thorough knowledge of the Chicago underworld of the Roaring Twenties would undoubtedly spot lots of inaccuracies in this account (and some of the characters sound disturbingly cockney in their speech patterns) Wallace being an Englishman with no firsthand knowledge of the subject. It doesn’t matter. Wallace knows how to tell an engrossing tale.

And Tony Perelli and Minn Lee are intriguing characters. Tony’s great love is Italian opera. He considers himself to be a civilised man. He says he’d happily run his rackets without ever killing anybody but there are always guys who want to make trouble and they have to be dealt with. He has a genuine fondness for both Jimmy and Minn Lee, the kind of fondness a man feels for beautiful things that he owns.

Minn Lee has had many men. When one man goes out of her life she finds another, without any fuss. But while she’s with a man she is a one-man woman. She has a code of honour. A woman should be devoted to her man. Whether she loves him or not is immaterial. She has never loved a man. Although that might be about to change. Tony’s life might be about to change as well, but he doesn’t know it yet.

There’s as much murder and mayhem as you could desire in this gangster potboiler. There’s also a kind of love story and there’s the story of a fascinating woman. Being an Edgar Wallace novel it is also naturally highly entertaining. Recommended.

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