The Law of the Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace
Created: Mon Mar 22 16:53:36 2010 | Last modified: Mon Mar 22 16:53:36 2010
The idea of a small organization of highly idealistic and motivated vigilantes who go about rectifying injustices in society which are beyond the reach of Law is not new. Indeed, many crime authors over the centuries have explored this theme in many different ways. In Edgar Wallace's Four Just Men series, four highly respectable gentlemen from the cream of society come together in a common cause to correct (if possible) injustices in society or if the injustice has already been perpetrated, punish those who were responsible for them.
"The Law of the Four Just Men" features just two of the four (one being retired and the other dead) and is a collection of whimsical short stories which feature the Just Men taking on conventional law-breakers as well as immoral men who commit or are about to perpetrate crimes or worse facilitate acts which are legal in themselves but end up ruining innocent lives. Despicable blackmailers, conscienceless money-lenders, owners of gambling houses and opium-dens, a mad scientist who has an irrational hatred of earthworms with plans of exterminating them and common-or-garden murderers who kill for gain all fall under the radar of George Manfred and Leon Gonsalez. Each story is gripping in its own way, but unlike the usual Edgar Wallace crime novels, none of them have elements of mystery or suspense. The only anticipation created is the method of punishment adopted by the Just Men and how they eventually prevent injustice and/or avenge the victims.
The stories are well paced and plotted. Edgar Wallace, obviously comfortable with the short-story genre, uses his narrative skill with good effect. While there are no really memorable characters, the Just Men come across as more human than in previous books in the series. Because the focus is only on two of the Four, there is much more scope for showing their individual characters. The plot construction in these stories are sound, but Edgar Wallace conveniently fails to explain the modus operandi of the Just Men in achieving their ends and how they overcome formidable difficulties, content with just showing them at work and getting away with outrageous acts of vigilantism unscathed and with impunity. The ease with which they confound the wrong-doers is reminiscent of the J. G. Reeder stories. However, if you can look past those shortcomings, these stories are well worth reading.
All in all, I'd say these quaint stories make for light reading. Entertaining and interesting rather than thoroughly gripping, I'd rate them 3.5/5.