Edgar Wallace was born as Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace on April 1, 1875, in Greenwich, England, the son of Polly Richards and Richard Edgar, unwed members of an acting company. As an illegitimate child, Wallace was placed in the home of George and Millie Freeman in Norway Court, London, where he spent his boyhood as Dick Freeman until he ran away to join the army at the age of eighteen. Like his mother and grandmother, he loved the theater and, without much formal education, learned to read primarily from public library books. He soon was writing verses of his own.
Wallace joined the Royal West Kent Regiment as an enlisted private; in July, 1896, he sailed on a troopship to South Africa. After six years of military service as a hospital orderly, he bought his own discharge and became a celebrated war correspondent in the Boer Wars. Wallace was named to the staff of the London Daily Mail and covered the end of the war in South Africa. He married a minister’s daughter, Ivy Caldecott, in April, 1901, in Cape Town and at the end of the war returned to make his home in England. The couple had three children before they were divorced in 1919. Soon after, Wallace married his secretary of five years, Violet “Jim” King; in 1923, they had a daughter, Penelope.
Plagued by debts left unpaid in South Africa and new bills accumulating in London, Wallace began writing plays and short stories while serving as correspondent or editor for various newspapers. His lifelong love of gambling at horse racing led him to write and edit several racing sheets, but his losses at the tracks continually added to his debts. Blessed with an indomitable sense of optimism and self-confidence, he drove himself as a writer and established his name as an author. In 1905, Wallace wrote and published his first great novel, The Four Just Men. After a series of lawsuits forced the Daily Mail to drop him as a reporter, he was able to draw on his experience in the Boer Wars and his assignments in the Belgian Congo, Canada, Morocco, Spain, and London slums, which provided rich material for short stories and novels.
On the advice of Isabel Thorne, fiction editor for Shurey’s Publications, Wallace began a series for the Weekly Tale-Teller called “Sanders of the River,” based on his experiences in the...
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