Edgar Wallace 1875-1932
(Full name Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace) English novelist, playwright, journalist, screenwriter, and short story writer.
Wallace was a prolific writer of crime thrillers, detective stories, and stage plays based on his books. His works are noted for their fast-paced narratives and accurate depiction of English working-class life.
Born in Greenwich to an unmarried actor and actress, Wallace was adopted and raised by foster parents in the town of Billingsgate. As a teenager he worked at a succession of factories and unskilled jobs before enlisting in the British army in 1893. Wallace spent six years in the military, the last three of which he served as a member of the Medical Staff Corps in South Africa. While stationed there, he began writing poetry and made the acquaintance of Rudyard Kipling, who, after reading some of Wallace's early work, encouraged him to pursue writing as a career. Wallace bought his army discharge in 1899, but remained in South Africa as a news correspondent during the Boer War. He continued his journalistic career upon returning to England, and worked as a reporter and editor for most of his adult life. It was not until the age of forty that Wallace became known as a writer of fiction. In the last decade of his life he wrote books that sold millions of copies. At one point during his prolific career it was estimated that one out of every four books sold in England was written by Edgar Wallace. He died in 1932.
During his lifetime Wallace wrote numerous plays and film scripts and produced over one hundred seventy novels. His first novel, The Four Just Men, a thriller published at his own expense in 1906, marked the beginning of his career as a popular writer. Though he wrote in a wide variety of genres, Wallace is best known for his thrillers and detective stories, including The Crimson Circle, The Clue of the New Pin, The Fellowship of the Frog, and The Mind of Mr. J. G. Reeder. He was also well known for a series of short stories set in colonial Africa featuring the fictional Commissioner Sanders. In addition, Wallace wrote science fiction and social satire, and completed a ten-volume history of World War I. At the time of his death he was working on the script for the film King Kong.
During his lifetime, Wallace was widely read and generally well-received by critics as a provider of entertainment. In addition to selling well in England and America, his books were extremely popular in translation in Germany. While some modern critics dismiss Wallace as a producer of mere pulp, others credit him with helping to create an audience for the modern thriller. Many commentators praise Wallace's gift for fast-paced plots, accurate depictions of the British working class, and authentic portrayals of criminals. Commentators also continue to praise his Commissioner Sanders stories for their evocations of colonial Africa.