Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Admirable Carfew: Edgar Wallace

If Anthony The Brigand Newton made a living by gently taking some cream off the well-endowed and Jack The Iron Grip Bryce by handling difficult cases for a law firm through a combination of brain and brawn, the admirable Felix Carfew survives in spite of himself, and through extra-large portions of luck, “a man who attracted money to him by the exercise of one set of qualities, and repelled it by the employment of another set”. His broker, Parker of Parker & Parker, puts up with him as would the rich father of a benign idiot. Of course, Carfew has a different take on his life. He believes that “the division of responsibility as between Carfew and Providence was so arranged that, if things turned out well, Carfew had succeeded in spite of Providence, and if they failed, they had failed in spite of Carfew.”

Starting off with a lucky break after being mistaken for a famous reporter with the same last name, Felix Carfew mostly flukes through the fifteen stories in this collection, selling a dud invention here, befriending a lord here and a rebel brigand there and generally surviving bankruptcy and his own ineptness.

In The Eccentric Mr. Gobleheim, for a change luck walks into Carfew’s life in the form of the eccentric duo of Lewis & Gobleheim, who actually offer him an unbelievably good deal. And our admirable protagonist chooses precisely that moment to smell a confidence trickster. Thus losing a cool deal in the bargain.

Patriots is a bit of a mini-classic, pitting the US against the UK, specifically New York versus London, in terms of their appreciation of theatre.

Tobbins, Limited, the longest story of the lot, takes a dig at advertising and sales promotion, with the subtly named advertising agency, Exploitation Publicity Company. The tale is perhaps a reflection of its times, when advertising was not considered an above-board strategy. It is also one of the few tales in the collection in which Carfew actually succeeds consciously and without the benefit of accidents.

One and Sevenpence Ha’penny provides a delightful ending to a largely interesting collection. It has shades of the last episode of Jeffrey Archer’s Not a Penny Less, Not a Penny More. Carfew counts his fortune and finds himself one and sevenpence ha’penny” short of thirty-five thousand pounds. So he goes out to earn it. And in the process, his close circle, his servant Villiers, his broker Parker, an old associate Wilner and his business partner May Tobbin and her father all think Carfew has gone mad. And as with Anthony Newton and Jack Bryce, Carfew gets hitched in the end.

Dedicated and committed Plum fans may disagree violently, but in The Admirable Carfew, Edgar Wallace is as delightful as PG Wodehouse in terms of humour and protagonist characterisation.

Carfew’s view of life was that all the past had been ordered for his comfort.

Thus Edison had been born on a certain day in order that he might have his many electric appliances ready against Carfew reaching maturity. Stephenson had worked with no other object in view than that he should have railways shipshape by the time Carfew could afford to travel first class.

Carfew could perhaps have been as memorable a character as Bertie Wooster. A pity, then, that Wallace did not take Felix Carfew beyond this book.

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