Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Brigand: Edgar Wallace

Anthony Newton was a soldier at sixteen; at twenty-six he was a beggar of favours, a patient waiter in outer offices, a more or less meek respondent to questionnaires which bore a remarkable resemblance one to the other.

Tony Newton struggled through eight years of odd jobs.

And at the end of the eighth year he discussed the situation with himself and soberly elected for brigandage of a safe and more or less unobjectionable variety.
The dictionary defines a brigand as a robber or a bandit, particularly from an outlaw band. But that definition is perhaps too harsh for Tony Newton; he focuses on “the art of gentle robbery.” And he succeeds, as he himself modestly admits.

The curious thing about me is that I’m never beaten. I’ve made money out of the greatest besters in town; I’ve diddled confidence men, and I’ve had money from a moneylender who went to bed Stahlstein and woke to find himself one of the proud Macgregors, and never even paid him back. I have met in single combat the Scot and the Armenian, and I have wrenched from their maws the wherewithal to live. The pup that other men buy licks my hand and develops into a pedigree show dog.
The Brigand is a collection of twelve stories, each an escapade of Tony Newton as he moves from one adventure to another, one gullible rich man to another, escaping a detection here, a marriage to a “plum pudding girl” there, a murder attempt elsewhere, even becoming a successful member of the House of Commons in one delightful episode.

The Brigand is Edgar Wallace at his best – simple storylines, a lovable character with whom you empathise even though you know that he not quite on the straight path, a bit of crime, loads of humour, some deceptively simple philosophising. Among the lesser known one-book-only characters created by Edgar Wallace, Tony Newton would probably be right up there on the top.

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