Friday, January 18, 2008

The Iron Grip: Edgar Wallace

Captain Jack Bryce, inscribed in the family records as John Richard Pantagenet, but better known amongst his intimate friends as Wireless Bryce, had dropped his army title, for he had discovered that it prejudiced rather than helped his chance of securing employment.

The similarity between Jack Bryce and Anthony The Brigand Newton is unmistakable. There is, however, one significant difference between Newton and Bryce: the Brigand succeeds in making a living through “the art of gentle robbery” using his brain and wit; the protagonist of The Iron Grip thwarts crime using his muscles, and, on the odd occasion, his brain and his looks.

The Iron Grip is a collection of ten stories, in each of which Jack Bryce is commissioned by Mr. James Hemmer of Hemmer & Hemmer, an eminent firm of lawyers, to address cases where the lawyers were “constantly getting into difficulties from which private detectives and the ordinary resources of the law cannot extricate” them.

The Iron Grip has its moments, especially in the cases where Bryce outsmarts the villains rather than batter them into submission. The story where he does the classic switcheroo by storing the Vlakfontain diamond in the pocket of the villain’s assistant is almost reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Purloined Letter. Equally gripping is the case in which Bryce disproves a bigamy accusation by figuring out the time difference between London and Onslow, Western Australia. The one in which he forces the villain to burn a cheque (which he had fraudulently obtained) to save his life is another nice touch. The stories in which Bryce plays the romantic card are interesting as well, especially in the last story, where the role goes beyond the case, the tale and the book itself. Again, an ending not unlike that in The Brigand.

However, you cannot get away from the fact that there is something lacking in The Iron Grip. Perhaps it is the glibness with which Bryce turns himself in an Australian (expertise obtained by spending “two hours reading an Australian novel to get the local colour”) in one story and a Canadian in another that dilutes his character and makes it a touch low on credibility. Perhaps it is just that Bryce tends to use his muscles so very often to sort things out, something which is not quite an Edgar Wallace staple. There is a certain charm about a typical Wallace character, a sense of sangfroid, a clever mind at work, a character that lends itself to memorable descriptions, that is conspicuous by its absence in The Iron Grip. Which absence shows itself in the plot and in the language as well. The Iron Grip would perhaps rank among the lesser works of this prolific author.

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