Terror KeepFebruary 5, 2013
Terror Keep might be my favorite of Edgar Wallace’s books featuring J.G. Reeder, but I can’t help feeling that it’s all wrong.
J.G. Reeder is the kind of character one doesn’t associate with thrillers. He’s thin, shabby and middle-aged, with side-whiskers and a diffident manner. He also sort of knows everything, and claims his high success rate in tracking down crooks — mostly bank robbers and forgers — is due to his “criminal mind,” which sees evil motives in everything. He provides everything one should really require in a hero: moral rectitude and endless competence. But he’s not a romantic hero, and he’s not an action hero. At least, not at the beginning of Terror Keep.
Some of the earlier Reeder stories — the ones in The Mind of Mr. J.G. Reeder, I think — feature Miss Margaret Belman, a young woman who lives on the same street as Reeder, and, after they become friends, is often a target for those who want revenge on Reeder (about half of all J.G. Reeder stories revolve around people he’s put in prison wanting to get back at him).
In the earlier stories featuring Margaret Belman, Wallace skirts the issue of whether Reeder’s interest in her is romantic, and vice versa, but right at the beginning of Terror Keep she’s upset with him because he’s not more upset at the idea of her moving out of town, and later she picks a fight with him after he refuses to shave off his side-whiskers. It’s sort of cute, on one hand, but on the other it’s just undignified. But hey, that’s only the beginning of J.G. Reeder’s transformation into a vaguely appropriate object for Margaret’s affections.
Margaret is leaving town to take a job as secretary at a fancy country estate/boarding house called Larmes Keep. The proprietor, Mr. Davers, is funny looking and mysterious, and the three boarders are just mysterious. Meanwhile, an insane elderly crook named John Flack has just escaped from Broadmoor and is — surprise! — looking to get revenge on J.G. Reeder. This being an Edgar Wallace book, these two plot-lines are connected. And, this being a book where J.G. Reeder has to step up his game in order to be worthy of the girl, he gets increasingly action-y in response to the various attempts on his life.
Also there are caves and tunnels. Lots of caves and tunnels. Edgar Wallace understands the appeal of these things, so you’re never going to get just one cave, conveniently placed for smugglers. It’s always going to be a vast network of caves, with multiple entrances and stairs and ladders and furnished apartments. Oh, and it could collapse at any time.
I like Terror Keep so much, mostly for the same reasons I like Edgar Wallace’s books in general: It’s exciting, there’s just enough mystery to leaven the action, the characters are incredibly appealing without any apparent cause, and you never lose sight of Wallace’s sense of humor. And because I enjoy the book so much, it’s hard to complain about it, but there’s something that’s not right here. The great thing about J.G. Reeder as a character is that he’s not action-y or romantic. He just…knows everything. Or almost everything. What he doesn’t know he can figure out with the assistance of his criminal mind. I still like J.G. Reeder in Terror Keep, and I enjoy it when he fights off criminals and shaves off his side-whiskers, but I also have a nagging feeling that he shouldn’t have to do any of these things.
Actually, I’m reminded of how I felt after seeing Skyfall, the most recent James Bond movie: I thought the things they chose to do were executed well, but I kind of wish they’d chosen to do other things instead.