Why is the sorcerer called the sorcerer

The witcher

Crime from the good old days - which probably wasn't

Book review by Michael Drewniok May 2003

Scotland Yard's Inspector Alan Wembury takes over the R-Ward in Deptford, London. It is a restless place in which various sizes of the underworld have settled down comfortably. Among them is the half-silly lawyer Maurice Messer, known to the police and hated as a highly eloquent campaigner less for than against the law, which he repeatedly knows how to wrest his dodgy clients from before the bar of the court.

The fact that Messer himself is a criminal has so far remained unknown. Young Johnny Lenley is in a better position, as he is about to close a deal with the lawyer. Coming from an elegant family, but meanwhile completely impoverished, Johnny wants to force a return to those circles to which he feels he belongs, if necessary by taking a crooked path. Some time ago he stole the famous pearl necklace from Lady Darnleigh, whose sales knife is supposed to take over as a fence.

The police are suspicious but powerless. Inspector Wembury is also privately involved in the case. He has known Johnny Lenley for decades, as has his very young sister, the pretty Mary, for whom Wembury has more than friendly feelings. Messer, on the other hand, has less honorable intentions. Taking advantage of the siblings' financial difficulties, he hires Mary as his private secretary. When Johnny sees through him, Messer lets him run into a trap that takes him straight to jail. Only Inspector Wembury seems to stand between the innocent Mary and her villainous employer, but he stays away because he falsely believes that Mary is responsible for the brother's arrest.

But the long arm of justice is already reaching for a knife. A few months ago he had dragged Mary's predecessor from the secretary's chair onto his lottery bed, thoroughly dishonored and impregnated in the process. Gwenda Milton only remembered her honor (too) late and chose (as it should be) suicide in the Thames. This aroused the anger of her brother, and he is an opponent whom one does not like to bring up against himself: Henry Artur Milton, known as the "Witcher", is an internationally known and persecuted criminal. As a modern vigilante, he has made it his business to punish the villains of this world where the law is powerless: he kills them without further ado and is very successful at it!

Messer knows about Milton's thirst for revenge, but isn't worried. The witcher is considered dead, died months ago in Australia on the run from the police. However, this was a false report, the correction of which caused Messer to panic. Scotland Yard is also alarmed, because it is certain that Milton will come to England: The witcher's wife Cora Ann has already arrived there, and Milton will not be long in coming. But the witcher doesn't have his nickname for nothing. He is a master of disguise and deception and always appears under many masks exactly where his pursuers at least suspect him ...

"It is impossible not to be captivated by Edgar Wallace!" Goldmann-Verlag once used these big words to advertise the numerous novels by this author. There was enough reason to be grateful, because for many decades his works not only formed a mainstay, but also the foundation of the Goldmann company. The series of "Red Goldmann (pocket) crime novels", which was introduced five years after World War II and continues to this day, based its fame and success on Edgar Wallace; at times every second volume in the series came from his pen.

These early Goldmann thrillers were reissued for more than four decades. In the fifties and sixties of the 20th century, the terms "Wallace" and "Krimi" could be understood as synonyms in Germany. During this time, the countless Wallace films were made, which are still an integral part of the program schedules of German TV stations. Generations of readers, moviegoers and television viewers have been shaped by Edgar Wallace crime novels.

This is hardly understandable today. "The Witcher" is one of the most famous Wallace thrillers, but reading it leaves the reader, who may never have previously read a work by this writer, quite perplexed. After a very auspicious beginning, which reveals the whole nostalgic inventory of the British crime novel between the two world wars, the action is unmistakably on the spot until the tension-free end. With the exception of a few short episodes, she never leaves the dusty cave of the evil finger, the knife, and the protagonists limit themselves to talking happily and extensively ... and talking ... and talking. No wonder, because "The Witcher" saw the light of day not as a novel, but as a play ("The Gaunt Stranger", 1925), which was later rewritten by the enterprising Wallace. As was his way, he limited himself to the bare minimums, pocketed the fee and carried it to the nearest betting counter.

While the (in every respect) anemic plot particularly irritates those who are familiar with the Edgar Wallace films mentioned above (apparently the much scolded celluloid craftsmen of German cinema understood something of their job before the leaden days of auteur films), calls gruesome figure drawing caused real trouble. The unbelievable popularity of the Wallace crime novels in Germany must appear doubly foreign to us today when we are confronted with the silhouette-like caricatures that emerged from the deepest moth box of the silent film melodrama. Mary Lenley is the helpless, hand-wringing beauty who has to be saved from the bushy-eyed, lustful villain by the boring, noble hero. After he has tried this for the thousandth time and yet again has not dared to finally confess his love to the object of his efforts, while this is simply too stupid to interpret his desperate plans, one is simply sick and tired of it.

The "witcher" himself can no longer tear the iron out of the fire. The alleged genius of crime, terror of the police from various continents, is a self-righteous and conceited avenger, unsympathetic where Wallace wanted him to appear fascinating, and extremely unsuitable as a dark hero figure.

Incidentally, "The Witcher" was continued; Wallace was fashionable on this point. "Again the Ringer" / "The Ringer Returns" is an almost bizarre work; a collection of short stories about Henry Artur Milton, which the author poorly put together into a "novel" using sloppily worded introductory passages.