The criminal cases of Inspector Elk—six novels in three volumes
There was a time, nostalgically familiar from the black and white British movies made from the late 1930s to the mid-1950s, when the detectives of the C. I. D, the men from Scotland Yard in plain clothes, were as recognisable to audiences as they were to the criminals they pursued. They were perennially portrayed as big, dour, doggedly stubborn men dressed in shabby and poorly fitting suits over which they wore a ‘never to be buttoned’ overcoat or trench style waterproof. To crown this effect each wore a squarely positioned black bowler or derby hat. All stereotypes have a foundation in fact and most certainly in fiction, for this is the description of the principal character of this special three volume Leonaur collection of detective fiction, featuring the complete cases of Detective Sergeant—soon to be Detective Inspector—Elk of the Yard. His creator, British author Edgar Wallace, was a prolific writer responsible for a number of memorable characters, among them the unforgettable J. G. Reeder, the Four Just Men and the Colonial administrator Sanders (whose exploits are all available as Leonaur collections), whose purpose was to bring the criminal class to their just desserts. Elk is less well-known and in him we have a different breed of ‘hero.’ Here is the detective for everyman, the kind of work-a-day ‘copper’ that all of Wallace’s audience would recognise. Elk is the policeman who in stories of more exotic detectives is a figure of fun, but who always pursues his quarry until, through the application of solid ‘police-work,’he gets his man.
This second volume finds Inspector Elk engaged in the story of ‘The Twister’ and in a second outing, the fourth in this series, ‘The India-Rubber Men.’
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The constable’s story was quickly told. He was standing on the corner of the street, waiting for his relief, and Big Ben was striking the last note of twelve, when he saw the two lights go out. He ran across the road, tried the door and hammered with his fist on the panel. He then went back to the cashier’s office, and, climbing on to the railings which surrounded that side of the bank and protected a small area, he turned the light of his electric lamp on to the window. It was then that he saw, or thought he saw, a man move quickly into the shadow of the safe.<br>
A big crowd had assembled, attracted by the cordon even at the late hour; traffic had been diverted, and the streets within fifty yards of the bank had been cleared. While the constable had been telling what had happened, the bank manager, who had been telephoned for, arrived with the keys. There was, he said, a night watchman on duty, and the fact that he had not answered the repeated knockings was ominous. Detectives had already entered buildings to the left and right of the bank, and were stationed on the roof.<br>
The premises were in a sense unique; there was a courtyard guarded by two big gates at the side of the building, and this separated the modern premises from an old Georgian house, also the property of the bank, in which, was housed the staff. The top floor was in the occupation of the night watchman, a widower of fifty, and his daughter, who controlled the office cleaners. The only value of the courtyard, explained the manager, was that it gave a certain privacy to the bank’s collecting van, and it also served to park his own and his assistants’ cars during the daytime.<br>
All these explanations were given very hurriedly, the while he was fitting, with a trembling hand, the key in the door—for he was pardonably nervous, though, as the Chief Constable explained, there was no need, for he would not be asked to enter the bank after it was opened.<br>
At last the door swung back.<br>
“You had better take charge of the search, Wade—give Mr. Wade a gun.”<br>
Somebody thrust an automatic into his hand, and he entered the dark outer office. The door leading to the manager’s room was fastened; the key had been turned on the other side; but the Flying Squad had brought the necessary tools, and in a few minutes the lock was smashed and the manager’s office was open to them.<br>
Wade stepped quickly in, a gun in one hand and an electric torch in the other. The room was empty, but a second door, leading, he gathered, in the direction of the courtyard, was ajar. He pushed this open, stopped . . .<br>
A bullet went past him, smashed into the surface of the wall and covered his face with powdered plaster. He kicked the door open farther. The second shot came nearer. He thrust his hand round the jamb of the door and sprayed the interior with ten shots. He did not hear the answering fire, and would not have known that the burglars had replied if he had not found his sleeve ripped to rags.<br>
In a whisper he demanded a pistol from the detective who had crept to his side, passing his own back. As he did so, he heard the sound of quickly moving footsteps, and a door slam. Again he put his pistol inside and fired two shots; this time there was no answer, and when he pushed in the lamp to draw the fire, the provocation was unrewarded.<br>
It might be a trap, but he must take the risk. In a moment he was in the room, his lamp flashing quickly from left to right. It was a small office below the level of the manager’s: a plain room, lined with steel shelves on which were a number of boxes. In one corner was a steel door; behind that he could hear the soft purr of a motorcar. He tried the door; it yielded a little. He had the sensation that it was being held by somebody on the other side, and tugged. It opened suddenly—he had a glimpse of a car moving swiftly towards the gates, and then:<br>
It was the quick stammer of a machine gun. A big black car swept into the street, and from its interior came the staccato rattle of automatic rifles. The police, taken by surprise, fell back; the crowd behind the cordon scattered, and the long car flew forward, venomously spitting fire from the back seat. The bullets whistled and smacked against the building; glass crashed; there was a wild scurry of people to cover. Before they could realise what had happened, the car had disappeared into St. James’s Park.