The Impact of Edgar Wallace on the Mystery & Thriller Genres

Edgar Wallace, born in 1875, was a British author, journalist, and playwright who left an indelible mark on the mystery genre. He was a prolific writer, producing over 170 books, 24 plays, and countless short stories, many of which revolved around crime and detective work. Wallace’s influence on the mystery genre is significant, as he helped to create and popularize many of the tropes and themes that we still see in modern-day mysteries.

One of Wallace’s most significant contributions to the mystery genre was his creation of the hardboiled detective archetype. Wallace’s detective characters, such as J.G. Reeder and Inspector Elk, were tough, no-nonsense individuals who were unafraid to use violence to solve a case. This archetype has been emulated in countless detective novels and films since Wallace’s time, including the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

Another significant contribution of Wallace was his use of the whodunit plot structure. Many of his novels, such as The Four Just Men and The Clue of the Twisted Candle, featured intricate plots that challenged readers to try to solve the mystery alongside the detective characters. Wallace’s use of the whodunit structure has been adopted by countless authors, including Agatha Christie, who was heavily influenced by Wallace’s work.

Wallace was also known for his use of exotic locations in his novels. Many of his stories took place in far-flung locales such as Egypt, China, and South America, adding an element of adventure and excitement to his mysteries. This trend has been adopted by many modern-day mystery writers, who often use exotic locales to add intrigue to their stories.

The Masked Vigilante

Perhaps one of the most enduring legacies of Wallace’s work is his creation of the masked vigilante trope. In The Four Just Men, Wallace introduced a group of four individuals who take justice into their own hands, using their own brand of vigilante justice to punish wrongdoers who have escaped the law’s reach. This theme has been emulated in countless novels and films, including the Batman franchise and the television series “Dexter.”

The Police Procedural

Wallace’s influence on the mystery genre can also be seen in his contributions to the development of the police procedural. His novel The Mind of Mr. J.G. Reeder featured a detective who relied on his knowledge of human nature to solve crimes, using his intuition and understanding of the criminal mind to catch the culprit. This approach has been adopted by many modern-day detective novelists, who often focus on the psychological aspects of crime-solving.

The Thriller Genre

In addition to his contributions to the mystery genre, Wallace was also an influential figure in the development of the thriller genre. His novel The Man Who Knew is considered by many to be one of the first examples of the modern-day thriller, featuring a fast-paced plot and high-stakes action. Wallace’s influence on the thriller genre can be seen in the works of authors such as John le Carré and Robert Ludlum.

Wallace’s impact on the mystery and thriller genres can also be seen in his influence on popular culture. Many of his stories have been adapted into films, television shows, and radio dramas, introducing his work to a wider audience. Wallace’s characters, such as J.G. Reeder and Inspector Elk, have become cultural icons, inspiring countless imitations and adaptations.

Edgar Wallace’s impact on the mystery genre cannot be overstated. His contributions to developing the hardboiled detective, the whodunit plot structure, the use of exotic locales, and the creation of the masked vigilante trope have influenced countless authors and filmmakers. His legacy lives on in the many works inspired by his writing, and he remains an essential figure in the history of mystery and thriller genres.


2 thoughts on “The Impact of Edgar Wallace on the Mystery & Thriller Genres

  1. The truth about David Cornwell aka John le Carré seems to be that despite being a brilliant author and the undisputed emperor of the espionage fiction genre, he was an imperfect spy. He had more Achilles heels than he had toes and was caught out by Kim Philby.

    An interesting “news article” dated 31 October 2022 exists about some of his perceived shortcomings in this regard (pardon the unintentional quip). It’s entitled Pemberton’s People, Ungentlemanly Officers & Rogue Heroes and can be found on TheBurlingtonFiles website.

    While visiting the site do check out Beyond Enkription. It is an intriguing raw and noir fact-based spy thriller and it’s a must read for espionage cognoscenti but what would it have been like if David Cornwell had collaborated with Bill Fairclough? Even though they didn’t collaborate, Beyond Enkription is still described as ”up there with My Silent War by Kim Philby and No Other Choice by George Blake”. Not surprising really – Fairclough was never caught.


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