Review By Joanna Theiss,Sound Commentary,May 2011
By now, it’s a familiar trope: the laws of mankind are not sufficient to right the biggest wrongs, or to prevent the gravest evils, and so a few righteous people are required to set the world right again, to get revenge for the helpless, and to do it all in style. We have seen this theme crop up in comic books (characters such as Batman go where the police cannot), in movies (the Irish brothers of The Boondock Saints kill the sinful with panache), and on television (the title character of the Showtime series “Dexter,” murders the guilty who managed to escape society’s punishments), but maybe because Edgar Wallace’s The Four Just Men was written more than a hundred years ago, it is so original—so elementary—that it feels new
Wallace’s vigilantes are four shadowy, vaguely criminal men who seek to correct the world’s ills, in this case by threatening to kill the British Foreign Secretary unless he blocks passage of an unjust law, one that would send foreign political criminals back to the corrupt lands from which they fled. The unfolding of the four’s scheme, the minister of state’s reaction to their threats, and the work of the tireless police force to prevent the minister’s death, all lead up to a suspenseful, almost comic-bookesque climax (and it will not come as a surprise that Wallace was a co-writer of the short story King Kong).
Given that Wallace wrote The Four Just Men in 1905, police procedure and investigation in this tale is far less advanced than the modern day—“CSI,” this isn’t—and the methods utilized by the vigilantes and the police in their respective quests may have seemed novel and inventive then, but are amusingly antiquated; for instance, this listener found herself mentally screaming, “Dust for fingerprints!” more than once. But this element just adds to the fun: rather than rely on decades of experience of police techniques, not to mention the discovery of DNA, Wallace’s police rely only on instinct.
Reader Bill Homewood seems to revel equally in reading in the Spanish accent of one of the nefarious vigilantes, the bumbling tones of one of the dotardly members of parliament, and the proud, proper voice of the beleaguered Foreign Secretary. Bill Homewood, a longtime television actor, seems to be having as much fun reading as we are listening. This fast-moving little story and its accomplished reader takes the theme of vigilante justice out of this current polished, slick, technology-dependent world and brings it back to a simpler, more black-and-white one.