Thursday, December 24, 2015

"The Ideal Criminal is a Strategist."

Edgar Wallace should be better remembered than he is. He wrote some mind-numbingly fun mystery and suspense novels. I wrote once about his 1923 novel The Green Archer, Now I've jumped back a few years to read 1917's Kate Plus Ten.

Kate is Kate Westhanger, a very, very smart 19-year-old girl. How do we know she's smart? Because she's a master criminal, commanding a group of 10 older, male criminals who help her commit the crimes she meticulously plans. She and her gang have looted banks and businesses for millions--though the thefts never include acts of violence. Kate uses guile, trickery and clever strategies to achieve her goals.

Scotland Yard knows about Kate. Most specifically, detective Michael Pretherston knows about Kate. But knowing and proving are two different matters. Which makes it hard on Mike--since he kind of likes Kate and would like to see her go straight. But she loves the adventure that comes with her chosen profession.

Kate is in the midst of planning a huge job--robbing a train that's carrying nearly £3 million in gold.
 To get the information she needs to pull off the heist, she needs to pretend to be a confidential secretary to one man, an easily-impressed chorus-girl to another and a Polish princess to a third. This isn't easy, because Mike seems to be underfoot.

And when she does pull off the heist--seemingly making the gold train vanish into thin air--it's Mike who has an idea of just how she did it.

But that puts Mike in danger--because Kate's gang isn't necessarily as adverse to violence as she is. Also, poor Kate might also eventually learn that there really isn't such a thing as honor among thieves...

Kate Plus Ten isn't perfect--there's a sub-plot involving a side character falling in love that's well-written, but doesn't really add much to the main story. The novel's ending is arguably contrived.

But getting to that ending is a lot of fun. Kate's plan for robbing the train really is clever, as is Mike's efforts to pick up the trail and find the train before the crooks get away. Wallace plants an effective "Chekov's Gun" early on that unexpectedly but believably pops up to save the day at the climax. The banter between Mike and Kate is lively and the entire book is fast-moving.

Also, Wallace does a great job of giving the ten gang-members--even those with relatively little "screen time"--distinct personalities. Kate Plus Ten is a fast and merry read.

Besides, who among us doesn't want to spend time with a beautiful but intelligent lady master criminal?

The book is in the public domain, so you can read it online HERE.

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