#1068: “I like sometimes to escape from the humdrum of detective investigation…” – The Door with Seven Locks (1926) by Edgar Wallace

A title like The Door with Seven Locks (1926) suggests all manner of locked room excitement, hopefully resulting is some impossible crime shenanigans. So imagine my surprise when this ended up being little more than a straight thriller with some (perhaps not unexpectedly, this is Edgar Wallace after all) weird ideas at its core.

Is it any good? Well, to be honest I don’t know. The opening stages do a good job of linking the various players who will end up drawn into the scheme to acquire the seven keys required to open the unpickable locks of the eponymous door. First there’s Dick ‘Slick’ Martin, policeman extraordinaire — his senses are all extremely heighted (he can see farther, smell sooner, hear more acutely than any other human being alive), almost as of he had Six Million Dollar Man surgery at some point — who, about to receive an inheritance, is and quitting the Force imminently. He is approached by lawyer Mr. Havelock and tasked with tracking down the wandering Lord Selford who, having inherited a sizeable estate, spends his days travelling the globe and wiring Havelock occasionally for large sums of money. Might Selford, Havelock fears, have fallen into the grip of people who are simply exploiting him? Could Martin find out?

Martin’s investigations bring him in contact with the youthful, comely librarian Sibyl Lansdown who ends up embroiled in the skein on account of a) being a distant relative of Lord Selford and b) having one of her library books stolen by the grubby, vaguely sinister Dr. Stalletti, himself an associate of Mr. Bertram Cody…who has his own reasons for being interested in Sibyl Lansdown. Sure, some of these connections strain credibility, but there’s also a charming air to Wallace’s writing — I can’t deny smiling when Sibyl is reintroduced into the narrative at an unlikely juncture — but Wallace keeps his focus on this small group impressively tight, with no extraneous introduction of one-scene intermediaries to broaden his cast list past the immediately manageable. After all, if the plot has too many moving parts, it might take more than three weeks to write…

“Three weeks? You think it took him that long…?!”

Fairly, early on, it becomes apparent that one doesn’t read Wallace with too keen a critical eye: he’s treating this ridiculousness with an impressively straight face…and the, just as it runs the risk of tipping over into self-parody he cracks a smile, relieves the tension of stretched credibility, and jumps two-footed back into the thing all over again…

“Are you a good driver?”

“I have few equals,” he admitted modestly.

“But are you a good driver?”

…and then, just as the earnestness begins to grate — Dick is your prototypical two-fisted thriller protagonist, the assertive Sibyl becomes suddenly dithering and indecisive and then jumps the wrong way in virtually every decision she makes — Wallace uncorks the tension all over again, wondering why you were taking it so seriously in the first place.

“A woman with toothache never betrays a confidence. Make a note of that when you write your book.”

It was [Captain Sneed]’s belief that every police officer in the force was secretly engaged in preparing his reminiscences; a delusion of his which had its justification in a recently printed series of articles that had appeared in a Sunday newspaper.

By the time the ninja-quiet, gazelle-fast, loincloth-clad giant who is the result of genetic experimentation begins wrestling people in the grounds of a country house, it all seems so very normal that you barely blink. You won’t even question the speed with which our conspirators are apparently able to dig a grave they can’t possibly have known they’d need, nor the raft of bizarre revelations that great us upon the culmination of the narrative; hell, one of those revelations is even curiously moving, which is doubly unexpected when you know how absurd and baseless so much of what it’s built on is. Such is the spell Wallace weaves: so, no, the book’s not good, but I found myself leaning in to the absurdities and oddly invested in the inevitable outcome.

“Buy! Buy! Buy!”

I’m not going to extend this review by pretending that there are hidden depths here — it’s all too shallow to hide much of anything — but there are a few points of interest for the curious. For one, having recently learned the expression “ack-emma” meaning “in the morning”, (or “a.m.”), the equivalent for the afternoon would appear to be “pip-emma”. Equally, having recently discussed vulgar Americanisms making their way into the English language, I was greatly amused by the following passage:

It seemed to Captain Sneed that there was little excuse for [Martin] taking the girl in his arms unless he was properly engaged to her; for Mr Sneed was a stickler for the proprieties, and though during his life he had appeared a score of times in the role of rescuer, he had never felt it necessary either to embrace (he called it “cuddle” vulgarly) or to hold the hand of the rescued.

And what to make of the following, concerning the ever-absent peer Dick chases around the world without ever running to ground, I don’t quite know:

“Didn’t I boast once that I was related to Lord Selford — by the way, what is he like?”

“Like the letter O, only dimmer,” he said. “I never saw him.”

As a flight of imagination no doubt dashed off with a minimum of concern what people would make of it either at the time or a century later, The Door with Seven Locks is a brisk, oddly engaging, and eminently forgettable time. I’ve seen better work from Wallace even in the very little of his I’ve read, and while I don’t come to his work expecting rigorous humdrummery or clue-dense narratives packed with brilliant reversals, I think I’d like to see his imagination a little more focussed next time and so shall attempt another of his narratives featuring an impossible crime. He reminds me very much of Walter S. Masterman, and regular readers of this blog will know that that’s not by any means a bad thing — it will be lovely to have the pair of them to reach for when I want something a little out of the common.

So, where next? The Clue of the Twisted Candle (1918)? The Clue of the New Pin (1923)? The Clue of the Silver Key (1930)? Recommendations more than welcome…


The Door with Seven Locks was filmed in 1940; it sounds…very different, and can be found on YouTube.

8 thoughts on “#1068: “I like sometimes to escape from the humdrum of detective investigation…” – The Door with Seven Locks (1926) by Edgar Wallace

  1. Sorry this wasn’t quite the locked-room extravaganza you were hoping for it to be! I, too, have been led astray by the siren’s call of stories containing the word “lock” in the title. Once even… a story containing the word “locked-room” in its title despite certainly not being in any way an attempt to write an impossible crime story! The horror!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been circling The Locked Room by Elly Griffiths for this exact reason — is it a locked room story, or is it one of those “things are kept mysteriously locked in a room and we discover what they are…” things? See also: Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King.

      Thankfully, there are plenty of other books to keep me busy, but these two in particular tantalise with uncertainty 🙂


  2. I’d say “The Mistery of The Twisted Candle”: the twist ending precedes a very famous GAD novel but Wallace being the compulsive writer and lackadaisical plotter he always is (in my experience) throws the final twist at the reader without much care or clueling.


  3. I really enjoyed your review and thought that you capture the delightful charm found in Edgar Wallace’s books. I’ve been collecting his books for almost 40 years and admit that I still haven’t got half of them!


    • Yes, I imagine trying to “complete” Wallace is an undertaking in itself — never mind then reading them all. Kudos for your efforts, the guy really was a one-of-a-kind writer, and it’s great to think there are fans out there still enthusiastically beating the drum.


    • When Wallace is ingenious, he’s really rather magnificent — see the locked room murder in The Crimson Circle — so this is an enticing prospect. Thank-you; it, too, shall go on the list.


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