Terror Keep by Edgar Wallace (1926)
Even if my copy of Terror Keep had not contained x-rays of human teeth, it would still be a great title to kick off the Zombie Summer Reading Program. Still, I'm a little embarassed that I hadn't heard of Wallace earlier.
An immensely prolific writer, Wallace was the author of 173 novels, thousands of short stories and serializations, and uncredited co-writer of the original King Kong. It was estimated that, in the 1920s, one of every four books purchased in England was written by Wallace. Today, however, his books are out-of-print and seldom sought out due to their formulaic plots.
Terror Keep is considered to be one of his best efforts, and I certainly enjoyed it.
The book begins with John Flack's escape from the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Flack is a fiendishly clever, if nutso, murderer who also happens to specialize in bullion theft. Before his escape, he swears revenge on the three men who had him locked away, one of whom is our protagonist, J.G. Reeder.
Reeder works for the office of the Public Prosecutor, and though only 48, is described as "elderly-looking" by virtually everyone who meets him. Despite his unfashionable haircut and bad clothes, Reeder has somehow managed to win the heart of the young and lovely Margaret Belman. Upon hearing of Flack's escape, he encourages her to take a job out of town, which turns out to be the most dangerous place she could possibly be.
Though indeed formulaic, the book has great chase scenes, real tension, and a heroine who doesn't simper. More importantly, it's really funny -- the book is filled with weird little nuggets like this one:
"Mr. Reeder was a very methodical man; he was, moreover, a careful man. All his life he had had a suspicion of milk. He used to wander round the suburban streets in the early hours of the morning, watch the cans hanging on the knockers, the bottles deposited in the corners of doorsteps, and ruminate upon the enormous possibilities for wholesale murder that this light-hearted custom of milk delivery presented to the criminally minded. He had calculated that a nimble homicide, working on systematic lines, could decimate London in a month."
You can join the Zombie Summer Reading Program by sending your blurbs to email@example.com, or post on your own blog and send me a link.
When there's no more room in closed stacks, the out-of-print will rise up and walk the earth.