The Ghost of Downhill – Chapter 1
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(As written in the 1938 print of The Ghost of Downhill)
To find a novel-reader who is unfamiliar with the type of story that Edgar Wallace writes, would, I take it, be as difficult to discover as the great auk’s egg. His ghost and detective stories have made such a universal appeal that they have become world-famed. They have been translated into innumerable foreign languages and have been supremely successful in every country where they have appeared.
It is interesting to try and discover that quality, or rather what combination of qualities go to make an author or a particular book a “best seller”. If one would really give a definite and satisfactory answer to this question, book publishing would be a much simpler and more profitable business than it is.
The same difficulty, of course, presented itself to the producer of plays in the theater. If a manager knew exactly what would attract the public there would be very few theatrical failures.
I could mention several celebrated plays in the past in which success seemed to be due in a great measure to one particular scene or even one particular speech. There was, for example, the celebrated cross-questioning scene in Henry Arthur Jone’s Mrs. Dane/s Defence; the scene in Sir Arthur Pinero’s The Gay Lord Quiex when Sophie Fulgarney gives herself away; and, in the second category the speech on Motherhood in Alfred Sutro’s The Walls of Jerocho. But one scene or one speech alone is not enough. A book or a play must possess appealing quality that it is far more difficult to discover and appraise. The style of writing, the dramatic power, the details, the human touch and endless other attributes have to be taken into account; and as a whole, it must have what is known as the right atmosphere.
In these two stories we have to use a sporting expression – Edgar Wallace on the top of his form. They are written in that sharp, crisp, direct and economical style that wastes no words. Every sentence, however short, pushes the plot another step forward. There is, consequently, no legging and no flagging. And by the same token the reader is never allowed to lose interest, for he is instantly caught up in the threads of the story and carried along as situation after situation rapidly unfolds itself. These are truly typical stories from his famous and prolific pen.
“The Ghost of Downhill” puzzles and scares the inhabitants of a little hamlet in Sussex, and also intrigues the heroine’s elderly uncle who is an antiquarian and a great devotee to psychical research. In addition another curious and puzzling fact is that on two occasions, in two different parts of the country, a man has been held up in his house at night by a burglar who made him produce his bank passbook. The book has, in each case, been returned unharmed and no further outrage has been committed. The elucidation of these extraordinary occurrences forms the subject of the story.
This story will hold you from the start to finish.
THE READERS LIBRARY PUBLISHING COMPANY LTD.