The Green Archer
It was a message evidently written by one to whom the rules of English were hidden mysteries:
"DEAR SIR, The Green Archer has appeared in Garre Castel. Mr. Wilks the butler saw him. Dear sir, the Green Archer went into Mr. Belamy's room and left the door open. Also he was seen in the park. All the servants is leaving. Mr. Belamy says he'll fire anybody who talks about it, but all the servants is leaving."
"And who in thunder is the Green Archer?" asked Spike wonderingly.
Mr. Syme adjusted his glasses and smiled. Spike was shocked to see him do anything so human.
Well, this was fun!
The Green Archer has a somewhat convoluted plot but it was so refreshing to read a story with fairly simple writing, simple characters, simple plotting, and still get a sense of being drawn right into the story and guessing alongside the police, the reporters, and the other characters who seem to have a stake in investigating the goings on at Garre Castle.
Garre Castle, set in deepest Berkshire, is home to Abel Bellamy, a misanthropic American millionaire, who has recently drawn attention to himself when it was reported that the castle has been visited by the Green Archer - the ghost of a poacher who was hanged at Garre Castle.
A minute passed, and there was no sound or sign of the intruder, and, throwing back the bedclothes, he leapt to the floor and ran out through the door, pistol in hand. The moon was streaming through the windows of the corridor, flooding the hall with light. At first he saw nothing, and then it seemed that the Thing moved from the shadow into the full light. A tall, thin, green figure, with a dead white face, that stood stiffly facing him, bow in hand. Green from head to toe, a vivid, startling; skin-tight green that could not be mistaken. Green everywhere, save that white face that stared blankly.
When a reporter and an investigator from Scotland Yard (a former prison guard has been shot with an arrow) try to question Bellamy, they are unceremoniously thrown out. Bellamy really hates people - be it his staff, his family, or his neighbours. He even gets some dogs and trains them to attack trespassers. However, all of his efforts do not keep out that blasted Green Archer, who seems to have unlimited access to the castle, the grounds, and a cottage in the nearby woods.
As the story develops, we learn Bellamy's life story, and that of his assistant, and that of his neighbours, and that of a whole lot of other parties. I did mention that the plot was convoluted, right?
Anyway, it turns out that that Bellamy has much to hide. And where better to do the hiding than in the dungeons of his very own castle?
Granted, most of what Bellamy wants to hide are pesky interlopers, and generally anyone who crosses his plans to enjoy his very own socio-pathic ways of life, which include ruining the lives of his late brother and ... others:
Abe Bellamy never lost sleep at nights thinking of the past. Remorse was foreign to his nature, fear he did not know. He had done evilly and was content. The memory of the horror of lives wantonly broken, of suffering deliberately inflicted, of children delivered to hardship and pain, of a woman hunted to death by a tiger of hate that the Moloch of his self-esteem should be appeased, never caused him a second's unrest of mind. If he thought of these old matters at all, he thought approvingly. It seemed right to him that those who opposed him should be hurt. Fortune had favoured him greatly. At twenty he was carrying a hod; at thirty-five he was a dollar millionaire. At fifty-five his million was ten, and he had shaken from his feet the dust of the city that made him and was one of the landed gentry of England, the master of a domain that the flower of English chivalry had won by its swords and built on the sweat and fear of its slaves.
But things just don't go to plan: the Green Archer runs wild trying to steal the key to Bellamy's safe, his neighbour's daugther suspects Bellamy of being involved with the death of her mother, the newspaper reporter suspects him of hiding a good story, a Belgian philanthropist suspects him of being involved with the death of a child, and the police suspect him of being involved with the illegal activities of a gang of London ex-cons.
That's a lot of suspicion to cramp poor Bellamy's style, so he does what all great villains do - he goes mad. (Or, rather, madder than he was already!) Hilarity ensues before the whole plot is explained in the end.
(And, yes, that is the Scotland Yard inspector setting a fuse. Mwahahahha...)
I really liked it. I also watched the 1960s film adaptation straight after and was surprised to find out that the film version (starring such favourites as Gerd Froebe, Karin Dor, Klaus-Juergen Wussow, and, of course, Eddie Arendt) was remarkably true to the original book - but they cut out a lot of the back-stories, which made the film's version a bit illogical. So, yes, amazingly, Wallace's original story make A LOT more sense than the film!
Nevertheless, the film is one of the better ones of the series and certainly captures the atmosphere of the story.
Valerie Howett flew along, her heart nigh to bursting, her breath coming in short, sobbing gasps, the patter of feet growing nearer and nearer, and behind them racing footsteps of somebody human. She reached the edge of the trees and plunged headlong into their cover. Could she reach the ladder? She dared not look back, and there was no need, for the dog's laboured breathing came to her ears. Never once did she think of the revolver in her pocket, although every step she took brought the smack of it against her hip.
The wood lay on rising ground, a little hillock path led upwards, and the going became more, and more difficult. And then the dog leapt. She heard the snap of the fangs. They missed her heel by the fraction of an inch, and the dog lost ground. Her peril gave her superhuman speed, but she was coming into the open. She hardly realised this until she emerged with the crest of the hill before her. It was her speed that carried her on, otherwise she would have dropped in her tracks in sheer terror. For, clear in the moonlight, his set, white, puffy face staring at her, was a slim green figure, and in his hand a long bow that glittered in the moonlight. She could not stop herself. She was going from one horror to another, but her impetus carried her beyond the check of fear. And then she saw the bow come up, heard the twang of a loosened string, and fell. Some heavy body struck her on the shoulder. She had a momentary glimpse of a great black and yellow hound as it stretched itself in death, and then she fainted.
The story was written in 1926 and despite my enjoyment of the romp that it is, there were, of course, also elements that are a bit jarring to a modern reader. One of them is the - expected - use of terms to describe people from China or India.
Another, tho somewhat more intriguing, is one of the character's defence of capital punishment and as well as the punishment of flogging for some crimes. This makes even less sense when we also get to read about the light-hearted way that Wallace describes how this whole business of having to register guns with the police is such a bore.
"I want to ask you a favour," she said a little breathlessly. "Have you... could you get me a revolver?"
Then, seeing his eyebrows lift, she went on hurriedly and a little incoherently: "Lady's Manor is rather isolated, and it occurred to me... well, it is lonely, isn't it? And Mr. Howett never carries firearms of any description. I wanted to buy one... an automatic in London, but I found that there are stringent police regulations and one has to get a permit... Then I saw you, and it occurred to me..."
"Surely, Miss Howett," said Spike as she stopped to take breath. "I've got a gun at the hotel. I don't know why I carry it around in this peaceful land, but I certainly have one. If you'll wait I'll go get it."
He returned to the Blue Boar at a run and presently reappeared.
"It's loaded," he said as he slipped the weapon from his pocket, "but it is only a little one. And, Miss Howett, if you ever kill a burglar with it, will you give me the exclusive story?"
Because, yeah... Such fun!