A man with a white mask dubbed 'White Face' is causing havoc in London West End by relieving rich women of thousands of pounds worth jewellery. Nobody knows who White Face is. It looks like the work of a lone operator. Who is the White Face? This story is not a robbery case but a murder case. Dr.Marford of Tidal Basin witnesses a scuffle between two men on the pavement outside his clinic. One man falls down and the other confused runs away. After a while the fallen man rises and has a brief conversation with a passing policeman. The Policeman walks away and the fallen man falls again. An opportunistic small time thief makes an attempt to steal from the fallen man, the policeman notices it and catches him. They find that the fallen man is stabbed. Who stabbed him and how? Is it the devil of the Tidal Basin? Is it the White Face? How could whoever stabbed the man do it without being noticed by the people in the crime scene?
Initially I thought that crime reporter Michael Quigley is going to play a major role in investigating this case. But it is not so. While other policeman play a role, it is Chief Inspector Detective Mason who solves the case. Some of the interactions are funny. For example, when the thief caught at the crime scene quotes poetry while interrogation and detective asks him where he learnt it. He points out
“When I'm in stir I only read poetry," he explained. "The book lasts longer because you can't understand it.”
When the reporter Quigley questions Mason about the case, he responds
“You shall have the story when it's properly cooked—at present the oven is just heating up.”
In this work of fiction, Sergeant Elk explains the difference between real police work and a work of fiction.
“It was all about who-did-it. First of all they introduced you to about twenty characters, told you where they were born and who their fathers were, and what money they wanted and who they were in love with—you couldn't help knowing that the fellow who did the murder was the red-nosed waiter. But that's not police work, Dr. Marford. We're not introduced to the characters in the story; we don't know one. All we've got in a murder case is the dead man. What he is, who his relations are, where he came from, what was his private business—we've got to work all that out. We make inquiries here, there and everywhere, digging into slums, asking questions of people who've got something to hide.”
If you ever wondered what a Jury is, Elk explains
“The jury," said Mr. Elk oracularly, "is a body or institution which gives everybody the benefit of the doubt except the police.”
When Bray complains that his subordinate Elk is taking over the investigation sidelining him, Mason tells him
“As a matter of fact, you oughtn't to complain. These darned regulations about questioning prisoners are so framed that it's good to have some other officer responsible for breaking them—you can always pass the kick on to him. Shoot 'em in, Bray.”
While this book is not as fun as Yellow Snake by Edgar Wallace I read last year, it is a fairly decent mystery. Even though I guessed who White Face is, Wallace plays a nice little trick that very soon I am off track. I couldn't really guess how the man is stabbed with none of the witnesses seeing it.
This work is in public domain in countries where copyright is Life+70 and can be downloaded for free from Feedbooks.