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Sanders. Sanders was created by Edgar Wallace (Viola Beech, Brigand, Wireless Bryce, Felix Carfew, Dixon, Elegant Edward, Inspector Elk, Educated Evans, Four Square Jane, Dixon Hawke, Heine, Felix Jenks, Just Men, King Kong (I), Larry Loman, Superintendent Minter, Policy Sleuth, Oliver Rater, John G. Reeder, The Ringer, York Symon, Tam o’the Scoots, Inspector Wade, Kate Westhanger) and appeared in ninety-three stories and serials and ten novels and short story collections from 1909 to 1954, beginning with “The Wood of Devils” (Weekly Tale-Teller, Sept. 25, 1909).

Sanders is an Africa Hand. Commissioner Sanders is Great Britain’s representative of its Foreign Office in a nameless West African country along the banks of an enormous river. Sanders’ brief is to enforce and maintain the peace of the territory, which is inhabited by two million people in nearly two dozen nations. Sanders’ task is even less simple than it might seem, for the only things that Sanders has going for him, in addition to his official position, are the hundred Houssa troops that make up the 9th Regiment, two small gun boats, an army of spies, and the loyal friendship of rascally and formidable Bosambo, the chief of the Ochori tribe, who calls him “Sandi.” Sometimes Sanders is helped by Captain Hamilton and Lieutenant Francis Tibbetts of the 9th Regiment. Tibbetts, more commonly known as “Bones,” is be a ninny, full of affectation and immaturity, but he is also cool under fire and clever in emergencies.

Sanders is not physically prepossessing; he is of only medium height and is thin, well-tanned but yellow-skinned from fever and quinine. His hair is gray, and his manner is intemperate. He has no use for women, being married to the land, the people, and his job. He is called, by the people of the river, a name that translates as “The Man Who Has A Faithless Wife,” said wife being the people Sanders rules over. Sanders has a second nickname, which translates as “The Little Butcher Bird Who Flies By Night.” Sanders is honored by this name and is feared because of it, as it is indicative of his personality in one particular aspect of his job. His job is to maintain the peace, and he does so by sitting in judgment over the natives; he dispenses milder punishments when they are suited but he will hang men without compunction or scruple when necessary. (“Sanders sent word to the chief that the revival of the bad old custom of blinding would be followed by the introduction of the bad new custom of hanging”).

Unfortunately, hanging is necessary surprisingly often. There are escaped convicts to deal with, murderers and kidnapers and blackmailers, both European and African. There are evil witch-doctors and chiefs, plotting against their own people and against the British occupiers. There are wars, sprung from good motives and bad. In all these situations Sanders deals with the problems and problem-makers, sometimes simply by hanging or shooting them, sometimes with the help of Bosambo and ten thousand Ochori spears.

* I'm including the Sanders stories in the Best of the Encyclopedia list because of Sanders' archetypal status and because they are very enjoyable. Are the stories and novels racist? Unfortunately, yes. Racist in premise, and although there are a number of moments when various African characters like Bosambo gain three dimension, too often racist in execution. This poses a dilemma, for the Sanders stories and novels are some of Wallace's best, most entertaining work. Sanders is the archetypal Africa Hand, the dialogue and narration is often crisp and even sharp, and the mysteries appropriately mysterious. One can have a lot of fun reading them...but one is never allowed to forget that there's racism present. 

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