This was the eleventh of the long-running Shadow pulp series, originally published in The Shadow Magazine in June 1932. I read the reissued version published by Pyramid as their fifth Shadow novel in 1975. To my knowledge, Sanctum Books has not yet reprinted this novel as of The Shadow #45 (January 2011).
Please know that some plot spoilers follow, though I don’t think I spoil any of the key plot twists.
The action begins with the police and the Shadow grappling with an unusual killer calling himself “Double Z” who sends letters to the police telling them about the future murders he is planning. His exact motives are hard to fathom because he is, effectively, warning the police that so-and-so is facing a death threat, and he’s not always correct, so it’s a bit unclear if he’s even the killer, or if he just catches wind about upcoming crimes from various thugs in the criminal underworld. Plus, some of the victims are criminals and others seemingly respectable citizens. Our old pal detective Joe Cardona is assigned to the case.
This story is important for the introduction of one of the Shadow’s agents: Rutledge Mann, an investor who has fallen on hard times. I particularly like the fact that Mann is literally saved from suicide by the Shadow, who offers him a second chance at life (some money, his self-respect, a chance to do some good) if only he will aid the Shadow — we’ve seen him do this before, but it’s well-done. The reporter Clyde Burke also plays an important part here, perhaps functioning as the Shadow’s chief agent in this case. Harry Vincent and Burbank also play minor roles.
An Asian criminal mastermind Loy Rook (Harry Vincent has finagled a job as Loy Rook’s personal secretary) is introduced about halfway through and seems to be behind the crimes. But is he? The middle of the story gets a little muddled as the Shadow has a lot of agents in play and there are a lot of named criminals and small-time hoods scheming and talking to each other – the action at times gets a little hard to follow. I ultimately found the denouement to be a little unsatisfying, as the final twist or two in the story aren’t well telegraphed and seem kind of tacked on.
I would give this Shadow novel a respectable 3 stars out of 5. It’s also missing some of the elements I think make for the strongest Shadow stories (a constant sense of menace and doom, the Shadow himself as a very active protagonist “on-stage,” and so forth), but it’s still fun nevertheless. Had the ending been a little better-done, I would have rated the novel higher.
Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers