(There’s a motorcycle chase in this book, in case you wanted to know that up front.)
So, number 135 in the list is The Pooltex Tangle, and it’s another one by Theodore Tinsley. He’s got a slightly better grasp on how to handle the reins in a Gibsonesque way, but he’s still writing in the “adventure” genre rather than “pulp.” His narration is more breathless, the characters are familiar in form and face, but not–quite–function (yes, I mean Harry Vincent, no, don’t worry, I’ll get to it) and the plot glissades over events at high speed– but in a way that requests ones’ tolerance rather than forces it. There’s also rather a lot of Getting From Point A to Point B.
So the plot deals with the theft of a train-car load valuable, nay, priceless Pooltex fabric–heatproof and acidproof–which has been sold to Unnamed Warlike Country A. This theft involves the murder of a young brakeman we soon learn to be Anthony Cardona, favored nephew of Acting Inspector Joe Cardona. Meanwhile, Lamont Cranston bumps into one of the manufacturers of Pooltex, who is in New York, at the Cobalt Club, and looking unaccountably nervous.
The plot is rather spread out over the rest of the book due to the unavoidable bustling about from Point A to Point B that the “adventure” genre always requires but never seems really able to explain. Still, there are a few flourishes, such as: one of the manufacturers, Pool, has a two-timing fiancee who is actually in love with a blackmailing playboy and gets caught by his loyal sidekick but to no avail; meanwhile, said playboy has previously blackmailed the other manufacturer (Wallace)’s daughter with fake nude photos and an interesting tangle is produced when he ends up dead about three quarters of the way through the novel.
There’s also the way The Shadow’s agents are used. Clyde Burke, Harry Vincent, and Moe Shrevenitz all pop up for about a chapter or so each and get a moment or two in the limelight. I will take a moment to say that indeed, Harry does get to pull a damsel out of distress without immediately falling on his face. (She immediately gets back into trouble, leaving him behind, but never mind.) Burke gets the best of it, though, managing to locate the freighter standing by to receive the stolen goods, and escaping execution by freight crane with only his wits and hiding a razorblade in his mouth.
Walter Gibson (the main The Shadow writer) has a fairly distinctive style and a way of tagging places and people with descriptions. Clyde Burke is slight but wiry, star reporter of the Classic. Joe Cardona is stocky, swarthy, and gruff, the ace of the New York Police force. Lamont Cranston is a millionaire globe-trotter with a masklike, hawklike countenance who speaks in calm, leisurely tones. The Shadow’s sanctum is lit by a bluish lamp, and for a while he had a habit of laughing before he left it (seriously), letting ghoulish echoes sob back and die into silence. Tinsley’s version of this is to reuse the word “muscular” a lot.
Tinsley also tends to emphasize the interpersonal relationships in a way Gibson wouldn’t or didn’t. Cardona and Commissioner Weston are definitely not close personal friends; and Cardona’s acquaintance with Lamont Cranston is one that occurs only in the context of crimes that rouse his leisurely interest and bring him along in Weston’s wake. Characters don’t need to be deeply personally connected to have interesting rapport or chemistry; and they can work with or against each other, and play off one another without being personal friends or vicious enemies. Sure, a connection can help add to a story at times–but not always, and generally speaking, not when this is #135/300+ and it’s a completely stand-alone story.
Additionally, thinking back: I don’t think there actually was a gun or a fistfight in this book. There’s an awful lot of car-, train-, motorcycle-, etc-chases, generally predicated on, as usual, Getting From Point A to Point B.
So, what’s the point of this review? I guess it’s to damn this book with faint praise, because it’s actually pretty decent.
Rated: I don’t care how fireproof it is, if you’re standing in a blast furnace when it’s turned on you are toast.
Or maybe roast.