So here’s a review I did originally way back in 2017ish, when I first encountered the master crimefighter himself…..and wandered away again. Another review will go up once I finish my re-read (which is going to to cover the first three novels, which strictly speaking are a trilogy and don’t stand very well on their own.)
The Shadow #1
Author: Walter Gibson
Wikipedia offers a publication date of 1931 and original title of “The Murder in the Next Room,” which might go a long way towards explaining why this story contains only incidental Shadowyness.
Our narrator is Harry Vincent, a despairing, penniless, washed up…something or other…who is saved from committing suicide by the Shadow, and indighted into service. He receives orders–in this book by telephone call–via the extremely foolproof method of the speaker’s accenting certain words more than others. Whatever, Harry is soon informed to WATCH – THE – MAN – IN – THE – NEXT – ROOM.
Harry is rather better at this than one might expect someone literally pulled off the street to be, and soon ascertains that the man in the next room is likewise being followed by someone else. He even manages to eavesdrop on on their meeting, that evening at the hotel, and is an earwitness to the ersatz-titular murder in the next room. So far, so good. Even better, he, and not the police or the murderer, finds what the murderer wanted: a golden coin with a strange, Chinese character on it.
Unfortunately, the story then takes a hard turn (to my opinion) for the boring with the introduction of the actual criminals: hard-boiled gangsters Steve Cronin, and his buddy Croaker. Out of respect to the author’s hard work, I will omit sarcasm quotes. Cronin is small fry and Croaker is even smaller; but Cronin has caught wind of a payoff of some sort being made to a Chinese kingpin, whose name I will hazard a guess is Woo Lung or something, on the east coast, by a Chinese kingpin, whose name is Soo Ling, or something, on the west coast. Or something. All that hardboiled dialogue made my eyes water a little. Meanwhile, they are being watched by a shadow.
Harry Vincent receives orders to report to a man named Fellows. Fellows is actually kind of an interesting character. He doesn’t know who the Shadow is, or what side he’s on, or what they’re ultimately doing, or what happens to the other agents–and he doesn’t care. It’s a job to him; he does it with some professional pride, but an utter lack of concern or curiosity. Now, this attitude is a) seen from Harry’s point of view, b) I think, changes some in the next book; but, after long exposure to the comicbooky heroes who fight alone, work alone, play alone, investigate criminal leads alone, and then complain about being alone and overworked, while the well-minioned villains are moving in…
The comparison is not very flattering to more recent works.
Moving on. The Shadow, via Harry, tries his hand at sending Harry in to Woo Lung’s place, carrying the coin-key. It doesn’t go well; but Harry is rescued from the time-release guillotine Woo Lung has in his basement (Big Trouble In Little China assures me they come standard), by….someone with small, slender hands. I’d make a joke about that, but this does seem to be a distinguishing mark to pulp heroes; the Scarlet Pimpernel has has very pale, feminine hands.
Anyhow, Harry Vincent is given new orders: to passively investigate the recent murder of a local millionaire, some distance away from the city. He is to loaf around in the character of an out of work author, observe, and report any findings to Fellows.
Harry observes someone in roughly the same position he is; someone who is lounging around, watching…and waiting. This guy’s name is Joyce; he’s contacted by Ezekiel Bingham, a lawyer who provided the critical witness testimony in the mystery of the murdered millionaire. Ezekiel needs a code broken, and Joyce is to do it for him.
At this point I totally lost interest and skipped to the end.
[editor’s note: wow, at least I was being honest.]
The prose is good; it’s simplistic and doesn’t actually approach purple, getting the job done without intruding.
The characterization is weak. The main character is boring to the point of being offensively so.
The action is scant, and I’m not sure whether to mark it down or not because I was skimming extremely hard at the point when I happened across the car chase that was the only example.
Final analysis: an interesting idea with a weak execution.
Rated: one bullet in a five-chambered revolver.