The Shadow Magazine #67 – The Unseen Killer

shadow_magazine_vol_1_67So it appears that I have been doing the brisk Police Commissioner Weston a disservice. He has not, in fact, ever been convinced of the presence of an invisible man, to the point of ordering his detectives to take appropriate actions when guarding doors and windows against said invisible murderer’s entry–or exit. It was actually Commissioner Barth.

Weston, you see, departed New York somewhere around mid-1934 for a heroic stint establishing a….tyrannical police state in a dubiously-named South American nation, okay. His replacement, Wainwright Barth, is something special, even by pulp fiction incompetent detective standards. (It’s explained that Barth lobbied intensively for the job and got it mostly because a) being a former financier, he was able to handle the administrative portions of it, b) absolutely no one else wanted to. It’s also explained that Weston gets his job back very quickly once he returns.)

This era of Shadow stories is interesting, since globe-trotting millionaire Lamont Cranston maintains a friendship with both police commissioners, frequently gets invited out to crime scenes, and is solicited for his opinion on tricky matters. The difference is that while Weston will begrudgingly acknowledge when Cranston has a good point, Barth gets agitated when his own investigative incompetence is highlighted. Needless to say, Cranston handles both with aplomb and, often, the trailing echo of a whispered laugh.

So. An invisible murderer. An incompetent police force. The Shadow. What else does this book contain? Well, for one: a mad scientist, an ex-aviator and soldier of fortune, a couple of majority stockholders, a group of swindlers, a couple of slick gang leaders, and more gun-toting mobbies than you can shake a stick at.

The majority stockholders have lost a lot of money to a trio of swindlers. However, one of them still has a lot of faith in the mad scientist he is funding–despite the failure of the last big invention, which also lost money–and, in order to assuage the doubts of other board members, arranges a viewing of the latest: a device for the devisualization of solids. Lamont Cranston, wearing his tech investor hat (would he be a SpaceX shareholder today, one wonders….), and Commissioner Barth are along for the ride. We know there is going to be major hijinx, because we have also seen the two main mob leaders (themselves, of course, acting on behalf of the Big Boss), meticulously planning a hideout and alibis.

The devisualization test subject is Miles Crofton, a former aviator and soldier of fortune; a capable man with some unsavory associations in his past. He disappears, but then also escapes the laboratory. Threatening letters signed by “The Unseen Killer” are found almost immediately, and, shortly, one of the swindlers gets murdered in his own home. The doors and windows are locked and there is no sign of forced entry.

To give some credit to Commissioner Barth, he does propose a second test of the devisualization device–casually volunteering ace detective Joe Cardona as the guinea pig, heh–but the mad scientist’s sudden death (accompanied by another threatening letter) only reinforces his belief that there really is an unseen killer around. The Unseen Killer promptly demands that the remaining two swindlers turn their ill-gotten money back over to him, on pain of….death. The Shadow, of course, has sussed out the disappearance, and the basics of the ongoing scheme, but with the death-by-gunshot-wound of the first lead, he and his agents must scour the underworld for the next, looking for both the plotters and the not-really-invisible man–and the unseen mastermind behind it all.

And so it goes, down to a very satisfying climax indeed.

So, at the slight risk of spoiling a 92-year-old novel, Miles Crofton is innocent and in fact becomes one of the Shadow’s agents. He’s got rather the most thankless task of any agent–yes, even more so than Harry Vincent–because he’s the private pilot to one of the most badass aviators in all of pulp or adventure fiction.

Speaking of agents, they’re present but far in the background. Harry Vincent and Cliff Marsland end up on the active side of a kidnap-slash-rescue operation, for once. Jericho Druke gets to pop up, bang some heads together, and then play innocent once the police arrive. Pietro the fruitcart vendor makes his second and I believe last appearance, possibly because it’s lampshaded how conspicuous and improbable he is on a stakeout team. And the hunchy, ambling Hawkeye provides one of the biggest breaks in the case, by uncovering the Unseen Killer’s hideout spot.

Gibson’s Shadow stories didn’t contain much outright funny bits, but there’s more than a generous sprinkling of dry, sly humor to them–such as Joe Cardona’s uneasiness at being voluntold to become the next Invisible Man, or Cranston’s missed sarcasm to Commissioner Barth. (A different story sees Cranston and a tubby civilian banker get taken hostage and encouraged to stick ’em up. The narrator observes: “[civilian’s] hands went up as if impelled by springs. Cranston’s followed at a more leisurely pace.”)

Rated: Really, Commissioner? Really?

The Shadow Magazine #157 – The Golden Dog Murders

shadow_magazine_vol_1_157What even is with this story? I mean, besides the fact that it features a guy who keeps a debarked bulldog in his wall safe, there’s a Moslem Maharajah who somehow also worships a nude golden dog-headed goddess, Harry Vincent doesn’t even get slugged over the head once and lose consciousness, there’s a mysterious gray man who makes his entrance into the fortress via parachute, not to mention there’s a nude golden dog-headed goddess in this book? What I mean is: why does the weasely chemist guy keep getting tied up, being rescued, only to turn turn on his rescuers and scurry off–only to reappear in the next scene tied up and gagged again? Why does the skimpily-clad damsel get dragged out of the closet, questioned futilely….and then shoved back into it with no further comment, in the space of like two paragraphs? And if the circus actually did move out and relocate all their animals, where did the animals come from? In fact, if it’s a dedicated animal care facility, why is the snake pit in the middle of the cellar hallway and why does it come equipped with a zipline?

So, this novel was written by Theodore Tinsley, which….not to say that it’s a bad one, or that he’s a bad author. In fact, rather like The Pooltex Tangle, this is one of his better outings in the driver’s seat for The Shadow pulps. But….sheesh, seriously, at least Gibson would have come up with plausible explanations for all of the above. Tinsley, one senses, simply giggled and kept on typing. (I mean, a parachute? Really?)

Tinsley’s Shadow is infinitely less infallible and far more emotional than Gibson’s, but admittedly part of that is due to (I understand) the editorial dictat that slowly reshaped the character into a more conventional one. This Shadow gasps, stares, hopes desperately, grimaces in annoyance, and also struggles in a one-on-one battle with the book’s main heavy; but he does also never get taken completely by surprise, even by random puffs of sinister sapphire nerve-gas in the inky tunnels, etc. (Given how often he runs into this menace, you’d think The Shadow’s kit would include a gas mask, but no such luck.) He laughs with sibilantly grim mirth, looms excellently, and also exposes the true villain with an unerring and merciless eye. Which…you can’t really ask for more than that.

Harry Vincent makes an incredible showing: actually managing to thwart a kidnapping, managing to stay useful even after exposure to the aforementioned gas, and showing excellent marksmanship when it matters most. Cliff Marsland is present, too, and does rather less well, failing to gull his criminal compatriot and succumbing to torture rather more quickly than expected for a tough guy who has withstood epic tortures on-page before. Joe Cardona…is completely mishandled, I’m sorry. He should have been replaced with Clyde Burke or another agent, because he’s devoid of personality. There’s also two lovely blondes (Tinsley seemed to like them, because that’s the only hair color he wrote about. Gibson at least occasionally brought in redheads.)

What’s the plot? If you need the plot explained to you after reading the opening paragraph, then you, friend, are not destined for the pulps. The Shadow In Review marked this book down as a four-star, which….I definitely wouldn’t. But I did enjoy it, even if I was giggling almost as much as Tinsley at points.

Rated: so, if you had ten fake but indistinguishable gemstones and ten real, priceless ones, why is murder the obvious solution?

The Shadow Magazine #171 – Death Ship

shadow_magazine_vol_1_171The difference between The Shadow and many another hero is that, even when he does trip over his cloak hem and, for instance, end up getting his ass handed to him by a group of unexpected Japanese jujutsu masters, he recovers, lays plans, takes precautions, and is completely in control whenever Round Two starts–and thereafter.

The Shadow is a proactive and dominant hero. He doesn’t take orders, he gives orders, and expects them to be obeyed; he does not seek advice; he gives it. And if he’s never, ever, the underdog.

So! As can be inferred, The Shadow starts this book decidedly off on the wrong foot: sneaking up on the site of an experimental speedboat (the Barracuda), a brunette gets the drop on him, as do several thugs with rifles; then the jujutsu masters burst in from the rear and (what makes it funny is that he’s noted to be definitely smarting about this later) beat the crap out of the guy who is extremely used to diving into the midst of a clump of thugs, “arms sledging.” Adding still further insult to injury, brunette, boat, and disreputable soldier of fortune disappear into the Pacific waves; and adding further injury the boathouse explodes, trapping The Shadow in its depths as it collapses. This all happens by chapter two, by the way.

And here’s another difference between The Shadow and other heroes. The Shadow doesn’t ever get rescued. Now, of course, there have been times when he has been content to stay put and wait for his agents to come haul him out of the spike pit; but those are times decided by policy and/or crippling injury. The Shadow is never outmatched by the villains, and when circumstance places him at a disadvantage, he uses his keen wit and untiring brawn to mitigate that disadvantage, and then reverse it. The Shadow usually firmly has the upper hand in conflicts, a status most heroes aren’t allowed to have in the first place. He does lose that upper hand periodically, but when he does, he gains it back through his own effort rather than authorial fiat.

In this case, this involves just barely dragging himself out of the rubble ahead of the rising tide and crawling back to shore under cover of darkness. It’s some time later before Lamont Cranston, somehow looking none the worse for wear, returns to his hotel and consults the newspapers to find out what has been going on.

The Barracuda has taken to piracy. The prime suspect is its inventor, a Commander Prew, who resigned from the Navy to escape a court-martial and whose intentions in marketing the boat are considered suspect. Among the suspects: the Japanese not-at-all-official envoy, Ishi Sotoyo, to whom The Shadow pays a discrete visit….only to find that his Cranston guise has been made and, worse, that he’s been expected. (Sidenote: there is not one, not one singular instance in the 171 books so far in which The Shadow, making an entrance with an ominous loom, a .45, and a cackle, does not immediately have the tables turned on him by someone approaching from the rear. You’d think the man would learn to keep his back against a wall, or something.)

Still, the Japs being a civilized people, a civilized and mutually informative discussion is had with Sotoyo, after which he intends to betray The Shadow, and also after which The Shadow leaves him tied up with his own belt. The result is that the Japanse are highly interested in the boat and its soldier-of-fortune ersatz captain (Felix Sergon) but definitely not to the extent of causing open trouble with the American government. The Shadow also gains a lead on Commander Prew’s financial backer, who has been in hiding. He’s already dead; but we get, in payment for some of the humiliations already dealt him by the totally-not-ninja squad, The Shadow materializing out of the darkness in their very midst as they creep through the apartment, delivering an awesome whispered warning, and then fading back into the black without a sound.

The next step is locating Commander Prew himself. It turns out there are two Z-boats: the Barracuda and the smaller, lighter, Lamprey. Although helped by covert signals from the brunette (bet you forgot about her) being held captive on the Barracuda, the Lamprey is unable to make contact with the Barracuda after an initial search, but The Shadow susses out that the now-completely piratical Sergon will likely be going after a Japanese ship hauling five million dollars in gold bullion. He joins this ship as a passenger, and pays a visit to Ishi Sotoyo, purely and solely for the opportunity to revengefully return the indignity paid to him at their first meeting:

Across the cabin, a man was seated by a desk. His back was turned and his huddled
position made it difficult to judge his height. The Shadow quietly closed the door, then took a chair of his own. From beneath his cloak, he drew an automatic; with the same move, he let his cloak slide from his shoulders. Peeling off his gloves, he removed his hat.
As Lamont Cranston, he sat with his .45 leveled right between the shoulder blades of the
man by the desk.
The hardest part of The Shadow’s whole endeavor was to attract the man’s attention. He
wanted to do it to a degree of nicety; to excite curiosity, rather than alarm. Slight scuffles,
shifting of the chair— neither seemed to work. It was not until the tone of seven bells came
vaguely to the cabin that The Shadow had the perfect opportunity.
The man in the chair looked up from his book. Momentarily diverted from his reading, he
heard the slight stir that The Shadow made. The man looked about, came halfway from his
chair in his surprise. He froze in that position when he saw the automatic.
A whispered laugh came from The Shadow’s fixed lips. He relished this situation. It was a
complete reversal of one that had been engineered at his own expense. He had not
forgotten a certain night in San Francisco. Nor had the man from the chair.
That man was Ishi Soyoto.

Dude, you petty.

Anyhow, the Barracuda located, the Lamprey takes up the chase. There are hostages–not to mention a brave and loyal brunette–to be rescued…

Rated: Hot sub-on-sub action, woah.

The Shadow Magazine #156 – The Green Hoods

shadow_magazine_vol_1_156So, much has happened in the realm of the gangland-haunted, crime boss-infested, mad genius-harboring and only moderately competently policed 1930s New York. Some of it has to do with the remarkable return of the World War 1 hero aviator and explorer, Kent Allard, who after crash-landing in Guatemala spent twelve years ruling as the white god of a remote Indian tribe and now enjoys a similar celebrity status in modern civilization.

But, mostly, there’s crime.

So our tale begins with Kent Allard receiving an invitation, if he so wishes and is interested in matters of crime, to join The Green Hoods secret society as No. 13, RSVP. Hoods being expected makes it a little bit more believable that no one is going to ask pointed questions when Lamont Cranston (in full Shadow regalia) glides in to scope out the situation instead.

The Green Hoods are interested in crime–to prevent it. They are, it transpires, a group of talented or educated men who gather to share advances in crime detection or prevention….all, it transpires, save one of them, who produces a flashbang, blinds the group–and the spying Shadow–murders and steals the Truth Inducer from the group’s own founder. He gets away with it, too, leaving The Shadow to follow the clues he finds on the dead man’s body and the circumstantial evidence of the attractive but very worried brunette in the alleyway outside. The trail winds mysteriously, but which of the leads is true and which false? The Shadow knows, or at least figures it out well ahead of everybody else.

Mind you, this becomes less impressive when you realize “everybody else” consists of Commissioner Weston (who keeps being rather miffed that he never has the chance to introduce his friend Lamont Cranston to his other friend Kent Allard), and also the poker-faced ace of the New York detective squad, Joe Cardona (whom The Shadow proceeds to use as actual bait for the Green Hood, heh.)

So, the usual suspects periodically get their undergarments in a twist over the idea of non-Present Day fiction a) existing before the Present Day, b) featuring featuring damsels who c) may during the course of the story find themselves in distress. Entirely setting aside the fact that in the Shadowverse this role is in fact routinely reserved for Harry Vincent, it’s also a load of bunk as far as the actual damsels go. Gibson’s dames, whether they be socialites or secretaries, tend to be intelligent, plucky, and good shots with, at the very least, a .22. (Evelyn Rayle, the aforementioned brunette, uses a .32, and on at least one occasion a damsel has borrowed Cardona’s .38 to plug a gorilla.) Evelyn, the dead inventor’s secretary, not only wields her .32 with aplomb, she gets the drop on The Shadow twice, aids him as a temporary agent and reveals vital information to him and to the law in the process.

As mentioned before, one of the ways Gibson kept The Shadow stories always fresh and distinct was to vary the genre and formula as well as the characters. This one is rather light on The Shadow’s agents, as Evelyn Rayle helps out when needed; but it features a larger than usual dose of Weston and Cardona. Although there is a Sekret Society Of Geniuses angle, the plot is mostly a straightforward whodunnit mystery, albeit one complicated by the presence of a distinctive .28 caliber Baby Paterson revolver, an Italian stiletto, a Malaysian “creese,” a French medallion, an intialed watch-chain charm, a distinctive cigar band, and a typewriter that misaligns its and . ‘s.

Like I said, only The Shadow is equipped to see through it all.

Oh, and there’s also a rather cunning death trap, but it’s the kind of death trap that makes the reader start scratching their head and asking questions like, “if this was only set up less than forty-eight hours ago, where are the signs of obvious new construction and remodeling on the roof trapdoor?” “How come the floor was strategically weakened juuuust enough for someone to crash through, three separate times, but yet was able to support the people who worked on it to, y’know, strategically weaken it?” “Why didn’t The Shadow just try the back door, since that’s how the thugs and then also the damsel got in, anyhow?” It is, nevertheless, a cool scene and it’s one of the showcase reasons as to why The Shadow manages to be a consistently terrifying and eternally-dreaded foe to men of evil: because no matter what you do to this guy, there is no guarantee whatsoever that it will work and that he will stay down and even if you do plug him it was probably actually Mike and oh God he’s laughing now….!

Rated: Muahahahahahaha

The Shadow #143 – The Fifth Napoleon

shadow_magazine_vol_1_143So I didn’t even guess that this one was a Theodore Tinsley book until I looked it up on the wiki; before that I had it filed as “well, this was a weird throwback.” The Shadow’s agents are almost completely absent; plot elements jar against the neat and tidy New York that nearly seven years (of publication history) has assured us The Shadow’s efforts have produced; and The Shadow himself (seems) weirdly absent in his own story. Tinsley does a much better job at approximating Gibson’s voice….this time it’s the construction that made me scratch my head a little.

The bulk of the plot concerns a chess match between the Four Napoleons Plus Their Mysterious Leader, and the charismatic and vicious mob boss Tiger Marsh. The Shadow himself is visible primarily only in the disguise as “Lifer” Stone, a criminal released from Sing Sing….IDK, somehow….in order to….IDK, do something? Except Joe Cardona bumbles that, which means that the ersatz Lifer doesn’t get to….IDK, do something else? That he was planning to do? I’m still not sure why Lifer was intended to do, anyway; he’s described as a killer, but killers are a dime a dozen for either side anyway, so…

Meanwhile, the Napoleons are trying to, I dunno, snarfle some money or something and Tiger Marsh is trying to get it from them. And there’s a Judge and his beautiful but dimwitted daughter and then there’s her fiance, who is an editor of The Classic. Or something. The four Napoleons are big-time racketeers, but they are completely cowed by the Fifth, their merciless leader, who also runs a weirdly group of agents, to boot. (Meanwhile, other novels have assured us that not only is being a crime lord a pretty good death sentence in New York these days, thugs are getting weirdly thin on the ground due to The Shadow’s policy of offering them a choice between jail and a one-way ticket to a tropical island.*) Then one of the Napoleons ends up dead and The Shadow delivers a packet of highly incriminating papers to Judge Sherman, except that Judge Sherman’s daughter (did we mention she’s a moron?) is promptly kidnapped by Tiger Marsh!

There’s also a sequence wherein The Shadow infiltrates the Fifth Napoleon’s high-rise lair (in fact we find out that it is only one of many); and honestly I should have twigged it at this moment. A good author sets the stakes and then lets a scenario play out to its finish. A great author sets the stakes, lets the scene play out, and lets the natural end result of the scenario raise or lower them. An uncertain author, or just a poor one, sets the stakes and then keeps attempting to raise them artificially, by injecting fake and unnecessary difficulties into the scene.

The first time I ever twigged onto this was in reading Ice Station by Matthew Reilly. There’s a pool of hungry orcas! There’s a kid on a sagging beam above them! Her fingers are slipping! The beam is on fire! The hero crawls out and grabs her even as her fingers fail and she falls! But ’tis OK, he grabbed on to her hood! BUT OH NOES THE BUTTONS OF HER HOOD START TO POP  OFF ONE BY ONE BY ONE!

Now, that was an extreme example and nothing in this book rises remotely to that level…but in the better books, it doesn’t happen at all. The focus stays exactly where it needs to, without zigging off in unnecessary directions, and without unneeded, artificial, unwanted drama. You want to raise stakes, do it at the end of the chapter when the hero bursts into the room, not five times in five paragraphs during the bit while he’s just sneaking up to the door.

(Also The Shadow escapes by diving off a high-rise balcony onto a nearby, lower rooftop pool and badly scares a sunbathing blonde in the process, which is just clumsy, really.)

So, anyhow, with some digressions but with a decent amount of aplomb and a great deal of headlong energy, the plot continues with the cat-and-mousing of Tiger Marsh and the Napoleons. By this time, between Tiger, mysterious gifts of highly incriminating and specific evidence, and the doggedness of Joe Cardona, the Napoleons are definitely on the run and Lifer Stone is rather mysteriously absent. But the tables have not finished revolving yet, and neither has the trick floor in the second, back-up lair. (Revolving floors and trap doors are so prevalent in fiction….well, fiction of a certain genre…that you half-expect to see them in real life. But they’re not practical in the slightest! Think about all the extra effort it would take to make an actual revolving floor that slid down and then rotated away and then clicked back up. Think about how hard it would be to maintain that mechanism! Labor costs for the repair guys! Parts sourcing! Build times! Project secrecy!)

Rated: Anyhow, it’s a good 7/10, and what color are The Shadow’s eyes anyway?

*not kidding about the tropical island. It’s for the potentially-reformable hard cases and they’re kept under the watchful eye of sociologist Slade Farrow.

Review: The Shadow Magazine – The Pooltex Tangle

shadow_magazine_vol_1_135(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.

Review: The Shadow Magazine – Zemba

Shadow_Magazine_Vol_1_91

(Review contains spoilers.)

“So I’m still reading those The Shadow stories. They’re quite good. There’s this one that’s very good.

“It starts out with this guy from Scotland Yard tailing the guy on a train and just as he’s about to close in, he finds the guy is dead. So they pick up the guy who killed him going across the Channel and just as they’re about to close in on him they find him dead, he’s been poisoned. So they go along with the French Gendarmes and chase after the guy that got him and when they catch up with him he’s been killed, too. And then they’re looking for the fourth guy and they can’t find him because he is Zemba, the criminal mastermind.

“So The Shadow is after Zemba, and then there’s this French detective guy after him too and so it goes for a while and it’s actually quite clever. And then there’s the scene at the end when everyone’s in a room pointing guns at each other and The Shadow–or the guy we think is The Shadow, because his agents Harry Vincent and Cliff Marsland are following him around–says, ‘well, I can’t take any of the credit, the one who actually tracked down Zemba is you,’ and he points to the French detective guy. But then that guy pulls out his gun on them and says, ‘Well, haha, I’m actually Zemba.’ And then the guy we think is Zemba comes out of the cellar and he’s got a hat and cloak on and he starts to laugh and it’s actually The Shadow.”

“Did you have clues?”

“Yes, actually, it’s just clever enough to be clever. I went back and read through it. There are some little things that the author put in to show he knew what was going on. It’s not super fancy or intricate or anything, it’s just clever enough to be clever. It’s just the amount of details you need for the amount of story that’s there. These are not very complicated stories.”

“The Shadow was the detective?”

“No, Zemba was impersonating the French detective guy. That guy was impersonating The Shadow. He was using The Shadow’s cover identity and The Shadow’s agents thought he was The Shadow. The Shadow was impersonating Zemba and making Zemba’s lieutenants do all the work for him. So he could find the real Zemba. And the stolen war plans, or whatever.”

“Oh. So do they catch Zemba?”

“Well, he catches a bullet.”

“I see. These were primitive times. But that sounds like a good trick if the writer sprinkled enough clues throughout the story so that the audience can figure it out as they go. There should not be one big surprise all at the end. That’s a very cheap trick, if all the writer wants to do is surprise you and they couldn’t figure out how to do it without hiding stuff from the reader.”

“Yeah, but that didn’t happen here. It’s very good. It impressed me enough to go back and re-read over to see if he was cheating, but he wasn’t. These books are very good! This is like, number 94 and I’m on number 100 or so. They’re all a solid 7/10 but some of them are 8 or 9 out of 10 and this one is a 10/10. You should try it.”

“It sounds very mysterious and violent. I might get scared.”

“Whatever, Dad.”

Book Review: The Untold Story by Genevieve Cogman

Well, as a dog returns to its vomit, so do I to this series. Thank God this seems to be the last one. I can’t think of another series written so poorly, by an author with such demonstrated and wasted potential, which I have wanted to like so badly. I mean, she was SO GOOD at writing Bleach fanfiction, surely that talent translates directly into the real world of real books with real covers9781984804815_p0_v1_s1200x630 and real sales, right?

Genevieve Cogman is not a good author of fantastic adventure. These books are ponderously slow, verbosely talky, amateurishly plotted, clunkily executed, and her characters have all the depth and warmth of ukiyo-e paintings, except without the craftsmanship or crisp elegance of design. And it’s really freaking depressing, because she had a bright, sciffian idea which would have made a really cool story if someone with actual abilities had written it, thought about it, and carried through with its possibilities.

That idea was this: incorporate fanfic versions of characters from other novels into this novel, using the justification that they are real people from other universes, recognizable because of their existence pan-dimensional Library. Think about it! Sherlock Holmes! Jareth from Labyrinth!….uh….some other characters from public domain literature! Like, like…uh….umm….the Disney Princesses!….I mean, not the Disney princess archetype, just a generic princess archetype that happens to not be under copyright. Um. How about a black guy being the police commissoner in pseudo-Victorian London?

At it’s core and base, this is supposed to be about book-stealing Librarian spy catburglars. Also secret identities, magical systems, and zeppelins. Also a horrifying and terrible villain driven mad by secrets from the depths of time and space and space-time and L-space. Also dragons. Where does it go wrong? And how can you possibly go wrong with dragons?

In so, so many different ways, but I’ll let my past reviews speak for themselves. This is the last book and the series plot, such as it is and believe me it is pretty damn weak, gets resolved.

So, anyhow, we eventually found out in The Dark Archive, that dread villain Alberich was Irene’s biological father. Or at least, his original body was. He’s an orb of chaos-infused energy bound to a moving corpse, now. Needless to say, this reveal was fucking obvious from BOOK ONE, but it still gets a full dramatic treatment in that book and into the next–this one.

Irene wants to do something about her father, preferably something that ends with his death. Also, worlds are disappearing. She has a series of conversations with people, and after about one third of the book has gone by, gets permission from the Library elders to covertly strike against Alberich. Also, worlds are disappearing. Another third of the book goes by, in which we learn that worlds have been disappearing, that Alberich is actually willing to talk terms with his daughter, and that The Library doesn’t want them to.

This is, we are led to suspect, because the Library doesn’t want people looking into the secrets of its founding. Also worlds are disappearing. How unfortunate, therefore, that during the past couple of books Irene has stumbled onto several stories concerning exactly that–stories of the founding of a mysterious library from both the Fae and Dragon point of view–and now, she finally finds out that there is also one from the human POV.

And it kind of matches what Alberich has been saying: that the Library is corrupted.

So a meeting is set up on a world that by no means has yet disappeared and absolutely has no reason to disappear and could not possibly be a trap by which inconvenient people who know too much are set up to disappear. Guess what happens then? No, go on, guess.

Anyhow, Alberich sacrifices what’s left of himself to break them free, and off they go again. Honestly, even with Alberich being as poorly-served as he has been throughout the series–and he was defeated by the heroine in every single book so far–he’s still kind of my favorite character from this series. I’ve always liked the villains who have, somewhere wayyyy far off in the distance, a noble cause or an ideal to aim at, but in the meanwhile don’t hesitate from saying, “let me be evil,” rolling up their sleeves, and getting to it. I also like family-as-villains (who doesn’t)–especially when they are willing to apply that selfsame philosophy to their family members, and willing to accept that turnabout is fair play. And, making your first appearance disguised in the skin of an enemy you have defeated and killed is kind of badass. Despite the fact that he was completely ineffective in each incarnation, Alberich himself is treated with enough dread and caution by the other characters that he still retains some inkling of menace–even when he’s just a walking burnt-out, dessicated corpse in a monk’s hood, which honestly takes some doing. Even the two-paragraph long summary of his fall to darkness and Irene’s mother’s escape, is more interesting and compelling than anything else in this entire damn book.

But anyway, with the series 95% done with and the person who has been the main villain of the series abruptly out of the way, we get introduced to the real evil behind the scenes. It’s as exactly as stupidly anticlimactic and frustrating as you might imagine. It’s defeated as easily as ever by Irene, and let me tell you how disappointed I was at that. I was even annoyed that Irene got a happy ending and her powers back.

How do you go wrong with such a provocative idea? Why bother to file the serial numbers off your Sherlock if you’re going to use him as a glorified doormat? Why pull Jareth off of dance-number duty without a long-standing sexual tension plot with the heroine (on the other hand, their relationship, such as it is, has the benefit of consistency.) Why make your dragons the epitome of stick-up-the-cloacaness and…actually, just why?

There are good aspects to this work. Beginning authors can read them and make careful notes about what not to do. (Hint: HAVING YOUR ADVENTURE FANTASY NOVEL BE ALMOST ENTIRELY DIALOGUE IS A BAD IDEA.) Struggling authors can find new strength in rage knowing that this garbage is getting edited and published instead of them. Readers can…read something else instead.

Rated: I really wanted to like these books! Goddamnit!

Jawbreakers: G0d-King

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This pin-up scared the hell out of my three year old niece, I may add.

TLDR: I liked it, but comic books really aren’t my thing. 

So: as we may or may not all know, Jawbreakers is a comic book franchise created by Ya Boi Zack / Richard C. Meyer, and there was quite a bit of drama surrounding its initial publication. Short version: Ya Boi had an actual publisher lined up to print and publish the intro novel, Jawbreakers: Lost Souls, but due to enormous social media pressure by the SJW comics mafia, and potentially illegal interference by comic book writer Mark Waid, the publisher bowed out of the deal. Meyer turned to crowdfunding, and has been enormously successful ever since. I reviewed Jawbreakers: Lost Souls here. I thought it was almost excellent. 

The Jawbreakers (They’re superheroes who fight crime. By punching it in the face. Since they have super strength….geddit?) are an ex-superhero team now working as mercenaries in Africa. And it’s an interesting team of varied and colorful characters, from the mute ninja who lives for revenge against his own father, to the code-switching bulletproof black guy (“Kuffs! Get in front of the tank and shield it with your body!”) There’s also a blind priest, an ex-marine, and the tormented and grieving team lead/main hero, Silkworm. They are contacted by Autumn, a young superheroine whose team, The Millenials, has been treacherously murdered. She’s come to hire them, knowingly, to enact a suicide mission.

She wants them to save the city. She wants them to kill a being who has stolen himself the power of a god.

She’s also their leader’s estranged daughter.

Also, that godlike power? She wasn’t kidding. As soon as they set foot in New York, their weaponry turns to rose petals and drifts away.

Dun dun dun.

Book 2 develops the story a bit more….and kills off part of the team…revealing Mute Ninja Guy’s true (or are they?) colors, and setting the stage for the fight with G0d-King. Frankly, it’s been a while since I read this one (it was bundled in with my copy of Lost Souls, which currently resides at my parents’ house) and the only thing I remember is I didn’t like the artwork quite as much.

Book 3, which I finally had enough disposable income to buy, concludes the saga, with heroism, excitement, giant mechas, god-guns, ninjas!, pretty pictures, humor (Silkworm undercutting the villain’s villainous boast to his Lovecraftian masters is the most hilarious counter to a monologue ever played dead straight), and even a heartwarming conclusion. It….

It’s….great.

Except it’s really, really abrupt.

…see, the problem is, Meyer treats these characters as though they’re multi-year established characters that the audience is intimately familiar with, has followed through adventures, knows them, knows their adversaries–such as the ones that pop up for one panel, get punched in the face, and then limp off clutching their jaw and muttering–and understands all these nuances of the setting and plot without prior setup in-story. In this story. And this is a problem, because while these characters may have this rich history, it’s in Meyer’s head, not within the (admittedly, expanding, but I’ve only read Lost Souls and G0d-King) extant canon of stories.

The story hangs together fine, it’s logical and the characters are consistent. And the art was prettier in this one than in the second, so that was nice, because I actually slowed down and looked at it now and then.

So, yeah: my only problems with this book is that a) it’s not an actual book, it’s a comic book. If you wanted to be a real writer, why not write real books….but actually my real problem is: It’s very abrupt and there’s very little setup. This may be a comic book thing–but I get the feeling that mostly that it’s a “lack of gigantic backstory canon that is actually written down for audiences, Zack” thing.

Anyhow. Will I buy more Jawbreakers books? There’s a simple enthusiasm in this franchise that is very endearing. Like Correia at his best, you can sometimes hear Meyer giggling to himself as he writes out sound effects for action-comedy scenes.–or feel the lump in your throat at the serious ones. On the other hand, these things are expensive, they take about twenty minutes to read through (because I’m not some moron with no reading comprehension who has to look at pictures), and they’re not exactly infinitely re-readable. 

Rated: it was great, but comic books just aren’t my thing. 

State of the author: blessings

shadow52fcPrimus: This is supposed to be a sci-fi/fantasy review blog. I swear, I have at least three posts upcoming on that theme:

  • Moms in SF,
  • a review of Jawbreakers: G0d-King,
  • and…since I’m now at The Shadow #59, The Crime Master, which is superb…there’s going to be a review of probably that one,
  • and definitely a review of The Circle of Death, which was also superb.

Secondus: Count your blessings. A gratitude habit / journaling or recording things you are grateful for each day, with specifics, is a powerful tool for improving mental health and resilience. And the amazing thing about being specific in numbering out your blessings is that they will multiply before your eyes.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.