17 April 2008

The Shadow in The London Crimes

The London Crimes (1935)
Walter B. Gibson writing as Maxwell Gran

Volume #8 of Nostalgia Ventures’ collections of Shadow novels contains two adventures set in England, The London Crimes and The Castle of Doom. Walter B. Gibson wrote them back-to-back as a switch from The Shadow’s standard New York haunts, although Street & Smith published them a few months apart in the actual magazine.

The London Crimes appeared first, in the 15 September 1935 issue of The Shadow. It is a follow-up to a novel from August of that year, The Man from Scotland Yard, which introduced British police inspector Eric Delka. This time, The Shadow goes to Delka’s homeland of the Sceptered Isle to help him break the case of the Harvester, a notorious crook with disguise skills to equal our protean hero’s.

Unfortunately, despite the build-up that pulp historian Will Murray gives the novel in his introduction, The London Crimes is a tepid and dull affair for a Shadow story. There’s not much in the way of either action or intrigue; it’s most humdrum detection without the mysterioso element I associate with The Shadow. Our hero spends most of his time in his disguise as Lamont Cranston, and Scotland Yard inexplicably allows him and his agent Harry Vincent (the only of The Shadow’s agents to appear in the novel) hang around as they hunt for the Harvester among a gaggle of suspects. The Harvester doesn’t have the most intriguing of schemes: a convoluted robbery involving oil options, fake jewels, and banking operations. Much of the story revolves around long dialogue scenes trying to pinpoint whom among the cast might be the Harvester. The finale involves too many chapters of alibi-haggling in an English manor house before finally erupting into a single page of suspense before the wrap-up. The sequence involving The Shadow’s investigating the jewels of the enigmatic Rajah of Delapore contains the most exciting segment—but there’s not enough of this. When The Shadow at last reveals the true identity of the Harvester, it doesn’t carry any shock, although The Shadow had planned out a clever way to blow the villain’s disguise.

The next novel, The Castle of Doom, comes highly recommended by a number of sources, so perhaps that will make up for the deficiencies in The London Crimes.

Update: Sorry to say, I found Castle of Doom disappointing as well, and just don’t feel like expending a full review on it. I feel a bit over-Shadowed at this point, honestly.)