Friday, March 19, 2010

Book Review: The Shadow in "The Plot Master" and "Death Jewels"

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"

This opening line, followed by the ominous laughter, first chilled listeners tuning in to the The Detective Story Hour radio program on 31 July 1930.  The Shadow remained on the air until 26 December 1954, but the Dark Avenger wasn't confined to the airwaves.  Within a year of this first broadcast, The Shadow morphed into a multi-media juggernaut, spawning over 300 pulp-novels, numerous comic books and graphic novels, along with five movies.  The Shadow cast a long shadow indeed:

I remember listening to one program with my dad during a PBS-Radio rebroadcast in the 1970s.  In fact, I was more impressed with this radio show than I was with the 1994 film.  While I've known of The Shadow's existance nearly all my life, I never read about any of his exploits until I picked up a copy of The Plot Master and Death Jewels last month, republished by Nostalgia Ventures, Inc. 

In The Plot Master, The Shadow tries to thwart a spy from stealing top-secret plans to a revolutionary submarine, while in The Death Jewels the Dark Avenger is on the trail of a crime ring relieving New York socialites of their priceless baubles.  Both stories were written by The Shadow's main author, Walter B. Gibson, under the pen name of Maxwell Grant.

Like the Doc Savage reprints, The Shadow books earn 4-5 star ratings from a handful of reviewers.  While written in the same "pulp-style" as the Doc Savage novel I previously posted about, I found The Shadow more enjoyable to read.  Doc Savage is too much of a paragon for my taste.  Looking back at my previous book review, I was rather put-off by the fawning descriptions of The Man of Bronze's amazing abilities.  In fact, one of these abilities is that of an actual doctor.  Therefore, he refrains from taking the life of a villain directly. (They usually come to a bad end when they're ensared in their own fiendish devices).

The Shadow, on the other hand, is an anti-hero vigilante.  Once confronted, criminals neither expect, nor receive, any mercy from the Dark Avenger.  Their life of crime is cut short by a bullet fired from The Shadow's signature weapons--a pair of .45 automatics.

As with all pulp-novels, there is very little character development because these stories focus entirely on the action.  I expected that, but what I found irritating, but laughable, was the prevelance in both stories for heroic and villainous monologues, especially when the hero/villain states what's obvious to the reader.

This irritation aside, I give both The Plot Master and Death Jewels a 3.5-star rating.  They're not literary masterpieces, but they were fun to read!

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