Story Name: #109 "The Golden Masks"
Original Publication Date: September 1, 1936
Available In: The Shadow #18 "The Unseen Killer & The Golden Masks" (Sanctum Books, May 2008)
It is only fitting that the first pulp review be of the same story that gave name to this site! Before getting into the meat of the review, let me say what a joy it is to have Sanctum Books giving these classic reprints the love and respect they deserve! Here is an excellent Shadow story that may never have been properly reprinted if not for the passion of Sanctum Books!
Onto the story proper, this is an excellent Shadow adventure! The crypto-Masonic crime syndicate The Golden Masks make a great sparring partner for the Shadow as they can be anyone behind their masks. Grant uses the anonymity to great advantage as he keeps both the reader and the Shadow guessing about who can be trusted. This aura of paranoia contributes greatly to the atmosphere of the story. I don't want to go into too much detail in regards to the plot so as to not spoil the fun but I will say that it was an unpredictable roller-coaster ride for the Shadow and his agents.
One thing I like about Grant's Shadow is that he is fallible. Not in the "Oh so human, let me tell you about my childhood" way that many modern heroes are but rather in the sense that he can misjudge a situation. So many heroes seem armed by their authors foreknowledge that their superhuman ability to be inhumanly ahead of the game has little meaning. For the Shadow, you see him make the occasional misstep, you also see him over-plan for situations so when the pulse pounding cliffhanger for this story happens, he's set it up from so many angles that even if all of them don't roll 100% to plan, he's got contingency plans.
In some ways the unwielding nature of the Shadow reminds me of a mirror image "No Country For Old Men"'s Anton Chigurh. Where Chigurh is pure cold maliciousness, the Shadow is a force of nature that protects the innocent rather than feeds upon them.
I finished "The Unseen Killer" last week and these served as my re-introduction into the world of the Pulp Shadow (very different from the radio show Shadow). I was impressed by Gibson's skill with writing concise, action-packed prose and also for writing stories that keep you guessing and don't skimp on genuinely exciting action scenes. Of the two, I think this one edges the other out as my favorite as I have particular interest in secret societies.
I think this will be of great entertainment value for any Shadow or Pulp Adventure fan.
5/5 Golden Masks
The awesome cover! Man, I'd love to get a framed copy of this baby for the apartment.