Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pulp Review: The Shadow "Six Men of Evil"

Series: The Shadow
Story Name: #24: Six Men of Evil
Original Publication Date: February 15, 1933
Available In: The Shadow #13 "Six Men of Evil" & "The Devil Monsters" (Nostalgia Ventures / Sanctum Books, November 2007)

I decided to read this Shadow story next as it's the earliest in the original series' run that I currently own.  Years earlier, I'd only read the Shadow via the Bantam and Pyramid reprints that are primarily from the first few years of publication but it's been ages since I've read those, so I was curious to dive back into this period. The depiction of the Shadow in "Six Men of Evil" is definitely in line with what I remember from those early stories. Here he is more of an inhuman living shadow than a man which may diminish aspects of dramatic tension at times but it also sets up some remarkable scenes. Gibson's prose appears to be a little more florid here than in his later work. I'll be interested if, as I read more, if this observation regarding the earlier writing style holds true.

As for the story itself, it's a grand affair. Starting out in a Mexican desert with Six Evil Men returning from some mysterious doings in Mexico that has left all but one of them shattered. Charlie, the leader, is not shattered in fact he has a plan from crime that rallies the spirits of the others. It's a series of crimes that he insists even the Shadow won't be able to crack. Of course, we as readers know better but that doesn't diminish the subtle aura of doom that hangs over this intro chapter.

As the story moves on we witness a pair of crimes in various small towns in America wherein the perpetrator has an ironclad alibi. In each case the criminal is a well respected man of society with an unusual and rather ugly face who has just moved into town some eight months ago. The set-up and execution of these crimes are well handled in Gibson's hands and it's a testament to his skills that you don't miss the Shadow, who doesn't show up until a quarter of the way into the story.

Once the Shadow does appear we're granted my favorite scene of the novel. A bizarre cat and mouse scene where the Shadow first appears as Lamont Cranston to Thomas Rodan, one of the criminals who has recently had his rich wife and father-in-law disposed of for their fortune. Cranston claims to be interesting in buying local real estate from Rodan, an broker but his arch attitude and suspicious demeanor begins to shake Rodan.  The night after Cranston leaves, Rodan suspects he is alone at home but his is not alone.  The Shadow has followed hims and he appears as a haunting phantom of guilty conscious to the man. The Shadow laughs coldly and whispers accusations but never shows himself. It is a trick designed to unsettle the man and force his enemies' next move and the writing for this scene is simply fantastic. I want to hear it read out loud as the words simply ooze atmosphere.

Another favorite scene in the story happens much later in the novel, once the action has shifted to San Francisco's Chinatown. Here, the Shadow confronts the Chinese criminal Chow Lee, and their confrontation is a classic and leads to an interesting hint regarding the origin of the Shadow's girasol ring. Chow Lee is an excellent character and despite a short appearance of a few pages only he left a mark on me and I hope we see him again in the future of the series.

Gibson's portrayal of minority characters is of course rooted in the timeframe and genre he wrote, but in the case of Chow Lee here and Jericho in "The Golden Masks" it seems he affords them a bit more dignity than many of his contemporaries. A secret race of Aztecs that appear for a few chapters don't fair quite so well, but at least their overall intentions are humane.

The only con I have is, as mentioned above, I don't think Gibson's prose has the same level of precision that I've seen in other of his later stories. This is more than made up for by the strength of the stories' scenes, especially the two I noted above. I think this is an adventure that any fan of The Shadow is going to thoroughly enjoy!

5/5 Golden Masks

One face, six different men?  Is it possible?  Great cover that captures the weirdness of this adventure.

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