I finished reading THE RED MENACE by Maxwell Grant (Walter Gibson) last night. This Shadow pulp novel was originally published in November 1931 and was the fourth Shadow adventure published. The edition I read (shown above) is a Pyramid paperback published in 1975 (when I was a freshman in college). It features a terrific cover by Jim Steranko.
The story finds the Shadow squaring off against a masked villain named The Red Envoy. The Envoy is the leader of a gang of Russian spies who are out to steal the plans for a new weapon (aerial torpedoes) being developed for the U.S. government. The action ranges from the deadly streets of New York where the gang holds secret meetings to the aptly named Death Island, an isolated and menacing hunk of rock in the middle of a Connecticut lake. The finale takes place aboard a train bound for Berlin.
There's action and death traps aplenty and it's nice to see The Shadow leave the confines of New York to battle crime. Too many of his other adventures take place entirely within the city which can get a little old. Doc Savage, my favorite pulp hero, had a nice balance in his stories with the action often beginning in New York and then moving to some other (often exotic) location. Plus, it's nice to see the Shadow fight something other than organized crime (which he often battles). The Russian spy ring and the mysterious crimson-masked Red Envoy are more colorful and interesting than the run-of-the-mill gangsters.
I've read several Shadow novels over the last few years and I do enjoy them. However, I do have a few quibbles. The emphasis in these early stories is on New York based adventures and gangsters. The Shadow's agents, especially Harry Vincent, do most of the work, with the Shadow appearing intermittently in his own adventures. And almost nothing is known about the Shadow at this point in his career. We don't know who he really is nor why he wages his war on crime. I trust that as the series progressed, the Shadow mythos became more fully developed, the locales more varied and the villains more flamboyant and over-the-top. Of the pulp hero series that I've read, I'd rate Doc Savage first, The Spider second and The Shadow third.
Another thing I've noticed is that Gibson often uses the terms "revolver" and "automatic" to describe the same pistol. A revolver is vastly different from an automatic. I don't believe that this was ignorance on the part of Mr. Gibson. I think it's a result of having to crank out an entire, original novel from scratch every month for years and years. There was probably not much time for careful copy-editing and rewriting.
I enjoyed this one and look forward to reading more adventures of The Shadow.