Wednesday, July 20, 2016


First published in December, 1935, ZEMBA was the ninety-first adventure of The Shadow. It was reprinted in November, 1977 by HBJ in a handsome mass-market paperback with a great cover by Jim Steranko. This is the edition I finished reading yesterday evening.

ZEMBA is a departure from the usual Shadow pulp thriller. This one takes place overseas in England and France and is a tale of international intrigue and spies with a corkscrew plot that will leave you scratching your head if you're not paying close attention. The action begins on a train bound from London to the English Channel. A murder takes place and important documents, containing vital state secrets, are stolen. The culprit is a killer in the employ of master international criminal Gaspard Zemba. But intrepid Scotland Yard inspector Delka is on board and he gives chase to the killer. The killer boards a ferry across the channel, where he is killed by yet another Zemba assassin. Delka gives chase. In France, the second killer boards a train for Paris with Delka in pursuit. That killer is the next to die and when the train reaches Paris, the trail goes cold. Three people are dead, important papers are missing and Zemba is somewhere in Paris where he commands an army of thugs. Oh, and Zemba's one identifying characteristic is a missing finger on his left hand.

Enter master detective Etienne Robeq who comes to the aid of the French police in the hunt for Zemba. The Shadow soon appears along with trusted agents Harry Vincent and Cliff Marsland. A chase and gun battle soon ensue and from there, nothing is quite what it seems to be. The three main players, The Shadow, Robeq and Zemba are all present and accounted for during the rest of the adventure. Or are they?

The story ends with an amazing reveal that warrants a close, perhaps even second reading, in order to keep everything straight. It's a masterstroke of misdirection by author Walter Gibson, who knew a thing or two about magic tricks. My lovely wife Judy didn't care for the ending as she found it entirely too confusing. I thought it was a bit hard to follow but I commend Gibson for having the courage to try something different. After all, he (and other writers), were cranking out these things on a monthly basis and it wasn't always easy to come up with a totally original idea every time.

I give ZEMBA a thumbs up. Or is that a  missing finger?

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