Friday, December 9, 2016


Take a long, hard look at the cover art of THE SHADOW: THE WEALTH SEEKER, pictured above. The art is by the legendary comic book artist Jim Steranko. It's a fabulous, evocative image, redolent with the heady perfume of pulp fiction. A beautiful, buxom, raven ctressed damsel in distress. A masked villain in formal clothes (dig that top hat!) with a tommy gun (my favorite old-time firearm) pointed at our hero, the masked avenger of the night, The Shadow. I love it! The shame is that no scene remotely like this one occurs anywhere within the actual pulp novel reprinted behind this cover. And that's a real shame because THE WEALTH SEEKER sure could have used the vitality that this artwork radiates.

THE WEALTH SEEKER by Walter Gibson, was the 46th Shadow pulp adventure published. It came out in January 1934, the very heart of the Great Depression. The paperback reprint pictured above (and that I finished reading the other night), was published in February 1978. With it's narrative roots in a time of immense economic hard times, it's only fitting that the plot of WEALTH SEEKER should deal primarily with money.

Folsom Satruff (love these names!) is a very wealthy individual who gives large sums of money away to folks in need. He does so under the mysterious name of "Dorand". Only a small circle of friends and confidants are aware of Satruff's secret identity but it's not long before gangdom discovers the secret and plots to rob the millionaire's home, where he keeps his treasures in a fortified vault. Two separate assaults result in the deaths of several mobsters but during the robbery attempts, it becomes clear that there's someone inside the "Dorand" operation who is leaking information to the underworld, vital secrets about the whereabouts of the treasure and how best to capture it.

The identity of the inside man is finally revealed at novel's end but frankly, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. If this person is acquiring all of these ill-gotten gains, why is he so quick to give some of it away? Is it a money laundering scheme? This plot point is never really made clear.

On balance, THE WEALTH SEEKER is a pretty routine mystery novel. The Shadow doesn't have a whole lot to do in this one except engage in several gun battles in which his immense automatics spit flame and leaden death. The hard truth about the pulp jungle is that authors like Gibson were cranking these books out under an incredible deadline and they didn't always have the luxury of a second draft or careful edit and rewrite. It was get this one written and submitted to the editors and immediately start work on the next one. Under such circumstances no reader or Shadow fan can possibly expect every novel to be a great one. Sometimes you just have to settle for "okay".

But even a merely "okay" original Shadow pulp thriller is worth reading and enjoying.

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