Originally published in the July 1, 1937 issue of the long-running pulp magazine THE SHADOW, “Crime, Insured” was the choice to lead off the series of reprints being published by Nostalgia Ventures for the past few years. These are really handsome trade paperbacks approximately the same size as a pulp that reprint two Shadow novels in each volume.
My history with The Shadow goes back to the early Sixties, when episodes from the old-time radio show were syndicated to local stations across the country. One of the stations in my area began airing them, along with episodes of THE LONE RANGER, THE GREEN HORNET, and GANGBUSTERS, in a block from ten o’clock until midnight every night. I had a combination AM radio/reading light that attached to the headboard of my bed, so I would turn the volume real low and listen to those old radio shows while I was supposed to be sleeping. I enjoyed all of them, although, to be honest, THE LONE RANGER was my favorite.
Then in 1964, I bought a paperback called THE SHADOW STRIKES off the spinner rack at Tompkins’ Drugstore, realizing this was the same character. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the pulps, but I really liked this book, which was written by somebody named Maxwell Grant. Of course, it was actually written by Dennis Lynds, as were the original Shadow paperbacks that followed it for the next few years, all of which I bought and read faithfully. Eventually I found out about the Shadow pulp novels, and about how that series of paperbacks that melded the pulp character with the secret agent boom that was going on came to be written. And the pulp novels themselves began to be reprinted by Bantam, beginning with the very first one from 1931, “The Living Shadow”. I read all the Bantam reprints and the even longer reprint series that came out a few years later from Pyramid/Jove/HBJ (many of them with covers by Jim Steranko). I read the ones that were reprinted by Doubleday in Crime Club editions, as well as the occasional odd reprint from other publishers. And of course, I acquired some of the actual pulps along the way and read them, too. Although The Shadow was never my favorite pulp character, I enjoyed the novels a lot.
So I’m glad to see some of them being reprinted again, including quite a few that I haven’t read. One of which was “Crime, Insured”. (You thought I was going to wander around in Nostalgia Land forever, didn’t you?) In this yarn, an insurance magnate has come up with a new idea: he’ll insure the schemes of various big-shot crooks in New York, so that if they fail to collect the loot they’re after, the insurance company will pay off that amount. If the crooks succeed, the company gets a ten per cent premium. Naturally, The Shadow gets wind of this scheme and sets out to destroy it with the help of his various agents. And that leads to something that hadn’t happened up to that point in the series. The bad guys fight back and discover most of The Shadow’s secrets, including the identities of his agents, the fact that he poses as Lamont Cranston (he’s not really Lamont Cranston, no matter what the radio show and the later novels said; trust me on this if you don’t know the story already), and even the location of his secret sanctum where he plans out his war on crime.
Many Shadow fans regard “Crime, Insured” as the best novel in the entire series. I wouldn’t go that far myself. The underlying scheme is just too pedestrian, and I’ve read numerous Shadow novels that I enjoyed more. However, I understand why it’s a fan favorite: it has a huge, over-the-top action sequence in which the villains capture all The Shadow’s agents and invade his sanctum for an epic battle. This is Walter B. Gibson (the original “Maxwell Grant” and the author of nearly 300 Shadow pulp novels) at his best, and it’s a great scene. There’s also a tie-in with an earlier Shadow novel, “The Black Hush”, which is one of my favorites in the series.
If you’ve never read a Shadow novel before, I’m not sure I’d recommend “Crime, Insured” as the best place to start, even though most of the supporting cast appears and there are those great action scenes. But if you’re a fan of the series and haven’t read this one yet, you definitely need to.
The other novel reprinted in this volume is “The Golden Vulture”, which was written by Lester Dent as a try-out for the Doc Savage series and then not published until five years later, when it was extensively revised by Gibson. There’s also an interesting article about how all this came about by pulp authority Will Murray. I read “The Golden Vulture” just a few years ago in the original pulp, so I’m not going to reread it any time soon, but I recall that I enjoyed it quite a bit. All in all, this was a fine way to launch the Shadow reprint series, and I hope to read more of these volumes soon.