I hadn't read a Shadow novel in quite a while and was in the mood for one, so I picked a story that I'd heard was pretty good, THE MAN FROM SCOTLAND YARD, which appeared in the August 1, 1935 issue of THE SHADOW. It turned out to be a decent choice, but before I talk about that, I'm going to wallow a bit in nostalgia. Consider yourself warned.I have a long history with The Shadow. I first encountered the character in syndicated reruns of the radio show back in the early 1960s. I thoroughly enjoyed them, although I had no idea at the time of the character's pulp origins. A few years later, on the paperback spinner rack in Tompkins' Drugstore, I came across the Belmont edition of THE SHADOW STRIKES, the first original Shadow novel by Dennis Lynds, writing under the house-name Maxwell Grant. Of course, I didn't know then that Lynds wrote it, and I certainly never would have guessed that years later he and I would become friends through correspondence. All I knew was that I loved the book and thought this version of the character was even better than the one in the radio show. Lynds wrote more Shadow novels for Belmont over the next few years, and I snatched them all up as I found them and read them with eagerness and great enjoyment.
(A little background: When Belmont began this new series of Shadow paperbacks, the first one, RETURN OF THE SHADOW, was written by Walter B. Gibson, who created the character and wrote the vast majority of the pulp novels. I didn't find that one and read it until several years later. When the arrangement with Gibson didn't work out, Belmont turned to Lynds to continue the series. This was a very busy time for Lynds. Not only was he writing the Shadow paperbacks, he was also writing all the Mike Shayne novelettes and novellas in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, many of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. novellas in the digest of the same name, and starting his long-running series of award-winning, critically acclaimed novels about one-armed private eye Dan Fortune under the name Michael Collins. He certainly didn't stint on his Shadow novels, though, at least not to my mind at the time. I've never reread any of them, but I'd like to if I could find the time.)
In the 40 years since, I've read many, many Shadow novels, some in reprint and quite a few in the original pulps. I remember sitting in the hospital reading a Shadow pulp right after our first daughter was born, while Livia and Shayna were both sleeping. THE SHADOW ran from 1931 to 1949, and the quality of the series breaks pretty neatly in the middle. The stories from the 1930s are consistently good to excellent, although there are some mediocre entries in the bunch. The 1940s stories are just the opposite: some gems here and there, but mostly bland, uninspiring little mysteries. No criminal super-masterminds, no hordes of vicious gangsters being mowed down by The Shadow's .45s, no apocalyptic action scenes.
So where does THE MAN FROM SCOTLAND YARD fit in? Sort of in the middle. The main plot concerns a gang of international spies who are out to steal some weapons plans and sell them to an unnamed power in Europe. (Cough*Germany*cough.) It's somewhat interesting but not that compelling. But there's a great scene where The Shadow lands his autogyro on the deck of the bad guys' ship in the middle of the Atlantic and goes to town with those .45 automatics. A few other action scenes are pretty good, but overall there aren't as many of them as in some of the novels, and The Shadow is off-screen a lot. Quite a bit of the story consists of guys standing in hotel rooms talking.
However, through a very neat bit of trickery, Gibson sets up a situation where the reader doesn't know if one of the characters is really a hero, a villain, a hero pretending to be a villain, or vice versa. It takes almost the entire novel for that conundrum to be resolved, and I enjoyed being puzzled. THE MAN FROM SCOTLAND YARD doesn't reach the operatic heights of some of the early novels, but it's considerably better than most of the ones I've read from the Forties. It was reprinted a while back in one of those double editions with ZEMBA, a novel that's considered by many fans to be one of the best in the whole series. That edition seems to be out of print, but I imagine copies can be found at various places on-line. I enjoyed THE MAN FROM SCOTLAND YARD enough that I plan to read another Shadow novel fairly soon.