Friday, August 24, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Salamanders - Maxwell Grant (Walter B. Gibson)

I only read two or three Shadow novels a year, so at that rate I’ll never get through the entire series, but that’s all right. There are a lot of book series I’ll never finish. I try to read what I enjoy and enjoy what I read, and that’s all that matters.

My latest venture into the world of The Shadow is THE SALAMANDERS, which was published in the April 1, 1936 issue of THE SHADOW. This yarn is even more action-packed than usual, and that’s not an accident. Walter B. Gibson, who wrote 282 of the Shadow novels under the name Maxwell Grant, was under orders from the editor and publisher at Street & Smith to put even more action in the novels in order to compete with the success that THE SPIDER was having over at Popular Publications.

So THE SALAMANDERS begins with a huge fire that destroys a hotel in the town of Riverport, which is somewhere in “the South”. Gibson never gets more specific about the location than that. Not only is the hotel burned to the ground, but it looks very much like Harry Vincent, one of The Shadow’s chief agents, is killed in the blaze. For a good half of the book, it appears that Harry is a goner.

Of course, long-time fans know that he has to survive, and sure enough, later on The Shadow rescues him from the clutches of the bad guys. By this time, there have been more fires, some deadly explosions, an avalanche from which The Shadow barely escapes, shoot-outs with minions who have names like Sloopy and Jink, and creepy encounters with bizarre figures who are able to walk unscathed through infernos—the Salamanders of the title.

As often happens in Shadow novels, the big master plan behind all this actually turns out to be pretty mundane. But that doesn’t really matter, because the numerous fast-paced action scenes are the true appeal of this yarn. Gibson approaches apocalyptic levels in some of the scenes, and the final showdown in a burning mansion is great stuff.

Harry Vincent is the only agent who plays much of a part in this one, and oddly enough, The Shadow never makes use of the Lamont Cranston identity. He employs a couple of disguises, but nothing special. It’s almost like Gibson shoved all that aside to make room for the shooting and the running and the burning up and blowing up. That’s okay with me, although I kind of missed some of the usual touches. Still, THE SALAMANDERS is the best Shadow novel I’ve read in a while. If you’re a fan and haven’t read it yet, you definitely need to check it out.


Scott D. Parker said...

What I really dig--and didn't take note of until I actually purchased a few original pulp magazines--are all the extra stuff: Codes and Secret Writings. Crime Problem and Facts. Thrilling Short Stories. Same for Doc Savage.

Plus, I only started reading Shadow novels this year. I blazed through all available on Audible and I loved them. Will check my collection of reprints to see if THE SALAMANDERS is included.

George said...

I have some SHADOW paperbacks and reprints that need to be read. I'll check to see if THE SALAMANDERS is among them. Nice review!