Forgotten Book: The Sinister Shadow by Kenneth Robeson (Will Murray) (2015)

Two pulp heroes square off in Doc Savage: The Sinister Shadow.

Review by Scott A. Cupp

This is the 154th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I was hooked as soon as I saw the cover – Doc Savage versus The Shadow. I have been a fan of both since the mid 1960’s, encountering The Shadow first in the Belmont series written by Dennis Lynds and Doc Savage when Bantam began it reprints. I found the Walter Gibson Shadow novels when Bantam (and later Pyramid) began the reprints of those early pulp classics.

So, when Bill Crider offered me his copy of this fine book, I knew I would be reading it straight away. I was familiar with Will Murray’s Doc Savage adaptations (reviewing Skull Island a few years ago, where Doc Savage and his father ran into King Kong). The Murray work was great, building on the style established by Lester Dent (the real-life name of Kenneth Robeson, for 159 of the 181 novels in the original pulp series run). In this novel, Murray tries to capture the style of both Dent and of Gibson (who did at least 282 of the 325 The Shadow novels, published as by Maxwell Grant) as the viewpoints change throughout the novel.

I started that evening. It was compulsive reading. Murray was familiar with much of the minutiae of each character, throwing the casual Shadow fan for a loop with the early kidnapping of Lamont Cranston and Doc Savage’s aide Theodore “Ham” Brooks. Lamont Cranston was a real New York millionaire that The Shadow had coerced into taking long vacations so that The Shadow could use his connections and identity. In this novel, the real Cranston is back and The Shadow is masquerading as George Clarendon. Cranston and Brooks are kidnapped as they try to reach Doc Savage. Cranston’s lawyer Sidney Palmer-Letts is killed outside of George Clarendon’s hotel room. Everything revolves around a mysterious blackmail note received by Cranston requiring $250,000 be paid or else he face dire consequences.

Rich people around New York are dying of unexpected heart attacks. Doc Savage is convinced something sinister is going on. He and Monk Mayfair are the only ones of his crew in town and they are after this mysterious Shadow who may be behind the whole blackmail thing.

Meanwhile, an evil villain known as The Funeral Director is plotting more. Twice he has evaded The Shadow and wants nothing more than his nemesis’ death.

The action is fast and furious as The Shadow must avoid a hero as swift and brilliant as he is while trying to rescue Cranston and others. Sidemen such as Harry Vincent, Burbank and Clyde Burke assist The Shadow while Monk and Ham assist Doc Savage. The Shadow radio show appears as part of the plot, as does Doc Savage’s criminal rehabilitation facility where criminal tendencies are excised from the brain via surgery. Margo Lane (a radio creation not originally part of The Shadow’s team) is not seen in the book, which I thought was too bad.

I loved this book, even though it was long (over 470 pages), which equates to between three or four Shadow or Doc Savage novels. When I finished, I was sorry it was done and wanted to be there for another 100 or more pages.

If you like either of the two characters, you will love the book. Murray also has a recent Tarzan novel RETURN TO PAL-UL-DON, a sequel to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ TARZAN THE TERRIBLE. Both books are from Altus Press, a wonderful small publisher devoted to the pulps with reprints of great stories, histories of the magazines and writers, and some new work in the pulp tradition. You will probably have to order the book yourself as most bookstores are unlikely to have it on the shelves. If you can get your local bookstore to carry the publisher, you will be richly rewarded with some wonderful reading in all their publications. (This has been an unpaid, heartfelt endorsement from a reader who loves this stuff.)

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.