The Living Shadow is the first published novel – in novel form. It is the first official Shadow novel that I have read. Now, I am not an early-pulp fiction expert, so some of this may be slightly askew, but I did try to get the correct information. So, as I understand it, The Shadow debuted in July 1930. The character and stories were originally radio shows. (By the way, I do love those old radio shows.) The novel was first published in 1931. At that time, I believe it was released in the pulp magazine form. In any case, The Shadow has now been in comics, movies, etc. and there’s plenty of fun to be had. I read the Bantam 1969 edition.
Ultimately, I know such things are not for everyone. I have a bit of love for the vintage noir/crime novel, particularly the detective genre. And not simply because of the recent explosion of Sherlock Holmes all over the place. For whatever reason, I’ve been trying to acquire and read these. It isn’t really “for whatever reason.” It is for fun. I like fun. Truth be told, I was having a little trouble getting into some of the freshly-printed novels I have bought. Exploring these pulpy fun items was a perfect remedy for being in a reading-mudpit.
This story is a bit hack. As is to be expected. I learned through the course of my investigations, that the author Walter B. Gibson (AKA: Maxwell Grant, The Shadow’s personal annalist), was actually encouraged to include some East Asian elements in this story. Something to do with the publisher and their cover artists’ production. Needless to say, there is a Chinese element to the story, but it does seem a little forced. BUT PEOPLE! He calls the Chinese “Celestials” – I have not heard that sort of lingo in an exceedingly long time. And frankly, that was a lot of fun in this novel: the lingo. The cab drivers, the gas station attendants, the criminals – they all use that old-time pulpy lingo that is such a huge part of American culture-history.
Anyway, the first chapter is really good. I mean, it could be in any novel – not simply a “pulp” novel. I have said many times that you need a good first page, first chapter, first issue to make something really work. You have to have something in that first part that hooks the reader and makes the story seem worthwhile for at least part two, hopefully longer. I liked the cool and mysterious scenario that is setup and it makes The Shadow a great character before anything really happens.
Now, in these early novels, I am given to understand that The Shadow is not exactly the main protagonist. And maybe this was built into the idea of developing The Shadow – a character that operates from the shadows (sic) and uses any number of loyal lackeys, servants, friends, associates to make him seem like he has a hand in all the scenarios. Again, the hero/anti-hero twist to a character. I mean, I kind of want to review all the things I know about early Batman and make some comparisons. Maybe I’ll do that – if I can get my team of researchers and secretaries to assist. Anyway, Harry Vincent is the main “hero” and detective in this novel. He does most of the legwork for The Shadow. He’s a bit too “smart,” in my opinion. I mean, he generally makes good decisions and plans his moves with a measure of strategy. I’m kind of unused to characters who do that? Have characters gotten dumber recently?
I digress. The point is: this was fun and I enjoyed it. Yes, it was sketchy and pulpy. But there was a lot to like here for the reader who isn’t expecting too much. I will be reading book #2 – as soon as I can acquire it. I’ve been trying to listen to the old radio show, but my household is not exactly as excited about The Shadow as I am.