Book Review: The Sinister Shadow

Doc Savage and the Shadow are two of the greatest pulp heroes of all time. Yet, they’ve never met in their original book medium. There have been attempts to do this in comic book form, but the ones I’ve read have been somewhat underwhelming.

The Sinister Shadow by Will Murray takes an original idea by Lester Dent in order to bring these two legends of the 1930s together in one book.

In the books, “Lamont Cranston” was not the true identity of the Shadow. Rather, the Shadow forced Cranston to let him impersonate him when Cranston was away from the city (which was most of the time) on the threat that, if he didn’t, the Shadow would completely steal Cranston’s identity, leaving Cranston without a place in the world because somebody’s got to fight evil, right? In the pulps, Cranston’s amused by this and agrees. In this book, Cranston isn’t as much amused as resigned.

However, Cranston receives a blackmail notice from a villain identifying himself as the Funeral Director who threatens to kill Cranston unless he gives him $50,000. Cranston thinks the villain is the Shadow and turns to Doc Savage’s aide Ham Brooks for help. Before they can get to Doc, both are kidnapped. This leads to both the Shadow and Doc Savage being on the trail of the Funeral Director.

The book has a lot to offer. Much of it is spent with Doc and friends suspecting the Shadow as the creepy methods of the Funeral Director seem his style and the Shadow works outside the law while Doc is an honorary Inspector for the NYPD. In addition, Doc and his men have a no killing rule, while the Shadow has no qualms about dealing out rough justice to the criminal world. Thus our two protagonists spend time hunting and battling each other before turning to the real bad guy. These parts of the book are fun and Murray does a good job writing both characters. Doc’s men are their usual selves while Doc remains ever the unflappable and brilliant man of bronze. The Shadow is mysterious and baffles the great Doc Savage with his strange methods. Doc’s assistants also are great though they’re pushed more to the background than usual. The Shadow’s henchmen are generic and lack a lot of personality.

As for the villain, the Funeral Director is a perfect foil for our protagonists. He’s a creepy, evil villain whose theme is centered around death and dying complete with coffins. It seems like an obvious idea for a supervillain but I’ve never read it done before. Why the Funeral Director came after Cranston is never satisfactorily explained and it comes off as a plot convenience.

This book is enjoyable, though it’s not Shakespeare or even Raymond Chandler. It’s a new pulp adventure team up from the man who is better at recapturing the spirit of the original pulps than any other writer today. While I won’t say it exceeded my expectations, it certainly met them. After nearly eighty years, Will Murray finally created a story worthy of these two great characters and if you’re a fan of either one, it’s a worthwhile read.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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