Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Living Shadow - Maxwell Grant

My dad had all these paperback stories starring the Shadow, so I figured I'd borrow the first one, see how it went before I grabbed the lot of them. The Living Shadow was not quite what I expected.

Admittedly, my idea of the Shadow is formed almost entirely by the Alec Baldwin movie, plus whatever I picked up by glancing at the covers to various comics. So I was expecting more of a focus on the Shadow, for one, and at least a few occasions where he surprises some criminals and starts blasting away with a pair of .45s. There's none of that. He uses a firearm once or twice, but they're guns he lifted off guys he was fighting with. That's not a big deal; there's plenty of fisticuffs and one chase sequence, so the book doesn't lack for action. What was more unexpected was how little time the book actually spends with the Shadow.

At the very beginning of the story, the Shadow saves a fellow named Harry Vincent, who was about to throw himself from a bridge. From that point forward, Harry is in the Shadow's employ - literally, since all his financial needs are met - and the book follows Harry through the various tasks given to him by his mysterious savior/benefactor/employer. So the book is written with Harry as the main character, and the Shadow as this wraith that appears every so often to rescue Harry, or when we need to learn something that Harry couldn't have figured out on his own. We don't learn much of anything about the Shadow, not who he is, not how he does what he does, or why. We know he can merge with shadows - or appear as no more than a shadow, one of the two - and that he has an army of people who help him. But none of them that we meet know anything more about him than Harry does.

It's clear the Shadow's keeping busy while Harry's snooping, but I was expecting to follow him more closely, not Harry. Harry's a fine enough fellow, though he seems to take to this whole business surprisingly well. Some weird guy stops him from killing himself, then tells him to check into a hotel a spy on the guy next door, and Harry leaps right to it. Maybe the implication is this is what Harry had been looking for in life, he just didn't know it. I'll have to see if Grant is going to start paying more attention to the Shadow in future books before I decide to go any further in the series.

I should mention the story was originally written in 1931, so there's some casual racism. All lot of use of the word "chink", and the one black character in the story speaks in the exaggerated "yah suh" style. That might be something to consider before you try and read it.

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