Thursday, July 19, 2012

Slaughter, Inc: The Last Spider Novel

In 1943, the publisher of The Spider commissioned from David Cormack to write a Spider novel. However, when the month came that the story would have been published, what hit the stands was a new novel by the series regular writer Norvell Page. There would be only a few more issues of the magazine, all with stories by Page. With the sudden death of his wife, Page would leave the magazine and character behind. The magazine folded and the story by Cormack sat in the drawers.

Several decades later, the story would somehow find itself published only with all the names changed, the Spider becoming Blue Steel, and the story edited to reflect early 1970s. The cover would be one that had been slated for the recently cancelled reprintings of Operator 5.

Moonstone has now published the original story with a new cover. Also included is a foreword by pulp historian that gives background and context to the circumstances that lead to Donald Cormack writing this story.

The production is the chief drawback to the book. The monotone cover is striking but it really doesn't hold a candle to the various pulp covers. Why is the Spider apparently firing his gun into a wall? The book itself is marred by bad line breaks, and typos such as "were" becoming "here" (which honestly may have been in the original text). Just when it looks like the bad line breaks were coming to an end, started seeing a couple of times where the first line of a paragraph has no spaces between the words making the line one long word.

The story is in many ways a good entry into the Spider mythos. The action is non-stop with Wentworth outnumbered and hampered by a wound while his compatriots are compromised. It's missing a little something, that real passion and fire, but for a first attempt at writing a Spider novel it's a fun read. It even works as being the "last" Spider novel.

It never pays to really think too much about Wentworth being suspected by Kirkpatrick but this otherwise capable cop can never get the needed evidence to prove he's the Spider. Here, there's a scene that really stretches that suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. Wentworth is accompanying Kirk on a mission to rescue Nita, only on the way there they find the police have cornered a fighting mad Ran Singh on the roof of a nearby building. Somehow, Wentworth slips away, becomes the Spider (though he rode there with Kirkpatrick), rescues his faithful servant.

There seems to be discrepancies in the ages of Richard Wentworth and Nita van Sloan and how long the career of the Spider has been going on. Frequently they are described as being young and treated as if they are in their twenties, despite Wentworth's history includes having been a Major in the War. Near the end of the story, the text actually mentions Kirkpatrick being suspicious of his friend being the Spider for "months"! A bit reminiscent of how the Avenger seemed to get younger in his series, instilling a vast back story of education and experience while still in his twenties. But, as the foreword mentions that the editor at the time was heavily editing the stories by Page, it made me wonder if he likewise edited this story and that was where some of these seeming discrepancies crept in.

The identity of the villain also doesn't work. There's really only one suspect so it's not much of a mystery, until he convincingly disguises himself as Wentworth... because our one suspect is noted as being tall and thin, suggesting a build that would be hard to disguise.

On the other hand, one of the joys of the story is where Jackson actually gets to take center stage and playing a solo hand as he attempts a rescue attempt. He proves to be amazingly effective and capable even when not everything goes according to plan. In this story, Jackson clearly knows Wentworth is the Spider, but I'm not sure if that's always the case in the stories.

Overall, it really is a fun Spider adventure. The writing is crisp and fast paced. I found myself quickly turning the pages, curious as to what was going to happen next.


Tom Johnson said...

I have the Blue Steel novel, and it will do. I don't think I'll pick up the Moonstone printing. I agree, the story works as a final Spider novel. I have the complete series, and actually tried to read them in order about twenty years ago. Page's madness was catching (lol). I don't suggest anyone try that. Nice review.

cash_gorman said...

I've seen the novel in used book-stores but after my taste of reading one of the actual Spider novels they reprinted with modern dross, I never bought it.

I had thought about trying to read them in order (and the Shadows) or at leas as much in order as possible with all the reprints. It's a little annoying how the reprint choices jump around in time so you get Kirkpatrick as being single one month, married on a honeymoon the next and pining for some mystery woman another, not to mention his brief stint as Governor.