Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reviews from the 86th Floor: Barry Reese tackles The Death Tower

Written by Maxwell Grant
This review is of the Bantam Edition
Originally published January 1932
Bantam Edition published December 1969

The Death Tower of the title is not actually a tower but rather a 40-story skyscraper of which our villain, Doctor Palermo, occupies the top floor. This is a very early adventure of the Shadow and features repeated references to the radio program, several forced uses of "The Shadow Knows" tagline and a main character who isn't quite as infallible as you might be used to seeing -- he's wrong on a few occasions and even accidentally kills someone near the end (they deserved it, though).

I actually prefer this version of the Shadow to the one you usually found over the course of the series: his occasional failures here keep him grounded and I actually enjoyed the fact that we don't see Lamont Cranston at all -- his identity here is George Clarendon. We also get to see Harry Vincent and the recruitment of a new agent, Clyde Burke. Their interplay was well done and added to the story.

Palermo is a worthy foil for the Shadow -- he's full of tricks, is a master of disguise and even has his own version of the Shadow's aides (a mute Arab, a master marksman and a femme fatale). I only wish Palermo had sported some cool pulp-villain style name... Palermo not being particularly evocative. Anyway, Palermo comes literally within inches of killing the Shadow and may actually be my favorite villain of the series. There was so much room for future stories with him -- alas, as with most pulp villains, that wasn't meant to be.

The writing is classic pulp, with several thrilling scenes and the occasional clunker of an idea. The Death Tower is my favorite Shadow book, mainly because of the villain and the fact that this really feels like a Shadow Year One adventure, where he's still breathtakingly dangerous but not yet the seasoned hero that he later becomes.

I give 5 out of 5 stars.