Well, it took a while, but I finally read my first Shadow novel.*
I think like most of us, I’ve known about The Shadow for a long time. I first discovered him back in the late 70s when my parents purchased some old-time radio episodes on cassette to listen to on vacations. Ten years later, some of those episodes were broadcast on local Houston AM radio on Sunday nights and I’d listen to them as I returned back to college in Austin. And I’d even began collecting the wonderful reprints by Vintage Library to say nothing of some of the comic adaptations. Actually, up until now, the only time I’d encountered The Shadow in print was the two times he guest-starred in Batman comics (my review here and here).
Interestingly, it was because of Batman that I first wanted to read PARTNERS IN PERIL. The good folks a Vintage packaged PARTNERS along with LINGO and commissioned a couple of article about how PARTNERS and The Shadow influenced Bill Finger and Bob Kane to create Batman. The historian in me always gravitated to the historical commentary before I read the stories, and this collection is fantastic with not only historical commentary by Will Murray and Anthony Tollin but an introduction by Jerry Robinson, co-creator of Robin and the Joker. But today, the focus is on this November 1936 story.
Reed Harrington calls the police with a desperate situation: he’s been marked for death at midnight. For over a week, Harrington has tried to evade the mysterious caller, but every time, the mystery man finds him. With no one else to turn to, Harrington asks the police for help. Detective Joe Cardona is assigned the case and he’s there in the room when Harrington receives a call just before midnight…and falls dead! In short order, Arnold King arrives at the dead man’s apartment with the same incredible story. What links these two men? Well, they both were former partners of the Milcote Chemical Corporation. Armed with police protection, King holes up and waits…until he, too, falls dead. King dies of electrocution; Harrington of poison.
Enter: The Shadow. He directs his agents to discover the identity of other partners of the company and land on three: Simon Todd, Thomas Porter and his son, Ray. But what complicates the mystery is that Harrington, King, and the two Porters all are former partners of the chemical company. Who would want them dead? Perhaps it is sinister agents of a foreign power out to discover the secret formula for the new chemical weapon created for the United States to use in the next war. Perhaps it’s something else, but you know before you even read the first word that The Shadow will emerge triumphant.
First of all, I really enjoyed this story. I liked how the action played fairly quick and straight. I have since learned that the author of PARTNERS wasn’t Walter Gibson but Theodore Tinsley. In fact, PARTNERS is Tinsley’s first Shadow novel. I read he studied Gibson’s writing style and aimed to achieve a certain verisimilitude with the prose. Today, I can’t say if he did, but the prose flowed well. An aspect of the writing that was likely a product of the times was the omniscient narrator where you rarely got into the characters heads, much less The Shadow. That was likely intentional because Tinsley has us readers (and certain characters) witnessing a thing only to reveal later that The Shadow had already performed a different task. It was very much like the movie serials of the time.
Speaking of The Shadow himself, I enjoyed his disguises and his ability to blend into his surroundings. He appeared both as a young and old workman and Tinsley treated us readers to a classic sly wink as the disguised hero vacated a scene just as another character paused and frowned in odd recognition. A surprising aspect of The Shadow’s character was when he constantly seemed to be five steps ahead of events. Like Sherlock Holmes who knew, for example, the villain in the The Hound of the Baskervilles before he even left London yet sent Watson on errands anyway. The Shadow did the same thing with his team which consisted of Burbank, a man who communicated the plans to other agents, reporter Clyde Burke, and Harry Vincent, who acts as The Shadow’s second-hand man. Ironically, just like Doc Savage’s compadres, Vincent gets himself in trouble and The Shadow has to rescue him, but Vincent proves an able partner.
I listened to PARTNERS from a new all-cast recording up on Audible. It was fantastic and I got a definite old-time radio vibe. There were no sound effects, but there was soft jazz music at the end of each chapter. A funny aspect of the narrator was his slight pause every time “The Shadow” was mentioned in prose. Another note on the recording: they edited out much of the attribution. Since I had the hardcopy and there was a particularly great action sequence, I marked it to re-read and study. It was then, while the audio was playing in my ears, that I noticed they were leaving out some words. As an avid audiobook listener, I wish other productions would do the same thing.
I thoroughly enjoyed PARTNERS IN PERIL and I’ll be quickly moving on to more Shadow novels. THE SHADOW UNMASKS is the only other full-cast recording while THE VOODOO MASTER and THE BLACK FALCON are narrated traditionally.
*P.S. In 2018, I’m reading mindfully and part of that is to read more of what I already own. Ironic timing, then, when I open up the hard copy to mark the passage I mentioned above only to find the receipt. I checked the date: 14 January 2009. I finished PARTNERS on 14 January 2018. Nice serendipity.