I have read Shadow novels in paperback (Bantam, Belmont, Pyramid, Tempo & Jove), hardcover (Grosset & Dunlap, Crime Club & Mysterious Press), trade paperback (Dover, Nostalgia Ventures and Sanctum Books), online (remember Steve Kaye's website?), on,CD, Palm Pilot, Kindle, iPad and smart phone. But thanks to Mr. Frank Spremulli, I'm getting the chance to read some in their original format, and I'm finding it mighty dang cool. (See more HERE.)
Most Shadow adventures are set in and around New York City, and they show their age, because New York ain't what it used to be. Dictator of Crime is different. It takes place mostly in the tiny Caribbean republic of Centralba, the sort of dictorship that's still all too common today. 74 years have passed, and this sort of corruption just goes chugging along.
This novel is also unusual in that the Shadow sheds his normal guise of Lamont Cranston and appears (unknown to everyone but the reader) in his true identity of Kent Allard. Not even his spinoff-from-radio agent Margo Lane (who still believes he's Cranston) is in on that secret.
An online source attributes this story, like dang near all of them, to Walter Gibson. I do see old Walter's hand in most of it, but there are short passages that show a flash of wry humor, an attitude I don't associate with him at all. Makes me think he may have had an anonymous helper on this one.
And there are a few jarring elements. First, Kent Allard is referred to as the Shadow even when he's out of costume. That feels wrong. Kent Allard is just Kent Allard, and it's hard to think of him of as the Shadow until he dons his cloak and hat. Then late in the story things really get strange. We see him - in full Shadow costume - smoking a cigarette. And then, though we don't actually see food going into his mouth, it's clearly inferred that he is eating caviar sandwiches and drinking champagne - again, while wearing Shadow garb. What's next? The Master Darkness munching a hot dog? More reasons to suspect that Gibson did not act alone.
The plot has plenty of twists and turns, with the evil dictator, his political opponents and his American mobster hirelings cooperating when it's expedient and backstabbing one another when it's not. It's no picnic for our hero, either. He gets tossed in a prison cell, from which he fails to escape, and is marched before a firing squad. Does he survive? Here's a hint: The magazine rolls on for another eight years and 93 issues.
Thanks again, Frank, for the opportunity to read this one.
(The rest of you folks can read it, too, but you'll probably have to acquire the Sanctum Books Shadow Volume 38, where it's teamed with Dead Men Live.)