The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack

Subtitle

Action

Action/Adventure

The Spider 3 Wings of the Black Death

Richard Wentworth, the adrenalin-junkie-turned-vigilante, returns once again to save New York City from its newest threat—the bubonic plague. A particularly insane criminal is blackmailing people with the threat of infecting them with the black death and he has correctly identified the Spider as the biggest danger to his nefarious scheme. So he murders a few police officers and frames the Spider for the crime. The basic plot is pretty solid. The tension of having the police get more and more enraged with the Spider and more and more determined to bring him to justice (i.e. murder him in retaliation for the deaths of their fellow officers) really ramps up the suspense in the novel, but there are a couple of problems that handicap the overall story.


First, the bad guys get the jump on Wentworth five or six times. He constantly walks into traps—suspecting the trap but deciding to trigger it anyway—and it always goes bad. It is enough to make you doubt Wentworth’s supposed genius-level intelligence. Similarly, the villain was very obvious in this book. The motivation for the villainy was weak, but is possibly the set up for future problems.


Secondary characters help save the story. Wentworth’s friend, Kirkpatrick, is well drawn and the dog, Apollo, is one of the stars of the novel. Finally, narrator, Nick Santa Maria, does a fabulous job of bringing this series to life. In addition to creating great voices to identify each character, he does an excellent job of setting the mood and keeping sometimes hokey prose from slipping into camp.

The Spider: The Wheel of Death by R.T.M. Scott

Richard Wentworth makes his second appearance as The Spider in this 1930s novel brought to audio life by narrator Nick Santa Maria. Wentworth is an adrenalin junkie who only feels alive when he is in great danger—not just mortal danger but the danger that comes from exposing his vigilante crime fighting activities. Because of this need for danger and his love of using his wits to get out of trouble, he is constantly taking rather absurd risks for the simple pleasure of forcing himself to find a way out of the resulting problems. Strangely, this need on his part succeeds in creating a fast moving and quite enjoyable adventure.


In this volume, Wentworth finds himself impulsively agreeing to help free a man on death row and in so doing discovers a blackmail scheme that has put New York City into the hands of a criminal mastermind. To make matters worse, a simple mistake early in the book allows the criminals to identify Wentworth as the Spider forcing him to use his cunning not only to expose their schemes, but to get back the evidence that can unmask him. It’s a lot of fun watching him dance his way out of trouble.


In Wheel of Death, author R.T.M. Scott goes to great length to praise the courage, loyalty and intelligence of Wentworth’s girlfriend and manservant from India, but they still come off as inferior to Wentworth specifically because they are female and Indian respectively. In this regard, the novel is very much a product of its time when the attitudes toward women and people of color can generate cringe worthy moments for the modern reader.




The Spider Strikes by R. T. M. Scott

This is the first book in a series first published back in 1933. The Spider is the crime fighter alter ego of Richard Wentworth, a criminologist who lives on the adrenalin rush that comes from putting his life, his reputation, and his freedom in peril by pursuing criminals right under the noses of the police. This sort of series is fun if you don’t think about it too much and if you can overlook the 1930s attitudes. You do have to suspend a lot of disbelief. Wentworth always goes out as himself, interacts with people, and then suddenly kills one of the bad guys and puts his spider seal on the corpse’s forehead and yet—even though Wentworth is under suspicion of being the Spider—no one seems to make the connection. But it was still fun.


Doc Savage: Python Isle by Will Murray

These new Doc Savage novels have a nostalgic appeal to me. They are written in the pulp style of the original series and are true to the characterization of those early books with Doc and his five friends solving global problems through their brilliant intellects—at least, that’s what’s supposed to be happening. Unfortunately, the only person who shows any intelligence in this novel is Doc Savage, himself. His friends go out of their way to prove they are incapable of bringing their allegedly keen minds to bear on their problems in any rational manner. They always jump into every situation with their fists, failing to think or plan ahead repeatedly even after the villains of the story have bested them multiple times. On top of this their dialogue is extraordinarily bad. It’s clearly intended to add comic relief to the story, but it succeeded only in making me cringe.


The villains are also subpar when compared to the typical Doc Savage experience. I just never understood why they were causing Doc and his men any trouble at all. And the way they finally cease to be a problem was totally unsatisfactory. There was no victory over evil—or if there was, it wasn’t Doc and his men who won the victory.


So that’s the bad part of the story, but it’s actually an enjoyable tale despite these problems. The mystery at the root of the novel—a missing civilization with interesting biblical roots—was worthy of the Doc Savage series. And the great buildup to the pythons of the title was completely satisfying. Doc Savage’s action scenes are also well done—it’s just the scenes involving the supporting cast that aren’t up to standard.


I read this book in its audio format. Narrator Michael McConnohie does a superb job of bringing the cast to life in the story. He has a range of voices that become instantly recognizable as the cast of the tale. On top of that, there are interesting interviews with author Will Murray at the end of the book that shed a lot of light on how Doc Savage was created. If you like the Doc Savage series, you’ll enjoy this book.




Bullet Rain by Robert Smartwood

If you enjoy fast-paced adventure stories with just enough mystery to keep you wondering, this is the novel for you. It opens with our hero, Nova, getting the tires shot out of his $100,000 sports car but not knowing anything has happened other than that he got two flat tires. He hikes back into town and gets himself into some trouble with the locals which he manages quite handily. It’s not until the next day when he tries to get his car towed that he begins to figure out something is wrong. His car has been stolen and he very quickly figures out that something in this extremely small desert town is very out of kilter. That’s when the action goes into high gear and it doesn’t stop until the very end of the story. There’s nothing deep in this book, but the plot holds together very well and I resented it every time life intervened and I had to stop reading. If you like a book ala the Executioner but with a much better plot and slightly more realistic action, give Bullet Rain a try.

152 Continental Divide by Warren Murphy

The Destroyer series is the story of the glorious House of Sinanju—a 5000 year old line of assassins who created the original martial art from which all others are pale derivatives. The current master and his pupil have been hired by a secret agency within the U.S. government (called CURE) to clean up crime and protect the country by working outside the constitution. Each book features ridiculous parodies of current events, politicians and celebrities. This novel focuses on a poorly defined conspiracy to destroy bridges in the U.S. to boost the air-freight industry. Since it is happening during the presidential election, parodies of Trump and Clinton, both of whom look utterly ridiculous, try to spin the events to boost their campaigns. At the same time, parodies of the Scooby Doo characters are also investigating the crimes.


I have read every book in this series, it’s spin off series, and the handful of unnumbered books associated with the series and this one did not measure up to its best standards. The thing that makes the Destroyer so interesting is the banter between Remo (current Master) and Chiun (Master Emeritus and teacher of Remo) and the frustration they cause Smith, the head of CURE. That all important personal storyline was present, but didn’t boost the book as well as it usually does. Also, the basic plot was weak and lacked a satisfying resolution. The book is saved from a poor rating because it serves as the set up for a team up of at least two prominent Destroyer villains, so the prospects for the next novel are great.



Rated R by Mike Leon

From the book blurb I expected this novel to be something like a classic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie—Commando or Raw Deal—and nonstop action is pretty much what you get. There is nothing deep in these pages, but they are a tremendous amount of mindless fun. The story revolves around two teenagers: Sid—who’s been trained from birth to be a killing machine—and Lily—who’s trying to escape her mother’s truly horrifying ex. Throw in secret government programs and another super soldier and you have just enough plot to justify tons of actions. Lily is the only character with any depth, but honestly the plot doesn’t need much character development. Tons of fun.




Attack of the Yetis by Eric Brown

Attack of the Yetis by Eric Brown is an all action adventure without much in the way of character development or evolving tension. The plot revolves around a secret military taskforce (with very few military personnel) who have snuck into Antarctica looking for aliens believed to have crashed there. What they find instead are yetis—presumably alien yetis—who attack on sight and apparently for no reason other than that they feel hostile. So humans and yetis kill each other in large numbers. Because the author didn’t take the time to introduce his cast before he started killing them off it is difficult to develop a lot of sympathy for the victims of this massacre.