The Spider 5 Empire of Doom
Richard Wentworth gets outside of New York for the fifth Spider adventure in which the Green Claw has come into possession of a horrifying poisonous gas which eats human flesh like acid and is preparing to blackmail American cities into paying him billions. To complicate matters, the Green Claw appears to be using a wealthy American industrialist as a catspaw, making him look like he is brilliantly saving American cities from the gas so that his popularity skyrockets and Americans demand he be made dictator of the country (something to which all elected politicians happily agree). Only the Spider stands between the claw and his coup to take over America.
As you can see from the above description, lots of this story goes well beyond even the broadest definition of plausibility, but then, these adventures have never been high on the credibility scale. There’s all the breathless action I’ve come to expect in the series and they continue to make a fun, quick, read.
In Series Order
The Spider 1 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.
The Spider 2 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 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 4 City of Flaming Shadows
Richard Wentworth is called into action once again when a new villain, the Tarantula, threatens all the money in the banks of New York City by figuring out how to cut out the power to the areas he wants to rob. To complicate things, he has also figured out that Wentworth is the Spider and kidnaps his girlfriend in an attempt to sideline the Spider from interfering with this plans. Naturally, this doesn’t work, so he also tries to frame Wentworth for his crimes.
One of the great weaknesses of this series is that in each novel the police all suspect Wentworth is the Spider, but never manage to prove anything against him. In this volume, one cop also suspects he’s the Tarantula but even though he washes disguise makeup off of Wentworth’s face, he only comes up with another disguise underneath. I felt like I was reading an episode of Scooby Doo when the villain wears two masks.
Yet the novel is still fun. There’s plenty of action in these stories, if not a lot of brains driving the action. That is true not only of Wentworth but the police as well. Still, it’s a lot of fun watching this hero out of the 1930s try to save civilization all by himself.