Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Black Hush

The August 1, 1933 issue of The Shadow Magazine is a wondrous thing for two reasons. First, the cover painting by George Rozen is arguably THE iconic image of the Shadow.

Second, the story is a rambunctious action/mystery with just the right dollop of science fiction added to it. It is pure fun to read.

The Black Hush starts out with a bang. Or, rather, it starts out with a fusillade of revolver shots as two men attending a banquet for the Association of Electrical Engineers are gunned down. Just before the crime occurs, everything electrical in the banquet hall stops working and a thick darkness envelops the room.

It's quite a trick and the cops aren't quite sure how it was done. They are sure of one thing, though. The victims were shot by accident--it was a racketeer at a political banquet in a neighboring room who was the intended victim.

The Shadow, though, isn't so sure of that. He also has an idea of how the electricity was turned off and why two electrical engineers were targeted for murder.

There's a need for the Shadow to follow up his deductions quickly. The mysterious darkness is used to commit two more crimes, robbing rare jewels from a penthouse and knocking over a bank. The Shadow manages to foil these crimes and thin out the ranks of the street-level thugs working for the main villains, but until he tracks down the source of the darkness, the crime wave will continue.

In many Shadow novels, the identity of the main villain is unknown until the final pages. Here, writer Walter Gibson freely identifies the bosses early on and lets us know that a newly-invented ray projector is causing the darkness. But there's still a strong mystery element involved in discovering where the ray is located and what exact crimes are being planned.

Mixed into all this are several exciting action sequences typical of Gibson's stories. Of particular note is a car chase, with the bad guys using the Black Hush projector to disable pursuing police cars and even take down a plane.

Also, there's shenanigans going on with the Shadow's agents: reporter Clyde Burke is targeted for death at a time when the Shadow isn't around to save him, while Harry Vincent gets captured near the end of the story. the sequence with Burke is notable in that a fairly minor side character--someone who appears in many of the novels without really being given much personality or anything important to do--is given a Crowning Moment of Awesome by coming to the rescue.

The Black Hush is a great Shadow novel, with a strong plot and several exciting gun battles and chases. The mystery elements are very strong, with the Shadow and his agents doing believable detective work and making believable deductions to track down the bad guys.

I share the fairly common view that the Shadow is the greatest of the pulp heroes. The Black Hush is one of the reasons why I hold this opinion.

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