The Spider #1: The Spider Strikes by R.T.M. Scott. Book review

The Spider #1: The Spider Strikes by R.T.M. Scott, Radio Archives, ebook, $2.99, Radio Archives ebook store

Reviewed by Dave Brzeski

I’d first read this, the first Spider novel, well over 30 years ago in the Berkley Medalion paperback edition, published in 1969. I still have that old, battered paperback, which sports the stamps of no less than four U.S. second-hand bookshops, before someone brought it to England.

Having long wished to reread it, I decided to buy the very cheap Radio Archives Kindle edition, as I wanted to be sure I had the full, original text of the 1933 pulp magazine. While I haven’t actually compared my old paperback with the ebook, the paperback pulp reprints of that time often updated, or made cuts in the original text. Another advantage was that Radio Archives “Total Pulp Experience” series of ebook reissues also contain all the original backup features and short stories—something lacking from the majority of pulp hero reprints.

The book opens with an informative article, ‘Meet the Spider!’, by Will Murray, who is perhaps better known for his continuation of the adventures of Doc Savage, for Altus Press.

Being very familiar with The Spider, as he was written by Norvell W. Page (writing as Grant Stockbridge) from #3 onwards, it was fascinating to reacquaint myself with the earliest incarnation, by R.T.M Scott.

‘The Spider Strikes’ is much slower than the later adventures, but it had a great feel of classic, mannered 30’s mystery movies about it. I was reminded of old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, or George Sanders as the Saint, especially in the witty repartee between Richard Wentworth and his friend, police commissioner Stanley Kirkpatrick, who is so sure that Wentworth is the Spider, but can’t prove it. I could almost see the action unfolding in my head, in black and white. The relationship between Wentworth and Kirkpatrick is fascinating: friends, who work together, but should Kirkpatrick ever prove that Wentworth is The Spider, he’d send him to the “death house” without a thought. The Spider, at this stage, hasn’t really adopted any sort of costume as such, but at one point he dons a disreputable coat, cast off by some workman, and a battered straw hat. Dressed in this ridiculous manner he adopts a peculiar gait, hobbling, skipping and jumping like a horrible scarecrow. Thus was born the seeds of his famous fright wig and fangs disguise. The method of leaving his mark on his victims was less brutal, in that it used ink, rather than blunt force trauma, but all the elements of the homicidal maniac of justice I’d later come to love were definitely there.

This first issue of ‘The Spider’ was filled out with two short stories. The first. ‘Baited Death’, by Leslie C. Wright, is a grim little tale of revenge and death. A cop breaks rules and makes a deal with God, to avenge his murdered partner.

The second story, ‘Murder Undercover’, is by Norvell W. Page, the author who would later be responsible for the bulk of ‘The Spider’ stories, starting with the third. This is another tale of revenge and death, but this time involving the unwritten code between criminals.

Neither backup story are especially brilliant, but they perform their purpose—as the B-features to the the main movie—adequately enough.

$2.99 (roughly £1.85) for a nicely edited and formatted reprint of a complete issue of the original pulp is a bargain, and I have already bought a few more. I especially look forward to reacquainting myself with the way that regular author, Norvell W. Page, evolved the character—but first, I have R.T.M Scott’s second Spider adventure to read. This time, for the first time.