Friday, July 19, 2013

The City That Paid To Die!

Norvell Page really hits it out of the park with this riveting adventure of The Spider. The first of three Spider novels dubbed "The Black Police Trilogy", this story relates how an unknown criminal called "The Master" and "The White Face in Mirror" brings to heal the entire state of New York by installing a corrupt Governor and unleashing on the populace an army of black-uniformed troopers known simply as The Black Police. These thugs use tactics and techniques out of the Middle Ages and any number of oppressive political regimes to render the people terrified to act.

The City That Paid To Die begins in slam-bang fashion as Richard Wentworth alias The Spider rushes to save his former opponent, Police Commissioner Kirkpatrick of New York City from the Black Police who under orders from Governor Whiting and a corrupt Legislature are taking over normal police operations in NYC and across the state in general. After several desperate battles The Spider heads to Albany to confront the Governor only to be driven away. He then sets about to set up a guerrilla operation to fight against the tyrannical forces, while his beloved Nita Van Sloan and his Sikh assistant Singh also join the fight.

The novel is action-packed and breathlessly paced as Wentworth is a veritable dervish of violence, killing Black Police left and right as he chances across them. He leaves the mark of the Spider on their foreheads, but fabricates the fiction that The Spider has given him permission to do so. The war rages for page after page until a dramatic climax brings Wentworth face to face with the Master, a secret criminal who manipulates the events from hiding and in disguise. The novel leaves things up in the air, as The Spider's victories, significant though they are, leave the tyrants in power still.

This is a thrilling adventure, but despite its pulp origins is one which smacks on many serious points. First published in 1938, the novel plays on the very real fears then abroad in the country that Fascism could well indeed rear up and squash the cherished freedoms of the United States. Sadly because of the rigors of the Depression, some folks had even called for such a dictatorial approach to help solve the ongoing economic woes of the nation.

The threat of such a tyranny in these United States seems a quaint idea, but many of the details of Page's novel put me sadly in mind of some recent events. While there is no Black Police army, made up of mostly criminals, abroad in the land today, police have become more and more militaristic over the last several decades as one allegorical war after another has been waged. The shakedown operations conducted from the offices of the Governor in this novel disguised as taxes do unfortunately make me remember how property is seized minus any court order when a drug bust is conducted. People don't demand the rule of law when it comes to dealing with lawless often because they cannot imagine how it might one day impact them too.

So while the modern America does not in any serious way resemble the nightmare society described in this novel, it is with some reluctance that I do see echoes here and there, at least in part of what Page so ably describes.

More reports forthcoming as I continue this compelling trilogy. Next up is The Spider At Bay.

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