Saturday, July 20, 2013
The Spider At Bay!
The Spider At Bay is the second novel in the infamous 1938 "Black Police Trilogy" from Norvell Page. The action picks up a few months after the last novel which detailed how a criminal cabal had seized control of the state of New York. The Spider battled back against the "The Master" and his allies controlled from the Governor's mansion. The Black Police were criminals running roughshod over the people, stealing their resources through illegal taxation and intimidation and murder.
As this second novel unfolds the whole struggle has become a full-fledged war. Richard Wentworth, The Spider himself, or at least pretending to be in this story leads his troops known as "The Commander". The battles rage in a New York almost reduced to Medieval standards though the fight is waged with modern weapons.
One of the most insidious weapons is a plague similar to leprosy unleashed on the people. In a weird bit of propaganda the rumor is spread that only those who struggle against the Black Police will contract the disease. Needless to say it makes the ability to gain support difficult. Some help from the outside does appear in the form of a G-Man by the name of Miller.
The Spider even manages to slip out of the state to meet with The President of the United States but since the veneer of authority still clings to the Governor's Black Police forces, the PotUS is limited in what he can do. The Spider returns to his people only to fall victim to the evil forces. But that's not the end of the struggle.
This novel really reads almost like some fantasy adventure, there's a distinct ancient feel to the nature of the struggle. The Spider and his forces seem much like Robin Hood and his Merry Men, with Nita Van Sloan becoming Maid Marion. There's even a priest named Father Flower who serves the rebels.
The Plague too gives the story an ancient feel and the idea that modern people would believe the hokum about how it was contracted seems weird until you take a moment and remember that even today folks still fall all too quickly for demagogues who claim that all manner of calamities are the result of some moral failing.
New York seems almost like a pocket universe in this story, apart from the greater U.S., a land of death and mayhem and murder. Page's relentless storytelling doesn't let the reader pause to reflect much. But I was put much in mind of what it must be like to try and survive in modern day Syria, a land torn by endless struggle left alone to fight it out.
There's one more installment in this saga. More on Scourge of the Black Legions next time.