By what strange twist of Fate did the fearful menace which was to shadow every man and woman in New York City first rear its venomous head in the distant Caribbean? When terror suddenly boarded a little tramp steamer and left crimson havoc littering its narrow decks a spluttering wireless flashed the doom of every living thing aboard. Within a week, the same ghastly fate struck a gigantic new ocean liner, its luxurious cabins occupied by the elite and powerful of a dozen different nations! Death—swift and terrible—rode the ocean lanes. And the Spider—taken for once off guard—was supposedly dying in a hospital room on the very day when that terror from the seas first showed itself in all its terror above the city skyline. How can the Spider, fighting death himself, help the nation he loves in her hour of greatest need?
“Builders of the Dark Empire” is the thirteenth Spider novel, originally published in October 1934.
In “Corpse Cargo,” we had land pirates attacking trains. Now we have regular pirates doing their evil on the high seas, robbing and destroying ships, including killing the people traveling on them, dozens of ships with one alone having 2000 people on board. The pirates are primarily Hispanics and not Blacks, the Black (or Dark) empire apparently referring to the evil descending on the US because of the ship pirating and destruction.
A Far-Eastern country (Japan?) is blamed for the attacks, even though the sea action takes place in the Atlantic or Caribbean. With dozens of destroyed American ships, and none from any other country, and rioting in American cities underway, one would think that the US armed forces, especially the Navy, would have become heavily involved, beyond saber rattling. Yet, it seems that the Spider is the only one taking the battle to them. (Of course, since the Spider always wins in the end, maybe it is ok!)
The action appears a little slower in this one when compared to other Spider novels, but it is still brisk when compared to other pulps. Not the best of Novell Page, its author, but another great ride anyway for the reader.