Exactly at eleven-thirty each Thursday night the Death Fiddler conducted his unholy orchestra in a symphony of murder which sounded the doom of some marked victim. A master of the grotesque, he held an entire city in the strangle-hold of a helpless terror; even the forces of the Law stood in shuddery, superstitious fear of this new destroyer. And then the Spider, Master of Men, modern knight-errant of mankind, rose up against him! But the Spider, too, was baffled; not all Richard Wentworth’s efforts seemed enough to destroy this new, this ugliest of all Hydra heads rearing out of the noxious slime of the Underworld…
“Reign of the Death Fiddler” is the twentieth Spider novel and was originally published in May 1935. In the opening chapter, a crime wave has basically beset the city. Under the leadership of the Death Fiddler (“making the city dance to their music”), the gangs appear to be everywhere with the police ineffective in stopping them despite 20 of them having been killed. The Spider is not able to get any intelligence on them. A big part of his problem is that the Mayor has removed his pistol permits, meaning that the Spider cannot root around in the dangers of the city in his usual way with his guns handy. So, he takes the disguise of Limpy Magee, a second-hand dealer in a bad part of town, a supposed transplant from Chicago and buyer of stolen goods.
Kirkpatrick retires as Police Commissioner to run for Governor. He wants to corral the Mayor who has appointed judges who return the Fiddler’s criminals to the streets as soon as they are caught. When Kirkpatrick retires, the new commissioner reorganizes the police force making it less effective.
Every Thursday at 11:30pm, the Fiddler kills those politicians and those in authority who are still in his way, marking their foreheads vis a vis the Spider but with a violin; he keeps waxed figures of his victim in his hideout. The brilliantly crazy Fiddler disguises himself as the very men that he orders killed.
The actual identity of the Fiddler is a bit of a mystery, but the Spider overcomes him leaving him dead at the end of the novel with the unexpected help of the supposed dead Jackson. Perhaps, this edition of the Spider is perhaps best known for the surprising his return since he was killed three issues ago in “The Pain Emperor.” The explanation for the return lacks any credibility and contradicts several points in the earlier issue. Even the Spider is surprised that Jackson is alive. (Oh well, if you want total logic, as opposed to thrills, look somewhere else other than the Spider.)
The death toll in this one is perhaps the least so far for a Page Spider novel. In many ways, it emulates the personal fight with the Fly from “The Spider and the Red Looters.” Personally, I like the greater cataclysmic Spider plots more, but this one has many interesting points such as Kirkpatrick running for Governor (and who will be elected next issue), the various political dealings, and the appearance of the Limpy Magee character (who will be replaced later by Blinky McQuade). As always there is the over-the-top style of Page’s writing… and lots and lots of action. I have no difficulty recommending this Spider novel.