Looting, murdering bands of desperadoes roamed the streets of New York like wanton jackals who destroyed what they could not devour. An underworld Juggernaut had been unleashed upon Manhattan, turning it into a place of desolation and terror. The Thuggees of the East, those masters of murder, the cruel minions of Tang-akhmut, held the city in a state of siege. One man could save New York—Richard Wentworth, the avenging Spider, and Richard Wentworth, hunted by the police, hated by the underworld he fought, had been ordered shot on sight!
“City of Dreadful Night” is the 38th Spider novel and was originally published in November 1936. This story is Emile Teppermen’s first Spider tale, breaking the 35 consecutive months of Spider being written by Norvell Page. Teppermen will create his own string of 8 consecutive novels before bowing out never to write another story in this series.
I thought that Teppermen did a good job of follow up on Norvell Page’s work. Generally, the characters are the same, although their word choices are a little different. There are other differences such as Nita and Wentworth suddenly speaking Esperanto with each other so that people will not know what they are saying. In this novel, perhaps the biggest difference is the lesser amount of activity occurring in it and the slight death toll. If not for the short time elapse of the tale… most of the story takes place between late evening and early the following morning… one would almost think that the Spider was having a vacation.
As for the story, it is the third of the four-part Pharaoh series. At the end of the last tale “The Devil’s Death Dwarfs,” the Pharaoh is thought dead, but Teppermen has revived him for more exploits with the Spider; according the story, it is actually the Pharaoh’s sister, Issoris, who has resurrected him. Wentworth learns early that the Pharaoh lives and begins anew to take down the villain before his mind control can once more wreak havoc on New York City. Apparently, the Pharaoh intends to take NYC with force. The action is very much like Page’s but slower and less of it. However, in keeping up with Page’s biases, Nita is once again kidnapped in this piece.
Once again the Spider defeats the Pharaoh, leaving him only wounded this time! He does so through struggles which we have seen with Page’s Spider in previous episodes. With the lower death toll and less action, working at night, this tale also has similarities to Gibson’s Shadow.
I know that Sampson points out that there are differences in the way that Wentworth deals with his aids. That might be in future issues, but in this one, there are minimum dealings with his friends and helpers. Teppermen’s Wentworth does seem to be less protective of his secret identity though. We will be watching for additional differences over the next seven issues.
Overall, this seemed to me like a good first outing for Teppermen. Not perfect, but good… and acceptable. Despite the differences noted, my guess is that a reader in November 1936 would not have guessed that there had been a change in authors.
As an aside, “City of Dreadful Night” has an illustrative history as a title for fiction, starting with the poem of that name written by the Scottish poet B.V. Thompson in the early 1870s. As far as I can tell, though, there are no relationship between this novel and the poem or in other of the many works that have their root in the poem.