Deep-hidden in evil, Satan’s Suicide Club sat in council—and men died. What dreadful force drove these men, leaders of society with everything to live for, to end their lives at the behest of that sinister being who sardonically called himself Professor Mephisto? And why did men and women suffer the tortures of the damned rather than defy this mysterious being? Richard Wentworth once more assumes the cloak of the Spider to free these lost ones from a living hell and a disgraceful death—and steps into the jaws of a devil’s trap that casts his life among the lives in pawn!
“The Devil’s Pawnbroker” is the 44th Spider novel and was originally published in May 1937. It is Tepperman’s seventh Spider novel of the eight consecutive ones that he would write in 1936 and 1937.
Via an ownership position in an insurance company, Wentworth learns that there is an upsurge in suicides affecting its profitability. Somehow, the bad guy who uses the name Professor Mephisto is able to cause rich men to commit suicide; at the end of Chapter 4, Mephisto fancies himself as a pawnbroker in lives, thereby giving the story its title.
The evil professor also has found out that Wentworth is the Spider. Apparently this is now widespread knowledge in the underworld.
So the stage is set. Professor Mephisto moves first by attempting to kill Wentworth and then by threatening to kidnap Nita, who he eventually does take captive as do nearly all of the Spider’s opponents. It is only Wentworth’s sixth sense (ie. Tepperman’s first use of Wentworth’s Spidey sense) in the first chapter that saves Wentworth from Mephisto’s muscle in the form of Buriat Mongols (actually, we would call them Buryats today). After beating the Man from Singapore in the previous issue, Wentworth once again is within a week of marrying Nita, but that too is put on hold.
Wentworth solves his immediate difficulties by faking how own death, using someone else’s disguised corpse to mislead his opponent. Taking the dead man’s identity, he heads to Midwest City (Chicago?) leaving his usual NY City location to take out Mephisto.
With Wentworth’s obit in the newspapers, the Spider is free to investigate Professor Mephisto. He soon finds out that he is kidnapping the wives and children of rich men, forcing them to commit suicide so that he can collect insurance monies from the widows. Mephisto loaned money to desperate me following the stock market crashes of 1929 and subsequent crashes in the 1930s enforcing an interest rate of 800%, which he collected on their deaths.
The Spider ended the life of Mephisto and basically the lives of all those working with him. He also unveils Mephisto’s real identity.
I enjoyed this story and would certainly recommend it. However, it did feel very short, almost like a short story compared to some of Page’s torturous page turners. The storyline and narrative were logically developed, but without a lot of twists and turns.