Over Manhattan’s dizzy towers fell that insidious, invisible menace—an unseen cloud of death that first transformed the entire metropolis into a laughing, drunken riot and then blasted it to bits! Who was the evil Master of these Flame Men, who had found a real way to amass millions by gutting New York with fire? In defense of those reeling, giggling victims, trapped in their awesome death-spree, Richard Wentworth, in the Spider’s weird robes, rose from the charred embers—to fight his greatest battle against an arson assassin no one had ever seen—for a doomed people so blind-drunk they could not see!
“Master of the Flaming Horde” is the 50th Spider novel and was originally published in November 1937. This is Norvell Page’s third contribution after his return earlier in 1937.
In Norvell Page’s last outing, “Machine Guns over the White House,” we saw the Spider meet an Operator 5-type challenge. This time, we are back to New York City where the Spider is facing a much more standard foe: a merciless mad man who seems to enjoy slaughtering people while satisfying his greed.
Fire is the weapon. Fire has been a transportable weapon since Greek fire. Incendiary arrows were used as early the ninth century BC by the Assyrian. Flamethrower systems were first used in World War I. Refinement were made to these systems in the Spanish Civil War, which appear to be Page’s inspiration for the story, as many of the people in it have a Spanish background.
In this novel, fire is delivered via a variety of chemicals to incinerate entire city blocks. The fire is used as cover for robberies. The Flame Master has a horde of men who are able to withstand the flames when they wear suits of asbestos mixed with other fabrics. Apparently they are able to do this without supporting systems to deliver them oxygen or to cool them down despite long exposure to engulfing fires. They even have a special set up to produce flames on the outside of their red robes.
Wentworth and Kirkpatrick work closely together. Eventually, they are able to piece together clues that lead to the Flame Master’s death and thereby destruction of his organization.
While certainly not a top-level Page novel, this one has much action and is very fast pace. It is, however, rather derivative of some of Page’s earlier novels. The widespread destruction and large death toll were the signature of Page’s earlier books, and he returns to it in this one. As such, the story is certainly recommended as an example of Page’s style and should be enjoyable to Spider fans.