Over New York’s Finest—the police organization without equal in the world—fell the blight of lunacy, sweeping on like wildfire until it had turned Manhattan into a chill, whimpering madhouse and released the helpless city’s wealth to a wild carnival of crooks and vandals! What was that incredible, unseen force which, in a split-second, could transform sane men into drooling maniacs? No human being could stand against that Mask of Madness, and yet Richard Wentworth, in the Spider’s strange vestments, took up the fight—to strike blow for blow against the merciless emperor of idiocy who had captured a metropolis by addling its brains!
“The City of Lost Men” is the 53rd Spider novel and was originally published in February 1938. This is Wayne Rogers’ fourth contribution as he alternates with Norvell Page. Despite being somewhat derivative, “The City that Dared Not Eat” has been the highlight of the first three, although “Satan’s Switchboard” was decent as well.
Of course, the city is New York City. People, and especially police officers, are inexplicably going crazy and are also often being violent. At first, no reason seems to exist for these horrible transformations, even as they grow in frequency, numbers of people affected, and deaths.
At first, the villain is unknown, but soon emerges in the identity of the “Mask of Madness. His scheme is rather elaborate which includes mass robberies and property destruction in addition to driving people mad. As with previous Spider antagonist, he has organized the underworld to help him. He and his many evil henchmen wear the same odd mask of a demented-looking smiling man.
The novel is very busy. Some of the antics are quite interesting, such as the Spider organizing a group of clerks to attack the Mask’s men looting a department store, or a dancehall turned into a site of mass murder. Once again, Kirkpatrick is fired as police commission, but then organizes his own police department using mainly pensioners; they successfully fight off the henchmen while the Spider terminates the headman. In this one, Rogers rivals Page for death count.
While the robberies are also lucrative, the “big” scheme is to lower real-estate values so that the Mask can buy them up at a fraction of their true value. The Mask turns out to be a pillar of society who taunts the Spider by telling him that no court would believe that he could do the evil things that the Mask did. This is a really bad strategy to use against the Spider who often acts to judge those that the courts might let go. The Spider strangles him, and puts the mark of the red spider on his forehead.
A generally good novel, but it sometimes seems rather aimless with some of its many subplots. For instance, Nita goes from bad predicaments to worse ones throughout the novel, none of which seens to progress the storyline.
Note: Robert Sampson writes that this one “owes something to the June 1936 “Legions of Madness.” While both deal with people going mad, there is little otherwise overlap between the two. Another Page novel that deals with madness is “Master of Death-Madness,” but this one also does not seem to me to be otherwise related to this Rogers’ tale,
There is no relation between this novel and the 1940 movie of the same title.