War of Shadows

"The "war to end all wars" was over, but a new one was just beginning-on the streets of America."
- The FBI and the American Gangster, 1924-38 (The FBI: A Centennial History, 1908-2008). 
During the last quarter of 2012, I reviewed the splendid Commissioner Daan Vissering trilogy by the "Crown Prince of the Lending Libraries," Cor Docter, but the incontestable "Emperor of the Neighborhood Library" in the Netherlands was the prolific Herman Nicholaas van der Voort – producing roughly twelve to sixteen novels a year. Under as many pseudonyms and publishers!

There have been approximately four hundred books and about two hundred appeared under Van der Voort's most well known and celebrated penname, "Edward Multon," which includes stories from the F.B.I.-series. So, yes, it's pretty much low-grade pulp, produced in high volume, but I couldn't help getting curious about one particular title from the series for self-explanatory reasons.

The Invisible Slayer (1963)
De onzichtbare doder (The Invisible Slayer, 1963) begins on a crowded, New York street in the early 1950s when 22-year-old Charles Booth opens fire on Inspector Alexander Haynes from Detroit. Haynes is mortally wounded, but manages to return the favor with a single shot! The last, gurgling words of Haynes' murderer are "bevel... van... mister... Lee..." ("orders of Mr. Lee"). Haynes was in New York to make inquiries in the death of a bar owner, back in Detroit, which may involve espionage and already attracted the attention of J. Edgar Hoover – who assigned his trump card to the case three days before the shooting.

Peter Finch has the personal appearance of a wise wolfhound with a wolfish grin and the Feds' trump card, but before the investigation is off the ground for the reader, there's another victim waiting in the wings of the third chapter. Mr. Howard Payne is one of the wealthiest and most influential man in the United States, but the best protection money could buy wasn't able to save Payne from an assassins' bullet – even when he was behind metal doors and steel shutters. A policeman attempting to enter Payne's upper floor office, through the window, triggers the alarm system and a steel shutter hermitically seals off the room completely. After peeling away the steel, they find Payne with a bullet hole in the chest and a note underneath him reading, "bevel van Mr. Lee."  

The murders of the Detroit homicide detective and Mr. Payne gives the public Cold War tremors, fueled by Yellow Fear, as Mr. Lee is portrayed as a sinister Chinaman leading a first wave of attacks on the West for Communist China – accompanied by illustrations evoking the image of Sax Rohmer's villainous Fu-Manchu. One illustrator even challengers Mr. Lee, by adding his own name to the list of victims, and is shot and wounded not much later. However, Finch doesn't believe Mr. Lee is Chinese and spreads counter images to see what happens. 

H.N. van der Voort (1900-1982)
It was actually one of the few clever bits in the story, but, unfortunately, everything remotely interesting evaporated within a few pages. Payne was a better fleshed out character in the two, three pages before being written off in a steel vice gripped room than some of the characters who made it to the end of the book. The locked room device itself was abandoned, having served its purpose to justify the title, and the slapdash explanation, casually tossed into a conversation, was a letdown – to say the least. Finch's handling of the Yellow Peril trope with the cartoons didn't last long either and the commentary on the pulps felt more like sniping at the readers. As if Multon was knocking his own readers for enjoying the kind of fiction he was churning out himself. The remainder of the story consists of piling up the bodies by shooting, gassing and curare poisoning in a very mundane, run-of-the-mill gangster thriller.

Sorry I tried and brought up this one. I'll be returning to the green pastures of the proper detective story for my next read and review.


  1. Sounds like I haven't missed anything by not reading this author's works! Still it's always worth checking out such obscurities - you never know when you're going to get lucky.

    1. The trail of obscurity has its dark patches, it's true.