Today is Bill Crider Day on the internet, as decreed (to unilateral acclaim) by our fearless leader Patti Abbot. Bill is a man loved by all of us for his talent, his kindness, his decency, his knowledge, and his love of Doctor Pepper with pure cane sugar. Earlier this month he posted that his cancer had reached the stage where his doctor suggested he go into hospice. While we all hope a miracle will happen, it was felt that we should honor Bill while he is able to see it. For reviews, reminiscences, tributes, and tales told out of school about Bill and his body of work, please check pattinase.com for links; check several times today because tributes will be pouring in.
Since I have already read all of Bill's novels with the exception of a few published under house names, I'd thought I would read a Crider short story I had not encountered before. Turns out it's "The Marching Madman," a tale about The Spider, Master of Men. Richhard Wentworth, a.k.a. The Spider, was a pulp magazine hero in the mold of Doc Savage and The Shadow. His adventures began in Volume 1, Number 1, October 1933, of his own magazine -- The Spider -- published by Popular Publications. The character was created by Popular's co-founder Harry Steeger and the first two "complete full-length novels" were authored by R. T. M. Scott. From issue #3 on, all of The Spider's adventures were written under the house name "Grant Stackbridge." Norvill Page wrote the vast majority of these; others authors to The Spider stories included Wayne Rogers, Emile Tepperman, and Prentice Winchell.
Although the Spider's original adventures -- usually involving a bizarre and violent threat to the country -- ended after 118 adventures, in December 1943, his legacy has been carried by various paperback reprints, two fifteen-reel movie serials, comic books and graphic novels, and by one original anthology of 19 stories, The Spider Chronicles (Moonstone Books, 2007). That's where I found 'The Marching Madmen," Bill Crider's wonderful homage to The Spider and to the pulp magazines of the past.
In the banquet room of the best hotel on South Park Avenue, New York City's elite gathered to honor Dr. Martin Riley for his many contributions to the city's hospitals. Along with many important politicos and business and civic leaders were Richard Wentworth and his lovely fiance, Nita Van Sloan. the fete was being held despite threats from the mysterious Dr. Dionysus, who vowed that all the city leaders would die if his ransom demands were not met. Already the city's fire chief had been murdered horribly by a "maniac who had simply taken the chief's head in his huge hands and popped his spine like a rotten stick."
Wentworth suspects that Dr. Dionysus will strike this gathering. He makes an excuse to leave and exits the room as Richard Wentworth, but leaves the hotel as The Spider. Blocks from the hotel was Bellevue Hospital, home of many madmen. The madmen have escaped the hospital and were marching blindly toward the hotel, controlled in some way by the equally mad Dr. Dionysus. wherever the madmen marched, there was a swarth of destruction. They were unstoppable, swarming over a police cordon, almost impervious to bullets.
How can The Spider stop this murderous tide of death? Can he expose the man behind the Dr. Dionysus persona? And will he be able to protect his secret identity?
You guessed it. The answer to all three is yes. To find out how, you will have to read the story for yourself.
Bill Crider captured the essence of the pulp days in just thirteen pages. The story is a winner.
Be sure to check out more about Bill and his writing at Patti's blog.