Part of the Marvel Novel series, the Sinister Six trilogy by science fiction writer Adam-Troy Castro totals almost 1200 pages. As the author tells us in Book Two, the story takes place "in the short period between the death of Peter's clone Ben Reilly, and Norman Osborne's [sic] villainous take-over of the Daily Bugle." This means that Aunt May is still dead, the Sandman is still a good guy and Quentin Beck is still Mysterio. As can be told by the title, the first book deals with the assembling of the new Sinister Six team. Most of that takes place on the periphery, however. The central story focuses mainly on the latest scheme of Mysterio.
The mysterious elderly criminal mastermind known as the Gentleman arrives in New York with his equally mysterious young ward, a mute woman known as Pity; so- called because her constantly sad expressions brought on by years of torment on the part of the Gentleman elicit that emotion in everyone who encounters her. The Gentleman has an ambitious plan to gain wealth and destroy the world simultaneously. To this end, he needs the assistance of the Sinister Six. He begins by appearing at the Machiavelli Club, a refuge for high-toned criminals, and hiring the Chameleon to be his main recruiter. The Chameleon first approaches the Vulture who is at large but lying low. He then uses his mastery of disguise to break Electro and Dr. Octopus out of prison. That leaves only Mysterio of the original available Sinister Six but since Beck seems to have his own criminal operation going, Chameleon decides to leave him for last.
The first inklings of Mysterio's plan are seen when movie star Brick Johnson, tormented by demonic hallucinations tries to commit suicide by jumping off a building. He is rescued by Spider-Man but later dies in the hospital, apparently from fear. Mary Jane became friends with Brick during her time in Hollywood so she and Peter attend the funeral, which is disrupted by Quentin Beck using illusions and special effects to torment the mourners. Although Mysterio puts up a front of blackmailing every movie studio for a percentage of their profits, he is really engaged in a vendetta against various Hollywood types who offended him back when he was a stunt man. (Flash Thompson, who is still in an on-again off-again relationship with Betty Brant and is used so well, you'll wish this were current continuity, deduces this.) In service to his vendetta, Mysterio creates incredibly complex illusion/sfx deathtraps wherever his would-be victims happen to be, whether in their hotel rooms, on a movie set, or performing in the inspired badness that is the musical "Submarine!" (With the exclamation point.) Finally, with the help of Flash, Betty, Mary Jane (star of "Fatal Action 3" and preparing to star in "Fatal Action 4"), Bugle movie critic Arnold Sibert (modeled on famous critic Roger Ebert) and, of all super-heroes, Razorback, Spider-Man defeats Beck... only to have the Chameleon free him directly after.
Finally, the new roster of the Sinister Six is set. The Chameleon, the Vulture, Dr. Octopus, Electro, Mysterio, and the devoted, tormented Pity. Meanwhile, Peter finds some pictures of his parents in an old photo album, showing his mother pregnant and later holding a swaddled baby. The only trouble is that the photos date from two years before Peter's birth and the child in the shots is definitely a girl. But that's it. After 309 pages, it's continued in Book Two.
Adam-Troy Castro is a perfect choice as writer for these Spider-Man novels. Not only does he have a smooth, readable style that works nicely with both action and quiet dialogue scenes but also he's a comic fan from way back. (I can't find any specific examples at the moment but I'm sure Adam was a Marvel Comics letter hack back in the 1970s. Please correct me if I'm wrong, Adam!) This means he not only knows the Marvel Universe but he can write intelligently about it; not to mention expanding it out into other fictional universes. (In the Machiavelli Club sequence, there are references to Carmen Sandiego, the Kingpin, Obadiah Stane (from Iron Man), Fu Manchu ("a certain long-lived Oriental gentleman"), the Gruber Brothers from the Die Hard movies, Goldfinger ("Auric"), Lex Luthor and others.) His use of Flash Thompson and Betty Brant is so spot-on that they should get the same treatment in the comics. His film critic creation Arnold Sibert should be added as a regular Spidey supporting character. His inside jokes and other humor usually hit the mark. (I love the lyrics from the musical Submarine! "So-nar. It's the way that I see him. It's the way that I love him. The way I know he's out there.") And how can you not love a writer who brings back Razorback?
On the other hand, the book purports to be a novel of the Sinister Six and, for the most part, it's not. It's not like it lies to you. The Sinister Six do indeed get gathered in this volume. However, it is primarily a Mysterio tale albeit a good one. Still, with 1200 pages in the trilogy, I didn't have much patience for these first 300. Gather the Sinister Six already and let's get to it! It would be possible to skip this one altogether and not miss a beat reading the following two books.
For that reason alone, I'm dropping this down to three and a half webs.