John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #26
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"Vengeance is Mine" was originally published in the January 1, 1937 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Someone is setting off bombs to kill his victims. And he doesn't care who else is killed in the process. He's out for vengeance, and it will take all the might of The Shadow to stop him.
This story is nothing special, even for a 1937 story. It's a good respectable crime story in which The Shadow triumphs over evil, but there's nothing that really makes it stand out. Of course, it's head-and-shoulders over most of the 1940's fare that was to come later. But during the mid-to-late thirties, there were some really terrific Shadow pulp mysteries. This, unfortunately, wasn't one of them.
That's not to say it's a bad Shadow story. It's not bad at all. I had a lot of fun reading it. But it's a bit routine, when compared with some of the other high points of this period. There's no exotic or interesting settings or characters. The magazine issue immediately before this one featured a mysterious organization that coerced innocent men into committing bizarre crimes. The issue immediately after our current story featured Theodore Tinsley's second Shadow novel, and was a definite pulpish treat. But nestled snugly in between those two is this somewhat anemic story, "Vengeance is Mine!"
As our story opens, The Shadow has been doing his job extremely well. So well, in fact, that there has been a lull in crime. Mobsters had been routed in battle, tracked down to their hide-outs and forced to flee from Manhattan. Yes, The Shadow could take the credit for crime's complete collapse. But you know that nature abhors a vacuum. So it's only a matter of time until some other criminal mastermind steps up to fill the void.
So we find The Shadow out riding around in his limousine, seeking any inkling of coming crime. He knows it's inevitable that there is some master of evil out there who has been biding him time, awaiting the right opportunity to embark upon his insidious campaign of crime. And sure enough, it doesn't take long until new crime rears its ugly head yet again.
In his commonly-used disguise as Lamont Cranston, The Shadow visits The Cobalt Club. He is no sooner inside the door when a bomb is detonated, taking the lives of businessman George Zanwood and the club's doorman. Crime has returned to Manhattan!
Someone... some fiend of crime... some terrorist had wanted George Zanwood dead, and didn't care who else died in the process. Yes, the pulp magazine actually used the word "terrorist." So for those of you who thought the word was a more modern one, you should go back in history. The practice of acquiring one's goals by means of terror tactics is a long one, and was certainly in vogue when this story was written.
The Shadow rightly considers that some enemy had risen from George Zanwood's shady past to strike him down in an act of vengeance. And, thus, there might be others doomed to a similar fate. And sure enough, this theory is proven as more bombs explode throughout Manhattan. Bombs that take the lives of the innocent along with the intended victim. The Shadow must find the mad bomber at all costs!
The Shadow works nearly alone in this story. Harry Vincent shows up a couple of times to help out, and taxi-driver Moe Shrevnitz gets two good scenes, but that's it. Contact man Burbank is mentioned, but doesn't actually appear. None of the other agents of The Shadow have any part in this story. Police Commissioner Ralph Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona are both present from the very beginning of the story at the Cobalt Club to the very end at the climax in which the mad bomber receives his just reward.
And speaking of just rewards, yes the criminal mastermind dies at the end. That's pretty typical of The Shadow's adventures. The bad guy nearly always "buys the farm" at the story's climax. But this time, the cause of death is a bit unexpected. Usually the villain is wounded by a gunshot from The Shadow's .45 automatics, and then cut down in a hail of police bullets. Occasionally the crime master falls into a death trap that he had set for The Shadow.
But this time, our criminal mastermind is killed by... a heart attack! That's right, there's no bullet through the heart. Instead, the heart just snaps from the exertion of battle with The Shadow. I suspect that might have been a bit of a letdown to those pulp readers of 1937 who had come to expect a flurry of bloodshed at story's end.
Another unusual thing about the ending of this story is that it features a short paragraph extolling the virtues of the next adventure. Although that was standard practice for the Doc Savage Magazine stories, it was unusual for The Shadow novels to promote the upcoming issue within the story itself. There was always a promo for the next story somewhere in the issue, set off at the bottom of a page. But for it to be actually included in the novel itself was quite unusual.
So, let's run down a short list of things that popped out at me as I read this story. In most other Shadow stories, The Shadow keeps a set of black garments and loaded automatics in a hidden drawer beneath the back seat of Moe Shrevnitz's taxi-cab. But in this story, it's described as a bag beneath the rear seat. It's almost like author Walter Gibson forgot about the hidden drawer. A bag under the seat isn't nearly as "pulpy cool" as a hidden drawer. Makes me wonder if some Street & Smith editor didn't add that in, later. Someone who wasn't as familiar with the way The Shadow worked.
We also get to see The Shadow pick locks in this story. He uses the "plierlike instruments of his own invention" which we've seen before. The Shadow didn't invent nearly as many cool gadgets as did Doc Savage, but he was responsible for a dozen or so unique tools. Tools such as his special lock picks. They were mentioned in several other stories, but they don't show up often, so deserve mention here.
We also get to see The Shadow take over the driving of Moe's cab, with Moe in the back seat for a change. It's an amazing chase scene that surpasses the abilities of even Manhattan's most experienced hackie, Moe, himself. We are told that "the chase that followed made Moe's own feats of driving fade into insignificance."
One of the coolest things in the story is the method that The Shadow uses for identification. Better than a police artist, The Shadow has a box filled with blocks upon which are painted facial parts. He places the blocks together to form the face of a suspect, based upon witnesses' descriptions. Here's now Gibson describes it:
"The Shadow produced a large box that contained many small compartments, each filled with little blocks like the portions of a jig-saw puzzle. Each of these pieces was cut square; it was a simple task to fit them. One compartment contained eyes of varied shapes and hues; another had noses of varying sorts. There were portions of lips, cheeks, chins, ears, hair - everything needed to form the portrait of a human face."
This amazing box of blocks was featured on the magazine cover. Find a cover scan of this issue if you want to see exactly how it looked. Strangely enough, though, I don't recall this amazing box used in any of The Shadow's other cases. It seems like a fairly efficient method of identification, and I'm surprised it didn't show up again.
Another point of interest is that in this story, The Shadow scales the outside wall of a house and climbs to the second floor. And all without those rubber discs -- those suction cups -- that he often carried beneath his cloak and attached to his hands and feet to ascend the outside of buildings. Those discs had appeared in over two dozen stories by the time this one was published, so Gibson surely hadn't forgotten about them. My guess is that they just weren't necessary. The Shadow's iron grip and soft-toed shoes were all that was necessary in this particular situation.
In many of the earlier Shadow novels, Commissioner Weston denied the existence of The Shadow. He even went so far as to forbid Joe Cardona from mentioning him. But by the beginning of 1937, Weston knew that The Shadow was no figment of the imagination. In this story, Weston is present at the climax of the tale and witnesses The Shadow's defeat of the mad bomber. He certainly can't deny him now!
So once again, The Shadow saves the day. Just as he had been doing every two weeks for the previous five years. And it makes for a nice pulp mystery/adventure. But there had been much better Shadow tales in the past, and there were much better ones yet to come in the future. So this one, in particular, fails to stand out as anything special. But it's still The Shadow and it's still a nice way to spend a couple of hours reading.
"Battle of Greed"
was originally published in the April 15, 1939 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Many participate in the battle of green, but only one can exit victorious. The Shadow's flaming automatics make all the difference in this titanic struggle against the ruthless power of riches.
You'll find this a different type of Shadow pulp novel, but a very satisfying one. This is not your usual Shadow mystery; it's more a story of redemption. The story of multi-millionaire Rupert Sandersham who thinks only of money. As the story unfolds, the actions of The Shadow open his eyes to his greed, and make him a changed man.
It's also the story of young George Ellerby who decided to embark upon a life of crime. He's redeemed by The Shadow's offer of a second chance at a new life. And it's the story of beautiful young Barbara Sandersham, who's hauty disdain for those beneath her high station, is tempered when she loses everything and is forced to work for a living. Then there's Gert, the cigarette girl at the Sky-high Club, who cavorts with gangsters until The Shadow shows her the straight path. And Lippy Jang a small-time hoodlum whose life is saved by The Shadow.
Yes, this story has much in common with Charles Dickens' "A CHRISTMAS CAROL" with Rupert Sandersham taking the part of Ebenezer Scrooge. The Shadow, replaces the three ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas future. It's through his manipulations that Sandersham sees the true light and becomes a reformed man -- a man who realizes that the true riches of life lay in family.
Maybe it's because I read this story at Christmas time... maybe I was in an especially sentimental mood... But this story touched me in a way that no other Shadow novel has done. It's certainly not your usual mad scientists, or haunted houses, or gangland feuds. That's not to say that there are no gangsters. Not everyone gets redeemed. Oh no! There's the sinister Slick Harrod, owner of the Sky-high Club and leader of a gang of mobsters. He's a baddie, through and through. And there's shootouts, fights, and thrills galore, all which make this an exciting pulp story.
But at it's heart, this is a story of the redemption of one miserly man. The redemption of a hauty young woman. The redemption of a rebellious young man bent on a life of crime. And it's a story of love. The love between a father and his daughter. The blooming love between a young couple. And it's all wrapped up in a Shadow mystery novel that will warm your heart.
Young George Ellerby, feeling that his recently deceased father's wealth had been stolen in underhanded business deals by Rupert Sandersham, breaks into Sandersham's home to burgle his safe. He is stopped by The Shadow and given a choice: continue with his crime and suffer the consequences, or repent and return to the side of law and order. The Shadow disappears, leaving George to make his decision. He makes the right one and decides to leave without the money in the safe. But before he can exit the house, he is confronted by lovely young Barbara Sandersham, daughter of the old businessman. She holds a pistol on him; he's obviously a burglar -- the safe is open. But for George, it's love at first sight.
The Shadow helps George escape and later confronts old man Sandersham about his ruthless business deals. So Rupert Sandersham takes to hiding, and daughter Barbara -- Babs to her friends -- goes incognito and gets a job at the Sky-High Club, one of Manhattan's bright spots and front to upstairs gambling. And that's where things get interesting. Slick Harrod, a gangster who lives up to his name, runs the Sky-High Club. He hires Barbara as a cigarette girl, pretending he hasn't seen through the false name she has given. Then he sets her up for blackmail, in the form of murder. His plan is to blackmail her into marrying him, which would then set him up as heir to Sandersham's millions.
There's a lot going on in this story. We meet the victims of Sandersham's harsh business deals -- men who have been driven to poverty by the savvy businessman's agreements. Most are destitute. In one case, The Shadow prevents one victim's suicide. But by the unseen manipulations of The Shadow, each regains his wealth.
By the end of the story, just about everyone has learned the true meaning of loyalty, generosity and true love. Everybody except for Slick Harrod and his gang of thugs. They end up receiving their just desserts in the form of hot lead bullets. But for the rest, it's a happy ending all around, and a very satisfactory resolution for the reader as well.
The cast of characters is streamlined, this time around. There's no sign of the law; no mention of Inspector Joe Cardona or Commissioner Ralph Weston. The only agent mentioned is cab-driver Moe Shrevnitz, and he only appears twice, briefly. There is one instance of some unnamed agents, "he gestured back into darkness, where were some of The Shadow's agents." But the reader isn't told who they are.
The Shadow appears most of the time as his black-cloaked self. He appears briefly twice as Lamont Cranston. And in one scene, he appears as a "dull-eyed janitor" at Sandersham's office. This is apparently the same disguise that The Shadow used when visiting police headquarters as "Fritz." But in this story, the janitor isn't named, so we can't verify that.
Redemption was a theme that author Walter Gibson only rarely touched upon in his Shadow novels. It's always nice to see someone turn from a life of crime to the path of the straight and narrow. Gibson used that subject in the 1932 tale "Kings of Crime" when one of the five crooks switches to the side of law and order, and actually becomes a de-facto agent for The Shadow. The theme appeared again in the 1933 tale "Road of Crime" when a young bank robber struggled with his conscience and saw eventually the light. A late 1939 story "House of Shadows" featured a young man reformed by love. But the 1939 story being reviewed here is probably the ultimate in such tales. Rupert Sandersham, Barbara Sandersham, George Ellerby, Gert Moley, the cigarette girl, and Lippy Jang, the hoodlum -- all are swayed by the actions of The Shadow and repent their previous transgressions.
You'll find this Shadow mystery to be a special one-of-a-kind story. And if you're like me, you'll really enjoy reading it.
Olsen was first introduced to The Shadow in the early 1960's, tuning in to
rebroadcasts of his adventures on KEX radio in Portland, Oregon. Several years
later, John was drawn to a hardback book entitled "The Weird Adventures of The
Shadow," containing three Shadow novels reprinted from the old pulp magazines.
The pulp Shadow was a far different character from the beloved radio version, but
the stories drew him in and opened his eyes to a richer version of the hero.
Today, John is retired in Sherwood, Oregon. He has read all 325 of
the old Shadow pulp mysteries and enjoys them so much that, as of this writing,
he is well over half way through reading them all again for a second time.