John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #30
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"The Sealed Box"
originally published in the December 1, 1937 issue of The Shadow
Magazine. The box in question is a flattish, black metal box, tightly
bound with twisted wire. It's secured with sealing wax. And inside the
box, the contents will lead to murder!
Our story opens in the suburbs of Southbury, a city of one hundred
thousand in some undesignated New England state. In a remote mansion
lives white-haired Richard Whilton, esteemed philanthropist, with his
beautiful young niece Eunice. Old Whilton has come into possession of
the sealed box. But he hasn't opened it, yet.
The sealed box was originally the property of the recently deceased
Mayor Dylan. The ex-mayor, it seems, was involved with a scheme to
wring millions of dollars from the city government. He committed
suicide, or so it is believed, but before he did, he left a full
confession of his misdeeds and placed full documented evidence of the
mastermind behind the evil plot into that flat metal box. The master
criminal ransacked the dead mayor's house seeking the damaging
evidence, but was too late. The box, still sealed, was found by Mayor
Dylan's relatives and given to the one man they could trust: Richard
Now Whilton plans to open the box and make the contents public. He will
reveal the secret identity of the mastermind who has swindled the city
of millions. But first, to ensure his safety, he calls upon his friend
The Shadow! The Shadow aided him once in the past, and he looks to the
mystery man again for assistance.
However, before The Shadow can arrive, Richard Whilton is murdered. The
Shadow finds the body in Whilton's study only minutes after a bullet
ends his life. The sealed box is missing. But below the dead body, The
Shadow finds a mysterious coin. A gold coin of Spanish mintage. It's
the only clue to the murderer of old Richard Whilton. And it's the only
clue that The Shadow has to track down the mysterious sealed box!
Our proxy hero in this story is young Larry Sherrin. Five years
previously, Sherrin had worked for Richard Whilton and had embezzled
fifty thousand dollars from his employer. His intent was to embark upon
a string of robberies, but he was caught by The Shadow. He repented and
repaid Whilton what was left of the money. The Shadow, instead of
sending him to jail, sent him to his special island in the West Indies
where criminals are rehabilitated under the guidance of The Shadow's
good friend and criminologist Slade Farrow. Perhaps a strange choice
for a proxy hero, but keep in mind that young Larry has reformed.
When we first meet Larry Sherrin, he is residing in the large community
house on the West Indies island crime colony. He is called into the
office of Slade Farrow and told of old Richard Whilton's death. Whilton
has remembered young Larry in his will. He has forgiven him his
criminal past, and has left him fifty thousand dollars. The Shadow
wants Larry to return to Southbury to claim his inheritance and also
help flush out the murderer. Larry, feeling indebted to The Shadow and
wanting to live a clean and straight life, agrees to help. He is to
return to civilization a reformed man.
This, then, is the story of young Larry Sherrin and his adventures back
in the city of Southbury, as he assists The Shadow in the quest for the
sealed box. Will Larry finally find true love in the arms of young
Eunice Whilton? Or will she spurn him because of his criminal past?
Will The Shadow uncover the hiding place of the sealed box? And who
will the mystery man behind the murder turn out to be? Ah, it makes for
a most intriguing story!
In this story, only one of the familiar agents makes an appearance:
reporter Clyde Burke. The Shadow is working mainly alone, with the
assistance of Burke and young Larry Sherrin. The Shadow appears as
Lamont Cranston for the first half of the story, until the hidden
mastermind penetrates his disguise. Then Cranston leaves, and The
Shadow returns as his true self, Kent Allard. We are reminded, as was
revealed only four month earlier in "The Shadow Unmasks," that Cranston
is just a guise of The Shadow. His true identity is Kent Allard. It's
as Allard that he stays in Southbury through the end of the story.
There are some interesting points about this story. The most obvious is
mention of The Shadow's West Indies island. It was only mentioned in
four other stories: "The Yellow Door," "The Broken Napoleons,"
"Intimidation, Inc." and "The Devil's Paymaster." IWe are told that the
island was purchased by The Shadow as a place for this rehabilitation
Criminologist Slade Farrow, one of only three living persons who knows
the true identity of The Shadow, had for years dreamed of a colony
where he could practice his theories on reforming criminals. So The
Shadow produced the place and supplied the inhabitants as well, by
selecting certain criminals he had caught. Although The Shadow
apparently rarely, if ever, visits the island, he keeps in contact via
coded radio messages.
It's interesting to get a rare glimpse of this island in operation.
It's similarity to Doc Savage's up-state institution for criminal
rehabilitation has always struck me as being more than coincidental.
Doc Savage's "college" came first, being introduced in 1933's "The Land
of Terror." The Shadow's island was introduced in 1936, which makes one
wonder if Walter Gibson intentionally copied the idea from Lester Dent.
Or perhaps it was something imposed upon him by the editors at Street
and Smith. I don't know.
Another interesting feature of this story is that of a bad-girl
antagonist. Walter Gibson hardly ever wrote female villains. But this
story certainly has one in Theda Morenz, a torch singer at the Cairo
Club. She and her gang of thugs are out to get the sealed box before
The Shadow. But most surprising of all is her death at the end. I don't
think I've every seen Walter Gibson write a Shadow story where a female
dies. But at stories' end, she's gunned down, although by whose bullets
remains unclear. Certainly not The Shadow's!
I thought it was rather cool when Lamont Cranston receives a message
from the mysterious killer. The hidden mastermind has identified
Cranston as The Shadow, and sends him a message written in The Shadow's
own disappearing blue ink. As he reads the threat from the murderer,
the words fade before his very eyes. What a shock that must have been!
How does the killer get that special ink? I'll leave it to you to read
the story to find out.
In this story, The Shadow actually rings the doorbell and enters by the
front door. I don't mean in one of his disguises. I mean in black cloak
and slouch hat. Now that's a first! Usually, he just appears from the
dark corners of the room. Or comes through a window. But to actually
ring the doorbell and gain admittance the "normal" way, is a first!
was originally published in the December 15, 1937 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Racketeers and mobsters take over an entire city! At point of gun, they enforce their edicts, until they meet up with the Master Avenger of Crime, The Shadow!
Usually, gangster stories in the Shadow series aren't my favorite. But this one was actually pretty good. Author Walter Gibson wrote a variety of types of stories for the magazine series, to keep readers coming back for something new twice a month. Some of the pulp tales were locked room murder mysteries. Some were haunted house stories. At times, there were mad scientists with crazy inventions. And let's not forget the super-villains like Shiwan Khan and The Voodoo Master. But when Gibson wrote a straight gangster story where The Shadow fought against gangs and corruption, the stories always seemed something of a letdown to me. They lacked the excitement and the "wow" factor of the more lurid types of stories. So I was surprised to find that although this definitely fell into the gangster category, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.
The story is about the town of Parkland, a thriving city of sixty thousand in some unspecified section of the east, only a train's-ride distance away from New York City. Inspector Joe Cardona, Manhattan's cleverest lawman, has been called away from his usual post at the request of Parkland's chamber of commerce. Graft has taken over Parkland, and the locals are helpless to deal with it. They need Cardona to help them clean up the town.
Cardona arrives on the Daylight Limited, and as he's driving into down an attempt is made upon his life. A huge truck careens through an intersection with Cardona's sedan squarely in its path. There's no way to avoid it; death and destruction are imminent. At the last second, Cardona's life is saved by... The Shadow! Yes, the black-cloaked hero is in town. He's here for the same reason: to investigate the graft and corruption that runs rampant beneath the placid exterior of the community.
Parkland is a racket town, and Mart Kilgay is the king. Yes, from the very beginning, the reader is aware who is behind it all. This isn't one of those stories where the mastermind is hidden, and is only revealed at the end. No, we know from the start who's the bad guy. Cardona doesn't know, of course, nor do any of the other city officials. But the reader follows along as Mart Kilgay makes his plans to strike at the economic heart of Parkland.
Mart Kilgay is a fake insurance dealer. He came to town to settle a grudge with an old geezer named Warren Knightson. And settle it, he did. He brought down Knightson's real estate empire and made a bundle for himself in the process. Then, while he was in town, he decided to set up shop and bilk the town of millions.
Assisting Mart Kilgay are his lieutenants Doc Arland, who poses as a specialist in electrotherapy, Brace Lurbin, a hired gun whose job it is to target The Shadow, Ducky Murrick, who fronts a wholesale gown shop, and Dingo Swark who controls Parkland's three taxicab companies, and has gradually been replacing the drivers with his own hoodlums. There are a huge bunch of thugs on Kilgay's payroll - a hundred men staged around town as taxi drivers and in other positions. And another four hundred held in reserve, in case of a pinch.
Yes, this Kilgay guy has an army of thugs under his command. With his henchmen, he quietly goes about scooping up millions from the helpless citizens of the city. Cardona gets right to work on the local graft, and does his best, but can't crack the case. He can't find a single racketeer, so well are they disguised.
It's up to The Shadow to penetrate the gang and reveal their true colors. And he does so in this slam-bang shoot-em-up story of the forces of crime against the forces of law-and-order. Lots of action. Lots of gangland gun fights. And only The Shadow to win the day. A darned exciting story, if I do say so.
In this tale, The Shadow appears in his guise of black. But there's no sign of Kent Allard, Lamont Cranston, Henry Arnaud, or any other of his famous disguises. It's just The Shadow! Well, actually, there is a disguise, but it's not one that the reader recognizes. And since that disguise is crucial to the surprise ending of the story, I won't reveal it, here.
A couple of interesting notes about this story. Apparently, rumors about the "hawklike" appearance of The Shadow have been circulating. According to Walter Gibson, when The Shadow's disguise is revealed to the gangsters at the end of the story, we are told the "features that they saw were not the hawklike ones that rumor attributed to The Shadow." Hmmm... I always thought that no one knew the face of The Shadow. It was always shrouded or masked. But according to this story, rumors of his hawklike face abound. An interesting point that I don't remember seeing in any other Shadow story.
I was surprised that The Shadow's famous suction cups weren't used in this story. Upon three separate occasions, he is required to climb the outside of buildings. These aren't short climbs, either; one takes about four minutes. At least once, the wall's surface is specifically described as being smooth. It would be a perfect opportunity to use the soft rubber discs. But even though they had been used for five years, by this time, and had appeared in twenty-seven pulp stories previous to this, they are strangely abandoned, here. Too bad, it would have been a perfect opportunity to haul them out again.
Interestingly enough, on two separate occasions in this story, The Shadow loses his black cloak and slouch hat. But each time, he turns up with another fresh ensemble. It's amazing how many of these replacement costumes he must have. In the various pulp stories, his black garments are routinely lost, riddled with holes, torn, trampled, etc. I'm convinced that somewhere in Manhattan, he has a secret seamstress churning out black cloaks (with a crimson lining), slouch hats and silk gloves. Maybe she's an agent that we've never read about, who toils in anonymity. In my musings, she's probably married to another anonymous agent, a gunsmith who provides a never-ending supply of .45 automatics to replace those that The Shadow cavalierly tosses away with distressing regularity. But it's all only conjecture.
And the ending is a bit different in this story. Usually, The Shadow fades away at the end, leaving all public credit to the police. But not in this one. In this story, he drives out of town in the midst of a cheering crowd, waving his slouch hat in the air in triumph. It seems that Joe Cardona figures it's about time for The Shadow to get some credit. In the past, The Shadow usually turned credit over to Joe. At last, Joe is able to return the favor. "The cloaked conqueror of crime had gone amid the roars of public approval that he had so long deserved." Now that's an ending I don't think I've ever seen before. And a uniquely satisfying one!
I surprised myself by actually enjoying this story. It's a 1937 tale from The Shadow's "crime-busting" period. No mad scientists here; no haunted houses; no masked super-villains - just gangs, guns, and The Shadow!
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.