John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #34
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Blackmail Ring" was originally published in the August 1, 1932 issue of The Shadow
Magazine. An international group of blackmailers is out to wrest secrets from influential men... secrets that can be used for blackmail.
And The Shadow is out to confront the sinister leaders behind the evil scheme.
It's not often that we get to see The Shadow overseas. This isn't truly
one of his international adventures, but it does start in Paris. So for
at least the first chapter, we get to watch the "international" Shadow
in action. Then the scene changes to the United States, where the story
continues until the rousing climax.
As the story opens, we find The Shadow in his suite at the Hotel
Barzonne in Paris. The Shadow has just finished cleaning up some crime
rings throughout Europe. We aren't given a lot of details, but a few
hints surface. There has been an amazing murder case in Germany. It's
an unsolved mystery. And in a separate incident, a body has been found
floating in the Seine River. What no one knows is that the drowned man
was the German murderer. His drowning had not been accidental; the
fiend of crime had encountered just retribution from The Shadow!
In London, two men had been discovered dead in a rundown rooming house,
victims of a gun fray. And sixty-thousand pounds in English currency,
stolen in a London bank robbery that had baffled Scotland Yard, had
been mysteriously recovered following a tip from an unknown source.
Little did anyone suspect that the two dead men had been responsible
for the robbery. They had met their fate at the hands of The Shadow.
Yes, The Shadow has been busy all over Europe. He's currently cleaning
up the loose ends of another crime. An American named Herbert Brockley
had been murdered. The Apache killers, the Parisian criminals
responsible, had themselves been killed. But one of the gang escaped.
One man, who had befriended Brockley, had been given secret documents
by Brockley before his death. And these documents could be used for
further blackmail. The Shadow must track down the man responsible and
recover the documents!
Back in the good old U.S., The Shadow has his agents watching wealthy
men who are possible blackmail victims. And this is where me meet up
with our proxy hero for this story, one Stuart Bruxton. As often
happens in many of these stories, Bruxton accidentally stumbles into
the situation. It's just a case of being in the wrong place at the
He's driving to Herkimer, Maryland, when he picks up a hitchhiker. They
take a "shortcut" and end up being mistaken for someone else. The
hitchhiker is murdered and Bruxton is taken captive. When Bruxton is
discovered to be someone other than who the cutthroats were expecting,
he's tied up and left in a old country house that's set afire. Yes,
it's all a series of unfortunate coincidences.
And by another coincidence, The Shadow's faithful aide, Harry Vincent,
just happens along at the right time, and sees the flames shooting
above the roof of the house. He breaks in and rescues Bruxton. It seems
that Bruxton was mistakenly identified as Wallace Powell, a courier
carrying those stolen blackmail documents from Paris. When the gang in
the old house discovered their prisoner wasn't Powell, he was deemed
disposable. Vincent had been searching for Powell, and came along at
exactly the right time to rescue Bruxton from the inferno.
So exactly, what's going on here? Well, it seems that Herbert Brockley
went to Europe to escape some unknown menace. There, he befriended an
American confidence man named Wallace Powell. Brockley gave some
documents to Powell. These facts were uncovered by Clyde Burke, another
of The Shadow's agents, who had gone to Paris as a correspondent for
his New York newspaper.
These documents contained facts that could be used to blackmail someone
in America. Powell brought the documents to the United States shortly
before Brockley was killed. The Shadow avenged Brockley's death in
Paris, then set out to track down Powell and the mysterious documents.
So Wallace Powell is in America with the documents. He's trying to sell
them. Someone is trying to kill him. And they struck against Stuart
Bruxton by mistake. Harry Vincent helps Bruxton escape, but the bad
guys are long gone. So Vincent convinces Bruxton to join him in trying
to track them down. Bruxton will be safer working with him, and has a
better chance of seeing his assailants captured, than if he goes to the
Our proxy hero Stuart Bruxton, in the company of The Shadow's agent
Harry Vincent, heads off into adventure, seeking the loose threads of
the American side of the blackmail gang. And returning to America to
assist them when needed is The Shadow.
This version of The Shadow is the early one, in which he only appears
occasionally when needed. Most of the action is carried by our proxy
hero Stuart Bruxton and The Shadow's faithful agent, Harry Vincent. The
Shadow just stays in the background. But he's directing the
investigation, passing out orders and collecting information. It's The
Shadow who figures out the secret identities of the criminals, and
brings them all to justice in a rousing climax.
Other than Harry Vincent, the only agents we see are Rutledge Mann and
Burbank. Burke is mentioned, but doesn't actually appear. Burbank's
part is extremely small. I think he only gets two lines of dialogue.
Mann's part is slightly larger, as he gets to interview Bruxton and
deliver messages to that mysteriously empty "B Jonas" office. He also
gets to visit the Cobalt Club, where he made his magazine debut only
two issues earlier.
There is no mention of the law in this story. The Shadow doesn't
encounter any law enforcement officers in Paris, although a couple of
Parisian detective are mentioned. None show up in America. There's no
sign of Detective Joe Cardona or Commissioner Ralph Weston of the New
York Police. The Shadow metes out his own brand of justice, and no
further representatives of the law seem to be needed.
This was the thirteenth Shadow pulp mystery published, so things had
pretty well settled down by this time. All the familiar trappings are
there. The Shadow wears his sable cloak and slouch hat. He wears his
girasol ring, and we are told "there was no other like it in the
world," something we learned much later wasn't true at all. And we get
to visit the sanctum.
The Shadow is a master of languages. He speaks perfect French, here.
He's also a master of disguise. He appears as a dignified American with
no name. Later he is a tall, silent, cold-faced man landing in America.
And he even gets to disguise himself as one of the main suspects,
although I won't spoil it for you by revealing the details.
As was typical in many of the early Shadow pulp stories, it is
acknowledged that The Shadow can be heard weekly over the radio on a
national hook-up. The world knows the laugh of The Shadow, and all of
gangdom understands its meaning.
The Shadow also apparently has some unknown agent at radio station WNX
working as an announcer, because he sends messages to his agents over
the radio, hidden in seemingly innocent announcements. It's the old
"emphasized words" trick that was often used in the early stories, but
dropped after a couple years.
Also mentioned in the early pulp novels, but then dropped, was the
compact wireless sending set that Harry Vincent keeps hidden in the
back of his coupe. Once again, Harry lifts an inner lid to disclose the
secret radio set. He strings an aerial between two trees and starts
clicking away at the sending key. Apparently this radio isn't
sophisticated enough to send voice, so it's back to the old coded radio
messages. Makes me wonder what happened to that television sending set
that Vincent used back in the second story "Eyes of The Shadow."
Perhaps a little continuity error, there?
The Shadow uses a uniquely shaped card in this story. Here it's blank,
but when held up to the light, it casts a strange shadow that bears a
grotesque resemblance to the profile of the man. Pretty cool calling
card, if you ask me!
The Shadow's autogiro isn't mentioned this time, but The Shadow does
get to pilot a plane. Not only does he fly back and forth from New York
to Maryland several times, but he gets to engage the bad guys in an
aerial battle at the climax of the story. He flies not just any
passenger plane, no sirree. His plane carries a machine gun. And he
This is a pretty exciting story from the early years of The Shadow. The
title isn't very thrilling, but it belies a really excellent Shadow
pulp mystery. Just ignore a few little loose ends that are never tied
up (like our proxy hero Stuart Bruxton still wandering around, clueless
and lost, in Virginia, after the story concludes in Maryland). Yeah,
ignore those little trifling things, and revel in the pulpy goodness of
another great Shadow mystery.
"Murder for Sale" was published in the July 1, 1938 issue of The Shadow Magazine. This was the second part in a five-part series involving The Shadow's adventures with The Hand. The Hand was a group of five master criminals, each one a finger of The Hand. One by one, in each adventure, The Shadow defeated another "finger."
The first in the series was "The Hand" from May 15, 1938 in which The Shadow defeated "Pinkey" Findlen, a crime boss who blackmailed and murdered his victims. In this second story, The Shadow must fight "Ring" Brescott, the murder specialist in the group. The other three stories in the series were "Chicago Crime" from November 15, 1938; "Crime Rides the Seas" from January 1, 1939; and "Realm of Doom" from February 1, 1939.
As our story opens, Harry Vincent is coming to Philadelphia by train. He looks out the window of his compartment and sees a man sending a car over the edge of a bridge, then escaping in an accompanying taxicab. Yes, murder has been committed, for inside the car was the already-dead body of Louis Rulland. Young Rulland had come into a couple million dollars a few months ago, and someone wanted him dead. It was murder for hire!
The Shadow has been keeping an eye on some suspicious deaths in Philadelphia lately. There was a chap named Warling, who was killed when his horse threw him up on the Wissahickon Drive. And another sporting chap, Landrew, out in Media, whose gun went off when he was cleaning it. Both of them were worth a pile of dough, like Rulland. And both were not accidents!
Harry Vincent had been sent to Philadelphia for the specified purpose of investigating the accidental deaths, and has now stumbled upon one in the making. Who's behind it all? "Ring" Brescott, that's who. Brescott had been the murder specialist in the group known as "The Hand." He was a human chameleon, who had often demonstrated his ability to slip from sight. One thing upon which Ring prided himself was his ability to pick up any language. And in this story, he uses that ability more than once.
Ring Brescott has set up business in Philadelphia. A murder-for-hire business, in which he sets up the murders to look like accidents. And The Shadow will not only send in his agents, he will make a personal appearance as well. For it will take the cunning of The Shadow to track down Ring Brescott and his gang of thugs who have turned killing into an art form.
Our proxy hero in this story is beautiful young Isabel Rendolf, fiance of the murdered Louis Rulland. She knows his death was suspicious and wants to find out what's behind it. And she's soon enlisted by The Shadow to assist in his investigations. Also helping are faithful agents Harry Vincent and Clyde Burke. No sign of the rest of the familiar gang. Cliff Marsland and Hawkeye are never mentioned, nor is Moe Shrevnitz or Burbank. And since the action all takes place in Philadelphia, there is no mention of Police Commissioner Ralph Weston or Detective Joe Cardona.
The Shadow does appear in several disguises, including the oft-used one of Lamont Cranston. He also appears in daylight as himself, Kent Allard. And he appears at night as his black-garbed self, The Shadow!
In this story, one of the henchmen named Whiz sports a ring with a large chunk of quartz known as a "Mexican" diamond. I had to do a little research on that one, since I'd never heard of such a thing. I turns out that a Mexican diamond is simply rock crystal, or quartz. Go figure...
The Shadow gets injured in this story. He suffers from a concussion which was received in an automobile crash. And he wanders in a daze for the next chapter. Where's that vial of purplish elixir when you need it?
It's interesting to note that even in far-off Philadelphia, crooks know the laugh of The Shadow. When they hear his sinister taunt, they gear up for battle immediately, since they know that laugh. Either they've been visiting in New York, or The Shadow has visited Philly before.
We also get to visit Chinatown in Philadelphia. Yes, Philly has its own Chinatown, too. Generally, Walter Gibson treated Orientals kindly in his novels, but in this one he does let a racial slur pass by. I suppose it was a common enough term for Chinese used among a certain class of people back then, but Gibson usually rose above that. Oh well, just ignore it in the interests of historical accuracy.
The Shadow's mastery of many languages comes into play here. It's mentioned that he speaks a Cantonese dialect. Add another one to the ever-growing list.
It's another enjoyable story in The Shadow's career.
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.