John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #40
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Crime Clinic" was originally published in the December 1, 1933 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Doctor Lysander Dubrong devotes his time to the riffraff of New York at his East Side Clinic. But is there more going on behind those walls than medicine? Could this clinic be the lair of the infamous Jackdaw? Could this be a Crime Clinic?
Our story opens with a locked room murder case. It doesn't get much better than that. An impossible murder that seems unsolvable. And this one's a doozy! It takes place at "Five Towers," a modernized replica of a famous English castle located out on Long Island. No feudal lord ever possessed a more formidable fortress. Each turret of this castle has walls of solid stone. One tower, in particular, is especially provided against attack. And there, in this impenetrable stronghold, the impossible murder takes place.
Wealthy Rutherford Casslin owns Five Towers. He has gathered together the social elite of Manhattan to exhibit his fabulous collection of gems. Among those gems is a large diamond with a decided reddish tint, known as the Bishenpur diamond. But while Rutherford Casslin stands locked alone inside his tower strong-room with his precious diamond, he is murdered. Shot through the back. And the Bishenpur diamond has been stolen!
Who could be behind this unfathomable crime? Underworld rumor has it that a strange shadowy character known only as the Jackdaw is responsible. Years before, the Jackdaw had struck New York. He was responsible for a series of society robberies. Jewels, bonds and other pelf of the rich were his target. Then he had skipped town. A bit later he returned for another crime spree, only to scram out of town yet again. Now the word is out... the Jackdaw is back!
The Shadow investigates the murder of Rutherford Casslin. Cliff Marsland, his secret connection to the underworld, reports the rumors of the Jackdaw. So The Shadow looks carefully at those guests present at Five Towers at the time of the murder. One of the suspects is Doctor Lysander Dubrong, the eminent physician and surgeon with the East Side Clinic. Strange, suspicious characters seem to skulk in and out of the clinic. This brings The Shadow to keep the establishment under close scrutiny, in the case the medical clinic turns out to be a crime clinic.
But there are other suspects, in addition to Doctor Dubrong. The word among gem collectors is that the Nizam of Hyderabad would gladly buy the Bishenpur diamond for his vast collection. Could he be one of the guests, in disguise? Another suspect is old Garforth Lydell, one of Casslin's oldest friends. And let's not forget his beautiful young daughter, Yvonne. Yvonne's fiance is Bart Melken, son of a wealthy old New York family. He definitely bears further scrutiny.
Before long, we discover that young Bart Melken isn't what he seems. Yes, young Bart is being forced to work for the Jackdaw as an inside man. Seems he stole some bonds after being swindled in a gambling house. Somehow, the Jackdaw learned of the indiscretion and threatened to expose Melken unless he worked for him. All Melken has to do is attend the parties of the wealthy society members, and signal when the coast is clear. The Jackdaw's minions take care of the rest. They crash the party, hold up the guests and make off with the loot.
But who is the Jackdaw? No one has seen him, not young Bart Melken or the underworld gunsels hired by the mysterious crime boss. Everyone is hired by telephone, and the Jackdaw disguises his voice. This is going to make it hard for The Shadow to track down the mastermind. But if anyone can do it, it's The Shadow!
Assisting The Shadow is Cliff Marsland, his watchdog in the underworld, Harry Vincent, who takes up trails in the fashionable districts, Rutledge Mann, agent and investment broker, and Burbank, his ever-vigilant contact man. There is no sign of Hawkeye, the hunchy little spotter who often teamed up with Marsland. His character wouldn't even be introduced to the magazine series for another three months. Also, no sign of taxicab driver Moe Shrevnitz. It would be nearly a year before he would become a regular in the series. So it's a slimmed-down cast.
Other regulars include Police Commissioner Ralph Weston, Detective Joe Cardona and Detective Sergeant Markham. The New York Police Department is well represented, here. Lamont Cranston's chauffeur Stanley also shows up, in his usual role as an unsuspecting servant who unknowingly assists The Shadow.
There are plenty of disguises in this story. The Shadow, as he often does, appears in the guise of millionaire Lamont Cranston. He also appears as a bespectacled blind man, complete with puffy cheeks that dull his hawklike countenance. And he makes an appearance in one of my favorite disguises, that of the tall, stoop-shouldered janitor down at police headquarters. He becomes the dull-eyed Fritz, so as to listen in on police business without being noticed. Good old close-mouthed Fritz. He says "Yah" a couple times, and that's the extent of his dialogue. But we love him anyway.
Detective Cardona rarely resorts to disguise, but he gives one a try in this story. He creates his disguise in a special hideout he keeps a mile or two from police headquarters. There, in an old house, he becomes a decrepit old man with gray hair and beard, a stoop-shouldered old man who would pass as a derelict, unnoticed on the East Side. Unfortunately, he must have gotten a failing grade in disguise school, because Doctor Dubrong sees through it immediately. Poor Joe, he should have taken lessons from The Shadow.
The Shadow was not well-known for his gadgets. That was more Doc Savage's specialty. But he did have some, and a couple are used in this murder tale. He pulls out those flexible rubber discs and attaches them to his hands and feet. Then he climbs the outside wall of Five Towers, the suction cups allowing him to scale the wall like a human fly. His other gadget is one that magnifies sound. Something like connections of a stethoscope pass beneath the slouch hat, allowing The Shadow to overhear conversations through a closed door. Doc Savage would have been proud.
The Shadow's mastery of languages is on display again, here in this story. A Hindu from India speaks his native Hindi, and The Shadow understands the dialect. All of which is understandable since he has traveled the world extensively, including India and nearby Tibet.
Some points of special note. Rutledge Mann gets to take another short trip to Twenty-third Street, where a dilapidated building sits. And on a top floor, he stops in front of an empty office, printed upon the unwashed glass of the door is the famous name: B. Jonas. As usual, he drops an envelope containing secret reports into the mail slot. And in some mysterious fashion, the reports find their way to The Shadow.
We also get to see The Shadow use his special blackened instrument of steel to probe and unlock doors. The instrument is intentionally blackened so as not to show any reflection of light and betray the presence of The Shadow. It's the same reasoning why he wears the black slouch hat, black cloak, black gloves and carries blackened .45 automatics. All the better to virtually disappear in the darkness.
As was typical of most 1930's Shadow stories, we get a visit to The Shadow's sanctum, hidden deep somewhere in the heart of Manhattan. He wears the shimmering girasol ring containing the fire opal of gleaming splendor. And he writes with a special blue ink that disappears shortly after it contacts the open air. These are the trappings we expect in a Shadow tale, and this one doesn't let us down.
I thought it was interesting that an actual telephone number was used in this story. Usually author Walter Gibson might write that a phone number was dialed, but he wouldn't specify exactly what it was. But in this story, for some reason, he specifically wrote the number was Seabright 0664. Being of curious nature, I wondered if that was an actual phone number back in 1933 or was just made up. Thanks to the wonderful folks who maintain the website of the Telephone Exchange Name Project (http://ourwebhome.com/TENP/TENproject.html) I was able to determine that, yes, Seabright 0664 was an actual telephone exchange in New Jersey. Now if we could only discover what person had that phone number in real life. Was Walter Gibson playing a prank on someone? We may never know.
One final point of interest. At our story's end, Detective Joe Cardona realizes that earlier in the story... "It was The Shadow who had played the part of Lamont Cranston." That's right, The Shadow had slipped up, earlier, and allowed his disguise to be penetrated. Cardona discovers that The Shadow disguises himself as Cranston. That's a vital revelation. And yet, for some reason, in the succeeding issues of the magazine, Joe seems to forget the link between the crime fighter and the millionaire. For the rest of the series, he never actually puts two-and-two together again. How could he so easily forget? I can only hypothesize that on the way back to headquarters, poor old Joe got hit on the head and suffered a convenient case of amnesia. But only with that one specific memory being lost. What else could explain it?
This is another terrific 1933 Shadow mystery. The Shadow solves the mystery of the locked room murder. He retrieves the Bishenpur diamond. He unmasks the Jackdaw. And he brings the hoards of crimedom to justice. This is The Shadow written as he should be written. It delivers the goods. Read it. Enjoy it.
"Cards of Death" was originally published in the May 1, 1938 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Legrec - a name that was famed in the European criminal underworld. This is the man who would travel to America and challenge The Shadow with mysterious deaths. And beside each victim, a token of Legrec would be discovered. A tarot card. These were the cards of death!
This is a second rate 1938 Shadow novel. If it were tossed into the 1944 lineup, it would rate better. But among the other 1938 fare, it fails to meet their measure. It's a bit shorter than the other novels of that year, at only 36,000 words; most were well over 40,000 words. And it lacks the excitement of some of the other stories such as "The Fifth Napoleon," "Shadow Over Alcatraz," "The Golden Vulture" and "Serpents of Siva." And while it does have a few cool scenes that make it worthwhile reading, ultimately it leaves the reader a little disappointed. There is some mystery, but much of it remains unexplained at the end. And there is a twist ending, but it doesn't come as much of a surprise. So when you put it all together, the total is a substandard Shadow novel, by 1938 standards.
We meet the first victim, Elwood Balcray. He's a wealthy real estate operator who dies in a plane accident that wrecks during takeoff. Delivered to him just before the airplane door closed was an envelope, it's contents were a single Tarot card: the six of rods. He recognized the deadly significance of that card. But it was too late. Four die in the crash, Balcray among them. The master criminal known as Legrec has struck!
Then comes the second victim. Sylvester Lysand is the director of the Triton National Bank. He lives at the exclusive Sheffield Apartments. Unfortunately, he takes the wrong elevator at the wrong time. The elevator falls six stories to the basement below the apartment building, killing two men. Lysand lies dead, clutching a Tarot card; this one the six of cups. Like a venomous rattlesnake, the hidden killer Legrec has signaled his fatal intent before he strikes. One more card of death has betokened death for its victim.
The third victim is promoter Hastings Keever. He leaves his pretentious New York hotel room and travels to another less showy room in Greenwich Village. As he makes a phone call there, he spies the Tarot card lying beneath his telephone. It is the six of coins. And no sooner does he glimpse that card of death than fingers clutch his throat. Keever is murdered in his room. His final gasp is the name "Legrec!" Yes, the mysterious Legrec has struck a third time.
Well, we're off to a pretty good start. The bodies are dropping like flies. We have a strange death token, in the Tarot cards. We have a hidden killer in Legrec. And only two chapters have gone by. Yup, a pretty good start. But things cool off, and as they slow down, so does the reader's interest.
The Shadow enters the picture, because he was keeping an eye on the activities of the shady promoter Hastings Keever. He finds the dead body of Keever only moments after the man is killed, and sets off after the unknown murderer. Legrec, clever master criminal that he is, sets off a tremendous explosion and makes good his escape. But now that The Shadow is on his trail, Legrec's doom is only a matter of time. The Shadow will not give up until Legrec is in his grasp.
So, who is this Legrec, anyway? Gautier Legrec is a celebrated international crook. He is nearly unknown in the annals of American crime, but in foreign lands his death tokens were famed indeed. He always pops up, commits his crimes, and then disappears as quickly. And he was never active when The Shadow was visiting Europe, so the two never encountered each other. But now, Legrec is in America and all that has changed.
Lets take a look at some of the other people we meet in this story. Thomas Margale is a very wealthy man who has just returned from an extended vacation on the French Riviera. Could he actually be Legrec? His beautiful young niece Eleanor thinks so. Now that he is back in New York, there are curious happenings in the old Margale home. Strange men visit Margale - men whom Eleanor never gets to meet. And then the phone call. The call that Hastings Keever was making at the time of his death. All she heard was the dying man's cry of "Legrec!" Yes, she definitely has reason for her suspicions.
Eleanor Margale secretly follows the directions of a slip of paper that she finds hidden in a drawer. And the rundown old house, she meets up with Rupert Roban. He's a white-haired old counterfeiter, who is as wily as he is ancient. He traps the young woman in a bizarre secret elevator, and it takes The Shadow to rescue her. Could Roban be the elusive Gautier Legrec?
Another character that we meet is Alan Rigby, the ace private investigator who has been chasing Gautier Legrec all over the continent. He knows the ways of the slippery Legrec, and has gradually pieced together an artist's rendering of the unseen criminal's likeness. He joins up with Inspector Joe Cardona and Commissioner Ralph Weston in tracking down the criminal mastermind. And while they work in the open, The Shadow carries on his own investigations out of the public eye.
In addition to Cardona and Weston, there are a few other recurring characters in this tale. Moe Shrevnitz, cabbie for The Shadow, appears once, as do reporter Clyde Burke, contact man Burbank and insurance broker Rutledge Mann. The Shadow's long-time aide Harry Vincent appears quite a bit in the second half of the story. And The Shadow appears in his usual disguise as millionaire Lamont Cranston. The real Cranston, we are told, is presently trekking across the South African veldt. That makes it easy for The Shadow to replace him without suspicion.
It's interesting to note that radio station WNX is mentioned in this mystery. This mythical radio station appeared in over a dozen of the Shadow pulp novels. This was one of them.
The pulp story does have some good scenes to help redeem it. Poor Harry Vincent gets bashed around a bit and captured. He's drugged with hashish, or bhang, as they call it. Harry often gets pretty rough treatment in these stories, but he always sticks around, completely faithful to The Shadow. He must be a quick healer.
My favorite scene is where Eleanor Margale visits the rooms of Rupert Roban, the white haired counterfeiter. She sits in a small alcove with a chess table and two chairs. There's a muffled click as the floor begins to sink, carrying the walls and ceiling with it. Poor Eleanor is a prisoner inside an elevator disguised as an alcove to the room. It lowers down, trapping her inside. And from above, drops the figure of The Shadow. But can The Shadow rescue her in time?
Despite one or two scenes that were fun to read, they aren't enough to absolve the entire story from being pretty pedestrian. Why were some of the murders camouflaged as plane crashes and elevator accidents? It's a mystery which I figured would be explained in the end. But no explanation was forthcoming.
Why did Gautier Legrec place Tarot cards on his victims? Again we never get an explanation, other than some general comment that it was "his habit." And specifically, why always the "six of" something? Author Walter Gibson seems to make a big deal out of the death card always being a six. But at the story's end when everything mysterious is supposed to be explained, nothing is said of the significance of the "six" cards.
Even the unexpected twist ending comes as no surprise. Legrec is unmasked as being... (gasp) ...the person we have been suspecting all along. Early on in the story Walter Gibson has one of the characters proclaiming "I am Legrec!" but that is so pathetically a red herring, that I doubt if a single reader was mislead into actually believing it.
I'm sorry to say that this story just doesn't cut it. Of the twenty-four Shadow pulp novels published in the year 1938, this one ranks among the bottom five. You can still enjoy reading it, if you don't go in with very high expectations. It's not nearly as horrible as some of the late 1940's Shadow stories, if that's any consolation. If you get a chance to read this one, go ahead and do so. Just know its weaknesses in advance.
John 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.