John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #41
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Chain of Death" was published in the July 15,
1934 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The insidious, secret organization
known as "Crime, Incorporated" is a chain of criminal masterminds, each
connected to the next. It's a true chain of death!
In this unique "chain" each member knows the names of only two other
members: the person before him in the chain, and the person after him.
The person before him is the one who introduced him to the chain. The
person after him is the one that he brought into the group.
When any member of the chain devises a crime, he sends a coded message
down the chain describing it. Any hidden member who can assist replies
back up the chain, also in the code. The crime is then committed, and no
clews are left behind.
The activities of Crime, Incorporated have been going on for some time,
without any hint for The Shadow to find. But he finally short-circuits
one crime that give him a clue. His first.
Young Howard Norwyn enters the huge Zenith Building at 9:15 PM and
enters the office of his employer, George Hobston, president of an
investment firm. He's there for an appointment with Hobston, but instead
finds Hobston dead, the strong vault room open, papers scattered
everywhere. There's been murder and robbery!
Norwyn is attacked by an unknown thug, knocked out and locked in the
strong room with the revolver: the death weapon. The revolver has been
wiped of fingerprints, and Howard Norwyn's prints placed upon it. He is
being framed for the crime...
False evidence is being planted that will make it appear that old
Hobston and Norwyn had quarreled. Hobson had apparently managed to lock
Norwyn in the vault room and called the police. Norwyn, coming to his
senses, had shot through the open grillwork of the locked vault door,
and shot his employer in the back. Thus was the planted evidence.
The police would have surely arrested Howard Norwyn as the murderer of
George Hobston, had they arrived before The Shadow. But The Shadow shows
up in the nick of time. He opens the locked vault door and frees young
Norwyn. Then he spirits Norwyn away to the Long Island home of Lamont
Cranston. There, The Shadow keeps Norwyn in hiding from the police as he
tracks down the true killer. And the source of the crime!
The source of the crime is Crime, Incorporated. We meet the head of the
crime ring, a querulous old man, a wizen creature lying propped up on
the pillows of his old-fashioned bed. Barton Talbor, the head of Crime,
Incorporated, lies dying. His secretary, Fullis Garwald is nursing him
in his last illness.
Fullis Garwald knows nothing of his employer's secret life of crime. But
Garwald is no primrose, himself. He's anxious for old Talbor to die so
he can search for hidden wealth before the relatives and heirs arrive.
Imagine his surprise when he's told that Talbor is leaving his entire
criminal empire to Garwald!
As he lays dying, Talbor describes his criminal corporation to his
secretary. His great fortune has been gained through crime. By subtle
crime that has gone undetected for many years. It started with Talbor
and two others. The other two then added a member, each, to the
organization. Another link in the chain. Each new member added another.
And so on, until Crime, Incorporated currently stands at over twenty
members, each a crafty master of crime in his own right.
Talbor supplied the group with a special code which each uses to contact
adjacent links in the chain. Actually two codes. A circle code is
simple to decipher and is intended as a blind. It is only used for
trivial, unimportant messages. A block code is the true one. It will
baffle the greatest cryptogram experts and is used for the true
Both codes are used together, with two messages being always passed
together: one in the simple circle code, and the other in the block
code. The useless circle code is intended to mislead anyone who might
accidentally find a message. The circle code will be easily solved, and
will be some useless message. The block code will be too difficult to
solve, but will be disregarded as also something of no importance.
The Shadow finds two of these coded messages in the possession of
Professor Langwood Devine, another member of Crime, Incorporated. The
professor is killed and the police come into possession of the two coded
messages. Their top experts can't decipher the block code. This could
be the clue that The Shadow needs to crack the strange chain.
Can even The Shadow solve the strange block code? And can he somehow
pull together all the secret members of the group for capture? It's an
early whirlwind mystery of The Shadow that promises and delivers action
Assisting The Shadow in solving this case are his agents Rutledge Mann,
Clyde Burke, Harry Vincent and Cliff Marsland. Support comes from the
forces of law and order in the persons of Detective Joe Cardona and
Inspector Timothy Klein. The Shadow, himself, appears disguised as
Mynheer Hansel Vaart, prominent economist from the Netherlands, and as
Lamont Cranston, millionaire and world-traveler. The real Cranston, we
are told, is currently in Afghanistan and won't be returning for six
The Shadow's famous small vial appears in this story. This time, it
contains an opiate rather than a stimulant. The Shadow commands Howard
Norwyn to drink from it before he spirits him out of the crime scene
away to Cranston's Long Island estate. Norwyn drinks, becomes
light-headed, and passes out. No color is mentioned this time, so
apparently it isn't the "purplish" liquid we've come to expect from
And we also get to visit the sanctum several times, including a visit to
a second room of the sanctum that is rarely mentioned. It is in this
other room that The Shadow stands before the polished surface of a
mirror and puts on his disguises. We are told "deft fingers, pressing
against cheeks and lips, were molding the countenance as one might work
with clay." A face like clay...
If you like secret codes, this one's certainly for you!
"Death's Premium" was originally published in the January 1, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. We're all familiar with life insurance, but some fiendish criminal mastermind in New York had come up with a twist on that theme: death insurance. And The Shadow was about to pay death's premium... on himself!
A polo player had been killed. Young Reggie Chitterton had been thrown from his horse; he had died from a fractured skull. Obviously an unavoidable accident. But The Shadow is suspicious. There have been other accidents across the country. Too many accidents.
In his sanctum, The Shadow examines newspaper clippings from various cities. All told of recent deaths. All pertained to so-called accidents, the sort that would be checked by the law and classed as unavoidable. But there were too many to be coincidence. And thus, The Shadow sets out to uncover a nationwide crime ring - a crime ring dealing in murder made to look accidental.
The Shadow follows a dual trail - petty crooks who may lead him to the big boss of the murder racket, and wealthy businessmen who might be candidates for murder. And when Claude Juble, junior partner in the firm of Vayne & Co., is killed in an attempt on the senior partner's life, The Shadow has the opportunity to carefully search his apartment. What The Shadow finds is a new twist to crime: Death Insurance.
Hidden in the lining of a trunk in Juble's apartment is the most remarkable document that The Shadow has ever viewed. It looked like an insurance policy, and in fact it was. But the border was black instead of the customary green. And at the top was the amazing title: AMERICAN DEATH INSURANCE COMPANY. The company's symbol, a skull and crossbones. Claude Juble had insured the death of Tyrus Vayne, senior partner of his company, for one hundred thousand dollars.
A new concept, death insurance! Exactly how does it work? That's what The Shadow was determined to find out. And to do so, he approached one of the "insurance agents" in the guise of Henry Arnaud. His goal, to insure the death of Lamont Cranston. Yes, The Shadow was buying death insurance upon himself!
Death insurance was exactly the opposite of life insurance. Instead of a man insuring his own life, someone else insured his death. Instead of paying off if the insured dies, this policy pays off if the insured lives. As Clarence Regar explained it to Henry Arnaud:
"One man troubles you?" purred Regar. "Very well, Mr. Arnaud, why not insure his death? By paying a premium of ten percent, with a percentage off for cash, you will collect the full amount, provided -"
"Provided that the man lives?"
"Exactly!" Regar smiled smugly. "If he lives beyond a period of one year, you collect. If he dies" - Regar spread his hands - "you lose the premium, but you get what you really want."
This sinister new concept in crime must be thwarted! And in order to do so, The Shadow has set himself up to be murdered. It makes an exciting tale to see how The Shadow is stalked by the underworld, how The Shadow is able to turn the tables on the forces who secretly conspire against him. And the ways of this sinister organization are many and devious. A pretty neat concept and an intriguing story, for a 1940 tale.
The Shadow gets to use several of his disguises, here. Of course, being disguised as Lamont Cranston has become almost commonplace for The Shadow. But we also get to see him as businessman Henry Arnaud in this story. No other disguises, though; just those two.
The Shadow is assisted, here, by his agents Harry Vincent, hackie Moe Shrevnitz, reporter Clyde Burke and contact-man Burbank. Dr. Rupert Sayre, physician to The Shadow, also makes a brief appearance, as does hunchy little Hawkeye. Police Commissioner Ralph Weston, Inspector Joe Cardona and Sergeant Markham have fairly large roles in this story.
In this story, The Shadow takes to sending written messages to Commissioner Weston. He uses a special light-sensitized paper upon which he creates his shadowy profile. First he writes his message, then he uses hand shadows.
"Forming his hands into an interlocking pattern, The Shadow held them between the light and the paper on the table. Supple fingers cast a silhouette upon the sheet. It was a hawkish profile, topped by a slouch hat, in miniature. When The Shadow withdrew his hands the silhouette remained, shaded upon sensitized paper."
When Commissioner Weston receives the message, the strange shadow upon the paper is visible, but disappears after a few seconds' exposure to light. It's a method of authenticating the message, so that the commissioner will be assured the note isn't a fake. I don't remember this technique being used in other stories, but I like it. If it wasn't used elsewhere, it should have been!
Notice that Commissioner Weston now admits the existence of The Shadow. In the earlier tales, you will remember, Weston denied there was any such character as The Shadow, and forbade Cardona from even mentioning his name. But by 1940, Weston had run into The Shadow too many times. And had been rescued by him too many times, as well. So now, when Weston gets one of those strange missives, he openly tells everyone, "This is a message from The Shadow!"
In this story, the grillroom at the Cobalt Club is being redecorated... yes, again. Seems like that grillroom gets redecorated a lot. It was redecorated just five months earlier, in the August 15, 1939 story "Wizard of Crime." In fact, this story makes reference to that time, when the place looked like a tropical garden, with palm trees and parrots. A nice tip of the hat to a practical joke that The Shadow had played on Weston in that earlier story.
We see some familiar places, objects and techniques in this 1940 pulp mystery. The Shadow climbs the outside walls of buildings. And this time, without those rubber discs attached to his hands and feet to assist him. There's also the hidden sliding drawer beneath the rear seat of Lamont Cranston's limousine; the drawer in which reposes The Shadow's garments of black. And The Shadow continues to use his color-changing flashlight to beam secret messages to his agents. The Shadow also openly wears his famous glowing girasol ring when in his Cranston disguise, something he always kept hidden in the early stories.
We get to see The Shadow use the laboratory in his sanctum. Apparently he has a Xerox machine in there, or at least an early version of it. We're told when he leaves the laboratory, he carries a photostatic copy of some newspaper articles. And again, it's on that sensitized paper that he can temporarily imprint his shadowy image.
In the sanctum, The Shadow has a strange clock. We usually aren't given a very detailed description of it, although the best description was given in the 1933 story "The Red Blot." That old description is at variance with the one given here in this 1940 story. Here, it is described as having moving dials. In the earlier tale, the dials didn't move; rings moved in tracks around the dials. Maybe in the ensuing seven years, The Shadow got a different clock?
In the Shadow stories written by Walter Gibson, The Shadow didn't get wounded often. In Theodore Tinsley's version of The Shadow, our hero was wounded slightly in nearly every story. But in Gibson's version, generally The Shadow went unwounded. And when he was wounded, it was definitely not trivial. This story is one of those times. Here, The Shadow is caught in an explosion which injures his leg. It causes a limp which quickly wearies him and puts him at a definitely physical disadvantage as he battles the assassins out to kill him.
But The Shadow will not be stopped! Battle on, he does. And if you find the opportunity to read this story, I know you'll enjoy that battle. It's a pretty cool mystery in which The Shadow must uncover the mastermind behind the new scheme of death insurance!
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.