Sanctum Books celebrates the publication of its 100th Shadow novel with an extra-length volume showcasing tales by each of the pulp wordsmiths who wrote as Maxwell Grant. First, "The Man from Shanghai" is caught in the web of a murderous mastermind and his spidery Mongol assassin in one of Walter Gibson's greatest thrillers. Then, blood sapphires drip a deadly trail across Manhattan in Theodore Tinsley's "The Golden Dog Murders". Finally, Lamont Cranston and Joe Cardona go undercover as Tweedledee and Tweedledum to investigate murders at an Alice in Wonderland ball in Bruce Elliott's "Jabberwocky Thrust". This instant collector's item features a knockout action cover by George Rozen, classic interior illustrations by Tom Lovell and Edd Cartier, and commentary by popular-culture historian Will Murray.
John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #50
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Man from Shanghai" was originally published in the April 15, 1936 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Major Philip Rowden - the man from Shanghai - was caught in a murderous web involving millions of dollars in jewels. It was an insidious web that only The Shadow could hope to untangle.
Here we have a top-notch Shadow mystery that all pulp fans owe it to themselves to read. The Shadow's lightning-fast reflexes are at the top of their form. His keen mind is blazingly brilliant. His crime-fighting skills are honed to their finest. The plot involves a crafty evil, a crime master whose cunning is most amazing, and a barely-human assassin whose skill rivals that of The Shadow. There are death traps that defy escape. Secrets of the Orient. Visits to Chinatown and Yat Soon, its ancient arbiter. And there's The Shadow who defies all odds with .45 automatics a-blazing! This is The Shadow at his peak. This is the pulp tale you will want to read.
In this story, there are actually TWO men from Shanghai. There is Major Philip Rowden, an Englishman who served once as a commander among the Chinese armies. He's in New York as a representative of the Chinese government to raise funds for the besieged government by selling the last relics of the former Manchu dynasty: diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires, once the property of the dowager Empress of China.
The second man from Shanghai is the evil dwarf Ku-Nuan. To call him a man is to be generous. This barely-human assassin has bulging eyes, flat nose, tusklike teeth, long and spidery arms and an overlarge head. He has come from Shanghai to San Francisco. And from there to New York. He is in the employ of a criminal mastermind who seeks not only the treasure guarded by Major Rowden, but the millions in cash being readied to purchase it.
This criminal mastermind is no hidden figure. There's no need to guess his secret identity. We're told on the first page of the story who he is. This is Kenneth Malfort, a man of reputed wealth and standing, who is in reality a master plotter out to take possession of the millions. But his social position puts him above suspicion. No one suspects, even The Shadow.
First he kills mining promoter Jerome Blessingdale aboard the Southeastern Limited on his way to Manhattan. Blessingdale was on his way to purchase part of Major Rowden's gems with a half million dollars. But now Blessingdale's dead, and his half million belongs to Kenneth Malfort.
Next to go is William Hessup poisoned at the Merrimac Club. It was supposed to look like suicide, but in reality it was Malfort's plot to acquire Hessup's half million dollars with which he was to share in the purchase of Major Rowden's gems. Add that half million to Malfort's coffers, now.
One by one, with the assistance of Ku-Nuan, the assassin, the evil Kenneth Malfort is picking off the five would-be purchasers of Major Rowden's gems. When he has their two and half million dollars in cash, then he'll go after the gems themselves. That'll make a tidy five million dollars for the sinister master of death.
But his foul plans cannot succeed for long, because into the picture has stepped The Shadow! And once The Shadow is involved, Malfort's plans start to go awry. But it won't be easy for The Shadow. He must determine why these men are being killed. And who's behind it. And why.
Assisting The Shadow in this story are his agents Burbank, Moe Shrevnitz, Harry Vincent and Cliff Marsland. But all play very small roles. Most of this story is carried by The Shadow, both in his black raiment and in his various disguises. He appears disguised as one of the characters in the story, the wealthy George Furbish. And he also appears as Lamont Cranston and Henry Arnaud. It's explained that he prefers the Arnaud disguise, because it is not based upon a real person. When guised as Cranston, there's always the chance that The Shadow may meet someone who knows the real Cranston, and will have to bluff his way through the encounter. Since Arnaud doesn't exist, that identity carries no such risk.
We are treated to a couple scenes showing The Shadow adjusting his disguise. Apparently he has one disguise layered upon another one, so he can transition from Henry Arnaud to Lamont Cranston. We are told that, "The Shadow dug finger tips deep into his disguised face. Puttylike make-up came away. The Shadow's visage took on a more hawkish aspect. Special touches were needed. The Shadow applied them in the darkness; for his fingers were accustomed to the task." And now Arnaud has been replace by Cranston.
We also see the return of Yat Soon, the arbiter of Chinatown. Yes, again we get to see The Shadow pass through the secret door into a labyrinth of stone-walled passages beneath streets of Chinatown. It all ends in front of a huge brass door that leads to the hidden abode of Yat Soon. The great Yat Soon gives his friend "Ying Ko" assistance in tracking down the twisted Ku-Nuan. As is usual in such encounters, The Shadow speaks to Yat Soon in perfect Chinese, while Yat Soon responds back in flawless English.
Ying Ko, by the way, was first used to describe The Shadow in "Fate Joss," less than a year previously. It was the Chinese name for him, just as the Spanish called him "El Ombre." Remember, The Shadow was an international crime fighter, known the world over. He had as many names as there were languages.
There is no sign of Commissioner Weston or Detective Cardona in this story. Although there are several murders, and we do see the police responding to various gun frays, the police are surprisingly uninvolved in this adventure. The Shadow doesn't really need them. He solves the crimes all by himself. And at the very end, after mopping up the gang of cutthroats, he leaves the scene just as the police are arriving.
It's interesting that we see The Shadow climb the outside of a twenty-story hotel building. He ascends from the fourteenth floor to the twentieth, like a giant beetle crawling up the side of the sheer surface. And it's all done without the aide of the rubber suction cups that he sometimes uses. Those unusual rubber disks had first appeared four years earlier and had assisted The Shadow over two dozen times before the publication of this particular story. But apparently author Walter Gibson didn't feel they were necessary, this time around. So The Shadow defies death to climb six stories up the side of the hotel, using his amazing ability to find minute cracks and indentures in the building wall, getting a toehold here and a fingerhold there. Pretty nervy! But then, that's The Shadow that we know and love.
One of the interesting side notes about this story is a casual comment made by Major Philip Rowden to The Shadow. In describing his mission to America on behalf of the Chinese government, he adds, "I am one of several emissaries who have been sent to acquire suitable funds." The matter of other agents who also carry valuable treasures is never mentioned again. But it certainly does give one pause to wonder. Where there are men carrying riches from China, there are other men of evil anxious to obtain it. Men willing to steal or kill for that fabulous wealth. It sounds like the makings of another Shadow pulp adventure, to me! I wonder if Gibson ever considered following up on that dangling thread? I bet it would have made for some excellent reading.
Another thing I noted in reading this story was the proper explanation of "black light." That stood out because three years later in the story "Death From Nowhere," Walter Gibson tried to tell readers that black light could be seen in daylight as "a thin black beam," which, of course, is just plain wrong. In the story being reviewed here, however, he does correctly explain that it "produces a beam that is invisible in darkness." And indeed, that is the trigger to one of the death traps that The Shadow must somehow survive.
In many of The Shadow's adventures, we read about his special ink that fades away after short exposure to the air. In this story, we see a different ink. This one starts out invisible, and turns visible later under heat such as a match. It's used here by The Shadow to send a message to his agents right under the nose of others, without them seeing a trace of it. And the words were coded, as well, just in case.
As seems inevitable in any Chinatown story, there are a few racial slurs flung about casually. It would seem this was almost expected by the reading audience of the day. Although it stands out as jarring today, it would seem that readers in 1936 took it for granted with barely a notice. How times change!
This story has everything. Death traps. Exciting battles when tremendously outnumbered. Secret doors. Hidden passages. Trips to Chinatown. Sinister masterminds. Lamont Cranston. Henry Arnaud. Mile-a-minute action. I found this to be one of the most satisfying Shadow stories I've read in a long time. Definitely recommended!
"The Golden Dog Murders" was published in the September 1, 1938 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The golden dog of the title actually refers to a statue. A sacred statue carved from a single block of solid gold. A golden statue with the head of a dog and the body of a nude woman. A statue that sits in a white marble temple in the Indian province of Rajkumana. A statue that comes to life to rain down death and destruction in New York City. And only the power of The Shadow can defeat the curse of this sinister power.
Let's begin with the back story, here. Every decade, in Rajkumana, at the feast of the Ten-year Vigil, a virgin in white robes rides in on an elephant, wearing the Necklace of Purity. The Necklace of Purity is made of twenty-one very unusual one-of-a-kind sapphires. Each is of vivid blue, and deep in the center of each stone is a hint of red ruby. There are no other sapphires like them in the entire world. The necklace is placed about the throat of the golden Dog goddess. But not this time. The necklace has been stolen.
Someone has stolen the sapphire necklace and has split up the rare stones. They've been sold to collectors in New York. And now a curse has been placed upon the new owners of the stones. The Dog goddess will wreak her revenge. Horrible death will befall those who possess the stolen gems.
As our story opens we meet Sam Baron, a trigger-man for a powerful underworld mob that specializes in stolen jewelry. He's breaking into the home of young chemist Rodney Mason. He's after synthetic jewels that young Rodney has been experimenting with.
Rodney Mason has been trying to create synthetic sapphires, using a process of chemistry and heat. But the process has not yet been perfected. So far, Rodney has only succeeded in creating artificial sapphires that are flawed. Although they are a deep vivid blue, deep in the heart of each stone is the reddish trace of a ruby. And that makes them valueless. Or so he thinks.
By a strange coincidence that could only happen in a pulp magazine, the synthetic stones Rodney Mason thinks are worthless are actually a perfect match for the priceless sapphires that make up the stolen Necklace of Purity. Some hidden mastermind has discovered this fact, and has sent Sam Baron to acquire the synthetic jewels.
What, exactly, does this secret foe want with the fake gems? He's going to use them as bait to flush out the new owners of the stolen sapphires. Then he can return the intact necklace to Ali Singh, the Maharajah of Rajkumana, and claim the two-million dollar reward.
The "logical" question might be, why is this faceless villain going to all the trouble of tracking down the stolen gems and murdering their owners, when he could simply hand the fake gems over to the maharajah? No one can tell the difference, or so we're told, so the deception would go undetected. He'd get the same two-million dollar pricetag without all the work.
I think the "logical" answer would be that the bad guy never thinks of this because the resulting pulp novel would then be too short. And the pulp reader would have been cheated out of a flurry of bloody deaths and a lot of running around. So, instead of a short "steal the gems and trade them for the reward" story, we're off on a trail of thrilling action and gory death. And that, of course, catches the attention of... The Shadow!
And helping out The Shadow are several of his agents. Cliff Marsland is working undercover in Sam Baron's mob. Not only that, but Cliff gets to go into disguise in this story. Since Cliff has quite a reputation as an underworld hoodlum, he usually doesn't need a disguise to infiltrate a mob. He just joins as himself. But in this story, he gets fixed up as "Pete," a thug who joins with Sam Baron, but secretly reports back to The Shadow.
Harry Vincent is another agent who gets to see action here. He helps out by following the mysterious Senor Ramon Ortega, a wealthy Spanish rubber planter on vacation in New York. He also guards the beautiful young Isabel Pyne, niece of Fifth Avenue's most famous jeweler. Yes, Harry gets it pretty easy, this time around. Oft times he'd get bashed around a lot, sometimes captured and tortured. But in this story, a gun fray is about the worst he encounters.
Contact man Burbank is also mentioned a few times, but other than that, there are no other agents present for this story. Acting Inspector Joe Cardona is here, representing the forces of the law. But no sign of Commissioner Weston. All in all, it's a slimmed-down cast.
This story was written by Theodore Tinsley, who filled in for Walter Gibson as "Maxwell Grant" twenty seven times between 1936 and 1943. Tinsley's writing style was a little edgier than Gibson's, which explains the pumped-up blood and gore. Tinsley always inserted quirky, pulpy little scenarios into his Shadow novels. They didn't always make sense, but they really kept the readers' attention. A good example is the dog in the safe.
Peter Randolph is the first of the sapphire owners to die. He keeps his single stolen gem inside a large safe, along with... a dog. Yes, that's right, a living canine. After Sam Baron strangles Peter Randolph, he heads to the large safe in the corner. Within ten minutes, he's cracked the combination and is ready to open the heavy metal door. He notices a series of six holes drilled in the top of the safe.
The holes must have been drilled a long time ago. Their edges are dusty and discolored. The holes are too small to peer through. There is no sign of wires or any kind of electrical connection. So he opens the safe; out jumps an enormous bulldog who attacks him silently. He survives the attack and kills the beast, but is then inspired. He'll rip out the throat of Peter Randolph, his strangulation victim, to make it seem like the Dog goddess curse is real, and hide the dead animal's body. At this point things start to get a tad more gory than the usual Shadow story.
But to return to the dog in the safe. The bulldog has had its vocal cords severed, so it can't make a sound. And the dog's owner keeps it in a safe? From the description, it seems the safe is the dog's regular abode. But to me, that just doesn't make sense. Why would anyone keep a vicious beast, with vocal cords cut, locked inside a safe? It certainly seems bizarre to me. And a bit unsanitary, too. I sure hope that dog was house trained... er... safe trained. What about feeding, walking, etc? Yes, this is a good example of the quirky things Tinsley could toss into a pulp novel. Doesn't make sense, if you think about it. But I guess you weren't supposed to think about it. It was pulp.
The biggest leap of logic was at story's end, when the identity of the nameless master villain is revealed. Naturally, he's one of the innocent-seeming characters we've known throughout the story. But his previous actions don't make sense, once you know who he is. I'll explain in more detail, but be forewarned... spoilers are coming up!
The secret mastermind behind all the mayhem is... young chemist Rodney Mason. That's right, the same Rodney Mason that originally created the synthetic sapphires that coincidentally were exact duplicates for the stones in the Necklace of Purity. Well, that answers one question, anyway. I was wondering how Sam Baron knew about the existence of the artificial gems, since Rodney Mason had told no one. Now it makes sense: Rodney Mason was the only person who knew, and Rodney Mason told Sam Baron.
But then that brings up an even more obvious question. Why did Mason hire Sam Baron to steal the jewels from himself? It serves no purpose, especially since no one knew about them. It couldn't even have been used a create a fake alibi. I just don't get it. It did make for an exciting opening to the novel - the theft of the jewels, the murder of the butler and the secret disposal of his body. But all for no purpose. Mason already had the jewels. There was no need to steal them from himself.
END OF SPOILER
Here's a loose end. About a quarter of the way into the story, we are told that a newspaper cable reports the golden statue of the vengeful Dog goddess was missing from the altar of her temple! Not only has the necklace been stolen, but now the statue as well. But that part of the story is never resolved. We never find out who stole the statue, or why. Or how it was stolen, or if it was recovered. It's one of those loose ends that needed tying up.
And there are things in the story that are just not very smart. One of the bad guys is a swarthy foreigner who drives around in a sedan with a very unique radiator cap. It's the Dog goddess! Yes, right there on the front of his car for all to see is the figure of a golden girl with a dog's head. What was this guy thinking?!! Isn't that a bit like painting "criminal" in big yellow letters on the side of the car, then driving through downtown Manhattan? Boy, this guy wasn't the brightest bulb in the box.
There are occasionally a few things that don't seem factually correct. In one scene, beautiful young Isabel Pyne is captured and drugged with a powerful narcotic distilled from Indian hemp. "The pupils of her eyes were like tiny pin points." Wait a minute... I thought her eyes would be dilated wide, not tiny pin points. Maybe I need to brush up on my signs of substance abuse.
I got a laugh out of the dialogue when poor Isabel was put under the influence of the hashish:
"You will not utter a sound. Do you understand?"
"You will obey whatever orders I give you."
"I will obey."
OK, either she wasn't really under the influence of the drug, or she wasn't grasping the concept of uttering a sound. She just keeps talking, even though instructed not to. Inadvertent humor there, I'm sure. But humor, nonetheless.
Usually, Theodore Tinsley wrote a tight story without loose ends or gaps in logic. But this story was the exception. That doesn't mean the story was no good. Actually it was quite good. It was thrilling and carried me along on a roller-coaster ride. It was hard to put the magazine down. It was only after the story was ended, that I started thinking about it and the flaws began to emerge. I guess you aren't really suppose to think about pulp mysteries after they're over.
The things I like about Theodore Tinsley's writing style is that it is fast paced, borders on the wondrous and fantastic, doesn't shy from blood and gore, and presents us with a Shadow that isn't infallible. He can, and does, get injured. During a fight, a knife blade slashes across The Shadow's fingers, leaving a bloody furrow. Later, a bullet slices across the surface of his throat, burning like a red-hot wire.
Tinsley's thugs enjoy a little torture. Not because it's efficient, but because it's fun. They all seem to have a masochistic bent. As one hoodlum puts it: "A tough guy, eh? You won't talk? That's swell! I like tough guys. They're fun to work on!"
And then there's the fantastic. Like the sapphire death - a puff of strange bright-blue vapor that kills. And a walled New Jersey estate surrounding the winter quarters for a circus. Beneath the cement floor of the monkey house is a strange cellar and maze of underground passages. The Dog goddess comes to life and stalks the animal cages. And let's not forget a pit of tangled, writhing snakes - poisonous brown adders.
And then there's the more vivid descriptions: "His face was almost unrecognizable under the deluge of blood from his torn throat." Yes, a deluge. Where Gibson's victims might seep blood, Tinsley's victims wallowed in a deluge of it.
It all makes for a great story, written by the "second-in-command" Theodore Tinsley. You've got sliding panels, trap doors, and underground passages! You've got action, death and destruction. It all makes for a slightly more "intense" story than the usual Walter Gibson fare. But it's still The Shadow, and it's still an exciting story that you won't want to miss.
"Jabberwocky Thrust" was originally published in the October-November 1947 issue of The Shadow Magazine. It's all about a murder at a masquerade ball. All the characters at the ball are dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland. And it's up to Lamont Cranston, criminologist, to solve the crime. That's right, Lamont Cranston, not The Shadow. It's a pretty pale story in which The Shadow never truly appears. But that's a Bruce Elliott story for you...
As to the story itself, it all begins at the twenty-first annual masquerade of the Dodgson cult. Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym for Dodgson, a mathematics professor. Lamont Cranston is there, looking oddly incongruous staring out of the fat costume of Tweedledee. His twin, Tweedledum, is in reality ace homicide man, Joe Cardona. The two of them are there at the ball to keep an eye on the host, dressed as the White Knight, Bruce Ten Eyk. There have been four attempts on his life, and Cranston and Cardona are there to watch for a fifth attempt.
Another attempt on Ten Eyk's life is made, but the knife blade breaks off on the armor of his White Knight costume. Shortly thereafter, another attempt is made; one that succeeds. The upstairs maid finds his body sitting in the library, his head lying separately on the floor. As the Queen of Hearts would say, "Off with his head!"
It's up to Lamont Cranston and Joe Cardona to sort through the other guests at the costume ball, and sift through the myriad of clues to find the motivation for the murder and the identity of the killer himself. Or herself. As usual, Joe Cardona comes up with a logical solution to the crime, but it takes Lamont Cranston to reveal the true answer to the mystery. Lamont Cranston solves the crime. And The Shadow? Well, he's made reference to, but never actually shows up. That's happens in some of Bruce Elliott's stories...
Bruce Elliott took over writing for The Shadow Magazine in 1946 when Walter Gibson left in a contract dispute. He wrote fifteen of the shortened stories until Gibson returned in 1948. Elliott's Shadow stories are well-known for two main things: they were the worst of the Shadow stories, and they were the shortest. This one is under 19,000 words; a far cry from Gibson's usual 45,000 word novels.
This was Elliott's eleventh Shadow story. And it breaks most of the rules that Walter Gibson spent fifteen years creating. All those things we know about The Shadow from years of reading the pulp magazine are now changed and conflict with Elliott's version of The Shadow. For one thing, The Shadow never actually appears in this story. There is one fight scene in a darkened room in which Lamont Cranston is referred to as The Shadow. But he's not in his black cloak and slouch hat, so it doesn't really count. He never appears to anyone as The Shadow.
Moe Shrevnitz appears briefly as Cranston's cab driver, and refers to Cranston as "boss." But here, he's only identified as "Shrevvie." Burbank also appears briefly, speaking eagerly to his "boss." This isn't the calm-voiced Burbank that we know so well from Gibson's stories. Those are the only two familiar agents who show up here. And they aren't the same as we knew them. Not even close...
Lamont Cranston isn't the multi-millionaire socialite and clubman we knew from Gibson's stories. Here, he is a common-class working man, a criminologist of renown who has been written up in magazine articles. And he's tired. At night, he gets sleepy and nods off. This isn't the tireless master of the night that we've come to know and admire. This isn't the super crimefighter whose element is the night. No, this is just a man who gets tired at night and falls asleep. Elliott describes a pale imitation of the master of darkness that was created by Walter Gibson.
So we are glad the story is short. Mercifully short. It's not one you would want to read, if you were seeking an introduction to The Shadow. It's one you might want to read, if only to see just how far The Shadow had fallen under the hand of a different author. If that's your cup of tea...
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.