I enjoyed reading this Shadow adventure. It's a good solid story from the early years. It's not terrific; it's not fantastic. It's good. It has enough plot twists and turns to entertain any pulp fan. It has a seemingly unbeatable foe for our hero. And we get to root for the underdog, when The Shadow is seriously wounded and through sheer grit perseveres in his battle against evil. Yes, a very respectable Shadow mystery.
Somewhere in Manhattan, secluded in his paneled room, The Crime Master, wizened and gray-haired, places pawnlike pieces upon a many-squared board. He controls the mob bosses of the city. The underworld is in the hollow of his scrawny hand. This fiend incarnate is about to assault the entire city of New York with a crime wave unparalleled in the history of the city.
He forms a grotesque sight as he rests in his chair. His scrawny fingers are clasped beneath his chin. His grayish face, thin nosed, with scowling lips and fanglike teeth, is as terrible as his fiendish eyes. The mass of white hair adds to his insidious appearance. He looks like a portrayal of the figure of Death, ready to hew down victims with a sharpened scythe.
It is this monstrous force of evil that The Shadow must battle. The Shadow, lone wolf of action, who uses but a handful of trusted agents; The Crime Master, generalissimo of evil, relying upon massed hordes organized into a mighty fighting body. Can The Shadow drive a wedge into The Crime Master's cunning game? Which will win? I'm betting on The Shadow!
But author Walter Gibson doesn't make it easy on our hero. The Crime Master is the intellectual equal to the amazing brain of The Shadow. And our poor hero has a few disadvantages working against him. First, Joe Cardona, ace detective of all Manhattan, is seriously wounded and put out of action. Then The Shadow himself is injured as well, making battle nearly impossible.
At the Fergis Building, in the offices of the Associated Importing Company, the Shadow battles the forces of the Crime Master. He's inundated by the massed gangsters gathered by the crime lord. He's shot in the right arm. Another bullet in his thigh. He tries to make his escape out a window and falls forty feet to the sidewalk below, hitting a theater marquee on the way down. He lies, a crushed man, barely conscious.
Now's the time for that vial of purplish fluid that can give a temporary burst of strength. This unique liquid appeared in two dozen Shadow pulp stories over the years. This was the ninth time it was used. This time around, its color isn't mentioned, but it's definitely the same stimulant that revives a nearly unconscious Shadow and gives him temporary strength. He uses that strength to drag himself to the private clinic of Dr. Rupert Sayre, his personal physician.
Yes, Dr. Rupert Sayre appears in this story. He only made it into 43 of the 325 pulp novels, so it's good to see him here. This was his third time in the Shadow stories. He finds the unconscious body of The Shadow in his small clinic. He recognizes that beneath the features of Lamont Cranston is actually another person - a crime fighter extrordinaire known as The Shadow. And so he nurses his patient back to health. But it does put The Shadow out of action for a week.
Luckily, The Shadow has his agents who can be put into action while he recuperates. In this story we see Clyde Burke, reporter with the New York Classic, Harry Vincent, long-time agent who plays a small role this time around, underworld informant Cliff Marsland, and the two contact men Burbank and Rutledge Mann. Cliff gets to see the most action, this time around. He's even captured by the Crime Master, drugged and made to... well I won't spoil it for you.
As for the police, we have Detective Joe Cardona, who is put out of action in chapter seven, Inspector Timothy Klein, who replaces poor Cardona, and Police Commissioner Ralph Weston. We also see a policeman named Grady who acts as the commissioner's chauffeur. He also briefly appeared in the previous magazine issue, "Chain of Death," but other than that was not a regular character.
Was Pietro, the push cart peddler, part of this story? Pietro, for those who don't remember him, was a minor agent of The Shadow. He first appeared in the 1933 story "The Silver Scourge." At that time, he was not an agent, but assisted the law in a counterfeiting matter. His second official appearance was in the 1934 story "The Chinese Disks," and it was in this story that he became an agent for The Shadow. He only appeared in three more Shadow stories after that. There's no direct mention of Pietro in this story, but perhaps an indirect one? Early in the story, Joe Cardona meets one of his stool pigeons in an Italian section of town near a fruit peddler's wagon. Could that fruit peddler have been Pietro? Walter Gibson doesn't specify as he writes it; but I prefer to think that it was in his mind at the time. Perhaps this was Pietro's second Shadow appearance.
This story takes us to some familiar underworld hangouts. We get to visit The Pink Rat and The Black Ship. Both were notorious dives where criminals met for a drink and to plot in secret meetings. The Pink Rat was made famous in thirteen Shadow stories. The Black Ship appeared a full two-dozen times.
As always, there are a few things that deserve mention in this story. When the Crime Master sends out his written orders, he doesn't need to sign his instructions. He embosses his special seal at the bottom. It's the head of a skeleton, crossing behind it, a scimitar. It's a pretty cool symbol, but unfortunately, nothing ever comes of it, and it's never explained.
The Shadow's amazing rubber discs show up in this tale. Those are the suction cups that he attaches to his hands and feet in order to ascend the outside walls of buildings. This time, he uses them to climb to a third-floor window. These concave rubber discs were quite popular in the early years of The Shadow. They first appeared in the 1932 story "The Crime Cult" and had shown up sixteen times by their use here.
We also get to see the explosive powder that The Shadow keeps secreted in the lining of his cloak. In this story, he's caught in a sinister death trap, and uses that explosive to free himself. Hidden in the hem of his cloak is a black powder. In another section of the lining is a gray powder. He mixes the two together, then moistens them with a liquid from a vial he carries. (Not to be confused with the vial containing the restorative fluid.) The resulting explosion is powerful enough to free him from his prison.
And let's not forget The Shadow's amazing abilities at disguise. We know he often disguises himself as the millionaire globe-trotter Lamont Cranston. But in this story, we also get to see him fool police headquarters and Inspector Klein as he takes on the guise of the police commissioner, Ralph Weston himself!