John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #64
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Ribbon Clues" was originally published in the October 1, 1935 issue of The Shadow Magazine. In this story, The Shadow gets to visit Chinatown, travel through the twisty underground passages, meet with Yat Soon, arbiter of Chinatown, and encounter hoards of Oriental fighters. Now, you wouldn't have guessed all that from the story title, would you? Well, it's quite a story!
As our story opens, Detective Joe Cardona, ace sleuth of the New York force, and his most reliable subordinate Detective Sergeant Markham are on the Manhattan waterfront. They're looking for Dave Callard, who has supposedly arrived on the Tamalpais, in from China. Stories tell that Callard got in trouble in China and was thrown in prison.
Now Dave Callard has been released and is returning to America. But New York Police Commissioner Ralph Weston wants to keep an eye on this man with the international reputation. It seems that ever since Weston returned from his trip to South America (remember his year spent in Garauca), he's had an expanded awareness of international intrigue. So he's assigned Cardona and Markham to find out what Callard intends to do in New York.
But the police aren't the only ones watching out for Dave Callard. The Shadow has as one of his agents, one of the smartest spotters who had ever prowled the badlands of New York. The crafty, stoop-shouldered Hawkeye is keeping watch on the docks as well. So when Callard out-smarts the police and sneaks past them, Hawkeye takes up the trail as Callard heads toward New York's Chinatown. There, Callard meets with the mysterious Leng Doy, as they make their future plans.
It seems that young Callard's uncle, Milton Callard, disinherited him when he was jailed in disgrace in China. But now that old Milton Callard is dead, there's no sign of his millions. Young Dave Callard has returned to America to search for the wealth, even though it may not legally be his inheritance. Luckily, old Milton Callard left three clues to the whereabouts of his riches: three blue ribbons, each upon which are stamped two gold letters.
The ribbon clues! Three small squares of faded blue ribbon. Each contains two letters stamped in gold. And each is mailed to a different friend of old Milton Callard, along with a strange letter that reads:
"Knowing that I am on my death bed, I am entrusting a mission of importance to you. Within this letter I am enclosing a bit of ribbon. I shall ask you to guard it from all eyes.
"On the fifth of December next, you will go to the office of Roger Mallikan, New York representative of the Indo-China Shipping Bureau. Be there at eleven o'clock sharp; show the ribbon to Mallikan and wait for others to appear. After three have arrived; Mallikan will realize what is to be done. Signed: Milton Callard."
Yes, three different men now have the clues. Three men whose possession of the small clippings of ribbon have placed them in jeopardy. Three men slated for death at the hands of someone... someone who is out to discover the hiding place of Milton Callard's millions. Could that unknown killer be young Dave Callard? Or is someone else on the track of the treasure?
Luther Ralgood is the first to die. Three shots in the back dispatch the first of Milton Callard's friends. His ribbon clue is stolen. Only two more ribbon clues to go. Who will be the next to die? The Shadow must step in to save the lives of the innocent, while at the same time unmask the identity of the unknown murderer. To accomplish this, The Shadow must once again enter Chinatown and brave its perils.
The Shadow's trusted friend in Chinatown is Yat Soon, known as the arbiter of Chinatown - the man whose word was law among the secret tongs. He first met Yat Soon in the 1934 tale "Gray Fist." This is the fourth appearance of Yat Soon. And by this time, The Shadow knows the secret entrance to Yat Soon's underground abode. On the outskirts of Chinatown, he stops outside a small shop that's closed for the night. He unscrews the doorknob and presses a small lever inside. The door to the deserted Oriental shop swings open, admitting The Shadow.
Once inside, he moves to a wall panel, presses another hidden catch and slides the panel open. He descends the steps and begins his journey through the underground labyrinth. He safely passes various traps which would easily spell his doom and reaches a brass door. At the press of a hidden spring, the barrier slides upward, admitting The Shadow to a square room within which sits Yat Soon dressed in robes of deep maroon, emblazoned with gold dragons.
Interestingly enough, Yat Soon makes a promise that he never keeps. The Shadow seeks information on Dave Callard and his Oriental associate Leng Doy. Yat Soon promises that:
"Within the span of ten days, I, Yat Soon, shall learn wherever Leng Doy may be. With Leng Doy will be found the American whom you seek. Both shall be brought to this place, that you may speak with them in the presence of Yat Soon."
But at the rousing climax of the tale, The Shadow finally catches up with both Dave Callard and Leng Doy up the Hudson River at the site of the "ghost fleet." And Yat Soon is nowhere around. But by this time, so much has happened, it's hard to tell if Yat Soon's ten days are up or not. And most readers probably had forgotten about Yat Soon's promise. But I didn't, and I'm just trying to keep him honest, here.
Oh yeah, the ghost fleet! Another cool idea based, I'm told, in fact. The ghost fleet was composed of hundreds of old, rusting, neglected ships that went out of service and were moored near Poughkeepsie. Remnants of a once active merchant marine, they lay forgotten... never to sail again. And it's here that The Shadow battles hoards of cutthroats intent on liberating the treasure and ending The Shadow's career.
In this pulp novel, the police are represented by Police Commissioner Ralph Weston, detective Joe Cardona (now technically an acting inspector) and detective sergeant Markham.
This being an early Shadow tale, our hero doesn't have a large entourage of secret agents assisting him. He's helped by Clyde Burke, reporter for the New York Classic. Moe Shrevnitz is there, early on, doing his usual crack job behind the wheel of his taxicab. And contact-man Burbank gets a few lines as well. No sign of long-time agent Harry Vincent, although unofficial-agent Stanley gets to chauffeur Lamont Cranston around a bit.
The Lamont Cranston disguise is the only one used by The Shadow in this mystery. Too bad, because I always get a kick out of seeing The Shadow demonstrate his mastery of disguise and fool the unwary. But not here, sorry to say.
We do get a couple short visits to the sanctum, which is always heartening. The Shadow still writes his thoughts down on paper in that disappearing vivid blue ink, while there. He's using his right hand, in this story. It should be noted that The Shadow is ambidextrous and occasionally writes left-handed. Not this time, though.
The Shadow's autogyro appears briefly here; The Shadow is piloting it himself, though. Personal pilot and agent Miles Crofton had been introduced a year and a half earlier, but he doesn't get any work this time around.
The Shadow continues his distressing habit of tossing away his empty automatics. He carries two pairs of .45 caliber automatics, and when the first pair are empty, he just tosses them away and pulls out his spares. But he never goes back and picks up the empties, later. He just carelessly leaves them around for someone else to find. And we wonder why there's so much gun crime in NYC. It's because people are still finding The Shadow's automatics lying in the most unlikely places... even to this day!
It's always nice to see references made to previously published Shadow stories. It gives the pulp tales a sense of continuity. In this one, Commissioner Weston reminds Clyde Burke of the time he was critical of interim commissioner Wainwright Barth. (This being during Weston's ten-month trip down south.) Burke grins and admits he's learned from his mistakes, and is laying off the criticism. And I grinned as I read that, too.
So, are they any racial slurs? We tend to expect them in a Chinatown story, and yes one does occur. But it's not used in a derogatory way by the character who utters it. It's almost used as a term of affection. Well... almost. It's not a big deal, but for those of you who keep track of such things, there it is.
Just as a point of interest, it should be noted that The Shadow is never referred to as "Ying Ko" by the Chinese in this story. Since the name was introduced in the July 1, 1935 story "The Fate Joss" just three months earlier, the reader might wonder at the strange omission. The answer lies in the fact that author Walter Gibson actually wrote "The Ribbon Clues" two months before "The Fate Joss." But Street & Smith published the two stories out of order, something they frequently did. So when Gibson came up with the idea for the "Ying Ko" name in "The Fate Joss," "The Ribbon Clues" had already been written.
Just about any Shadow pulp mystery from 1935 must be good, and this one doesn't let you down. Adding in the Chinatown twist only adds frosting to the cake. Another excellent Shadow yarn, and just one more to add to your list of "gotta reads."
"Death Rides the Skyway" was originally published in the February 1, 1936 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The "Skyway" reference in the story title is the celebrated Pulaski Skyway, a recently-built (at the time), elevated freeway that leads from New Jersey into New York. And it's along this miles-long stretch of four-lane viaduct that death strikes. Can The Shadow prevent it from striking again and again?
Our story opens in San Francisco as Miles Crofton, pilot and agent for The Shadow, has been in Chinatown meeting with Tam Sook. The character of Tam Sook, it may be remembered first appeared in the 1933 pulp novel "Six Men of Evil" and later in 1934 in "The Chinese Disks." This was Tam Sook's third and final appearance in The Shadow pulps. Technically, he doesn't appear; he is only referred to.
Tam Sook has given Miles Crofton information about Seton Hylap, a wealthy San Francisco businessman. Tam Sook's knowledge far exceeds the confines of Chinatown, and he indicates that Seton Hylap is in danger. Mysterious figures watch in the darkness outside his house.
Miles Crofton goes to investigate, but finds Seton Hylap gone. In an ensuing battle with unknown gunmen, The Shadow shows up to rescue Crofton. Seton Hylap's secretary, Danning, is mortally wounded, but gasps out that his master has secretly left for the East on the Typhoon, a new high-speed passenger train.
Crofton pilots a plane out of San Francisco with The Shadow on board. They are racing eastward, in an attempt to intercept the train. They catch up with the train at the tiny town of Falko. The Shadow boards the train in the guise of Lamont Cranston, and Crofton remains behind with the plane. On board the train, The Shadow discovers that Seton Hylap is dead. Poisoned. Murdered!
The reason for the murder, we soon discover, is that Seton Hylap was going to bail out the financially beleaguered K and R Railway. And someone doesn't want that to happen. Someone wants the K and R Railway to default on their loan so the company can be taken over by the Altamont Power Company. The deal could be worth many millions to the right man - the man responsible for Hylap's death.
There's a thrilling encounter in the small town of Altamont, headquarters of the K and R Railway. The Shadow arrives shortly after Gifford Barbridge, President and general manager of the K and R, has been murdered. Dynamite charges set off a mammoth landslide deluging the office building, shattering the crude shack and burying it beneath an enormous mass of earth. Buried are Barbridge's body and all the evidence. The Shadow barely escapes his own death.
All this happens in just the first six chapters. The action has just begun. The Shadow must track down the slim clues to find out who is behind the attempt to take over the K and R Railroad. Some ruthless figure will stop at nothing including murder - mass murder - to achieve his sinister ends. Certain wealthy men must have acquired a corner on Altamont Power. Which of them is behind these deadly schemes is something that only The Shadow can determine.
Before his return to New York, The Shadow stops in Chicago to track down another possible lead. And in doing so, encounters death at the Coliseum Hotel. Then on to New York, where wealthy men are abducted and hidden away in an isolated country lodge in the Watchung Mountains in New Jersey. These men are shareholders in the Altamont Power Company, and are slated for death. A strange death on the Pulaski Skyway!
Only The Shadow can save the lives of these innocents. Only The Shadow can reveal the true identity of the supercrook behind this diabolical scheme. And it will take all the cunning and stamina of The Shadow to fight off the cars full of gangsters and thugs who are out to protect that mastermind.
The Shadow carries most of the action himself, with a little aid from his agents. Rutledge Mann shows up, assisting in tracking down names of stockholders in Altamont Power. Reporter Clyde Burke shows up at police headquarters and tips The Shadow off to the latest developments. Clever spotter Hawkeye and underworld denizen Cliff Marsland assist in the search for the thugs that The Shadow encountered in Chicago. Harry Vincent keeps an eye on suspected shareholders of Alamont Power who live in Manhattan. Moe Shrevnitz helps deliver the agents to the hot spots before the police arrive.
Law enforcement officers who appear in this story are Acting Inspector Joe Cardona and Detective Sergeant Markham. Also some unnamed state police from New Jersey show up at the rousing climax. Commissioner Weston is mentioned, but doesn't actually appear in this story.
Most of the time, The Shadow appears in his black garb. He does appear in the feigned guise of Lamont Cranston, millionaire globe-trotter, a passenger on the train rushing eastward. And he gets to don the disguise of Tony Pascini, a small-time hoodlum who hasn't been seen for nearly a year. It's always good to see our master of disguise get a chance to exercise his skill a bit.
We get to visit the sanctum several times, and get to see The Shadow use the jet-black filing cabinet that contains his records. It doesn't get mention in too many of the pulp mysteries, so deserves mention, here.
There is one derogatory term used for Mexicans in this story, and it's spoken by The Shadow. But he's in disguise as Tony Pascini when he speaks it, and I'm sure it was spoken only in order to stay in character.
By today's standards, freeway speeds of sixty-five miles per hour are normal. So it was surprising to read that on the "high-speed" elevated highway known as the Pulaski Skyway, the maximum speed was forty miles per hour. Yes, forty miles per hour! And at one point, a character chaffs at having to slow down to thirty five. A four-lane super highway. It all goes to point out how much things have changed.
During an early season of The Shadow's radio broadcasts, there was an episode with the same title as this novel. "Death Rides The Skyway" was broadcast on November 5, 1937, about a year and a half after this magazine story was published. The two plots had nothing in common, though. The radio drama used the term "skyway" to mean "air lanes," not the famed elevated freeway. It was the story of two foreign agents as they wreaked aerial havoc with their Vibro-Transmitter. The radio scriptwriter just appropriated the pulp title from the previous magazine issue.
No mad scientists in this one. No ghosts. No megalomaniac trying to take over the world. Just a good solid crime adventure, with The Shadow in top form. A fun pulp to read.
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.