John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #65
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Gypsy Vengeance" was published in the August 15, 1934 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Ah, yes, Gypsies! Flashing eyes. Flashing teeth. Flashing knives. And vengeance of the Gypsies. A vengeance that will be met by The Shadow!
Valdo is a Gypsy. We first meet him when he comes to the Manhattan morgue to view the body of an unknown victim pulled from the Hudson River. Detective Joe Cardona questions him. Does he know the murdered man? No, Valdo doesnít know him. But as Valdo leaves the morgue, there is a glint in his eye. He has recognized the man as a Spaniard named Mandrez, one time servant of a banished Spanish nobleman, the Duke of Almanza.
Mandrez was in the country trying to sell a fortune in jewels. Gems stolen from the Duke of Almanza. Did he sell them? And if so, to whom? And if not, where are they now? Several different factions seek these jewels. These and others. For thereís a wave of jewel robberies going on in New York.
There have been a recent rash of society robberies. Someone has been discovering the secrets of Manhattanís wealthy families. That someone has been passing the information on to a gang of robbers. And the robbers are breaking into those estates and plundering the treasures found there.
Marty Lunk heads up the mob that attacks the mansions of these owners of massive jewelry. But who is feeding him the necessary information? And how is that information gathered? Suspicion falls upon Madame Lorenna, a Gypsy fortune-teller.
Madame Lorenna is often called to parties at the wealthy estates, where she tells the fortunes of the young debutantes. They tell her their deepest secrets, including their fathersí secret collections of jewelry. All that Madame Lorenna learns, she tells to her manager Claude Jerwyn and he passes it along to Marty Lunk. Then the gang breaks into the houses and collects the gems.
But Marty Lunkís gang arenít the only ones interested in acquiring the rare jewelry. Thereís also Valdoís master, Rodney Casper, who has recently arrived in New York on a South American steamship. Through Valdo, Casper controls an organization of several dozen Gypsies. They are also out to acquire the jewels of the Duke of Almanza.
Only one man stands in between these two opposing groups. And that man is The Shadow. It will take all the courage and skill of The Shadow to find the Spanish jewels and keep them safe from the marauders seeking them. Aided, of course, by his secret agents.
Appearing in this story are Cliff Marsland, skulking through the underworld, Harry Vincent, trusted long-time agent, Burbank, reliable contact man, and Clyde Burke, reporter for the New York Classic. Also briefly appearing are Dr. Rupert Sayre, physician to The Shadow, and Stanley, chauffeur to Lamont Cranston. Supporting law enforcement are ace-sleuth Detective Joe Cardona and Detective Sergeant Markham.
The Shadow appears in disguise in this story as Lamont Cranston, wealthy globe-trotter. He also appears as several unnamed characters, once a quiet-faced New Yorker, another time as a tall gentlemen strolling into a hotel lobby and also as a tall, chiseled Gypsy in the Gypsy camp.
Ever wonder how The Shadow could appear in disguise as Lamont Cranston so often without someone noticing? After all, no disguise is perfect. Itís explained here that the real Cranston has many friends, but since he is gone so often, none really know him well. So heís the perfect person for The Shadow to impersonate. That plus the fact that The Shadow is a master of disguise.
We get to see The Shadow use his rubber suction cups to climb the outside of a building in this story. He attaches them to his hands and feet to gain a high second-story window. We also later see him scale the rough stone surface of a large mansion without the aide of those flexible discs.
As weíve been told in various other Shadow tales, The Shadow is a linguist of amazing ability. He speaks Spanish, here, plus several different Gypsy dialects. And he can read lips in all those languages, too! Pretty amazing, if you ask me.
Another of The Shadowís amazing abilities is that of reading the handwriting of a man, just by watching the upper end of the pencil as he writes. In this tale, The Shadow sees Madame Lorennaís manager writing something. His keen eyes are fixed upon the rubber tip of the pencil, as he mentally traces the words being written.
In some stories, The Shadow keeps his unmatched girasol ring hidden, and uses it only to identify himself as The Shadow to those he trusts. But in this story, he shows it off at a party when in his Cranston disguise. ďThis stone is from my own collection. It is a girasol - I doubt that one could find another fire-opal that would match it in quality.Ē The party guests gaze on in wonder, not knowing that this is the trademark gem of The Shadow.
That unique vial of purplish liquid appears twice in this novel. First, itís used to revive Cliff Marsland when heís injured. And later, itís administered to another injured man. In both cases, itís described as being contained in a small vial, which gives a sudden surge of strength along with some dizziness. It isnít described as ďpurplishĒ in this story, though. But even though no color is indicated, we definitely recognize it from other stories. And we still wonder about the legality of its active ingredients.
In the middle of this story, there is a lull of three weeks. We are told that three weeks have elapsed since The Shadow visited the home of Madame Lorenna. Three weeks waiting for certain events to form. But what happened during those three weeks? We arenít told. But it makes one wonder. Did The Shadow sit around the Cobalt Club for three weeks? Stay at Cranstonís New Jersey estate twiddling this thumbs. If you ask me, itís more likely that he embarked upon some other adventure during this time. Perhaps solved some other case, or defeated some other mastermind. But thereís no hint in the story of what happened during that interlude, so we are left to our own imagination.
I think my favorite scene in this story is where The Shadow is climbing the outside of a stone-walled mansion, reaching a third-floor window. Below, a pack of Gypsies are preparing to storm the house. The clouds part, the moon comes out, and the black form of The Shadow is revealed clinging high up on the outside walls. The superstitious Gypsies below see him and mistake him for a vampire, and run screaming from the scene. ďVampyre! Vampyre! Nosferatu!Ē Ya gotta love it!
"The Veiled Prophet" was originally published in the March 15, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Who lies behind the silver veil of Mokanna, the Veiled Prophet? It will take the full might of The Shadow to defeat the deadly power of this sinister oracle.
Hereís a pretty good Shadow story from early 1940. With a little effort on the part of author Walter Gibson, it could have been better. But as it stands, it is a respectable effort that is an enjoyable romp with The Shadow. Itís got some nice action scenes, a decent mystery and a masked villain. A weakness of this story is that the villain isnít used enough. The idea of the silver veil that covers Mokannaís visage could have been a real selling point in the story, but is unfortunately downplayed. Another weakness is that there are a few minor threads left hanging at the end of the tale. Nothing major, but a few annoying details are unexplained. But even at that, itís a story thatís worth reading.
As our story opens, Ralph Jorcott is about to commit a burglary. He breaks into the home of Hadley Farnum and opens the safe. He has the combination to the safe, but how he got it from his boss, The Veiled Prophet, is never explained. Thatís one of those details that is left open-ended at the storyís conclusion. Anyway, heís caught red-handed by The Shadow, just after heís planted a bomb inside the open safe. There is a delay as a backup crew arrive and confront The Shadow. Because of that delay, the bomb explodes, taking Jorcott with it. Too bad, because that ends The Shadowís trail to the unknown mastermind. At least, for now.
It seems that there had been a rash of jewel thefts, robberies of art treasures, stock swindles and other crimes recently. In each case, the police had been warned in advance by strange messages signed with a double crescent. The prophecies were a bit vague, so each time the police couldnít pinpoint the exact location of the breaking crime. But they were always close by. Ralph Jorcottís burglary is another of those crimes. And sure enough, the law is close at hand when the safe blows up.
Ralph Jorcott is killed in the explosion, but the backup crew of thugs make good their escape. This provides the readers with a nice scene where Cranstonís chauffeur Stanley gets to finally see some action. Usually Stanley doesnít get to do much except drive his master around town. But here, he gets to thwart the escaping backup gang by piloting the big limousine into the path of the escaping vehicle. Poor old Stanley finally gets to do something out of the ordinary. Good for him!
These prophecies of upcoming crime come from a mysterious character known as Mokanna. It seems that long ago there was another mystic of the same name. Back in the year 800, a crooked seer named Mokanna had a powerful hold upon his followers, and used them to defy the law of that day. His dupes believed that he could do miracles. Because he hid his features behind a mask of silver gauze, Mokanna was also known as the Veiled Prophet.
The Shadow now battles another fiend who has taken the same name. This new Mokanna has adopted the mysterious ways of the original. New crime is breaking out all over New York, and the police are baffled. They receive notes signed with the mystic double-crescent of Mokanna, revealing the scenes of future crime. Yet when they move to thwart the crimes, they are always frustrated. Itís up to The Shadow to unveil the face of Mokanna, the Veiled Prophet.
By the middle of the story, the readers feel sure they know the identity of Mokanna. He is dignified old James Marden, a wealthy Midwesterner who has been living in New York for the past six months. He has a niece, beautiful young Gale Marden. By the half-way point in the story, Mokanna is about to be unmasked, and Gale Marden hears her uncle talking on the phone in his study. From what she can hear of the conversation, Marden realizes the jig is up. There is a gunshot, and when the door is broken down, Marden is found inside, dead of a gunshot wound to the right temple. Since all the windows and doors were locked, it is obviously suicide.
Hey, wait a minute! We still have half the story left. It canít be over yet. Well, itís not. Eventually, The Shadow proves it was murder and someone else is behind the silver veil of Mokanna. So whoís in the group of likely suspects? Well, thereís Jabez Densholm, consulting attorney. Weíve never trusted those crab-faced, stoop-shouldered attorneys; maybe heís the one. Or it could be Howard Garnstead, well-known financier. Some of those wealthy guys always want more wealth; perhaps heís the Veiled Prophet.
Letís not forget Fred Kellick, handsome boyfriend of young Gale Marden. Is he just too good to be true? He seems to be mysteriously absent during those times when Mokanna, the Veiled Prophet, appears. Or maybe itís someone else; maybe the Veiled Prophet isnít one of these characters at all! But somehow, I have a feeling it is...
Of course, in the last chapter, all is revealed. Then we find out who the real Mokanna is. But we never find out how Mokanna learned the secret combination to Hadley Farnumís safe. We assume it was his secretary, a man named Gorgan. But that fellow escapes to Cuba, and is never heard from again. Thereís another loose end. Does The Shadow let a crook escape him? Iíd prefer to think that one of his future adventures will take him to Cuba, where he will bring justice to the man, and tie up the loose end. Thatís what I would prefer to think, but thereís no evidence to indicate it ever happened.
One unique thing I found about this story is a scene where The Shadow, disguised as Cranston, runs into a man the real Cranston has befriended. Yes, the real Lamont Cranstonís past pops up to haunt the disguised Shadow. The Shadow, in his oft-used disguise as Lamont Cranston, runs into an old friend, one Jose Baroba of Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilian, naturally, takes The Shadow for the real Cranston, and The Shadow must follow through with the pretense until he can learn the manís identity. A bit of a sticky situation, but - hey - thatís what you get when you assume another manís identity! You donít see this situation appear very often in a Shadow novel, and Iíve always wondered how often it could happen. It does, here!
Another nice feature in this story is that Burbank, faithful contact man for The Shadow, gets to leave his cramped quarters and do some field work. Finally, an expanded role for good old Burbank! Usually, heís stuck in a small room hidden away in some unspecified spot, transferring messages back and forth between The Shadow and his secret agents. In this story, he gets out and is posted on guard in the hotel room across from Gale Marden. Later he moves to a new location. Heís in an office directly below one of Mokannaís lieutenants.
That allows for a nice scene where The Shadow receives reports from Burbank, then climbs out the window and scales the outside of the building up to the next floor, to search the rooms of Mokannaís henchman. Apparently itís a simple task for The Shadow, due to a variety of cornices and ornamental decorations. So there is no need for the famed rubber suction cups to assist him.
In addition to Burbank, the usual cast of characters is a bit abbreviated. Harry Vincent appears briefly in the last half of the story and Moe Shrevnitz also helps out in the story. There is no sign of the other agents. Representing the law are Commissioner Ralph Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona.
And for those of you who enjoy a sojourn to the black-walled secret room known as The Shadowís sanctum, this story includes another one such visit. Here, The Shadow sorts through his amazingly complete file of newspaper clippings and other information. Here, he makes his final plans to unveil the secret identity of the Veiled Prophet.
Probably the most annoying plot thread that is never resolved involves the source of Mokannaís information. How does he learn these menís deepest most closely guarded secrets - secrets which he uses to blackmail them into working for him? The only explanation is some vague comment about how Mokanna had made it a specialty to acquire the information over a long period. I guess that means that the man behind the Mokanna mask was planning his crimes for many years before he actually started breaking the law. A patient guy!
I think Walter Gibson could have easily tied up the loose ends, if he had wanted to. Perhaps he was just too rushed, or figured readers wouldnít notice. Itís because of those unresolved issues that this story doesnít become a standout story. That, and because the concept of a silver-veiled prophet is only used in a small way, and is not really taken advantage of. A scene of the veiled Mokanna in his lair talking with his henchmen would have gone a long way to boosting the quality of this story.
The story has some good things going for it. Even though it could have been better, it is still a nice adventure of The Shadow that I think youíll find fun 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.