Margo Lane has joined a cult. Done, of course, at the instruction of The Shadow. A wealthy American has started up an ancient Egyptian cult, the Cult of Ammon. The Shadow, seeing the potential for crime to rear its ugly head, has sent Margo Lane to infiltrate the group. Rather than try to observe from the outside, he prefers someone on the inside. And that someone is Margo Lane.
Along with several dozen other Ammon worshippers, Margo has come to the great mansion outside New York. The estate is owned by Amru Monak, an extremely wealthy Egyptian who claims to be a direct descendant of the ancient pharaohs. On this estate, Monak has brought the Temple of Ammon. It has been brought from Egypt, carefully moved stone by stone, and set up in a poplar grove located within the high stone walls of his large estate.
The temple building has an interesting history... and a curse attached! Originally, the Ammon temple had been unearthed from the Egyptian sands by the famous Dr. Karl Sterber, chief of an expedition funded by business magnate Uriah Keldon. This was about 1929. Inside the temple, he found the tomb of Mathrax, the keeper of the temple. The mummy case was opened; the mummy itself mysteriously disappeared shortly thereafter. The curse had begun.
Keldon purchased the temple from the Egyptian government and had it moved to America where it sat in a warehouse awaiting reconstruction. But then the curse struck. First to fall under the spell of the curse was Dr. Sterber, head of the expedition. He died mysteriously while still in Egypt. It happened shortly after the mummy of Mathrax had disappeared from its case.
Uriah Keldon was the next to go. Another mysterious death attributed to the curse of Mathrax. He never got to rebuilt his temple. The pieces sitting in storage were auctioned off and were purchased by Amru Monak. They were moved to his huge estate. Located just outside New York inside ten-foot-tall stone walls sat Monak’s mansion. On the estate was a large grove of poplar trees. And nestled in the center of the grove, in a small clearing, Monak had the Temple of Ammon rebuilt. Rebuilt to exact specifications, following the blueprints of Dr. Karl Sterber who supervised the original deconstruction.
With the temple completed, Monak decided to revive the ancient cult of Ammon and hold the old rituals once again within the temple. But with the resurrection of the cult, The Shadow has perceived the threat of more death and violence. He knows that the horrors of the alleged curse have not ended. Death will strike again!
Margo Lane is dispatched to join the cult and keep an eye on developments. And in her first visit to the shrine, death strikes again. The cult makes its way slowly through the poplar grove shortly before dawn. The great doors slowly open of their own volition. Lead by Monak, the cult members enter the temple to perform their rites as the moon sets.
As the ceremony reaches its peak, the first rays of Ammon-Ra, the sun god, pierce the small high windows of the stone temple. There is a shriek of anguish. A wild, high prolonged screech reverberates throughout the stone chamber. Before the pedestal that bears the large statue of Ammon lies a robed member of the cult, face down. From his back projects an ancient ceremonial knife, buried to the hilt. The curse has struck again!
The dead man is Hugh Calbot. Calbot was the former secretary to old Uriah Keldon, original purchaser of the temple. It was Calbot who had arranged the final sale of the temple to Amru Monak, and who had joined the Ammon Cult only to find death. Calbot is dead, but he won’t be the last to feel the weight of the curse of Mathrax.
The Shadow is present, outside the temple hidden in the poplar grove. It will take all his cunning to discover the secrets of the temple and to dispel the curse that it casts upon the Cult of Ammon. Who is behind it all? Is there truly a curse? Could there be hidden treasures in the temple? Or other secrets of the ancients? By the story’s end, The Shadow has discovered the sinister secrets. The Shadow knows!
The entire story takes place within the high stone walls of the Monak estate. The action moves from the mansion to the poplar grove to inside the Temple of Ammon. The only time the story leaves the estate is a brief one-page visit to the local train station as Lamont Cranston fakes his departure, only to return as The Shadow. Other than that, everything happens on the estate. That gives the story a nice tight, suspenseful feeling. We are trapped on the grounds with an ancient curse threatening all. There’s no escape.
Margo Lane is the only agent of The Shadow who appears in this story. She only appeared in the pulp stories five months earlier in June 1941. But already, she is a capable agent who The Shadow takes into his confidences. She knows that Lamont Cranston is really The Shadow. He tells her:
“You’ll hear from me, Margo, but from now on, I’ll be operating as The Shadow.”
And he also becomes The Shadow in her presence. In the night, Margo and Lamont talk out onto the verandah. Cranston pulls his black garments from their hiding place beneath the porch rail and puts them on in front of Margo. In the very early “Margo” stories, she didn’t know of the Cranston disguise. Shortly after that, she began to suspect Cranston was an agent of The Shadow. But here, only five months after her introduction to the pulp series, she knows that Cranston is The Shadow in disguise.
The only other recurring character who appears in this story is Inspector Joe Cardona of the New York Police. He shows up to help the local authorities with the strange death of Hugh Calbot, and is accompanied by Lamont Cranston. Cranston is there ostensibly to try to talk Margo out of joining the cult. Of course, his real reason for showing up is to receive her reports and to investigate the murder of Calbot.
The Shadow only appears in his Cranston disguise in this story. Although he is an admitted master of disguise, there is no need for that ability here. So no other disguises are used in this story. The Shadow either appears as wealthy world-traveler Lamont Cranston, or as his true self dressed in black.
World War II was raging in Europe when this story was published. The United Sates had not yet entered the war, but would shortly join the war-in-progress. Very shortly; it was only a matter of weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the U.S. into the war. Reference to the war was made in this story, as it was explained that the expedition to Egypt to discover and bring back the temple of Ammon had been years ago, before the war.
“...today such things were out of the question because world conditions made it impossible to carry on such expeditions.”
We know from other Shadow novels that The Shadow is known the world over. In Spain, he is known as “El Ombre.” In Mexico, he is “La Sombra.” And in Egyptian, he is referred to as “Khaibet.” Yes, he is known by various names in different parts of the world. The guy gets around! And now we know his Egyptian non-de-plume.
And, adding to The Shadow’s list of spoken and written languages, in this story we discover that The Shadow also speaks Egyptian and Greek. A true multi-lingual marvel.
Brief mention is made of The Shadow’s ability to become virtually invisible. Not truly invisible, like his radio counterpart. But the ability to be unnoticed by others, so as to be essentially unseen. It was an ability he learned in the Orient, and had seen practiced by Tibetan holy men. As this story explains:
“Often, Lamont had claimed knowledge of the Tibetan system wherein, by becoming immobile and rendering one’s thoughts a blank, a human being could put himself out of other minds and often escape notice of passers-by.”
This story has plenty of action; plenty of mystery; plenty of suspense. Egyptian mummies. Ancient curses. The Book of Thoth. Masks of Anubis, Hathor, Sobk, Pakht and a pantheon of other Egyptian deities. Stealthy, sinister Egyptian servants. Secret ceremonies. A poplar grove at midnight. Strange secrets of the temples. Stone figure that come to life. Yes, the ways of ancient Egypt are deep and mysterious, like the waters of the Nile.
This is definitely one of the better Shadow mysteries. Especially coming from 1941, when much of the lustre of the earlier Shadow novels was wearing off. It’s one that gets my recommendation!
“The Curse of Thoth” was originally published in the May 1946 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Thoth is the Egyptian god of creation, a man with the head of an ibis. (An ibis is a long-beaked bird.) And the curse? Well, it is said that those who violate the tombs of the high priests of the Nile, will suffer death from the hand of the ibis-god himself. Professor Parrish is one such man who has defied the curse of Thoth, and only The Shadow will be able to save him from fate of a gristly death.
An eccentric professor named Rufus Parrish had probed into the secrets of the Pharaohs and discovered the greatest secret of legendary Egypt. He discovered a bronze alloy that had the hardness that exceeded even steel! Such a secret, now that reconstruction after World War II was underway, would be worth millions to any industrialist.
ABC Industries had acquired the rights to produce this wonder metal from Professor Parrish for the paltry sum of a half-million dollars. They would have paid more for exclusive rights, but as it turned out, there were other researchers and archeologist who had also found information regarding the bronze alloy. So ABC industries must now find those other individuals and negotiate with them, as well.
ABC Industries was formed by three men: Edwin Albersham, Geoffrey Barstow and Arnold Curvin. They are now on the trail of several men who they believe have additional data regarding the bronze alloy. They will pay substantial cash to these men for such information which will enable them to control the rights to the new discovery.
As our story opens, The Shadow’s contact man Burbank has sent Harry Vincent out to the Alvara Apartments to join the meeting of the founders of ABC Industries with Hugo Zerland. Zerland is one of those men who know something of the alloy. He was once a Nazi agent who went to Egypt before the war to help plant secret bases for a German invasion. Harry is to interview him and keep an eye on things until The Shadow can take over in person.
But as Harry and representatives of ABC Industries begin talks with Hugo Zerland, a costumed man appears. A weird creature in an ancient costume dressed as the god Thoth. A lush feathered Egyptian robe covers his body; clawed gloves cover his hands; and a mask like a bird’s head covers his head. In his right hand he holds a ceremonial bronze dagger made of the super-alloy.
The knife plunges down, killing Hugo Zerland. The strange murderer grabs up a prized papyrus, originally taken from the tome of the high priest El-Taab. The papyrus has valuable information unearthed by Zerland about the methods the Egyptians used in making the super bronze. But the strange ibis-god Thoth now has it, and he makes good his escape out the window and down a cable connected to a neighboring building.
Someone else is out to get the secret of the Egyptian bronze. But who? Who seeks the formula for the valuable bronze alloy? The Shadow enters the picture and begins the trail of the three other men known to have access to the ancient secrets.
Roger Yelvin is one of those men. He’s a famous engineer who has made many surveys of the pyramids, hoping to solve the secret of their construction. It was during his investigations that he came across the secret of bronze that some unknown criminal now seeks. He may be that unknown criminal himself. Or he may be an upcoming victim of the hidden mastermind.
Louis Rendorff is another of those men. He also discovered the million-dollar secret while in Egypt. And he now fears the curse of Thoth. Is that why he stays hidden out of sight? Or is it because he is controlling the murders behind the scenes? Could he be the man beneath the ibis mask?
The third man is Professor Rufus Parrish, the man who sold the rights to the bronze formula to ABC Industries. He admitted, when giving them the translation of the formula, that he had removed the sacred slab from the sarcophagus of Amrok, the high priest of Thoth during the reign of Rameses the Second. He, like Rendorff, fears for his life and has been long absent from New York. Or so he claims. Is he running from the curse? Or is he behind it?
Could the strange hooded Thoth character be one of these men? Or could it be someone else? There’s Doctor Nilgon Tabrok, curator of the Egyptian Museum and an authority on Egyptian antiquities. Could he be part of a secret Egyptian organization send to America to retrieve items stolen from the ancient tombs? Is he the Thoth impersonator?
Could it be Thelba, the enigmatic Egyptian girl who is keeping an eye on the three Americans who possess the secret of the ages? She is destined to play the role of Isis. Could it also be her figure beneath the cloak and mask of Thoth?
The Shadow will reveal all! The Shadow will brave the sealed room of death at the Yelvin mansion. The Shadow will confront the secret society that dates back to the ancient days of Egypt. The Shadow will take part in the old ritual on the night when “the moon is banished from the Nile.” And The Shadow will capture and unmask the fiend who masquerades as the ancient ibis-god Thoth.
The cast of characters in this story is a streamlined one. Commissioner Weston and Inspector Cardona represent New York’s finest. They call in Lamont Cranston, since the case has to do with Egypt and Cranston has visited there on his world travels. Although it isn’t spelled out exactly, this isn’t the real Cranston. This is The Shadow in disguise.
Assisting The Shadow is his long-time agent Harry Vincent and erstwhile taxi-driver Shrevvy. He’s only referred to as “Shrevvy” here, not Moe Shrevnitz. Burbank is mentioned several times, but doesn’t actually show up. And although Cranston’s limousine and New Jersey mansion are mentioned, neither Stanley the chauffeur or Richards the butler appears. There is also mention made of “several capable agents” but they aren’t named, so we don’t know exactly who they are.
Remember that on the radio show, The Shadow controlled the power of invisibility through hypnotic means. The pulp version of The Shadow never had such powers. In this story, we are told that “Lamont Cranston had a way of rendering himself inconspicuous when he chose.” And that “once he became part of surrounding blackness, The Shadow remained so, giving himself the equivalent of invisibility.”
What makes this Shadow story unique is that it does mention hypnotic powers, although somewhat vaguely. It doesn’t claim that The Shadow actually can become invisible. But it tiptoes around the question, saying it “could be” based on Tibetan training, and “maybe” people could become invisible, and “if” a person knew the trick, it “should” work in America. To quote one paragraph:
“It could be that Cranston’s secret - and The Shadow’s - was based upon Tibetan training, for Cranston had often visited that land. Maybe people could turn themselves invisible in L’Hassa, the greatest city in Tibet and if someone knew the trick, there was no reason why he couldn’t work it in Newark, the largest city in New Jersey.”
A lot of “if’s” and “maybe’s” and “should’s” in that paragraph. But it seems to be a bone thrown to radio listeners who were sampling the pulp stories, perhaps for the first time. No need to alienate them completely, I guess. So something like this would probably appease them slightly.
There are a few parts of the story that made me think of the radio version of The Shadow. Hackie Moe Shrevnitz is only referred to as “Shrevvy,” which is a nickname originated on the radio show. And Shrevvy is much more chatty here than usual in the pulps. It’s definitely more of a “radio” Shrevvy than a “pulp” Moe.
The Shadow of this novel certainly is powerful, although he doesn’t pull out his twin .45 caliber automatics and start mowing down the bad guys. He speaks Egyptian, and can read hieroglyphics. And he still blinks signals to his agents with his tiny flashlight.
In all, this is a fun and somewhat short (33,000 words) story to read. Upright mummy cases, images of living mummies, sliding panels, crumbling dust, Egyptian temples, secret formulas - they all add up to adventure, mystery, suspense and intrigue! The Shadow defies the Curse of Thoth, and The Shadow reigns supreme!