John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #84
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
“City of Shadows” was originally published in the June 15, 1939 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Through these tangled shades of crime, crept an avenging shadow: The Shadow!
This is a nice little Shadow pulp tale, quite typical of the 1939 crop of twice-monthly adventures that were being published. Some good action scenes and a few surprises. And even better yet, no glaring plot holes or loose threads. Just don’t ask me what the title means; I don’t know. Yeah, there’s a city, but then isn’t there always a city? And naturally there are dark spots, but doesn’t every city have shadows? When I first heard of this story I thought that maybe there would be some people masquerading as The Shadow. But no, there are no fake Shadows. Only one Shadow. So the title seems meaningless to me. But nevertheless, it’s a good Shadow mystery.
We first meet wealthy young Jack Denwood as he’s out in the woods hunting for quail. He hears the wail of the siren at the Lancaster Prison; there’s been a jailbreak. He runs into the sheriff and his posse, and is informed that the notorious red-headed moll Betty Jevers has escaped from the women’s prison. You just know he’s destined to run into her, don’t you?
Sure enough, Jack no more than leaves the police and returns to his hunting cabin, than he encounters the escaped convict herself. She has found his cabin and is looking for clothes to exchange for her prison uniform. She’s beautiful. He’s handsome. And somehow, he isn’t in a big hurry to turn her over to the cops. Ah, it’s love in bloom!
Young Jack Denwood knows that deep down his beautiful prisoner is a good woman. She just needs a chance for rehabilitation. And Jack’s going to see that she gets that chance. He drives her back to Middledale, his nearby hometown. On the way, he introduces himself. His father, Henry Denwood, is the wealthiest man in Middledale. Both he and his father are progressive and tolerant, and Jack is going to see to it that Ruth Geldon gets a second chance. “Ruth Geldon” is Betty’s real name, she confesses. Betty Jevers was the name she was using when she was caught by the law, and so she continued to use it.
It’s Ruth Geldon who gets a job in Middledale as receptionist for the mayor. It’s Ruth Geldon who enters Jack Denwood’s social circle, visits his mansion, and meets his wealthy old father. The long arm of the law seems so far away; everything seems to be going so well...
But there’s crime in Middledale. Someone is trying to ruin the Denwoods and put an end to their philanthropic plans for the city. Someone wants to clean up a fortune by swinging the opinions of the city fathers away from the Denwoods in order to favor their own selfish plans. And to accomplish this, there have been “accidents.”
An elevator plunged to the depths in the Denwood Store. There were two different bus accidents within the past week. Everyone thinks they were accidents, but we know better. And there’s more deviltry afoot!
There’s a hidden mastermind at work. Isn’t there always? And this sinister being has planned mass destruction and death. A super-speed bus slamming into a grandstand of spectators. A hotel full of guests set afire. It’s going to take The Shadow to thwart these evil plans. It’s going to take The Shadow to reveal the secret identity of the master criminal. It’s going to take The Shadow to bring the two love-birds together.
The Shadow shows up in his frequent disguise as Lamont Cranston. He meets the Denwoods and offers to help them financially. But we know that as The Shadow he’ll also be helping out dressed in black and sporting a pair of .45 automatics. Yes, it’s The Shadow to the rescue!
In this story, The Shadow is assisted several times by his agents. They arrive on the Limited shortly after The Shadow appears in town. We aren’t told who they are, but they appear several times to assist The Shadow as he battles mobs of thugs at night.
It’s only at the end of the story that we learn that one of the agents is Burbank. Yes, Burbank finally gets to leave his stuffy little room where he receives and sends phone calls for The Shadow. Burbank gets out into the field and gets to assist The Shadow with some superb marksmanship. He’s described as a steady marksman who only needs a single shot to accomplish his task. This is a side of Burbank that I’ve not seen before!
In this story, The Shadow looses a couple sets of outfits, but as always, he seems to have spare cloaks and slouch hats stored close by. Likewise, he looses his much-prized automatics at the bottom of a quarry, but he has spares to go around. It’s a good thing he has access to Cranston’s millions, because losing .45 automatics in nearly every story can’t be inexpensive...
Dressed as Cranston, The Shadow wears his girasol ring on the third finger of his left hand. Apparently by 1939, he no longer used it as a token of identification for The Shadow. Now, it is worn openly with no regard for whomever sees it. In fact, The Shadow even removes the ring, and hands it out for inspection, in one scene. It still has that hypnotic appeal that weakens the will of those who stare at it, though. That hasn’t changed.
And one last note of interest. The master villain lives at the end of this story. Yes, he’s been captured, has confessed, and is in the hands of the law. But nearly always, in a Shadow novel, the bad-guy gets it in the end. He usually makes a break for it and is winged by a single bullet from The Shadow. The law nearly always steps in at that point and lets loose with a hail of bullets that dispatch the crime master for good. Usually, but not always. There are a few exceptions, and this story is one. When last we see our hidden mastermind, he’s being carted off to jail.
Oh, and the word “squatly” is used. And why is that noteworthy? I guess it isn’t, really. It’s just one of those quirky little words that Walter Gibson created and used in his pulp stories, and it’s always caught my eye. I like to keep track of when that “Gibsonism” shows up.
So, here you have a fun Shadow adventure. If you’re like me, you probably have identified the mastermind hidden behind it all, and done so early on. But there are still some surprises and twists at the end that will catch you off guard. So this story gets my recommendation. It deserves your attention. And exactly what is the significance of the title, “City of Shadows?” Hmmm....
“Death in the Stars” was published in the May 1, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. High in the mountains, the bearded swami held sway over life and death, and ruled with his magic seances. But only The Shadow could read the real meaning of the stars!
Here you have one of your standard Shadow adventures from 1940. It has some nice features, specifically the fraudulent spiritualist racket, including how some of those seances were actually run behind the scenes. We have a bearded mystic in turban and robes. He conjures up spirits of the dead and casts horoscopes. Sounds like fun... and it is. But for all that, the story doesn’t really shine. It’s good... but not great. While you’ll enjoy reading it, it’s doubtful that you’ll remember much about it after a year’s hiatus.
Our story opens as Lamont Cranston is returning from Honolulu. Not the real Cranston, of course, but his double: The Shadow! He’s flying into Lake Calada on the southern California/Nevada border, where mysterious crimes have been troubling the mountain colony. This resort area is populated by the wealthy. And by Professor Scorpio!
It had begun one month previously when the Gillespie house was robbed. Bonds were taken valued at fifty thousand dollars. The next case concerned the Jamison paintings. They were shipped into Lake Calada by air, but when the crates were opened the paintings were missing. Those paintings were valued at one hundred thousand dollars.
The Albion statuettes were next. Mr. Albion shipped his rare statuettes out of Lake Calada to his home in Los Angeles, secured inside a sturdy safe. But when the safe arrived and was opened, it contained blocks of lead instead of the platinum statuettes. Another hundred dollar robbery had been perpetrated.
Each crime was committed on the same night that Professor Scorpio gave a seance at the residences of the persons involved. A coincidence? The Shadow hardly thinks so. He’s been contacted by Henry Denwood, one of the wealthy residents and a friend of The Shadow. Denwood seeks his help in solving the mysteries.
The Shadow, disguised as Lamont Cranston, is flying into Lake Calada to join his agent Harry Vincent who has been staying as a house guest of Henry Denwood. But before he can even land, the pilot of the small plane is poisoned and the plane plunges earthward. Whew! Things get off to a quick start in this story, because this is still only chapter one.
Witness the mystic Professor Scorpio, his black beard, white turban and large glittering ruby. Visit his stone-walled castle on the shores of Lake Calada. Puzzle over the sinister meanings of his mysterious horoscopes. Attend the seance at the home of movie star Paula Lodi. Follow the Lake Calada monster through the dark waters at midnight. Meet beautiful young Lois Melvin, whose horoscope predicts death. Unmask the glowing spooks haunting the seances. And see the secrets of Lake Calada finally revealed.
The Shadow and Harry Vincent work alone in this story. None of the other agents of The Shadow appear or are even mentioned. The Shadow appears in his Cranston disguise throughout most of this story. Henry Denwood is quite confident that the man who calls himself Lamont Cranston is in reality The Shadow. Denwood knows The Shadow from a year previously, when The Shadow helped clear his name in “City of Shadows” (published in the June 15, 1939 issue). Denwood is now living in retirement at Lake Calada, and once again calls upon The Shadow for assistance.
A few final points of interest. As our story opens, we find The Shadow returning from Hawaii. What was he doing there? We aren’t told. The story that Gibson wrote previous to this one was “The Spy Ring” and as it ended, nothing indicated that The Shadow would be traveling to Honolulu. So what he was doing in Hawaii remains a mystery. Perhaps a well-deserved vacation? Or an undocumented adventure?
In this story we are told that Harry Vincent values The Shadow’s life above everything else. He would even be willing to place an innocent woman’s life in jeopardy if The Shadow’s life was at stake. In a running gun-battle, we are told that “Harry would have delivered that heartfelt barrage even if Lois had still been a prisoner.” In pulp terms, that’s the ultimate loyalty.
We see another instance where The Shadow uses “The Devil’s Whisper” here. Usually it is described as two pastes kept in a small round box with two lids. But in this story, it is described as being on sponges. When thumb and finger are snapped, however, the result is the usual explosion with blinding flash. Kids, don’t try this at home!
The Shadow has an autogyro, a motorboat, an airplane... and a rubber raft. But not just any rubber raft. This one is totally black and the rubbery sides are quilted. These are actually secret compartments in which The Shadow hides his black cloak, hat and gloves. And in this story, he gives the local sheriff a ride across the lake in it.
There is a cool invention in this story, but it’s not developed. It’s a hydro-vapor motor which can combine air and water into an explosive chemical combination, H2O2. This vaporized fuel engine is cheap to run and has speed and silence. It sounds like something for which the military would be clamoring.
The bad guys in this story have appropriated this invention from its now-dead inventor, and use it effectively throughout the story to ensure their criminal success. But at story’s end, nothing is mentioned about it. A loose end that is left dangling.
Gibson should have at least acknowledged that the engine would be turned over to the war department for testing. But nothing is said. Perhaps this is the price one pays for hurriedly churning out twenty-four full-length pulp novels in a year.
Yes, it’s an enjoyable Shadow pulp mystery, but it doesn’t rise above the rest of the pack in any discernable way. I liked it. You’ll like it. But if asked about it a year from now, you may have to jog your memory by re-reading this review.