John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #115
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Keeper's Gold" was originally published in the October 15, 1937, issue of The Shadow Magazine. The Keeper has died. He kept the gold for five underworld kingpins, and it ran into millions. The Keeper was the brain who kept the illicit wealth for the gangland leaders. He kept it in his underground vault. But now he’s dead, and the evil five want their money back.
This is pretty typical fare for 1937. It’s nothing special, but is a very respectable Shadow adventure with plenty of action and some overseas adventures. I liked it, but didn’t love it. It does offer a chance to travel the high seas, and visit England. We even meet up with Inspector Delka of Scotland Yard, and that’s always nice. There’s the usual surprise ending, which sometimes isn’t much of a surprise. In this one, it’s more of a relief than a surprise. Although most things are tied up nearly, there’s no shocking surprise at the end. Just a mild one.
Retired lawyer Ichabod Wimbell, the Keeper, died three days ago and was buried yesterday. Chet Darringer, tall, lithe of build, handsome con man wants his share of the gold back. He’s one of the original five. Slick Hendry is one of the smartest bank robbers who had ever souped a safe. Slick’s another of the five. The third of the group is Hacker Torgan a blocky, square-faced man who is an expert with the knife. The other two of the original mob are in jail, thus leaving only three of the original group free to seek the gold. The three of them break into Wimbell’s vault to find the gold has disappeared. But how?
Six years ago the original five had locked their loot in the vault. Each was given an envelope containing their part of the combination. No one could have entered the vault without the cooperation of all five. Yet the gold is gone and the vault is empty. Well, not completely empty...
On the floor of the vault is a piece of white paper bearing a black-inked silhouette. It shows a hawkish profile above cloaked shoulders, topped by the black outline of a low-brimmed slouch hat. It’s a perfect portrayal of The Shadow as the underworld knows him. The Shadow has struck. The Shadow has entered the impenetrable vault. The Shadow has taken the gold!
The Shadow has been framed! The Shadow has been set up. The gold is actually in the possession of... Naaaaaww, I don’t think I’ll tell you! But someone has the gold and is trying to make it look like it was taken by The Shadow. Was it old Ichabod Wimbell? Is he really dead? Or Chet Darringer, the con man? Maybe Slick Hendry is as clever as his name. Hacker Torgan seems pretty dull, but maybe he’s hiding something. But wait! There are more characters we haven’t mentioned yet.
Frower was servant to Mr. Wimbell for over six years. Maybe he knew the secret of the vault. Maybe millionaire Tyler Fleetland. Could he be secretly taking the gold to England on his yacht the Stingaree? Or maybe his young ward Miriam Rywold. She seems so innocent, yet she carries a pistol and secretly conspires with hoodlums.
The story begins in Manhattan. Then around midpoint it moves to England where Inspector Eric Delka enters the story. Delka, you may remember, is the man from Scotland Yard who is friends with The Shadow and Lamont Cranston. In England, the entire group meets up with The Shadow for a rousing climax. It’s a climax that reveals the location of the Keeper’s gold, and unmasks the super villain’s hidden identity.
This story features Harry Vincent, one of The Shadow’s most experienced agents. Hawkeye makes a brief reference. And The Shadow appears in his oft-used disguise as Lamont Cranston. That’s the extent of the regular characters in this story.
One interesting note is that The Shadow is injured in this story. He receives a bullet wound in the left wrist. It not only slows him down, but later serves as a means of identification. Chet Darringer identifies The Shadow as Lamont Cranston when he sees a brief glance of the bandaged arm under The Shadow’s cloak. That identification is destined to cause many a problem for The Shadow. And in the end, of course, it assures that Chet takes that knowledge with him to the grave.
It’s mentioned that six years ago the Keeper was “one big-shot that The Shadow was after and never landed.” That would place an earlier adventure around the time the pulp magazine began publication. There was rarely any mention, in any of the Shadow stories, of his early adventures that predated the year of 1931. That tends to lead to the conclusion that The Shadow’s adventures began about the same time as the magazine’s publication.
And rarely does a gangster evade The Shadow. Our story tells us that nearly seven years ago, “a dangerous band of crooks had ceased operations just about that time. The Shadow had settled some of them before they disbanded; he had been hot on the trail of others when they quit. After that, traces had ended.” But in this case, they were only successful in eluding The Shadow for six or so years. Justice was delayed, but finally served.
The Shadow foregoes his rubber suction cups in this story. He climbs the outside walls of the Hotel Spartan with no assistance. But, we’re told that he was familiar “with every inch of the brick walls of the Hotel Spartan” which apparently made it relatively simple.
One of the annoying loose ends was the nagging question, why did the bad guy put the paper in the vault? Remember, back at the beginning of the story, the three fellow-conspirators opened the vault and found it empty of gold. All it contained was a slip of paper with The Shadow’s silhouette upon it. It’s never explained why that was left by the real thief. Why call the wrath of The Shadow down upon him? One is left wondering...
Another thing that annoyed me was the implication that our hidden mastermind moved “sacks of gold coins, literally tons of them” to a hidden room. All done by hand. No assistance from other henchmen... no fork lifts... no mechanical aides... not even a cart to wheel them on. And he moved tons of them? Tons? All in a short period of time, while maintaining a secret identity and the normal every-day activities associated with him? I guess you’ve just gotta suspend your disbelief here... as was true with so many of the pulp stories of that time.
Beginning in 1934, in America, hoarding gold was illegal. But not so in England. “You know, of course, that it is a criminal offense in America for any one to hoard gold. That law does not exist in England. Therefore, crooks have reason to ship gold from America. They can dispose of it in London.” This refers to the Gold Reserve Act of 1934. Up until then, Americans freely used gold coins for currency. After that Act, American currency was printed paper money. A little history lesson, courtesy of The Shadow pulp magazine!
This is a fun story. There’s nothing especially original about it. But it’s a very respectable Shadow mystery. I liked it.
"Forgotten Gold" was originally published in the January 1, 1941, issue of The Shadow Magazine. It’s a tale about... uh... gold. Just like the title indicates. And over the years, it’s been... er... forgotten. So the title isn’t all that mysterious, or even original. But, hey, it fits!
Our story opens in Hillville, Georgia, in midsummer. The time of year is significant because that means the days are longer and the nights are shorter. The Shadow has less darkness to run around in. But still, even at that, much of the story takes place at night when The Shadow can don his cloak of black and skulk through the Georgia countryside.
Georgia, it seems, was real gold country back in the mid-1800s. The government had a mint at Dahlonega and it kept on working even after the gold was discovered in California in 1849. The forgotten gold of the story title is in a gold mine—the old Aureole Mine—which was still a paying proposition when Georgia joined the Confederacy. At that time, the mint was closed, never to open again.
The Aureole Mine was purposely buried for the duration of the Civil War. Then, after the war, no one wanted to reopen it, not with a lot of carpetbaggers ready to grab it. Years later, the heirs of the original owners sold the mine, but by then no one was able to find it.
Eventually Morton Selwood bought the stock, which had dropped drastically in value. It was a speculation on his part. He planned to hold on to the property. But now he’s broke, and needs the Aureole Mine to help him out of financial ruin.
There is a brief mention of the current war situation in Europe. Keep in mind that at the time of this story, World War II was in progress even though the USA had yet to enter the global dispute. We are told that much of Morton Selwood’s financial troubles are because of “foreign investments destroyed by the war.”
So Selwood needs money, and the Aureole Mine seems the solution to his problem. But, wouldn’t you know it, trouble’s broken out in Georgia. Trouble that spells murder. And that calls for our hero, The Shadow!
Bob Beverly is our proxy hero. He’s the young man in charge of the expedition to find the lost mine. He heads up a crew of men who are scouring the mountainous land owned by Morton Selwood in search of the Aureole Mine. Assisting him is a quirky inventor by the name of Claude Althorn. Althorn has a newly-devised gold-finder which will help in the search.
Others are out to stop Bob Beverly, Claude Althorn and the rest of the crew. Some who want the gold. Some who own adjacent property and want to claim the mine is located on their land. And some that have other sinister motives. Chief among the antagonists are Frederick Zern, a millionaire who owns some of that adjoining property, Bert Peld, a sneaky underling of Zern’s, and Old Dokey, a half-wit squatter who lives near the Georgia land in question.
Beautiful Brenda Selwood, Morton Selwood’s daughter, is in love with young Bob Beverly, and she adds the requisite romantic angle to the novel. She wants to see Bob succeed so her father will decide that Bob’s good enough to marry her. But Bob won’t be able to make it on his own. Not with the attempts on the life of the search crew. The Shadow is drawn into the intrigue and is soon up to his cloaked and muffled neck in deadly mystery.
Harry Vincent is helping The Shadow here. He’s the main agent seen in this story, and appears throughout the entire mystery. He’s working at the camp with Bob Beverly. Several other of The Shadow’s agents also appear, including contact-man Burbank, taxi-driver Moe Shrevnitz and reporter Clyde Burke. But they all appear very briefly. Stanley, Lamont Cranston’s chauffeur, also appears several times. Stanley aids The Shadow without realizing it; he thinks he’s taking orders from his employer, the real Lamont Cranston. So technically, he’s not an agent. But he’s a recurring character who deserves mention.
Police Commissioner Ralph Weston appears in mid-story, when the location moves to Manhattan. But he doesn’t really get to do much. The law in Georgia is represented by one Sheriff Cady, but he doesn’t get much to do, either. The Shadow is pretty much the sole crime-fighter here.
Other than the usual disguise of Lamont Cranston, The Shadow doesn’t get to use any of his skills at impersonation. He takes the part of Cranston on and off throughout the entire story, and he sees plenty of action when garbed in his outfit of black. It would have been nice to see him appear in some other disguise, but this was just a routine Shadow mystery. And no such opportunity presented itself.
Several of the old familiar touches that resonate with faithful readers are present. We see the short-wave radio in the back of Cranston’s limousine that The Shadow uses to communicate with Burbank. And The Shadow pulls out “The Devil’s Whisper” which hasn’t been seen for a while. This is the powdery chemical substance that he rubs on his thumb and second finger. When he snaps his fingers, there is a bright flash and thunderous explosion. But this time, instead of snapping his fingers, he transfers the chemicals to a piece of paper in his hands. And when the paper is later tossed into the fireplace... kaboom!
Throughout the pulp series, we’ve seen several different methods used by The Shadow to wring information out of hardened criminals. In “Prince of Evil,” he used a system of light and sound to gain information. A similar system of “humane torture” is used today, if reports are to be believed. Remember the non-stop 24-hours-a-day rock music that blared outside the Panama compound of Manuel Noriega back in 1989. That’s one of the types of persuasion previously used by The Shadow.
But in this story, The Shadow uses a more direct approach. He takes a “hands on” approach, literally. He uses strangulation to force information from a captured hoodlum. First he withholds air, then he relaxes momentarily, allowing the captive a breath. Then he tightens his grip once more:
“...two gloved hands caught Dibby’s throat in an iron grip... Dibby weakened under the terrific torture, until, momentarily, the iron fingers relaxed.
“Then came the whispered voice of The Shadow... When Dibby failed to answer, the fingers tightened, then eased again, making the contrast more evident. This time a gargly utterance came from Dibby’s throat... Deftly The Shadow had squeezed the information from Dibby.”
By mid-1940, when this story was actually written, The Shadow pulp novels had started to lose steam. They were becoming a bit routine. Author Walter Gibson tried to keep things exciting, but as most readers agree, the stories were starting to decline. Gibson kept trying to throw in surprise, twist endings, but sometimes his desperation began to show. And this is one of those stories. The surprise ending doesn’t really come as much of a surprise. At least to me.
I’m going to talk a bit about the rather pedestrian “surprise” ending of the story, so be forewarned. If you don’t want the ending spoiled, you should skip the next five paragraphs.
It turns out that inventor Claude Althorn’s young son, Jackie, is really an adult. A midget (dwarf, little person, whatever...) impersonating a child of twelve. That’s the surprise. But it was no surprise to me, and I doubt if it was to most faithful Shadow readers, either.
It was painfully obvious that something was amiss when Walter Gibson introduced young Jackie Althorn. That’s because Gibson didn’t write children into his Shadow novels. Never. And faithful readers could easily recognize that fact. So when one makes a continued reference, not just a quick cameo, it’s a red flag. A very big red flag.
Plus, Walter Gibson didn’t write a very convincing portrayal of a youngster. He claims the boy is purportedly about twelve, but then has him behaving like a six-year-old. The youngster pouts and cries and plays in a manner that no twelve-year-old would ever do. Not today, and not back in 1940, either. Didn’t Gibson know how a twelve-year-old acts? You’d think he would, especially since a goodly number of them were pulp readers (Gem Blade ads notwithstanding).
After reading this sad attempt to write characterization for a child, it’s easy to see why children never were written into The Shadow’s adventures. For one thing, they really didn’t belong. Not in this type of pulp story. But for another, Gibson, who had no children of his own, really didn’t know how to write them.
So it was obvious from the beginning that there was something wrong in having young Jackie Althorn in the story. It wasn’t much of a stretch to realize that this was an adult impersonating a child, even though all the other adult characters in the story were clearly fooled. And if Jackie was a fake, then obviously his “father”, the inventor, was aware of it and was up to something. And then the story began to unravel as their actions began to make their motivations clear.
END OF SPOILER
So, by story’s end, there really wasn’t much of a surprise. I could see what was coming. But that didn’t make the ending dull by any means. Actually, it’s a rousing conclusion as the good guys get trapped in the mine by the bad guys. The good guys—and there’s quite a crew of them—are all trapped underground by a terrific explosion and The Shadow must undertake their rescue.
Even with the rousing ending, the pulp novel, taken as a whole, feels a bit anemic. There were still some exciting Shadow stories ahead, but there were also some routine, rather tired stories. Unfortunately, this seems to be one of the latter. It’s a perfectly respectable story (if you can overlook the obvious flaw pointed out in the spoiler above), but it just seems to lack that special spark.
There would be worse stories in The Shadow’s future. Far worse! And there would be better ones, as well. This particular one just doesn’t stand out. It’s not one of the “must read” stories. But it’s fun to read, if you’re bored and have time on your hands.