John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #116
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Mox" was originally published in the November 15, 1933, issue of The Shadow Magazine. Who was Mox? What was behind the strange doings in his home, and the Disappearances of various men? The Shadow Knows!
This is one of those top-notch Shadow stories that was selected for paperback reprint by Pyramid Books back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Read it, and you’ll see why it was considered worthy of reprint. It’s one exciting story with a mad killer, missing scientists, a spidery little henchman, hidden rooms in an old mansion and plenty more to keep your blood pounding. No annoying plot threads dangle at the end. Everything is nicely tied up. And the reader is left with a satisfied feeling of having read one terrific adventure of The Shadow.
Mox is the villain in this story. His full name is Jarvis Moxton, but he prefers to be called Mox. He lives in a huge old ramshackle house on the outskirts of Darport, and there he plots murder. Inventor after inventor has been lured to his house under the pretext of selling their inventions. But each has died a grisly death, and their inventions stolen to further the sinister plans of the man known as Mox.
If only The Shadow will step in and save the day. But The Shadow has never heard of Mox. It’s only when Schuyler Harlew decides to confess that things begin to come out into the open. Harlew sits in his Bronx flat writing his confession. A confession addressed to... The Shadow! He admits his part in the swindling and murder of the inventors.
Harlew is about to write down the name of the master villain when the clock strikes midnight. He suddenly straightens; the pen falls from his hand. He collapses dead. Killed by a mysterious knife thrust to the back. He hasn’t written the name of the master murderer, but with his last gasp crosses his arms and forces his fingers to form the three letters M—O—X!
Police Commissioner Ralph Weston doesn’t believe in The Shadow. To the commissioner, he’s just a myth. So when he hears that a murder victim has been found with a note addressed to The Shadow, he instructs Detective Joe Cardona to ignore it. Luckily, The Shadow learns of the note and discovers the death-message formed by Harlew’s hands.
He’s off to Darport, on a mission of justice and retribution! There he finds the house of Mox, and in a fantastic battle confronts the master criminal himself. But Mox disappears, and The Shadow is left empty handed. Now he must find the hiding place of Mox. Is Mox a local figure? Can The Shadow unmask him and reveal him to be the monstrous murderer? And what about the short, spidery dwarf that serves Mox? Can he be stopped from his assigned assassinations? Well, ya just gotta read the story to find out!
Appearing in this story on behalf of the forces of the Law are Commissioner Weston, Detective Sergeant Markham, Inspector Timothy Klein and Acting Inspector Joe Cardona. Cardona is the major player in this tale; he’s our proxy hero. At the story’s beginning readers are told that Inspector Timothy Klein is absent, at home ill. So Detective Cardona is temporarily given the rank of Acting Inspector. This is the second time he has been “Acting” Inspector, the first being two months earlier in “Master of Death.” Over the next couple years he would alternate between Detective and Acting Inspector until the higher rank became his permanent one.
Of The Shadow’s agents appearing in this story, Clyde Burke, reporter, has the largest role. Appearing in smaller roles are Burbank, Cliff Marsland and Harry Vincent. Marsland and Vincent help canvass surrounding towns searching for Mox after his Disappearance. Brief mention is made of Rutledge Mann and Stanley the chauffeur. And The Shadow; he stays in the background for most of the story, but comes out occasionally in most dramatic style.
The Shadow appears as Lamont Cranston and also gets to disguise himself as another character. The identity of that character is part of the surprise ending, and will only be revealed after a spoiler warning. But it should be noted that The Shadow gets to use his famous abilities with disguises.
The Shadow appears in disguise as a hunter and friend of Darport detective Junius Tharbel, one Wade Hosth. The reader is unaware of this identity until the very end of the story. Yet an astute reader might suspect this was The Shadow in another of his famous disguises as soon as his name was mentioned. Wade Hosth was an anagram for The Shadow. Just rearrange the letters...
END OF SPOILER
Author Walter Gibson was fond of playing such word games, and occasionally snuck them into his Shadow stories. In the 1936 story “The City of Crime” The Shadow appeared as Theo D. Shaw, another such anagram. In “Quetzal” and “The Masked Headsman,” The Shadow appeared as a Spaniard named José Rembole. Rearrange the letters in Rembole and you get “El Ombre” which is Spanish for The Shadow.
In this story, The Shadow has the ability to climb the outside wall of a two-story house, using nothing but his hands and feet. The soft rubber disks used for such purpose in other stories are not mentioned here. Instead, he just grips the slight projecting portions of the stone wall, and ascends to the upper-story window.
Another point of interest in this story is reference to the written exploits of The Shadow. Often in the early pulp novels, reference is made to The Shadow’s radio exploits. Millions knew the voice of The Shadow, for he had a weekly broadcast. But according to this novel, the exploits of The Shadow were also legend because his raconteur (Gibson) had told the world of amazing episodes in the career of this master battler against crime. It seems the pulp novel is actually referring to itself here! Almost like the way that the exploits of Sherlock Holmes acknowledged that they were being written. Most unusual.
In this early tale, Lamont Cranston is introduced to Joe Cardona. They have met before, but don’t know each other well. As the years went by, the two became closer friends. By the 1946 season written by Bruce Elliott, they were considered bosom buddies. But in The Shadow stories considered canon—the non-Elliott ones—they knew each other well, but didn’t socialize together much.
Lamont Cranston’s racing car is mentioned in this pulp mystery. It’s described as “a huge, expensive car that loomed with unusual bulk. The hood of the low-slung car was of great length. This automobile was built for speed.” A far cry from his usual sedan or his limousine. But being a millionaire, I’m sure he owned a good handful of different vehicles.
On the radio series of The Shadow, our hero possessed the hypnotic ability to cloud men’s minds and thus become invisible. The pulp version of The Shadow had no hypnotic abilities. There were a few vague references in several stories to his having such abilities, but none were ever demonstrated. A few historians have suggested that the pulp Shadow did demonstrate some hypnotic abilities in his pulp adventures, using this particular story as an example.
The story features a dog that submits to the power of The Shadow. Mox owns a Dalmatian, you see. And when The Shadow first encounters it as he surreptitiously creeps into Mox’s mansion, the chance meeting is described thus:
The coach dog raised its head. A low growl came from its throat. The burning eyes of The Shadow shone toward the dog. The Dalmatian settled its head between its paws, and blinked. The Shadow lowered the sash without noise.
The case has been made that this was a demonstration of The Shadow’s hypnotic abilities. I would disagree. It indicates that The Shadow has a mastery over animals, something also shown in other pulp stories, but it seems to be some innate force of will, not a hypnotic ability. Since author Walter Gibson kept the description vague, The Shadow’s dominance is open to interpretation.
Originally this story was going to be titled “Mystery Scent” because of a dog’s ability to scent his master. It’s Cardona’s belief that he can identify Mox when the normally unfriendly Dalmatian scents his master. Indeed the dog’s identity of Mox is an important part of the resolution of the story. But apparently the editors believed the title was a bit too vague, and it was changed. Good call!
The Shadow gets injured in this story. A knife blade in the left arm slows him down a bit. But his wound heals and doesn’t really affect his behavior in the story. That was unusual for Walter Gibson. Generally, if he had The Shadow receive a wound, it was to explain some weakness later. Alternate author Theodore Tinsley was more prone to adding unnecessary wounds to his stories. The Shadow often was bashed over the head, shot in some non-vital place or gashed with knife blades in Tinsley’s pulp version of The Shadow. And those wounds were pretty much irrelevant to the plot; they just added a sense of danger and atmosphere. But such things rarely happened in a Gibson story. This is one of those exceptions.
It should be noted that Junius Tharbel, the country detective that aggravates Joe Cardona, appeared a second time in the 1940 story “Crime County.” And with him was the Dalmatian that had belonged to Mox. It had been adopted by Junius Tharbel after Mox’s demise.
I found the ending of this story to be especially satisfying. Mox is not only killed, but The Shadow makes sure his body is completely crushed by the elevator machinery which moves his hidden headquarters up and down, hidden within the walls of his old mansion. Yes, The Shadow does it intentionally; this is no accident. Killed and then crushed. Serves the fiend right!
This is a darned good Shadow mystery from the early years. It’s hard to find any faults in the story; that’s how good it is. So read it; enjoy it. It’s a good example of Shadow pulps at their finest.
"Crime County" was published in the September 1, 1940, issue of The Shadow Magazine. Darport was quiet, but crime was brewing under the surface—and The Shadow knew it!
This story is a sequel to the 1933 story “Mox” and that alone rates it as a “must read.” That, plus it’s a darned good story. Of course, the ending comes as no surprise. By now, readers had long ago figured out that the criminal mastermind would, in the end, turn out to be the person least suspected. So just pick out the most kindly, benign character in the story... the one with the least motive to commit crime... the one with the most rock-solid alibi... and you’re sure to have your villain. So don’t expect to be surprised at the end. But do expect to enjoy a rousing good story filled with action and some nice twists.
Most of the story takes place in Darport, New Jersey, a town sitting close to the metropolitan area of New York City. In Darport and the surrounding county, crime will break out. Crime on such a widespread basis that even famed law enforcement officer Junius Tharbel will be overwhelmed. Crime that only The Shadow can thwart!
Yes, it’s the return of Junius Tharbel, who readers were familiar with seven years prior when he appeared in “Mox” the main story of the November 15, 1933 Shadow Magazine. By the time of this 1940 story, Tharbel is in his seventies. But he’s still ace among sleuths, and still working as sheriff of Darport. He’s built quite a reputation over the years, and criminals stay clear of his county. But it appears all that’s to end. Crime is brewing!
It begins when Tharbel notices Wallace Layton, assistant cashier at the Darport Trust Company, leaving work late at night carrying a large suitcase. His manner is sneaky, and Tharbel wants to know what is inside that suitcase. Could he be spiriting money away from the bank?
The bank is robbed before Junius Tharbel can find out. Speed Kroner heads up a gang of bank robbers who steal into the Darport Trust late at night and crack the safe. All the money is taken, including fifty thousand dollars just deposited by Blair Breeland, president of the quarry company. There’s a long and furious battle between the bank robbers and the law, but Speed Kroner escapes with the swag, leaving his wounded gang in the hands of the law.
Convinced that Wallace Layton has part of the bank funds secreted away, Junius Tharbel becomes a safe cracker seeking the illicit contents. But he’s been set up. He’s caught, put on trial, and sent to the state penitentiary. And while he’s away in the big house, crime really breaks out in Darport! It will take The Shadow to squash the crime running rampant in Darport. It will take The Shadow to free his old friend Junius Tharbel from prison. And it will take The Shadow to reveal the identity of the master plotter behind the entire scheme.
The Shadow receives aide from his various agents in this story. Appearing are Clyde Burke of the New York Classic; Moe Shrevnitz, one of the speediest hackies in Manhattan; and contact-man Burbank. In a brief special reference, Senator Ross Releston plays a small but pivotal role.
The Shadow appears in disguise as millionaire sportsman and world traveler Lamont Cranston. And he also appears in disguise as Tharbel’s sad-faced hunting companion Wade Hosth. This disguise was used in the previous story, “Mox,” in which Junius Tharbel also appeared. Note that if you rearrange the letters in the name “Wade Hosth” you get “The Shadow!” Author Walter Gibson loved that kind of word play.
Also appearing in this story is the dog from the seven-year-old story “Mox.” In that story, the dog, a medium sized Dalmatian, was owned by the evil mastermind Mox. When Tharbel helped defeat Mox, he acquired the dog. Since he didn’t know the dog’s name, he named it after its original owner; he called the dog Mox. It’s a neat idea, and I wish the dog had played a larger role in this story. He’s there, but mostly as window-dressing. He doesn’t really get to do much, other than growl an occasional warning. Too bad...
I do wonder, though, what happened to Mox (the dog) during the time that Junius Tharbel was imprisoned at the State Pen? Nothing is said about the dog, or who takes care of him. But at story’s end, Tharbel is released from prison and reunited with his faithful dog Mox. One can only read between the lines and assume that The Shadow somehow made the necessary arrangements during Tharbel’s prison term.
We are given a few more interesting hints about The Shadow’s face in this novel. We’re reminded that Cranston’s face isn’t The Shadow’s own. Here, he remolds his features by touch in total darkness. It’s a process he has learned to perform by touch alone. His hands make a spreading motion which flattens his aristocratic profile. Downward pressure adds a bulldog effect to the jawline. The result is a thug-like reference that helps him infiltrate the gang. Is this guy’s face made of putty, or what?
I always enjoy any mention of The Shadow’s hypnotic powers. Of course, they were nothing like those in the Shadow’s radio show. No psychic powers of invisibility. But Gibson still alluded to The Shadow’s mesmeric abilities. In this story, we’re told that The Shadow captures a safe cracker, and... “Controlled by the hypnotic power of burning eyes, the thug was ready to do all The Shadow asked, and more.” Ah, The Shadow’s hypnotic power. Now, perhaps that was just a figure of speech, not intended to be taken literally. But I prefer the strict, unembellished interpretation. The Shadow’s eyes carry true hypnotic power! I’m sure many a kid in 1940, reading that passage in the pulp magazine, would have all sorts of fantasies running through his head as he imagined what he would do if only he had that hypnotic power. And many an adult, I suspect, as well...
In another note of interest, we learn here that The Shadow has friends in high places... the highest! He makes a special request of the President of the United States, and it is granted! This isn’t the only time that The Shadow has worked with the President. In the 1937 story “Quetzal” Cranston was dispatched to Mexico by the U.S. Government. And a few months later in “Washington Crime” Cranston was summoned to Washington by the President to aid the government with a defense problem. Ah, the perks of being a pulp hero!
Some Shadow stories are a bit of a chore to read through the slow parts. Not so with this one. Some seem overly complicated, and it’s hard to keep track of who was where... and when. Again, not so with this story. It kept my interest all the way and was a very enjoyable reading experience. Perhaps this isn’t quite at the very top of my Shadow reading list, but it’s really close. It definitely gets my recommendation.