Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! The Knight of Darkness crushes Florida-based crime in two thrill-packed pulp novels by Walter B. Gibson writing as "Maxwell Grant." First, The Shadow investigates simian burglaries and battles a Super Gorilla when he invades “Crime’s Stronghold." Then in "Death Diamonds" only The Shadow knows why jewel robbers ignore diamonds and only purloin other gemstones in the novel that introduces future agent Chance LeBrue! This thrilling collector's special showcases the classic color pulp covers by George Rozen and the original interior illustrations by Paul Orban, with historical commentary by Will Murray.
John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #119
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Crime’s Stronghold" was originally published in the December 15, 1941, issue of The Shadow Magazine. Deep in the strange wilds of Florida, a strange laboratory holds even stranger residents. This is crime’s stronghold. Here, mysterious powers are at work... powers that will tax even the might of The Shadow.
This was a fun story to read. It’s not the best story of 1941. I think “The Chinese Primrose” and “The White Column” were better. It’s not the weirdest story, either. “The Devil Master” probably had it over “Crime’s Stronghold.” But it has some nice features, a few silly ones and when it comes right down to it, the story was a very enjoyable romp with The Shadow and two of his aides. It was the last story of 1941, and made a very nice way to end the year.
This story has monkeys. Monkeys, apes, chimpanzees and gorillas all make up the bizarre residents of the anthropological laboratory run by Professor Morton Englemere. But, I ask myself, why monkeys? They don’t really serve much purpose to the story. In the tale’s climax, they do assist slightly in the mopping up of the gangsters... but it’s nothing that The Shadow couldn’t have handled alone. There is one scene where the crooks use some of the monkeys as an excuse to get past a police blockade. “We’re moving these apes to circus winter quarters.” But again, it would have been a simple matter to avoid the blockade if monkeys hadn’t been part of the story. There’s no real compelling reason to have them in the story, but here they are.
This all takes place in Florida. In one of the wild, rarely visited sections of Florida there is an isolated building inhabited by Professor Morton Englemere. This is his anthropological laboratory where he stays with an assortment of anthropoids and a motley crew of humans. All of the employees, the trainers and the keepers, are hard-faced, tough-looking characters. They are thugs, down from New York, planning a crime wave that will spread out from this secret headquarters. With Professor Englemere as their leader, they are about to start crime on a scale unheard-of in the annals of crime.
The professor seems to show no interest in his apes, which is why it seems they could have easily been written out of the story. All his attentions are directed toward one of his inventions. He has developed a secret weapon unheard of in modern warfare, a Vapor Gun which can cut through any substance in mere seconds. Its calcide spray will eat through concrete or steel in seconds. But, instead of turning it over to the government to assist in the war effort as an antitank weapon, Professor Englemere decides to use it to enter bank vaults, cut through walls and create chaos.
The professor wants to improve his Vapor Gun, to give it more range and power. To do so, he needs a powerful new explosive that has been recently developed in the region. It’s called Citrite, and is manufactured from the pulp of citrus fruits. Sounds like the perfect thing to be invented in Florida. Somehow, and the specifics are never explained, adding Citrite to his Vapor Gun will make it a whole lot better. Faster, more powerful, greater range. These are the things Englemere wants for his Vapor Gun, and Citrite is the key to those improvements. So it’s off to the heavily-guarded industrial plant where Citrite is created, to steal a large supply with which to perpetuate the wave of crime.
Who can stop this murderous gang? Who can overcome the power of the Vapor Gun? Who can determine the next target of crime? Who can discover the hidden stronghold of evil? That’s right... The Shadow!
This story takes place completely in Florida. There is no brief sojourn to Manhattan. Everything occurs in the sunshine state. That’s where the anthropological laboratory is located. That’s where all the crimes happen.
The Shadow works pretty much alone here. About midway through the story, Cliff Marsland is brought in. He infiltrates the gang of crooks to find out what they’re up to. But he is soon discovered and is thrown into one of the ape cages. Harry Vincent also has a small part, but he, too, ends up a prisoner in another of those cages. It’s going to be up to The Shadow to rescue them! Luckily, no other agents appear, or they would have probably been captured by the gang, as well.
The only other regular character we recognized is Vic Marquette of the F.B.I. He shows up at the end to take into custody any crooks who have survived the bloody climx with The Shadow. He misses out on the battle itself, so his reference is only to assure readers that the gangsters who still lived would be sent to the penitentiary.
Supposedly there are other agents working in the background. None are mentioned by name, but we are told that “The Shadow’s own secret agents, competent men long in his service, were on the job as orange pickers.” Their job was to fan out across the state, seeking any sign of the hideout.
The pulp adventure does have some nice scenes. One that I found enjoyable in particular was the battle aboard a stolen freight train. The gang has commandeered the train and The Shadow jumps aboard. He makes his way across the top of the freight cars toward the engine where the bad guys are running things. Great action sequence!
The Shadow carries with him a private rogues’ gallery, showing the faces of crooks he has encountered or is looking for. It’s all on a set of cards that contain large printed dots. When enlarged under a microscope, the dots become pictures of men’s faces. This makes it easy for The Shadow to carry the equivalent of huge mug books of criminal photographs, all condensed onto a small packet of cards. This clever rogues’ gallery had been mentioned a few months earlier in “Garden of Death” and returned several months later in “Death Diamonds.”
Another interesting feature of this story is the mention of Orange Lake and its famous floating islands. This is an actual lake in central Florida that contains small islands that float. Author Walter Gibson ingeniously used them in this story to assist The Shadow to escape from certain death, after being injured and rendered unconscious. It is a pretty clever escape for our hero and was based upon an actual geographical phenomenon.
But I still don’t get the monkeys. They are constantly in the background. We hear a lot about them. Apparently, they are pretty skilled. They’ve been trained to answer the door, serve meals, wash dishes, sweep up the lab, whitewash the walls, weed flowerbeds, dig a drainage ditch and do all sorts of other useful tasks. The thugs teach Loco, the orangutan, to shoot craps, and apparently he’s so good at it that they wish they hadn’t taught him. Yes, those monkeys are everywhere in this story. But they don’t seem to serve any purpose plotwise. It’s almost like they were added later as background eye candy. They aren’t actually integrated into the plot; they’re just... there.
We’ve seen The Shadow’s mastery over beasts in previous stories. In “Crime Circus” he controlled a wild tiger. In “Noose of Death” it was a bucking bronco. The previous year, he demonstrated his power over large, ferocious hounds in “Crime at Seven Oaks.” But, the question is, can he gain mastery over a seven-foot gorilla named Tongo? You’re just going to have to read this one to find out! I don’t want to spoil it for you.
Occasionally, in these Shadow stories, someone learns that Lamont Cranston is really The Shadow. Usually that person is the villain, and he almost always is killed at the climax of the story. In this particular story, there is another person who learns the secret of The Shadow, and lives! Yes, another living person is now out there who knows the strange and mysterious connection between The Shadow and Lamont Cranston. Just how many such people are there anyway? I’m starting to lose count...
In summary, here we have another fine example of a typical 1941 Shadow mystery. It’s enjoyable to read; doesn’t take too long to complete and it keeps you interested the whole time. There are no major holes in the plot: all the loose ends are tied up by the last page. I still can’t figure out the monkey business, but it’s kind of fun, and doesn’t seem to hurt anything. If you run across this story, read it. You could do worse. A lot worse.
"Death Diamonds" was originally published in the February 1, 1942, issue of The Shadow Magazine. Jewel robbers struck repeatedly in this wealthy Florida suburb. With those crimes came The Shadow. His taunting laugh told men of crime that he would relax no effort until he vanquished their ilk.
This is a pretty standard Shadow story from 1942. However, there is one unique feature which raises it above the routine. It features the debut of Chance LeBrue, the last member that The Shadow added to his band of agents. LeBrue wasn’t used all that frequently; he was a minor agent. But between this origin story and the final magazine story of The Shadow in 1949, LeBrue appeared in a total of five of these pulp adventures. So, since this was the first, and we get to see how he entered the service of The Shadow, this becomes a key story, albeit a minor one. Other than that, though, it doesn’t have much special going for it.
Now from the title of the story, you might assume the plot deals with diamonds which are mysteriously linked with deaths. But no. It’s mostly about other gemstones. Yes, there are some diamonds included in the thefts of jewelry, but usually they are ignored. It’s the other jewels that the robbers want. And the diamonds that do appear in the story certainly don’t cause death... directly at any rate. Of course indirectly, the greed to acquire the jewels causes many a criminal’s death. If the title hadn’t already been used five months earlier, I’d think “Gems of Jeopardy” would have been a more appropriate title. But enough of this nit-picking! Let’s get to the story.
This is a story of jewels. A story of the owners of the fabulous jewels. A story of the amazing robberies of the jewels. A story of the mystery surrounding the strange Disappearances of the jewels. And it all takes place in sunny Florida.
Lakeland is a famous resort city of inland Florida, and the suburb known as Palm Park is where the wealthiest live. They come here in the winter to avoid the chilling cold up north. And they bring their collections of jewelry to show off at the various social events.
Glenn Belmar caught the fourth robbery on film. Belmar was a camera buff, and had decided to take his camera to the Wilkenham’s party. But before he could even enter the mansion, crime was in action. As the middle-aged Countess del Rondo was leaving her car, she was set upon by robbers right there in the driveway! They stripped the masses of rubies and sapphires from her fingers, and the famous Del Rondo emerald from her neck. But strangely, they left the huge diamond bracelet on her left wrist.
This robbery of a quarter million dollars in jewels wasn’t the first of the jewel robberies. There had been three previous ones, each more daring than before. And each robbery was hushed up by the victims and the police so as not to scare off the important tourist trade from the resort town. But with this fourth robbery, Belmar decided to telegraph his old friend Lamont Cranston in New York.
In response to the telegram, Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane arrive on the plane from New York, and things immediately start to heat up. Even before they can drive out to Belmar’s mansion, they witness a crime. One of the servants who was an “inside man” in the robberies, is killed and the act is framed to look like a car accident. But Cranston knows it was no accident. He knows that the man was dead even before his car was struck by the second car. He knows, because... The Shadow knows!
There are more jewel robberies. Lamont and Margo are witnesses to these robberies at the various parties they attend. Each time, the robbers mysteriously disappear when The Shadow tries to chase them down. But finally, The Shadow tracks them down and reveals the criminal mastermind behind the entire crime wave.
So, why did the crooks spurn diamonds and take only the other jewels? In the middle of the story we’re given some lame story about how they know the jewelry market will soon be swamped with newly found diamonds from South America, which will knock the bottom out of the market. And as a result, the other types of gems will gain in value. It all sounds kinda phony to me. And, as it turns out, it is!
The secret head of the whole criminal enterprise has instructed his minions to ignore the diamonds for an entirely different reason. And when The Shadow unmasks the master villain and explains the whole scheme, the reader finally learns the true reason why the jewel robberies are carried out, while the diamonds are left behind. I won’t spoil the ending by giving it away here, but... yes, it’s probably what you’re thinking.
As mentioned above, this story is notable for being the debut of the last of The Shadow’s agents, Chance LeBrue. LeBrue was originally hired by the killer to ram the “empty” car that Lamont and Margo witnessed upon their arrival in Florida. At least he was told it was empty; it actually contained the dead servant. The “accident” was arranged to hide the fact that he was murdered to cover up his part in the jewel robberies.
As for this new agent, we get to learn a bit of his back story. Chance LeBrue was a veteran automobile wrecker, who dealt in such thrills as crashing through brick walls and flaming wooden buildings. But those feats had gone out of style and Chance’s barnstorming days were over. That made him easy pickings for the criminal element. But The Shadow realized that LeBrue had been set up, and didn’t know the automobile he had been hired to smash contained anyone. He thought it was a demonstration for traffic safety. The Shadow realized that LeBrue would make an excellent agent because of his specialized skills. And thus, Chance LeBrue entered the service of The Shadow and appeared up through the end of the series in 1949.
One item that caught my attention was The Shadow’s microphoto rogues’ gallery. It had been mentioned before in several stories. In 1939’s “Realm of Doom” it was described as a small postcard printed with many dots, smaller than the head of a pencil. Those dots, of course, are microfilmed photographs of known crooks. In this story, The Shadow uses these to identify various crooks in the jewel theft ring. A pretty clever way of carrying a portable rogues’ gallery wherever you go. It appeared in at least four Shadow novels, by my count.
One of the gems that I found interesting to read about was the alexandrite. According to this story, it is unique among gemstones in that under the light of day it takes on the rich green of an emerald, yet under the incandescent indoor lighting, it becomes a deep red stone, very similar to a ruby. So, being the curious type, I checked, and this truly is a special quality of the alexandrite stone. But, sadly, author Walter Gibson didn’t use that strange property to twist the plot. All he does is have Margo see it in daylight, and then later think she’s seeing a different stone at night under artificial lighting. With a little thought, he could have been more creative with this, I would think. An opportunity lost...
This story features The Shadow in his oft-used disguise as Lamont Cranston. Also appearing are Margo Lane and The Shadow’s new agent Chance LeBrue. Other than that, there were no other familiar continuing characters. No other agents were mentioned. No familiar law enforcement agents, either.
When Margo Lane was first introduced to the series in mid-1941, she didn’t know with absolute certainty that The Shadow used the Lamont Cranston disguise. But she somehow seemed to recognize that Cranston was The Shadow, even without direct evidence. In this story, she knows. There are no vague suspicions; she knows. She clearly expects Cranston to whip out the black cloak and hat along with his brace of .45 automatics.
So there you have it. Not a great Shadow story, but not a complete dud, either. It’s a nice 40,000-word pulp mystery that features the origin of The Shadow’s last new agent, Chance LeBrue. I suppose you could do worse than read it, even if for that one reason alone.
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.