Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! The Master of Darkness searches for deadly relics in thrilling pulp novels by Theodore Tinsley and Walter B. Gibson writing as "Maxwell Grant." First, only The Shadow knows the deadly secret that lurks within the priceless jade “Cup of Confucius." Then, a feathered figure of the Quetzal promises death to all who possess it until The Shadow proves it’s “No Time for Murder” in a magic-based mystery that reveals the secret behind Houdini’s greatest illusion! BONUS: “Houdini’s Last Interview." This instant collector’s item showcases the original color pulp covers by George Rozen and Modest Stein and the classic interior illustrations by Paul Orban, with historical commentary by Will Murray.
John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #120
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Cup of Confucius" was originally published in the May 1, 1937 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Out of the dim past of ancient China comes the Cup of Confucius filled to the brim with modern intrigue and murder. Only The Shadow can fathom the grisly murders attributable to this priceless jade artifact.
Here we have a pretty darn good Shadow adventure. With mystery, murder and action aplenty, it has all the marks of a story written by Theodore Tinsley, not the usual author of these tales, Walter Gibson. Yes, there's a touch more gore, a few hints of torture, and The Shadow receives a few more trivial wounds, as well as one serious wound. Underground caves were among Tinsley's favorite settings, and this story has a doozy found in the hollowed out cliffs beneath a huge mansion.
Tinsley's writing was notable for it's more "pulpy" style. He wasn't afraid to go where Walter Gibson preferred not to tread. He often included a dash of restrained nudity in his stories, but none is to be found here. He also often used females as his villains, either his main antagonists or as minor confederates or molls. But they are missing from this story as well. When it came to torture, Tinsley loved to include a scene or two, but nothing too graphic. Whether that restraint should be ascribed to him, or to the dictates of the editors, is unclear. But again, there's no torture in this story, other than some vague mention of matches on bare feet. In this Shadow tale, Tinsley shows remarkable restraint, and comes out with a winner.
Although the Cup of Confucius is the main focus of the story, it really is just the McGuffin - a term popularized by Alfred Hitchcock to indicate some item that motivates the action in a story, but actually plays no real part. And such is the cup. It is the reason for all the goings-on in the story, but isn't actually seen until the final few pages. And that's fine, because there's plenty going on to keep the reader's eyes glued to the pages beginning with the very first paragraph.
So, what's the story on this cup? Well, the Cup of Confucius was almost one of the seven wonders of the world. It had its legendary beginning in the ancient past of China. In that respect it was like the Holy Grail.
According to the mythos surrounding the priceless cup, Confucius himself created it out of a cracked earthen pitcher presented to him by a pious peasant. He was weary and thirsty, and the peasant offered him a drink of cold water after wealthy mandarins had driven the fainting holy man from their courtyards.
Confucius blessed the pitcher, gave it back. The peasant fell on his knees when he saw it. It had changed to priceless jade, ornamented with nine circles of rare and perfect jewels. A circle of rubies, of pearls, of emeralds, diamonds - of the mystic number of nine.
The relic was kept in a special Jade Temple until it was rumored to have been destroyed by fire. But it wasn't. Old millionaire Arnold Dixon has secretly purchased it from Sun Wang, the Chinese general, waging a desperate fight against the invaders of his country. It was Wang's bandit troops who sacked the ancient Jade Temple where the cup was preserved for centuries.
The temple was burned to the ground but the cup was not lost. Sun Wang himself saved it, and later sold it to Dixon for a cool million dollars to help fund his fight for freedom.
It's around this cup that our entire story revolves. And what a story it is! It's non-stop action from beginning to end. Car chases, gun battles, death traps, burning buildings! The Shadow fights off thugs, chases them to a house, is caught when the house burns to the ground, dives off a cliff into the sea, hides aboard a boat, is sunk beneath the waves with the boat, grabs onto a pontoon of a sea-plane, is carried skyward. And so it goes. On and on! Whew, I was wrung out just reading about it all!
Most of the story revolves about old Arnold Dixon and his young son Bruce. As the story opens, The Shadow has read a newspaper account about an attempted burglary of Arnold Dixon's old mansion. He knows something strange is afoot, because the man accused of being the burglar is known to The Shadow as a confidence man, a shrewd swindler, not a burglar. He follows the man, but the suspect's car explodes with the man inside it. Our hero, The Shadow, is too close to the explosion and is seriously wounded by flying metal. He barely makes it to Dr. Rupert Sayre's private clinic before passing out. There he gets patched up and needs several days to recuperate. Then, wounded or not, he's back on the trail.
He visits the scene of the attempted burglary, the Dixon mansion. There's something strange going on, there. Strange visitors with an unsavory look are welcomed by the millionaire. His estranged son Bruce has returned after an absence of ten years, and seems a changed person. And Dixon is the owner of the Cup of Confucius! The Shadow has his suspicions. Could those two unsavory visitors be blackmailers? Could young Bruce be an impostor? Is the Cup of Confucius really safe in the upstairs tower room?
The mysteries build, one upon the next. The action never stops. Not until the rousing climax in the sea caves hidden beneath a burned-out old mansion. Then we finally get to see the Cup of Confucius, the villains are brought to justice -- and in one case, a particularly grisly justice -- and the boy gets the girl. And they all live happily ever after, we assume. Except for The Shadow, who we know goes on to another adventure just two weeks later.
The story presents us with some interesting tidbits of information about The Shadow. We know that Cranston usually drives around in a limousine, and occasionally drives a sedan. In this story, he also owns an imported, streamlined coupe. As for the hidden sanctum, whose location was never specified, we are told here that it sits in an old building in the heart of New York. That's about as specific as it ever gets, but at least it's something.
In one scene, The Shadow pulls a small bottle from beneath his black cloak. No, this isn't the purplish liquid that gives temporary strength to the wounded. No, it isn't an explosive, which we've seen in various stories, either. This time, it's a thick clear fluid that's poured into a car's gas tank. A tiny hole is drilled in the bottom of the tank, and the fluid, mixed with the gasoline, drips out at a slow rate. Those drops on the pavement fluoresce in the darkness, allowing The Shadow to follow the vehicle at a distance. So, how many different glass vials does he carry beneath that cloak, anyway? At times, it seems he must have more beneath that black robe than the Batman carries in his utility belt!
A new method of agents contacting The Shadow is mentioned. Clyde Burke is instructed to use a sparrow chirp, apparently something he is familiar with, having done it before. So, when Clyde needs to contact The Shadow in the black of night outside that burned-down mansion, he purses his lips and lets out with a chirp. And The Shadow responds. In other stories, we've seen similar contact made with small flashes of colored lights, but this is the only time I can recall them using a bird call.
One other note of interest, is the automatic switching license plate on The Shadow's imported, beautifully streamlined coupe. He simply reaches to a small knob on the dash, and a second license plate slides over the first. The New Jersey plate changes to a New York plate. I hadn't seen this in a Shadow story before. I saw the idea in the Batman serial of the 1940's. And then, of course, there's the James Bond movies... But The Shadow did it first!
The cast of recurring characters is a small one, this time around. The Shadow appears in his usual guise as Lamont Cranston, millionaire and world-traveler. Where the real Cranston is, we aren't told. Harry Vincent, eldest of The Shadows agents, at least in terms of years of service, shows up in the last few chapters. Reporter Clyde Burke gets a bit more action, appearing early on and then again at the climax. Yes, Burbank, the contact man, is there, too. And that's it. No sign of any of the other agents. Not even those two lawmen Detective Joe Cardona and Police Commissioner Ralph Weston, show up. It's a streamlined cast, indeed. And an appropriate one for such a fast-paced tale.
One thing I've learned to appreciate about pulp novels is when all the loose ends are tied up. Such is not always the case. Walter Gibson was occasionally guilty of this, as was Tinsley. Mysterious things mentioned early on in the story were just forgotten by the final wrap-up, and never explained. But not so with this Shadow tale. When the story ends, the reader feels a real sense of satisfaction. All actions previously taken by the characters now become reasonable and logical. It's a happy ending for the characters in the novel, and for the reader as well.
That's why I can give his story a high recommendation. It's a most enjoyable way to spend your reading time with The Shadow. A good mystery, plenty of action, compelling characters and a satisfying climax. Good story!
"No Time for Murder" was originally published in the December 1, 1944 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Can dreams foretell the future? Colonel Jeremy Tolland think so, and he seems to be right, time after time. But when his dreams include death, it's time for The Shadow to step in.
Colonel Jeremy Tolland is convinced that his dreams are signs of the future. He has a strange dream involving his good friend Rufus Debley falling from a great height. And at that same moment, in a top-floor Manhattan penthouse, Rufus Debley falls to his death on the pavement twenty stories below.
The police want to know what motivated Rufus Debley to throw himself out of the open window. But we readers know that shortly before his death, Debley had found in a desk drawer a strange little doll. It was a feathered doll with a wood-carved human face. The curious effigy was a Mexican token of doom, called a Quetzal. And the mere sight of it drove Debley to the brink of stark terror.
A picture of panic and dread, Rufus Debley telephoned his friend Colonel Tolland. He was unable to get through. His next call was to Inspector Joe Cardona of the New York Police. The commissioner told him he could call Cardona in an emergency, he gasped. Something was after him... something that wasn't human.
But as Cardona raced across town to the tall apartment house, a body plunged from the penthouse window to the pavement far below. And just as in Colonel Jeremy Tolland's dream, Rufus Debley lay dead from a fatal fall from great heights. Jeremy Tolland's dream was prophetic. And what of his other dreams? Will they come true, as well?
The Shadow is on the case from the very beginning. He arrives at Rufus Debley's apartment just moments after Debley hurtles through the open window. As Lamont Cranston, he picked up the trail two days earlier when Debley asked Commissioner Weston to stand by, in case of trouble from a strange image called a Quetzal. The Shadow is determined to find the true cause of Debley's death, and in order to do so, he becomes acquainted with the Tolland family.
Living in a large old brownstone, Colonel Jeremy Tolland has but a single servant, known as Sarge. Sergeant Gavitt was his old orderly in the first World War, and has stayed with him in civilian life. It is to Sarge that Colonel Tolland confides his prophetic dreams.
Also living in the house are Jeremy Tolland's two nephews, the older Gregg and the younger Dave. The two are cousins, each a son of a different brother of Jeremy Tolland. Just four people in the house. But they are to soon be joined by a fifth.
Shirley Malcolm will soon be the fifth person living there. And all because of old Jeremy Tolland's dreams of the future. In his dream, he sees a girl in blue nearly being hit by an automobile. And true enough, young Shirley Malcolm is nearly hit by Tolland's own limousine as he leaves the Cobalt Club. He rescues her, and insists she stay at his house as she recuperates.
So, there you have your main cast. And into that small group, come a variety of others. There's Victor Brett, the young inventor who has a new miracle electro-magnetic machine that can find overlooked veins of valuable ore in abandoned mines. And there's Carl Wyler, a shrewd promoter from the old days in Mexico. Lee Clavier, an evil man also from the old days in Mexico, now reputed dead. Lloyd Jaggert, another promoter who operated in Mexico. Each of these has a secret; one or more of them is doomed to die.
What's behind the deaths? Who is doing the killings, and for what reason? To find out, The Shadow insinuates himself into the Tolland household as a friend of the family. He appears at Lamont Cranston. And in a first appearance, he also appears in guise as old Isaac Twambley.
The Shadow first started using the Twambley disguise in 1932's "Kings of Crime." At that time, the doddering old man was called Phineas Twambley. The disguise was resurrected again for "The Creeping Death" and "The London Crimes." Then, for nine years, The Shadow abandoned the strange disguise. With this 1944 story, Twambley reappeared but with a name change. He was now Isaac Twambley. Other than the name change, it was the same disguise, and The Shadow went on to use it seven more times, right up until the end in 1949.
The Shadow doesn't work alone in this pulp novel. He's assisted by Harry Vincent, ace of The Shadow's agents and Hawkeye, the cleverest of spotters. Taxi-driver Moe Shrevnitz also appears, although he's consistently called "Shrevvy" here. Contact-man Burbank gets a couple of small scenes, and underworld-contact Cliff Marsland is mentioned, but doesn't actually appear. Commissioner Ralph Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona help out from the official end of things.
As this story was published, World War II was raging across the globe. Yet, there's no sign of the war. No mention is made of wartime shortages or of overseas conflict. Healthy young men appear here, who would normally have been inducted into the armed services. There's no sign of the world being in a life-or-death struggle. Only one subtle comment slips through in a casual mention of "the current room shortage in Manhattan."
Without the war to place it in time, this story reads much like a 1930's Shadow mystery. There's no mention of Margo Lane, who first appeared in 1941, even though she had appeared in some fifty of the pulp stories up to this point. Her absence, here, adds to the illusion that this could easily be a story from the late 1930's.
Of course, there are a few clues that this is a mid-1940's tale. For one thing, Moe Shrevnitz is only referred to by his nickname "Shrevvy," something introduced along with Margo Lane in 1941. And for another, the size of the story is smaller. Most late 1930's Shadow novels were in the 45,000 word range, while this one is a little over 32,000. And, the death-count is lower in this story than it would have been in, say, 1937. The Shadow is still strong and invincible, but less bloodthirsty.
Author Walter Gibson's extensive knowledge of magician's secrets comes into play in this story. There is some secret way in which men can walk through walls in the Tolland house. At the story's conclusion, that method is revealed as being the same as used by the famous Harry Houdini in his "walking through a brick wall" trick. Gibson gives full credit to Houdini, and credits The Shadow's knowledge of magic for penetrating the secret method. Walter Gibson, it must be remembered, was an accomplished amateur magician and ghostwriter for several famous professional magicians. His knowledge of magic often found its way into his Shadow stories. And this story is just one more example.
It's often been said that in his radio adventures, The Shadow had mastered the mystical ability to actually make himself invisible, whereas in the pulp adventures he lacked any mystical ability and only blended into the darkness, making himself "virtually" invisible. This story indicates that things weren't so clear-cut. It gives a unique insight into The Shadow's power of invisibility in the pulps. To quote:
"...he had profited heavily from his sojourns in Tibet, where he had studied deeply into the metaphysical philosophy which declares that invisibility is basically a mental state on the part of the person who desires it. In brief: if you think you are seen, you will be. If you think you aren't, you won't be. The rule worked under certain conditions, of which darkness was the best."
True, The Shadow's powers of invisibility were not the same as on the radio show. But they were certainly more closely related that is often realized. Perhaps it was a bone thrown to listeners of the radio show, who happened to pick up one of the pulp magazines. Something to make the transition between the radio character and pulp character a little less jarring.
The general consensus is that by the 1940's, the Shadow pulp mysteries were dropping in quality and becoming less exciting. And while that may be true of many stories from the period, it certainly doesn't apply to this particular pulp novel. There's mystery and excitement aplenty, here.
Does Rufus Debley actually become a human radio station, broadcasting a message of terror through the ether to Colonel Jeremy Tolland as he falls to his death? Who is flashing secret signals from a vacant house to someone in the Tolland residence? What is the secret of the grandfather clock in the Tolland study? And what about the Tolland parlor, reputed to be haunted? What sinister power does the feathered image of a wood-carved Aztec god, the insidious Quetzal, possess?
This novel is an intricately woven tapestry of mystery and intrigue, betrayal and murder. And when the feathered figured of the Quetzal shows up in Colonel Tolland's desk drawer, only The Shadow can save him from the horrible fate that comes to all who receive the strange little effigy. It's another top-notch Shadow mystery that I can heartily recommend.
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.