John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #123
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Voice" was originally published in the November 1, 1938, issue of The Shadow Magazine. And just who or what is “The Voice?” That’s what The Shadow is out to discover. This bodiless voice controls a conspiracy that defies exposure. When the Voice speaks, murder is done. But when the final fray is over, it is the taunting, triumph laugh of The Shadow that is heard above all!
This story had the potential to be a great Shadow pulp mystery. Unfortunately, author Walter Gibson missed his opportunities and as a result ended up with a pretty routine Shadow story. Instead of making the Voice mysterious, he’s just a guy talking on the telephone. As one crook puts it, “He was just a voice—yeah, a voice—talkin’ over the telephone!” And even that happens only a couple times. Boring!
This story could have gone in other directions and been a much more enjoyable tale. If the mysterious character of The Voice had been a hidden mastermind whose voice appeared from nowhere—along the lines of the radio version of The Shadow—now that would have been pretty interesting. But, no. That’s not this story. Or if a criminal empire had been ruled by some unknown villain whose minions met in an underground cavern, accepting their orders from a hollow voice emanating from a golden statue—now that would have made a terrific plot. But, again... no. That’s not this story, either.
A guy gives orders over the phone a couple times. There’s nothing special about the voice... it’s just a voice. The character certainly doesn’t deserve to become the title of the story. In fact, Walter Gibson entitled the story “The Missing Magnate.” The whole thing was never intended to revolve around the voice of the hidden mastermind. It was the editors at Street & Smith who changed the title to “The Voice.” Ah, what they would do to sell magazines. In this case, it was probably the cover that sold the magazine. This one was the famous cover in which The Shadow hangs from a rope ladder with one hand and fires his famous .45 automatic with the other. Too bad the story wasn’t as impressive as that cover.
So what we have here is a straight-forward gangster tale. No frills. As our story opens, there has been a lull in recent crime. The Shadow’s vigilance has been paying off! But crime is about to rear its ugly head again. And it’s a good thing, too, or there would have been no story to tell in his pulp magazine issue.
Daniel Clume, president of Allied Airways, goes into his office. Hours later, he is nowhere to be found. He’s disappeared—kidnapped. Probably because it would thwart his plans to acquire the Green Star Lines, and permit a rival to acquire it. Zig Gurkel and a couple of his mob staged the snatch. They put Clume away somewhere, so he’d be safe. But there was a fellow who spotted them—Tim Tiffan, “Old Tim,” the guy with the newsstand.
The Voice sent Gat Harreck to rub out Tiffan before he could tell what he saw. And so he did, just moments before The Shadow arrived. That put The Shadow on Gat’s trail, but Gat was eliminated by sharp-shooter Ossie Ludrig before The Shadow could capture him. Luckily, The Shadow glimpsed Ludrig’s face, and is now shadowing him. Of course that means that now Mr. Big will have to eliminate Ludrig, too! And so he is, even though The Shadow is hiding in the room at the time.
Marge Hotzlen, Ossie Ludrig’s ex-girl, sees Ossie killed, and from her angle, it seems The Shadow was the killer. So she helps Gypper Thelgo and his mob track The Shadow, looking for retribution. She befriends Irene Borion, Daniel Clume’s secretary, at the mob’s instruction, to keep an eye on her. She’ll be used as bait for The Shadow. Luckily, in the end of the story, she comes around and sees the truth. And she even assists The Shadow, working with him rather than against him. She was never really bad to begin with, but she was on the fence. Now she’s definitely reformed.
Irene, the secretary, is duped into leading The Shadow into a death trap, and I must admit this is the high-point of the entire story. It’s most effective. The Shadow is trapped in a small courtyard, high brick walls on all four sides. The only door into the courtyard snaps securely shut, locking him inside. From between the slats of metal shutters, machine-gun muzzles point downward directly at our black-cloaked hero. Hundreds of bullets rake every sector of the courtyard. How will The Shadow survive? The solution, which I won’t spoil here, is quite impressive.
The story has plenty of gun battles, I’ll give it that. But other than the one death-trap scene mentioned above, it really is just a series of scenes where one by one, The Shadow trails a member of the gang only to have him eliminated before the crook can squawk. It gets a little boring after a while.
An interesting twist in this story, is that The Shadow uses a compact short-wave radio hidden in a compartment behind a folding seat in his limousine to contact Burbank. In other Shadow stories, he has Stanley pull the limousine over to a convenient cigar store or drug store and he uses the pay phone to make his call. But in this one, he has a radiophone at his disposal. That’s not often mentioned, so deserves mention here.
A few other points of interest. The Shadow forgoes his rubber suction cups and makes his way up the outside of a brick wall thanks to his soft-tipped shoes that seem to miraculously grip even the slightest indentation.
Once again, The Shadow’s agents use flashlights with colored lenses to signal to their chief. It’s been seen before, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to bring it up again. This time, a green glimmer indicates that all is safe.
We get a visit to The Pink Rat, that underworld dive were hardened criminals go to slake their thirsts. It only appeared in thirteen stories, this one being its next-to-last. We also see reference to Red Mike’s, another notorious hangout and ex-speakeasy. But, sadly, it’s only mentioned, not visited.
Squatly. I just had to mention the reference of my favorite Gibsonism, “squatly.” It was one of those words that author Walter Gibson made up, but here it aptly describes a warehouse. It appeared in some three dozen of Gibson’s Shadow stories, and it’s good to see it used again here. It always brings a smile to my face.
Appearing in this story are Clyde Burke, of the New York Classic, Hawkeye, who “at present” works for The Shadow (referring to his actual boss, Slade Farrow), Cliff Marsland, Hawkeye’s partner in the criminal-underworld activities, Harry Vincent, one of The Shadow’s first agents, and Moe Shrevnitz, the best cabbie in Manhattan. Oh, yeah, and Stanley. Lamont Cranston’s chauffeur appears a couple times, driving the man he believes is Lamont Cranston. Poor fool, he never knew it was often an interloper in disguise. As for the law, they are represented by Inspector Joe Cardona and Police Commissioner Ralph Weston. Vic Marquette of the F.B.I. even shows up, since this is a kidnapping case.
As for disguises, The Shadow appears in his most often used disguise as millionaire world traveler Lamont Cranston. He also does a faultless impersonation of Daniel Clume, the kidnapped industrialist. But most often, he’s skulking about in the shadows in his cloak and slouch hat.
This is a fair example of a 1938 Shadow story, but I mourn for its ignored potential. It could have been so much more. Gibson was right; it should have been entitled “The Missing Magnate” instead. Not a very inspiring title, but at least it wasn’t a slightly misleading one.
What we have here is a standard Shadow gangster story with a nice death-trap escape to recommend it... and not much else. It gets my lukewarm recommendation. I’ve read worse.
"Alibi Trail" was originally published in the June 1946 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Why will one man risk all to take a photograph of heiress Brenda Van Dolphe? Why will another risk murder to reacquire that photo? It will take all the wiles of The Shadow to discover the strange secret behind the hidden schemes in this post-war tale.
Our story opens on an obscure Long Island air field where beautiful young Brenda Van Dolphe, the girl whose face was as great a mystery as the sources of her father’s fortune, arrives from Havana. Ruggedly handsome Jerry Reeth wants to talk to her. Jerry is an ex-GI who fought at the Battle of the Bulge. He’s back from the war and wants to clear the besmirched name of his late father. Brenda is the only person who can help.
It all goes back many years ago when Craig Van Dolphe, Brenda’s father, and Felix Reeth, Jerry’s father, were partners in the Quetzal Mexican mines. Felix Reeth was framed for some phony mine promotions by Craig Van Dolphe and went to prison. Van Dolphe sold his mine holdings and moved on to other investments. Because he struck it rich in those other investments, Jerry now feels that half the Van Dolphe fortune should be his.
With Van Dolphe now dead, his daughter and heir Brenda is the person Jerry needs to convince. All attempts to make his claim have been rebuffed by Cedric Treat, the secretary who answers all Brenda’s letters. Young Jerry feels his only chance is to take his plea directly to Brenda herself. Since he has been informed that Brenda, who has been raised in South America, is making a rare trip to the United States, Jerry is determined to meet her at the plane and make his case in person.
Also at the small airport is a freelance photographer by the name of Russ Wilbert who wants to take an exclusive picture of the elusive recluse who is worth millions. The picture is taken, a chase ensues, cameras are switched and in the confusion Jerry ends up with a fake camera and is blamed as the phantom photographer. Normally this wouldn’t concern him except that there’s a gang of cutthroats out to get that picture. And murder enters the picture; murder pinned on the innocent Jerry!
First to die is Gonzales, a man who knew Jerry’s father down in Mexico. Gonzales is waiting for Jerry at his hotel room. But when Jerry evades the gang chasing him and returns to his apartment, he finds Gonzales lying dead with Jerry’s favorite hunting knife in his chest. Yes, Jerry has gotten swept up into something he never expected. And it’s not over yet.
More are in mortal danger. Herkimer, the Van Dolphe’s chauffeur, discovers something that could cost him his life. And Russ Wilbert who has the photograph worth millions is also in peril. Even young Brenda Van Dolphe herself is under the shadow of death. And in some inexplicable fashion, Jerry Reeth is mixed up in it all.
But The Shadow is also mixed up in the whole situation. The Shadow was involved at the very beginning, when young Jerry Reeth was being chased by a gang of cutthroats after the airport incident. It was The Shadow who saved Jerry from death at their hands. The Shadow was there when Jerry found the dead body of Gonzales in his apartment. Again The Shadow saved Jerry when sinister agents attempted to steal the dead body and silence Jerry forever. And The Shadow will stay in the picture until the entire sinister plot is thwarted and the parts of all the players are known.
Assisting The Shadow in this 1946 pulp mystery are his agents Harry Vincent, expert trailer Hawkeye, contact-man Burbank and taxicab driver Moe Shrevnitz (referred to here as “Shrevvy”). Also on hand is New York Police Commissioner Ralph Weston.
The Shadow appears in two disguises in this story. He appears as Lamont Cranston, although it isn’t made clear here that this is a disguise. It’s left for the reader to know it’s a disguise. New readers to the pulps might have easily assumed that Lamont Cranston was The Shadow’s true identity, not a disguise. The other disguise is that of Dr. Borneau, head of the Bywood Sanitarium.
We see The Shadow produce a make-up kit from beneath his cloak and begin to form his disguise as the doctor. He shortly has assumed the facial characteristics of Dr. Borneau. We aren’t given details on how this is accomplished, as we occasionally were in the early Shadow novels. No mention is made of a gauze-like mask. Nothing is said of facial putty. So all we really know from this particular story is that The Shadow carries a make-up kit beneath his cloak. Is it something he always carries, like his flashlight? Or does he just bring it along when he anticipates its need? That, unfortunately, is left to our own imagination.
This is definitely The Shadow of the ’40s. Not the earlier Shadow who shot to kill, and did so with great frequency. This is a tamer Shadow. He shoots to wound. And often he doesn’t shoot at all. He prefers to fight using his automatics as cudgels to knock aside the guns of his opponents. In the classic Shadow tales of the 1930s, the villain would go down in a hail of bullets in the final chapter. Not so here. In this story, one man commits suicide and his henchmen are captured by the police. The Shadow sheds no blood himself.
So just who is behind all the sinister goings-on? Could it be Brenda’s uncle Judge Jeffrey? Señora Hidalgo, the duenna who had accompanied Brenda from Columbia? Captain Platt, the pilot and her cousin? Simon Severidge, attorney for the Van Dolphe estate? Cedric Treat, the Van Dolphe secretary? Kirk Grishaw or Alvin Lancaster, the two men who control the now defunct Quetzal mine? Claxon, the old family retainer? Genevieve Jeffrey, Brenda’s great-cousin (which I assume means second cousin) and companion? Dr. Theophilus Borneau, of the Bywood Sanitarium?
As to the title of the story, there really is no trail of alibis. There is no alibi that starts any trail. The title, “Alibi Trail,” is meaningless. Or, if there was a significance, it certainly eluded me.
There was another earlier Shadow novel also entitled “Alibi Trail” in 1942. But this story has nothing whatsoever to do with that one. It was just a case of accidental duplication of titles. Someone at Street & Smith Publications whose job it was to make sure a story title hadn’t already been used, fell asleep on this one. (Note: this duplicate-title business happened more than once.)
For a 1946 Shadow story, this one has plenty to offer. The handsome ex-GI. The beautiful heiress. The huge brownstone mansion. The old, peculiarly shaped key. The secret passages within the walls of the old mansion. The strange will. Yes, this one has a lot going for it. It was a fairly fun one to read and gets my guarded recommendation.