John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #125
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Death Tower" was originally published in the January 1932 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A fiend of untold evil makes The Death Tower his citadel of crime. It’s a fortress that only one amazing personage dare challenge—The Shadow!
This is an amazing Shadow adventure. They just don’t get any better than this. Admittedly, it’s early in the magazine’s run, and a few of the details regarding The Shadow had yet to be worked out. But it moves along at a brisk pace and lures you into its web of intrigue. It’s a key issue, in that Clyde Burke is introduced to the series. Burke was a long-time character of the series, appearing regularly in over half of the 325 magazine stories. And as Clyde learns about his new boss, The Shadow, so do the readers. This made the story especially satisfying to me.
The death tower in the story’s title wasn’t a castle tower; actually it was a forty story apartment building. And in the penthouse on the top floor resides the evil Doctor Albert Palermo, an analyst of mental disorders, specialist in psychoanalysis.
We learn of Doctor Palermo’s villainy in chapter one, when he murders his visitor Horace Chatham. From Chatham’s body, Doctor Palermo takes a magnificent purple sapphire—a stone reputed to be cursed. But a single jewel worth a fortune!
It’s Palermo’s Arab servant Hassan who does the actual killing, at his master’s orders. And then Hassan takes the body into the evil Doctor’s laboratory where the body is dissected and the brain is removed for Palermo’s sinister experimentations.
Doctor Palermo then calmly disguises himself as the victim, Horace Chatham, and visits the uptown residence of millionaire Seth Wilkinson. There he murders Wilkinson with a long, thin-bladed knife, and steals a promissory note that contains his damaging signature. Yes, this is one bad character. Only one man can stop him: The Shadow!
Doctor Palermo lives in a virtual Gibraltar, high in his fortieth floor penthouse. The Death Tower! It is a veritable death trap to anyone entering without the evil Doctor’s permission. There are trap doors, sliding panels, secret rooms, exploding devices... and then there’s Chong. A life-sized figure in bronze, Chong is a strange Oriental statue of a dwarfed, seated figure. Straight from the imperial palace in Peking, the statue sits with its arms crossed, and its fierce, ugly face staring straight ahead with glaring eyes. There is a sinister secret to this bronze statue. A secret that means death... death to The Shadow!
In this amazing early story in the chronicles of The Shadow, we meet Clyde Burke for the very first time. His age is described as being in his late 20s. We are told that he worked as a police reporter for the Evening Clarion, but was put out of work when the Clarion was taken over by the Daily Sphere. Unemployed, he was offered work by millionaire George Clarendon.
George Clarendon, who we learn is a disguise of The Shadow, appears here in a Shadow mystery for the first time. There was a “Morris Clarendon” mentioned in the previous story, “Gangdom’s Doom,” but he was a Chicago district attorney not related to The Shadow. Wealthy George Clarendon hires Burke to start a clipping bureau to gather newspaper clippings and sort information. Clarendon, described as a criminologist, eventually enlists Burke as an active agent for The Shadow and introduces him to Harry Vincent.
As Clyde Burke is introduced to the ways of The Shadow, we learn a few things about how The Shadow works. Burke sees The Shadow’s fading ink in action, as messages disappear before his very eyes. We see the code used by The Shadow: messages are simply written backwards. SEY SDRAWKCAB! A simple code that Harry and Clyde can easily read, but is secure because of the fading ink. If any other person were to open one of The Shadow’s messages, it would have faded away before that person realized that the words were spelled backward.
We also see Clyde deposit his reports in the door slot of a dingy office in a building on Twenty-third Street. The name on the door is M. Jonas. In most Shadow stories it was “B. Jonas,” but in several of the early stories the name was listed as “M.” Jonas. A minor editorial glitch...
The Shadow’s contact-man Burbank shows up again in this early story. He’s not hidden away in a darkened room controlling communications between The Shadow and his agents. No, not this time. In this story, he’s an active agent who takes the job of elevator operator in Doctor Palermo’s building. He’s described as a “jack of all trades” who is about forty years of age.
Some notes of interest. Doctor Palermo has a fiancée, the astoundingly beautiful Thelda Blanchet. As nurse for well-known millionaire Roger Crowthers, she has been administering slow poison to him at Doctor Palmero’s direction. Crowthers dies from poison. It’s not often that Walter Gibson would write female villainy into his stories. Usually women were innocent victims. But this was early in the evolution of the magazine, and such things did occasionally happen.
Thelda Blanchet tries to vamp The Shadow disguised as George Clarendon. We see The Shadow kiss a woman! A long kiss; and then another. That was a first; and probably a last as well. I don’t ever remember The Shadow kissing a woman in any other story. Not only kissing, but enjoying it as well! And using the powers of his strong personality to force her to fall in love with him! Whew, this Shadow character is one studly crimefighter!
The next Shadow novel to be published after this one would be “The Silent Seven,” the story about a secret organization of seven mastercriminals and their “Faithful Fifty.” In this story, we get an advance glimpse of them, when we discover that Doctor Palermo is a secret member of The Silent Seven. We learn the full story about the Silent Seven in the next month’s issue.
We meet Stanley Warwick in this story. He’s the pride of the New York detective bureau with an international reputation. He just came back from Italy, where he was tracking down some of the Mafia. He’s out to get Palermo, and confronts him in his penthouse living room.
Imagine our surprise when Doctor Palermo flashes the secret sign and reveals himself to be one of the Silent Seven, and Police Detective Stanley Warwick responds revealing himself to be one of the Faithful Fifty. Warwick is enlisted to aide Palermo in his battle against The Shadow. And imagine our additional surprise when at the end of this novel, Warwick goes free—unpunished—undiscovered! And he never showed up in any future Shadow novel to meet justice. He apparently escaped The Shadow!
Another person who goes free and unpunished is Thelda Blanchet, Doctor Palermo’s fiancée who has murdered for him! Yes, The Shadow actually lets her go, after turning her love toward him and against Doctor Palermo. Since she has fallen under The Shadow’s spell and given him complete details on Doctor Palermo’s secret death traps, The Shadow forgives her for her past actions. He sends her away, out of the state, back home. And we see no more of her. I can’t believe The Shadow would let a murderer go free, even if she was a woman. But thus it is...
END OF SPOILER
With Burbank engaged as elevator man at Doctor Palermo’s apartment building, and with Claude Fellows killed in the previous novel, there is no one to put The Shadow’s agents in contact with him. No one to call. So we are told that Harry Vincent calls The Shadow directly. The phone number constantly changes, so obviously The Shadow stays on the move. But calling The Shadow directly is pretty unusual!
Also it’s interesting to note that although George Clarendon is apparently a well-known society man, police Detective Stanley Warwick is unable to trace the man or find where he lives. Apparently, Clarendon never invites any of his society friends home...
In addition to the Clarendon disguise, The Shadow also appears as several other characters in this tale. He is, after all, a master of disguise. And this story proves it. He’s a workman—a roughly dressed man of thin frame. He’s also Jerry Haggerty, a detective at headquarters. In one scene he makes a clever escape disguised as a jolly young man, a party-goer. And he’s a chance passer-by consulting a telephone directory whom Thelda Blanchet sees but doesn’t recognize. When he doesn’t wish it, no one recognizes The Shadow!
Another first, in this story, is The Shadow’s autogiro—that wingless aeroplane that can land nearly vertically and features a windmill of blades. Or is it spelled “autogyro”? The spelling varies from story to story, but regardless, the singular flying machine shows up at the story’s conclusion, manned by an unnamed experienced pilot. We know the pilot isn’t Miles Crofton, the pilot usually associated with the autogiro, because he didn’t appear in The Shadow stories until his debut in “The Unseen Killer” nearly three years later. Was this another agent of The Shadow, or just some one-time hireling? We aren’t told, but it gives pause for consideration...
This is the first of the “shorter” Shadow stories. The first five were all in the 60,000 word range. But when the magazine switched from quarterly to monthly, there was a lot of stress put upon author Walter Gibson. The size of the main Shadow story was reduced by the editors, each, starting with this issue, were in the 45,000-49,000 word range. This one was just a tad over 46,000 words. That helped reduce the pressure on their sole writer... at least temporarily. Then, in October of that year, the magazine went semimonthly, doubling the work load.
You can’t go wrong with this Shadow adventure. It’s the virtual definition of a “page turner.” You won’t be able to put it down. Yes, it’s really that good!
"The Silent Seven" was originally published in the February 1932 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Seven men garbed in floor-length robes of black... cowled hoods conceal their faces. Wealthy, powerful, conscienceless, this band of hidden supercriminals wage a death-filled battle with the master of crime detection, The Shadow!
This novel “The Silent Seven” was also the seventh Shadow magazine story published. Coincidence? Probably. But still it’s pretty neat. And that also describes this story. As is typical with the other early Shadow stories, it’s filled with an assortment of wonders that keep the reader glued to his or her seat. The character of The Shadow isn’t fully realized yet at this point in his evolution. But we still see the super hero as we prefer him: mysterious, all-powerful... a grim avenger. It’s a great story and one you’ll want to read.
It seems that New York has been victimized by crimes of a startling nature that have gone unsolved for several years, now. Although there was no proof that they were the work of a single organization, the number seven kept appearing in each case. A strange clue indeed! A bank safe was cleaned out, except for seven pennies. A murdered man, seven buttons clipped from his coat. A dying gangster gasped out the word “seven” when captured by the police during a thwarted burglary. It all points to a group known as the Silent Seven.
Originally, the Silent Seven was a secret organization of seven businessmen, created to promote their interests legally. But gradually it changed to a desperate group of master criminals who would stop at nothing. The Silent Seven, identities unknown and hidden beneath a dark-blue robe, topped by a cowl, command a crew known as the Faithful Fifty. To them, all crimes are justifiable. They demand power and wealth. Society is their prey. With inexhaustible funds and fifty determined workers at their call, they create an unknown band of terror!
Our story begins when old Henry Marchand is murdered. Unbeknownst to anyone, Marchand was one of the Silent Seven. He’s killed, his secrets stolen along with his scarab ring, the means of identification among the Silent Seven. Someone is planning to take his place in the sinister group. There’s Oscar Schultz, faithful and honest servant of Henry Marchand for more than twenty years. Harvey Willis, twenty-eight-year-old secretary to Henry Marchand for two years. A weak type, but very conscientious. Rodney Paget, a friend of Henry Marchand—clubman—polo player—about forty. And Doctor George Lukens of the Telman Hospital, Marchand’s physician. Could it be one of those men? Or perhaps someone else?
The Shadow is determined to find the murderer of Henry Marchand. But he has no idea he will be catapulted into a whirlwind of intrigue and danger, as he is forced to infiltrate the secret society known as the Silent Seven. Forced to unmask and defeat the seven mastercriminals and their hoard of fifty cutthroats. It’s a task that only The Shadow has even a slim chance of completing.
In this story, The Shadow appears usually in his typical black cloak and slouch hat. He also appears twice as an unnamed man with a strange countenance, smooth as parchment, masklike in expression, eyes obscured by large heavy-rimmed, dark-tinted spectacles. He appears in one scene as a James Michaels of Chicago, and in another as an unnamed fireman. No mention is made of Lamont Cranston or any of this other normal disguises.
The story is notable in that it features Detective Joe Cardona’s first encounter with The Shadow. Previously, Cardona had known that The Shadow existed, so he recognized the being in black when he discovered him leaning over a dead body. But this story tells us that Cardona had never actually seen or talked to The Shadow before.
And another strange thing: when in The Shadow’s presence, Cardona becomes lightheaded and unsteady. We aren’t told why, but he can’t retain the captured Shadow because he becomes dizzy. Could it be some odorless vapor released by The Shadow? Or perhaps some hypnotic trick? Speculation is all we have, because Walter Gibson doesn’t say.
Clyde Burke appears in the story. Here, he’s an ex-reporter who writes occasional feature stories, and has known Cardona for several years. He’s not reporting for a paper now, running a clipping bureau. But at the story’s end, he’s offered a job with the Evening Classic, later to become the New York Classic.
No mention is made of The Shadow’s radio show, something that usually got frequent mention in the early Shadow novels. But the system of emphasized words is used, this time over the phone rather than over the radio. The Shadow speaks an outwardly normal sentence, but gives slight emphasis to certain words that his agents pick up to reveal a hidden message. A cute trick that The Shadow used often in the early years.
Burbank appears in the story, but he’s not hidden away in some room answering phones. Instead, he’s the attendant at a lunch counter in Grand Central Station. He temporarily leaves his customers to make phone calls to The Shadow. Hmmm... That certainly doesn’t seem very efficient.
Harry Vincent is the other agent of The Shadow who appears here. He has a fairly large role in the story, including getting caught and thrown into a death trap of classic proportions. It’s the famous cell with the descending ceiling. He must speak and tell all he knows or be crushed to oblivion beneath the pressure of the slow-moving ceiling. Ah, we love the classics!
We get a visit to the obscure empty office of B. Jonas. Except it’s called M. Jonas, this time around. Remember, these details hadn’t all jelled, yet, in this early story. And it’s not Burbank who delivers the envelope of reports to that abandoned office. Burbank is briefly mentioned a couple times at his lunch stand position, but it’s Clyde Burke who delivers the reports this time around.
Being an early story in the series, Hawkeye, Cliff Marsland and Moe Shrevnitz aren’t mentioned. They had yet to be introduced to the series. So when The Shadow needs a ride, he has to call a cab instead of Moe. When he needs a suspect tailed, he sends out Clyde Burke and Harry Vincent, not Hawkeye and Cliff. Yes, The Shadow works with a slimmed-down group of agents, but that doesn’t stop him or the action.
Being a product of the early 1930s, there is a little racial stereotyping that probably went unnoticed in the day, but stands out clearly today. A Japanese servant is referred to with a common slur, and speaks in a cringing pidgin English: “Bigee clock strike halfee past eight.”
There is one thing that caused me slight annoyance, yet to be honest, it was a typical style of writing at the time. Sometimes, things happen that are never explained. For example, in one scene, the leader of the Silent Seven throws The Shadow off the roof of an office building. Minutes later, when the master criminal has exited the building and entered his limousine, he finds The Shadow waiting for him in the back seat. How our hero escaped that plunge to death is never fully explained. There is just some passing comment that “I am used to walls... When I go down them, I do not fall.” We see unresolved action sequences like this in other stories of the period, as well, but that’s no excuse. Author Walter Gibson could have done better here.
And then there’s the token of “seven” which early in the story we are told keep showing up at crime scenes. Remember that bank safe, empty save for seven pennies. And the murdered man with the seven missing coat buttons. What was that all about? We are never told. The closest we come is when The Shadow is wrapping up the case, he explains about the seven criminals of the gang, “Each member kept a reminder of his duty. Like Marchand’s dice. Always the number seven.” But that’s no explanation for the clues intentionally left behind. That’s one of the weaknesses of some pulp stories: a lot of strange and curious clues, all added to make the story more interesting, but then never explained.
All nitpicking aside, however, this is still an amazing story. It was one of a select few chosen for reprint in paperback form in the early 1970s. If you get the chance, this is a Shadow story you should read. It won’t let you down in the thrills department!