John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #127
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Silent Death" was originally published in the April 1, 1933, issue of The Shadow Magazine. Silent death comes in many forms, and Professor Folcroft Urlich is the master of them all. When The Shadow steps in the way, he becomes the target of silent death unleashed.
What a joy it was to read this story. Each time a death trap is set for The Shadow, he escapes in some way I never expected. And he does it time and again, for this story is mostly a series of traps set to kill The Shadow. This is The Shadow at his peak. And then to pit him against a mad scientist with a dizzying array of diabolical inventions makes for a true classic Shadow pulp novel. It’s no wonder this one was selected for paperback reprint in the 1970s. It’s one of the best!
Professor Folcroft Urlich is the mad scientist who controls silent death. He schemes to make millions with it. With his two accomplices, the elderly Thomas Jocelyn and gang leader Larry Ricordo, Professor Urlich is about to unleash death, death and more death!
First to die will be the wealthy Alfred Sartain. It will mean five million dollars to the evil professor. But money means nothing to him. He’s in it for the thrill of killing. For the scientific enjoyment of silent death! From his vantage point several blocks away, Urlich watches as Sartain springs the trap that will mean his sinister demise.
But Sartain is miraculously saved from death by The Shadow. And Professor Urlich witnesses it all through his binoculars from a safe distance. Enraged, he vows to end the reign of The Shadow. His one purpose is now to use his silent death to strike down the nemesis of the underworld, The Shadow!
This, then, is the story of The Shadow’s battle against an unknown enemy who sets up death traps to ensnare him in silent death. And boy, these death traps are really sneaky! The professor is a smart old bird, and he has some clever ways of dealing death. There’s the photo-electric beam. The noiseless explosive. The innocent telephone receiver... of death! The bubbling death. And let’s not forget the electric-ray device. This old guy is one nasty villain!
Professor Urlich lives in a gloomy old mansion, behind which is found his strange circular laboratory. It’s a three story, pyramid affair that’s surrounded by death traps. So when Urlich captures Cliff Marsland and Clyde Burke and takes them inside his lab, The Shadow must brave the many forms of silent death to rescue them before the professor can put them inside giant test tubes and pour a flesh-eating solvent upon them. Eeeoooooow. Gross!
Yes, this is a top-notch tale that will keep you turning pages well into the night. It features a streamlined cast of characters. No sign of Harry Vincent. The only two active agents present are Cliff Marsland and Clyde Burke. They both get pretty nice parts in the story, and then get captured by Professor Urlich and are threatened by the dissolving death at the climax. In the background, the two contact men Burbank and Rutledge Mann are mentioned a few times. It’s explained that many of their duties overlap and they each work twelve hour shifts; Mann has the day shift; Burbank works the night shift.
Down at police headquarters, we see Detective Joe Cardona. He gets plenty of action in this story, including nearly taking a bullet for The Shadow. We also see Detective Sergeant Mayhew and Inspector Timothy Klein. Police commissioner Ralph Weston is mentioned a few times, but doesn’t actually appear.
Speakeasy proprietor Red Mike makes his third reference in the pulp magazine series, after an absence of well over a year. His previous two references were in “Eyes of The Shadow” and “The Shadow Laughs”, the second and third stories in the series. He would go on to appear in fifteen more of the magazine stories. He always carefully trod the line between crime and the law, so although he ran an underworld dive for thugs and criminals, he never seemed to run afoul of the law.
The Shadow gets to use one disguise in this tale. And surprisingly enough, it’s not one of the common ones. There’s no sign of Lamont Cranston, Henry Arnaud, or any of The Shadow’s other familiar disguises. He appears in one brief scene as a Howard Broderick, who visits the planned scene of death at Alfred Sartain’s apartment. But other than that, he appears in this story simply as himself... the black-cloaked nemesis of crime, The Shadow!
One of the thugs by the name of Slips Harbeck learns that Cliff Marsland is an agent of The Shadow. He tells Professor Urlich who uses that knowledge to lure The Shadow into his death traps. At the end of the story, Professor Urlich dies with that knowledge. But Slips Harbeck still is alive, in police custody. That leaves a plot thread dangling. Someone lives who knows the identity of one of The Shadow’s agents. Someone who could tell others. Usually author Walter Gibson killed off such persons who possessed secrets they should not have. But this time, one man was left alive. Was this intentional? Or an oversight on Gibson’s part? I’m guessing the latter, since none of the future stories made reference to the fact.
At first, the possibility that Cliff Marsland is The Shadow was considered. But this is discounted when one gangster points out that The Shadow was operating while Cliff Marsland was still in stir. Readers will remember that Marsland spent eight years in Sing Sing for a crime he did not commit. That comment does help us with a timeline of The Shadow’s career, however. Marsland got out of prison in 1932, in the story “Mobsmen on the Spot.” His eight-year incarceration must have been between 1924 and 1932. So we know The Shadow’s career began during that stretch of time.
Aficionados of The Shadow who have read the stories maintain that the best stories of the eighteen-year run of the magazine series were those from the early to mid 1930s. This story, “The Silent Death,” certainly validates that claim. It’s the kind of story that any pulp fan will enjoy tremendously. This is one you’ll want to read.
"Charg, Monster" was originally published in the July 1, 1934, issue of The Shadow Magazine. The minions of Charg obey; to disobey means death—death at the hands of this hideous devil who knows no mercy. Beware this fiend of evil, this monster known only as... Charg!
What an amazing story! It starts off good and keeps getting even better. This is one of the top Shadow novels where the master of the night is at his most powerful. The mile-a-minute pacing keeps the plot flowing smoothly. There are many “wow” moments that will leave you thrilled and wanting more. Author Walter Gibson really outdid himself here. If you’re looking for a great Shadow novel to read, it just doesn’t get much better than this!
The story begins when inventor Meldon Fallow turns down millionaire industrialist Frederick Thorne’s offer of five million dollars for his new engine. He’s invented a special engine and a unique fuel which will be forty times more efficient than current engines. And wealthy old Thorne can see a chance for increasing his fortune by acquiring it.
But young, idealistic Meldon Fallow is having none of it. He doesn’t want to see his new engine used to profit greedy industrialists. He wants to see it benefit mankind. And to that end, he forms a committee which holds sole rights to the development of the Fallow Supercombustion Motor. Fallow and three other men agree that the engine will be used to the benefit of mankind.
The first of the other three men is Bryce Towson, consulting engineer, who allows the group to use his laboratory and its equipment, as well as his conference room. Second is Loring Dyke, the famous consulting chemist. And third is Herbert Whilton, an elderly philanthropist.
But before you know it, Meldon Fallow is dead. The inventor lays sprawled in a crumpled heap, twisted in gruesome fashion. A powerful fiend must be on the loose. But who’s behind it? What mastermind is behind the terrible murder?
Charg is behind it all. This mysterious figure gives orders to his henchmen in a subterranean room filled with death traps. He sits behind a semi-transparent screen, the white folds of a turban discernible above his head; glittering spots denote jewels in the Oriental headgear. Those who oppose him feel the wrath of Charg!
Is Charg one of the remaining three committeemen? Is one of them after Fallow’s invention? Or could Charg be industrialist Frederick Thorne in disguise? Or maybe Charg is someone else... Only The Shadow can uncover the powerful fiend who is committing the murders at Charg’s orders. Only The Shadow can pierce the veil of secrecy and unmask Charg himself.
This is one of those great early Shadow stories. The Shadow appears fully powerful. Immense strength. Can pick any lock in seconds. Climbs the sides of sheer buildings with his suction cups. Slides into the shadows invisibly. Shoots and never misses. No wonder even the mention of his name strikes terror into lawbreakers.
In later years, the powers of The Shadow would decline. It was probably a matter dictated by the editors of Street & Smith magazines. The same thing happened to Doc Savage, another of their magazine characters. By 1940 both Doc Savage and The Shadow had lost much of their amazing invincibility and became more humanized. Such was a sign of the times, it would seem. But in this 1934 story, The Shadow is still in his prime.
In this story, as in several others, he bloodthirstily grabs up a dying hoodlum and uses him as a shield. He lets the other gangsters shoot their bullets into their fellow henchman, and then throws the bullet-riddled corpse at them! You don’t want to mess with this guy. This is one mean dude!
There are several points of interest in this story. One is that The Shadow leaves this mystery and heads off to San Francisco for several days to solve another case. Usually in these Shadow novels, The Shadow concentrates on a single story until it is done. In this one, he heads to San Francisco’s Chinatown to uncover the headquarters of a notorious dope ring. Three days later, he flies back and takes up the current on-going case.
I thought it was really cool when the story brought up the issue of The Shadow’s regular weekly radio show. The crooks all admit to listening to the mystery broadcasts. “Yes. I have heard his voice over the air. He broadcasts, I believe, on a mystery program.”
But Charg goes one better and actually sets up a recording apparatus to record The Shadow’s mysterious laugh off the air. Why does he want a disk containing The Shadow’s voice? I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t say. But I will say that it’s pretty neat. It’s not what you probably think.
This story also sheds some light on the matter of The Shadow having two contact men with similar duties. Both Burbank and Rutledge Mann served as contact men for The Shadow. Why two of them? According to this tale, “Mann’s work was finished for the day. Beginning with six o’clock, The Shadow could reach his agents through another contact-man: Burbank.” In other words, Mann was the day man; Burbank was the night man. Makes sense to me!
There’s no sign of that strange purplish liquid in this story. In a few others, it became famous as a restorative agent which gave The Shadow extra strength when needed. And there is one scene in particular here in which The Shadow could have desperately used it. He lies sprawled on the floor, nearly unconscious from his injuries. The bad guy stands over him and aims his gun. A jolt from that vial of purplish fluid would have certainly helped him at that moment. But The Shadow escapes death via other means, this time around.
The Shadow, expert at disguise, appears as wealthy Lamont Cranston a few times in this story. He also makes himself up as a crook named Laffan that is so convincing that even Charg is fooled. Mostly, though, The Shadow appears as his usual black-cloaked self. As for the other recurring characters, Detective Joe Cardona and Inspector Klein represent the law. Burbank, Rutledge Mann, Clyde Burke, Harry Vincent and Cliff Marsland are the agents who assist The Shadow. They all have fairly good parts to play in the story. And chauffeur Stanley is in the background.
All the pieces fall together in this story. It’s the kind of story that you think of, when you think of the best of The Shadow’s adventures. This is one of the “must read” pulp mysteries of The Shadow.