John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow, Annual #1
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
“The Crime Crypt” was originally published in the June 15, 1934 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Hidden deep beneath the mansion of Cecil Armsbury is the crime crypt. The mild-mannered, old explorer is, in actuality, a master criminal who will test all the powers of The Shadow in this early magazine story.
Young Martin Havelock is the sole surviving relative of old Cecil Armsbury. And after all these years, he's back from Mexico; back and staying with his Uncle Cecil. Old Cecil Armsbury devises a test for his nephew. He feigns illness and gives young Martin the opportunity to poison him with an overdose of his medicine. Young Martin can't resist. Instead of three pills, he dissolves eight in a glass of water. Enough to kill his uncle.
Old Cecil Armsbury catches Martin in the act; his nephew is an attempted murderer. But rather than being outraged, he's pleased. Yes, he's confirmed that crime does indeed run in the family. For old Cecil, himself, is a cunning criminal. And he's looking for a partner. Now, in his nephew, he's found one.
So young Martin finds himself, not an heir to forty thousand dollars, but a partner to Uncle Cecil in planned crime that will exceed a million dollars. The crime will be to steal object that are worthless and murder the witnesses. It all sounds strange, so Cecil Armsbury goes on to explain.
Over the years, Cecil Armsbury gained fame as a discoverer of unknown relics. But he kept the actual relics in his vault and sold fakes to collectors. By doing this, he has amassed an illegal fortune. But now he's old and wants to remove all evidence of his crimes so he can retire after one final crime spree. That means he, with the aid of his nephew, must steal back the counterfeit relics and murder anyone who can attest to their dubious origin.
Crime runs in this family. Young Martin Havelock has a criminal history of his own. It turns out he hasn't actually been in Mexico all these past years. No, he's been carving out a reputation all over Europe. There, he is known as the international crook Duke Larrin, the smooth crook who has worked in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, along the Riviera.
So we have quite a pair, here. A dynasty of crime, headed by Cecil Armsbury. And Uncle Cecil is well prepared. Hidden far below his large old house is a dimly lit crypt containing the spoils acquired over the many years. Young Martin is astounded to find Golden Buddhas with glittering emerald eyes; strange scrolls of yellow metal; spoils from Chinese palaces; from Hindu temples; from Persian mosques. These are the treasures that lie here secretly while their fake counterparts lie in private collections and museums. It's time for crime to strike!
Young Martin, using his alter-ego of Duke Larrin, will head up a band of clever workers. The crime crypt, far below the sprawling Armsbury house, will be his headquarters. There, as leader, he will give his orders and send his henchmen forth to do their dirty work. And all the while, Uncle Cecil will remain upstairs in the mansion, innocently making plans.
The Shadow enters the story when his agents report that the famous international crook Duke Larrin has arrived in New York. They have no idea that Duke Larrin is just a pose. They don't suspect that Martin Havelock is really one of two partners in crime; the other, being Cecil Armsbury. And it will test The Shadow to his utmost to uncover that information. And to discover the secret headquarters of villainy, the crime crypt.
Agents assisting The Shadow in this pulp mystery are Cliff Marsland, the agent who plays the part of a gangster in the underworld, Clyde Burke, reporter for the New York Classic, and Burbank, contact agent of The Shadow. A smaller group than normal with no sign of Harry Vincent. As to the other well-known agents of The Shadow, Hawkeye had been introduced as an assistant of Slade Farrow a few issues earlier, but he wasn't yet an agent of The Shadow and partner of Cliff Marsland. Hackie Moe Shrevnitz wouldn't be introduced for another six months.
New York's finest is represented by ace detective Joe Cardona, Inspector Timothy Klein and Detective Sergeant Markham. But no Commissioner Weston; not in this story.
It's an early story in the eighteen-year saga of The Shadow. One tell-tale sign is that The Shadow wears his girasol ring, but no one is allowed to see it:
"Crooks who had met him had never seen the hands themselves. Long white fingers and the sparkling girasol were tokens of recognition that none had ever gained."
In later stories, The Shadow took to wearing the fabulous ring openly both as The Shadow and in his guise as Lamont Cranston. But in this early story, it was still being kept secret.
Some of the locales often featured in the early stories show up here. Two underworld dives, the Pink Rat and The Black Ship, both appear. As does the Hotel Spartan, the decadent structure on the East Side where gangland's elite reside.
The Shadow has an international reputation. This was often mentioned in the early stories, but seemed to fall out of use in later years. Duke Larrin, being familiar with Europe's crime, admits:
"I have heard of The Shadow in cities other than New York. He has been in Paris, London, Berlin, Moscow, Madrid - yes, and in Rome. He has struck at crime in all those capitals; and he has vanished as quickly as he has arrived."
And The Shadow, master of languages as well as master of the dark, gets another chance to show his mastery here: "The Shadow was reading the Arabic inscription as easily as if it had been English."
The Shadow is also the ultimate master of disguise. In this pulp story, he appears as Professor Sturgis Dilling, a stoop-shouldered old man who visits the Egyptian Museum. He also dons the guise of Croaker Mannick, a gun for hire whose pastime is cold-blooded murder. But The Shadow spurns his most famous disguise of all, that of world traveler and millionaire Lamont Cranston. There's so sign of Cranston in this story.
The cover of this issue is a most memorable, if inaccurate, one. It shows two statues of medieval armor flanking an Egyptian sarcophagus, propped upward on its end. Inside the ancient coffin stands a wrapped mummy, but the cloth wrappings have been removed from part of the face, revealing the burning eyes and hawklike nose of The Shadow!
It's a terrific cover, but, unfortunately, doesn't accurately reflect events in the story itself. Yes, The Shadow does hide in the sarcophagus, in order to infiltrate the crime crypt. But, no, he isn't dressed in the gauze bandages of a mummy. He's dressed in his usual garb of black cloak, gloves and slouch hat. Still, the cover does make a striking picture. One that, I'm sure, sold a few magazines on its merits alone.
Not that the story needed any extra help. It's a terrific story that definitely stands on its own. It's the "early" Shadow at his bloodthirstiest, drilling those crooks right through the heart with no pause or regret. Crime does not pay... as The Shadow repeatedly demonstrates!
“The Green Terror” was originally published in the January 15, 1941 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The fear ray! It's green and it strikes terror within anyone in its path. Fear that paralyzes the victim into immobility. When The Shadow confronts this sinister force, will he be able to resist its power?
Our story opens at the Coastal Bank in downtown Manhattan. A timid, inoffensive-looking clerk named Hilbert enters the safe-deposit vault, sets down his leather suitcase and removes a lead box. At the press of a button, the sides of the metal box drop down and a vivid green light was thrown in all directions.
Everyone within the range of that strange green glow becomes frozen where they stand. Their every muscle has involuntarily tensed with fear; they are incapable of the slightest movement. Everyone but Hilbert is affected. Hilbert has donned a strange rubber mask that covers his entire head, a strange combination like a football helmet and gas mask. This seemingly makes him immune to the green terror.
Several of the safe-deposit boxes are rifled, although no one can say what is taken. He closes the box and exits the bank, leaving the victims of the strange fear ray to slowly regain their mobility. New York's weirdest crime wave has begun, and no one can stop it!
As Hilbert quietly leaves the bank, he's spied by Slasher Doyle, a ruthless killer who notices the man and detects that something strange has happened. Doyle follows Hilbert, intending to wait until his quarry is alone and then strike. Doyle figures that Hilbert has robbed the bank and the suitcase must contain the illicit swag. Little does he realize the true contents of the suitcase.
Thus begins one of the strangest adventures that The Shadow had ever experienced. Denizens of the underworld hear of this new fear ray, and are out to get it. Battle is on, to determine the final possessor of the amazing invention in the lead box. The winner of that battle will become the supreme dictator of the underworld.
Even The Shadow can't fight the power of this ray machine. The Shadow enters the case, and before you know it, even he is enveloped in the green light that paralyzes its victims with fear. He's in his airplane giving chase to the criminal mastermind who controls the fear ray machine. The box is opened; the green rays released; The Shadow is frozen at the controls of his airplane. Even his amazing will power can't control the paralyzing fear. The plane goes into a dive with The Shadow helpless under the power of the green ray:
"The Shadow writhed! Terror possessed him. Blind terror such as he had never known in his entire life! He couldn't think. He could hardly breathe. His body froze at the controls as he fought desperately to move his locked muscles."
What will happen next? Can The Shadow survive the crash? Can he defeat the hoards of cutthroats, thugs and their leaders, all of whom are out to possess the incredible invention? What power can overcome the invincible power of the fear ray? Will all New York succumb to the green terror?
Well, as you probably have guessed, The Shadow triumphs in the end. Once again The Shadow fights evil and emerges victorious. But exactly how he does it makes for an exciting ride. There's thrills galore right up until the very end when The Shadow must survive a watery death trap far below ground in a hidden lair filled with over a million dollars worth of treasure.
If this story sounds a little over-the-top, there's a good reason. It was written by Theodore Tinsley, not Walter Gibson. Tinsley was known for his slightly more lurid style of pulp writing. He added a touch more sex and violence in his stories. And his Shadow character was more prone to minor injuries; Gibson's Shadow was wounded much less often.
Theodore Tinsley was very competent at writing The Shadow in Gibson's style. Unless you've read a lot of Shadow novels, you probably wouldn't notice the difference in authors. But Tinsley would occasionally get things wrong. Nothing major; just tiny items that would escape the notice of most folks.
Here are some of the inconsistencies I noticed in this story. Usually The Shadow's sanctum is located below ground. In this story, it's above ground, as this passage testifies:
"The Shadow left his sanctum. A few minutes later a man named Lamont Cranston appeared in the street below."
Most people probably wouldn't even notice that slight slip. And so it is with Tinsley's other minor mistakes. When The Shadow encounters a situation where instantaneous action is necessary, Walter Gibson always has him issue forth his famous laugh. This freezes the crooks temporarily, long enough for The Shadow to draw his weapons, or surge forward to engage them in physical combat. The laugh carries great power. But in this story, Theodore Tinsley ignores that power, and in a similar situation, simply has the Shadow utter a stern command. And that's just not right.
The Shadow often uses lock picks to assist him in entering secured enemy headquarters. Walter Gibson always described them as black, to blend in with the darkness along with The Shadow's cloak, slouch hat and gloves. Nothing bright to glint in the darkness and give away The Shadow's presence. Yet in this story Tinsley describes the tool as "a shining steel implement." Again, it's a very minor error, but Gibson wouldn't have made it.
Let's also consider the infamous vial of purplish liquid which The Shadow occasionally uses to revive himself or those he aids. Walter Gibson never describes its odor, except to say it's pungent. Tinsley describes the odor like camphor. And he describes it as being in a blue-tinted bottle. He got it wrong; it's the fluid that has the color, not the bottle. A very minor point? Sure, but just one more inconsistency.
Tinsley also gets Cliff Marsland's back story incorrect. He says:
"Marsland had served time in jail for earlier mistakes. But he had long since reformed and joined the forces of The Shadow."
Actually, as Walter Gibson clearly explained in more than one novel, Marsland had served time for a crime he didn't commit. He had made no earlier mistakes, and had nothing from which to be reformed.
So, Theodore Tinsley got a few minor things wrong. But that's to be expected, since he wasn't as intimately familiar with the character as was its creator Walter Gibson. But he got most things right, and wrote a thrilling story. He was well-known for his love of underground hideouts, and sure enough, our climax takes place far underground.
He's also well-known for his characters' bloodthirsty styles. His thugs in this story kill with relish. Slasher Doyle loves to kill with a knife thrust to the heart, then casually takes the time to clean the blood from his knife using the clothing of his victim.
And there's torture. Although there is occasional torture in Walter Gibson's work, Tinsley's stories routinely involve torture. In this one, there are several torture scenes, including one involving The Shadow's faithful agent Harry Vincent. Poor Harry. Why is he so often the brunt of these things?
There are lots of interesting moments in this story. In one scene, we discover that one kingpin of the underworld has been insuring crooks against arrest or loss of their loot. They pay a premium in advance, and then, just like with any insurance policy, they collect if their planned crime fails for some reason. This same concept was the major plot point of the earlier Shadow tale "Crime, Insured" from July 1937. In this story three years later, it's just a minor plot point. But the relationship is interesting none the less.
Another point of interest is the appearance of Kent Allard in this story. Allard, the true identity of The Shadow, was introduced in the August 1937 story "The Shadow Unmasks." But for some reason, Theodore Tinsley didn't use him in many of his Shadow novels. Of the twenty-seven Shadow stories authored by Theodore Tinsley, only four featured Kent Allard. This was the third such story.
And Tinsley didn't quite get the Allard relationship right with The Shadow's agents, either. In Walter Gibson's stories, The Shadow's agents never had any clue that Kent Allard was The Shadow. In this story, however, taxicab driver Moe Shrevnitz is dazed by the transformation from Allard to The Shadow. Walter Gibson never would have written that!
So, what about that fear ray, anyway? What's the story behind it? Well, we are told that:
"The light was thrown in all directions by reflectors inside the box. It came from a series of small bulbs like the tubes of a radio set. There were loops of wire and a dizzy array of soldered connections. But if it were a strange, new type of radio set, it contained no loudspeaker. The greenish glare of light bathed the safe-deposit vault in a sickly silence."
It seems that the creation of this diabolical device was an accident. It was supposed to be a portable television set. But the inventor made some unknown error and produced the green ray by accident. It was one of those mistakes that can't be duplicated. However, the inventor realized the power of his invention and wanted to develop it as a war invention - something to use in modern warfare which could knock out whole armies with terror. But, as we see in this story, criminals took it over for their own financial gain.
But at the story's end, The Shadow has captured the bad guys and has taken possession of the strange fear ray machine. With the villains caught and the fear ray safely in The Shadow's custody, Tinsley wrote:
"The fear ray would be turned over to the army of the United States. Instead of crime, it would be put to the use of national defense. With such a weapon, no nation on earth would ever dare attack America."
Ironically, it was just eleven months later when America was brought into World War II by just such an attack that this story alleged would never happen. Of course, Theodore Tinsley had no way of knowing. But this passage gives us some insight into the confidence the American people felt at that time, in their security from foreign attack. A false sense of security, as it turned out...
So, who's in this one? The Shadow's agents appearing are newspaper reporter Clyde Burke, long-time agent Harry Vincent, hackie Moe Shrevnitz and underworld agent Cliff Marsland. Appearing for the law is Inspector Joe Cardona. The Shadow appears as his true self, Kent Allard, and as his black-cloaked self, The Shadow. He also appears in disguise as Lamont Cranston. No one else shows up that we recognize from other novels.
Theodore Tinsley often inserts into each of his stories something weird or bizarre, something that is never explained. In this story, it is a dry corpse that should be wet. Here's how Tinsley describes the dead man:
"His death was not the strangest part of the mystery. Only a few moments earlier, water had filled this subterranean tank to capacity. The floor was still dripping wet. But no water had touched the corpse on the floor. His hair, his face, his clothing were all bone dry."
What a strange and mysterious touch. I was waiting until the end of the story when the mystery would be explained. But it never was. And so I continue to wonder, how could the corpse be dry? It's the Tinsley touch...
Yes, it's a Tinsley story, but that's not a bad thing. I've always enjoyed the Shadow mysteries written by Theodore Tinsley. They're a tad bit more "pulpy." But isn't that why we read these things?