John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #12
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"The Magigals Mystery" was published in the Winter 1949 issue of The Shadow Magazine. This was one of
the last Shadow pulp mysteries to be published. There would be only two more:
"The Black Circle" and "The Whispering Eyes," in the spring and summer of 1949.
Walter Gibson was back writing the series again, after a two-year absence. He
was breathing new life back into the series. And this story was benefiting from
that new life.
The Magigals are a national society of women magicians. This society actually
does exist; it's not fiction. It was founded in 1938 by Frances Ireland
Marshall. More recently the name was changed to Women in Magic, perhaps a
slightly more PC sounding name.
Our story opens at the Magigals' yearly convention in Chicago. The city is full
of beautiful young women with a penchant for magic. The city is also full of
strange suicides. Eight cases in three days, and more on the way. Strange
suicides; most untypical suicides.
All the suicides were wealthy out-of-towners. All were happy, healthy and
successful. And all died in some spectacular way. One man wheeled his rented car
in front of a speeding train. Another poisoned his own mint julep at an
exclusive Chicago bar. Another rammed his speedboat into a cement tower. Another
jumped from a thirteen-story balcony in front of two thousand witnesses.
The suicides were unusual. And that was a call for The Shadow! So on the opening
day of the Magigals' convention, Lamont Cranston checks in to the Hotel Harbison
in the center of downtown Chicago.
The Hotel Harbison is overflowing with young women here for the Magigals
convention. And it doesn't take The Shadow long to figure out that there is some
connection between the suicides at the magic convention. But what?
Could it have something to do with the mythical Professor Sedley Marsh?
Supposedly, this inventor of magical tricks has left a treasure trove of new
magical effects to his students. Could someone be murdering those students of
magic and framing them to look like suicides? All in an attempt to find the
extremely valuable cache of hitherto unseen magical tricks?
What about the crystal skull? It's life-size and completely transparent. Set
deep in the hollow eye-sockets of the skull are two huge rhinestones that
glitter with the brilliancy of diamonds. It can seemingly hear questions and
answer them. It moves. It speaks. But how? What is the secret, and why do so
many people want it? Perhaps want it enough to kill?
One of the people who wants it is beautiful young Verity Joyce. She's one of the
Magigals. She has some strange connection to the crystal skull. She speaks to
it, and expects it to respond. But it doesn't.
Then there's Hollywood "B" picture actor and magician John Halifax. He's
definitely up to no good. A swarm of young Magigals would like to become his
assistant on stage. And off! But he's only interested in Gail Tyburn, wife of a
wealthy Chicago soap manufacturer Lester Tyburn.
Lester Tyburn has hired Regan, a private investigator to follow his wife and
check up on her activities with the suave John Halifax. But Regan finds out much
more than anyone could anticipate. But will he find out more than The Shadow?
Will he find out the source of the strange suicides? Will he find out who stole
the crystal skull? And where is the treasure trove of magical equipment located?
Only The Shadow can answer all these questions. Only The Shadow can find the
fiend behind the murder/suicides. Only The Shadow can solve the mystery of the
hidden magic. And only The Shadow can match wits with the Magigals.
Assisting The Shadow in this story is Inspector Rick Smedley of the Chicago
Police. None of The Shadow's agents appear in the story, although contact-man
Burbank is mentioned several times. The Shadow appears in disguise as
millionaire and amateur-magician Lamont Cranston in this story. He also appears
as old Isaac Twambley for one last time. The Twambley disguise would never be
The Shadow seems quite adept with magic in this story, which shouldn't be much
of a surprise. Throughout his crimefighting career, The Shadow often used the
magicians' techniques of misdirection. He had encountered magicians and magic in
other of his adventures. And let's not forget his own favorite trick, "The
Devil's Whisper," which allowed him to create an explosion from his fingertips.
(Too bad that trick doesn't show up in this story.)
This is the story in which Walter Gibson, writing as Maxwell Grant, mentions
himself - Walter Gibson - as editor of Conjurer's Magazine. When he describes
the patrons of the Chicago Magicians' Round Table, he uses actual names of
various magazine editors and magicians. People he knew in real-life. And he
included himself as "Walt Gibson of Conjurors'."
A final note of interest, I think this is the only time I've seen a character
refer to The Shadow as "Mr. Shadow." And he also throws in a variation on the
line, "The Shadow Knows" when he has the character say: "Anyway, I don't suppose
you guessed, Mr. Shadow. Probably you just knew." Why do I feel a little
uncomfortable with that line of dialogue?
As these were the waning days of The Shadow magazine, Gibson was brought back
(after the Bruce Elliott disaster) to try to pump life back into the stories. As
such, he was allowed to increase the size of the story. This one was nearly
54,000 words, quite an improvement from the typical 40,000-45,000 word size. And
the style of the story harkened back to the stories of the mid-to-late 1930's.
But it was too little, too late. The magazine was destined to last only two more
"Serpents of Siva"
was originally published in the April 15, 1938 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The
servants of the strange god Siva are on the rampage, and it will take the might
of The Shadow to stop them and defeat their sinister plans for death and
Jack Sarmon is searching for his good friend Courtney Renshell. Renshell has
disappeared mysteriously, the latest in a rash of strange deaths and
disappearances among New York's wealthy. But in the strange dark house of old
Morton Mayland, Jack Sarmon meets a grisly death. Jack Sarmon went to Mayland's
home to talk to his granddaughter Lucille, Courtney Renshell's fiancÚ. But
instead of finding a clue, he found sudden and horrible death. Death at the
hands of the serpents of Siva!
There had been a rash of recent deaths among Manhattan's society set. One
wealthy gentleman had been killed in an automobile crash. Another, older, was
found dead at his Berkshire hunting lodge, a victim of an accidental discharge
of his own shotgun. Another was a victim of a collapsed stairway. The principal
heirs, in each case, were persons of a similar type. All were quiet, reserved,
and possessed a self-sufficient manner. And none of their deaths could be
suspected of any foul play.
The Shadow suspects that something lies behind these recent deaths, and so has
insinuated Harry Vincent with the young wealthy set. Harry poses as a fellow
member of the Regatta Club, and is soon accepted as one of the crowd. He
befriends Lucille Mayland, fiancÚ of the missing Courtney Renshell. And it's
beautiful young Lucille who leads Harry, and The Shadow, to the cult of Siva.
The cult of Siva. This is a strange Hindu cult, which on the surface seems to be
a straightforward religious group. Singhar Bund is guardian of the mighty Siva
statue. A steady-eyed Hindu, who wears a golden robe, a turban of the same rare
cloth, and a diamond crescent: the symbol of Siva. Yes, all appears aboveboard.
But beneath the surface is a strange and murderous band of dacoits, those
venomous masters of the fine art of strangulation.
Before long, The Shadow is fighting off droves of the brown-faced demons,
followers of the Hindu Thuggee cult. And it doesn't take The Shadow long to
determine that the innocent heirs of all the recently deceased victims are all
members of the cult of Siva. Yes, it's the evil Singhar Bund who is sending out
the fanatic dacoits to make murder seem accidental. And it's Singhar Bund who is
milking dry the newly-wealthy heirs who are members of his cult. But The Shadow
must do more than defeat the evil Singhar Bund. He must expose the cult,
discover the truth behind the cult and wipe up the bands of dacoits poised to
kill again and again.
There are plenty of racial slurs in this story, and the Hindus get the brunt of
nearly all of it. They are described as contorted reptilian murderers. They are
spidery figures with long gangling legs, wasted apish faces, eyes that glitter
like a snake's and drawn lips that deliver a strange hiss. These are human
reptiles. And at other times, they are described as monkeyish, brown-faced
demons. And then, just to give equal time to slur another group, the Chinese get
the old familiar "ink" word thrown at them. Something to offend everyone.
This story seems a little edgier than most of Walter Gibson's stories. But, yes,
Gibson wrote it, not Theodore Tinsley. Tinsley was noted for his slightly
"pulpier" style of writing, and the dismembered body of a man found in a packing
crate is more his style. But this time it was Gibson writing about the body
parts. And it ups the "yuck" factor just a bit.
Walter Gibson would also often insert little references to stage magic into his
stories, since he was a respected amateur magician and author of many magic
books and articles. But usually, he wouldn't expose the secrets behind any
tricks. A good magician never reveals the trick. That policy was suspended in
this story, however. Gibson explains how the yogis in the temple of Siva are
able to levitate. The secret to that stage trick was probably well known even in
1938, so Gibson wasn't really giving away much of a secret. But the exception to
the vow of secrecy is still noteworthy, none the less.
Most of the old familiar gang shows up for this outing. Commissioner Ralph
Weston, Inspector Joe Cardona and Sergeant Markham all show up representing the
New York Police. Agents of The Shadow who appear include hackie Moe Shrevnitz,
trusted Harry Vincent, gangland-lurkers Cliff Marsland and Hawkeye, reporter
Clyde Burke and contact-man Burbank.
The Shadow appears not only as himself, but in his often used disguise as
millionaire Lamont Cranston. Although he is a master of disguise, he doesn't use
any other disguises in this story. Police Inspector Joe Cardona does get a
chance to don a disguise, though. He sneaks into the temple of Siva wearing a
gray beard. But he's obviously not as good at disguise as is The Shadow, because
he's quickly found out by the slimy Singhar Bund.
It's interesting to note that The Shadow receives a slight wound in this story.
Usually Walter Gibson's Shadow character escaped all his adventures unscathed.
Theodore Tinsley's Shadow character never seemed to fare as well. When Tinsley
wrote The Shadow, you could expect a couple of wounds per novel. Not so Gibson's
character. Occasionally he would be injured, but not often.
Other pulp characters were routinely wounded in action. The Spider, for example,
reached the end of each of his pulp adventures well-battered and bleeding. Not
so, The Shadow. Here in this story, a bullet skims his ribs, leaving a painful
wound. We are later told he has found time to have the wound attended, and we
can assume that was by Dr. Rupert Sayre, The Shadow's private physician. He's
not mentioned by name, though.
The Shadow continues to amaze us with his mastery of languages. It seems there
aren't many that he doesn't speak. We can now add Hindustani to the ever-growing
list. When Singhar Bund speaks to his dacoits, The Shadow understands every
This is a fun story to read. There's the Temple of Siva where yogis lay on beds
of spikes, levitate and survive being buried alive. There's the giant golden
statue of Siva with its three heads and twelve arms. There's the brown-devil
dacoits, the evil caste who consider murder by the cord to be a deed of virtue.
And there's The Shadow, battling the sinister serpents... the servants... of
Will The Shadow heed the whispered voice of Siva? Can he defeat the mysterious
power of the ancient Hindu god? Will he free the beautiful young cult member
held prisoner by the sinister dacoits? All is answered in this pulp page-turner!
I really liked it, and you will too.
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.