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  Shadow Volume 20 [Pulp Reprint] #5051



 
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The Shadow
Volume 20

The Master of Darkness again demonstrates that "crime does not pay" in two pulse-pounding pulp thrillers by Walter B. Gibson. First, after a museum curator is murdered, The Shadow must solve the timeless riddle of "The Blue Sphinx," a 4000-year-old relic unearthed in the Libyan desert. Then, South American headhunters team with New York gangsters to spread terror through "Jibaro Death." This classic reprint also features both color pulp covers by George Rozen, classic interior illustrations by Tom Lovell, and historical commentary by Will Murray.
Special Feature:
John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #20
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission

"The Blue Sphinx" was originally published in the January 15, 1935 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A relic of the Eighteenth Dynasty, a four-thousand-year-old statue known as the Blue Sphinx has been pried from its moorings in the Libyan Desert. It's small by Egyptian standards - twenty feet in length, five-tons of limestone, with a bluish tinge. And around this ancient relic swirls a mysterious riddle, a secret that The Shadow must penetrate.

Our story starts in Manhattan when Hawkeye, agent of The Shadow, spies Tinker Furris, his former prison mate at Sing Sing. Yes, in case you forgot, Hawkeye had been in prison before he went straight and joined The Shadow. Sensing crime in the making, Hawkeye meets with Furris and learns that Furris is readying to leave New York for the city of Latuna. There, he'll join up with the infamous Konk Zitz and his gang.

Konk Zitz - what a name! Any crook with the name of "Zitz" would have to be infamous. As I read this story, I had a hard time keeping a straight face whenever I can across that name. I'll admit, it did make taking this story seriously a little bit of a challenge. But let's get past poor old Mr. Zitz...

Tinker Furris wants to commit one final robbery before leaving New York. Hawkeye hooks him up with Cliff Marsland, so Marsland and Furris can high-tail it out of town after the robbery, and Marsland can worm his way into Konk Zitz's gang. Hawkeye has been informed that The Shadow wants to know what Zitz is up to, and Marsland will be his inside-man.

After the robbery, which naturally The Shadow foils, Marsland and Furris head out of state to the city of Latuna. And following right behind is The Shadow with his two agents Clyde Burke and Harry Vincent. Arriving at Latuna, they find Konk Zitz and his gang holed up at the Phoenix Hotel. They haven't committed any crimes, so are living openly. Just waiting for the mysterious "big job" that's in the works.

Everything in our story now revolves around the Latuna Museum and the Blue Sphinx. Curator Joseph Rubal is murdered just before he can resign and confess to something sinister. Who did the murder? What did Joseph Rubal know? And what strange things are going on in the museum?

Let's take a quick look at our cast of characters... or suspects, if we can characterize them as such. First is Mayor Quirby Rush who lives beneath the shadow of doubt for not having exposed the graft he discovered when he took over from the previous administration. And then there's Police Chief Lawrence Grewling, who allows strangers of criminal caliber to remain in town unmolested.

There are two newspapers in town, and the owner of each plays a part in our story. Howard Dunham is the tall, cadaverous-looking editor of the Latuna Gazette, a morning paper. The owner and editor of the Latuna Enterprise, the afternoon newspaper, is Harrison Knode.

And then there are the two philanthropists, Barnaby Soyer and Strafford Malden. Malden donated the land for the museum, and also donated the Blue Sphinx itself to the town. Soyer donated his entire collection of priceless art treasures: statuettes of silver and gold, beautiful sets of carved cameos and gems, golden vessels, objects of jade and gems. It doesn't take much to figure out that this treasure must be close to the center of the mystery.

So there you have it. Who killed the museum curator? What was his mysterious secret? What are the crooks after? Who is their hidden chief? And what is the riddle of the Blue Sphinx? Whew! Lots of questions, but only one person can find the answers. And that person is... you guessed it... The Shadow!

Most of the familiar characters appear in this story, albeit sometimes briefly. We have Police Commissioner Barth and Detective Joe Cardona. Moe Shrevnitz, Hawkeye, Tapper, Burbank, Rutledge Mann and Lamont Cranston all appear early in the story. But the main part of the story centers around Clyde Burke, Harry Vincent and Henry Arnaud. Henry Arnaud, of course, is one of The Shadow's many disguises.

Several points of interest. Hawkeye originally worked with criminologist Slade Farrow, and then gradually moved into The Shadow's service. It was Slade Farrow who turned the ex-crook straight. In this story, when Hawkeye wants to make a report to The Shadow, he doesn't follow the usual routine of going through Rutledge Mann or Burbank. Instead, he writes his report in the blue disappearing ink and sends it to his mentor Slade Farrow. Farrow then forwards it to Rutledge Mann, from which it then is delivered to The Shadow. It seems that, at this point in time, Hawkeye still technically works for Farrow, not The Shadow.

Appearing twice in this story are the famous rubber suction cups, with which The Shadow can scale the outside walls of buildings. If you've ever wondered about the soft, squidgy noises that they make, and wondered if that could give away The Shadow's presence in the dark to nearby hoodlums, The Shadow himself acknowledges that concern in this story. It points out that he had never been able to eliminate the give-away sounds from these concave disks without impairing their necessary efficiency.

Also appearing in this story are The Shadow's famous girasol ring, and that vial of strange purplish liquid that gives mysterious extra strength. I've always suspected that The Shadow carried some illegal drugs in that vial. Whatever the contents, they sure work fast. When he gives a few drops to an injured man in this story, he revives and regains his strength quickly. What makes me think this wouldn't have been FDA approved?

One last point of interest. If you ever wondered how much Clyde Burke got paid to work on the New York Classic as a reporter, this story indicates it's a whopping $60 a week. That's in 1935 dollars, mind you. In today's dollars, accounting for inflation, that would be over $25 per hour. Not too bad!

(And ponder the name Zitz.)
 


"Jibaro Death" was originally published in the September 15, 1936 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Jibaro headhunters from South America stalk the streets of New York bringing gristly death. Their jungle stealth matches even that of the master of the night, The Shadow. But Manhattan is his jungle, and The Shadow vows to fight their evil... to the death!

Manuel Fendoza has come from the South American country of Santander to find Senor Alvarez Rentone. But he doesn't find him. Instead he finds a horrible death. He is followed from the Hotel Goliath, where he was given a message allegedly from Rentone. But the message has been booby trapped, and Fendoza is poisoned.

It's an unusual South American poison that changes the visage of its victim. In death, he lies on the sidewalk, no longer with human appearance. His eyes are open, livid, bulging from sunken sockets. They are glaring brown orbs surrounded by a rim of bloodshot white. His skin is drawn tight across his cheekbones, his lower jaw sags, his lips twisted into a terrible grimace. He had been killed by the poison used by the jungle head hunters. The poison used to shrink heads.

A sedan sweeps up to the curb. The door swings open and a hunched, apish figure scrambles to the curb. He searches the body and removes the poisoned message, then plunges a knife into the side of the dead body. He then jumps back in the sedan and speeds from the death scene. A body is left for police; a body that's horribly shriveled, stabbed through the heart. A body that will puzzle the police.

So what's it all about? Money, of course. In this case, it's a million dollars. A vast sum of money that is needed to help the revolution in the small country of Santander. This (mythical) country borders Ecuador in the northern part of South America. Alvarez Rentone, grandson of the recently deceased leader, has come to New York to claim the money long-ago loaned to businessman James Oakbrook.

Standing in his way is the evil Emilio Zenjora, heading the opposition faction in Santander. Zenjora is an outlaw who is attempting to overthrow the government. He has traveled to New York with his small but stealthy band of Jibaro Indians. They are determined to stop anyone who is trying to contact Rentone and help restore the funds that rightfully belong to his family.

Only The Shadow stands in their way. Only The Shadow has determined the true explanation behind the strange deaths. The Manhattan police are baffled. But The Shadow knows. The Shadow will protect Alvarez Rentone as he searches for the mausoleum vault wherein the family treasures are hidden. Treasures that include notes worth a million dollars as well as family heirlooms and other treasures. Only The Shadow can defeat the Jibaro death.

Of course, he doesn't do all this alone. He has help. Long-time agent Harry Vincent shows up to assist, as well as taxi-driver Moe Shrevnitz and Clyde Burke, reporter for the New York Classic. Also taking part, in smaller roles, are small crafty-faced Hawkeye, alleged underworld killer Cliff Marsland and contact man Burbank. Miles Crofton also shows up to pilot The Shadow's autogiro. It all makes for a full cast.

The Shadow, himself, appears in several disguises as well as his customary black cloak, slouch hat and gloves. The Lamont Cranston disguise is his favorite, and is used here to great advantage. Plus, there is one scene in a restaurant where The Shadow appears as an unnamed man only described as "a tall, calm-faced individual." In another scene, he is "an elderly man hobbled with a cane." Sounds like his Phineas Twambley disguise, to me. But the name isn't mentioned, so we can't be sure.

Let's not forget the strong arm of the law. New York Police Commissioner Ralph Weston is present in this mystery tale. And also assisting are Inspector Joe Cardona and detective sergeant Markham. All get plenty of action, here.

The business of killing a victim with head-hunter poison, but then stabbing him with a knife so that the police wouldn't know he was poisoned... it just left me puzzled. What was the purpose? If they were going to kill a guy, and wanted the police to believe him killed by knife-thrust, and they did indeed stab him through the heart, then why was the poison even necessary?

The way the story explains it, is that that's the way Emilio Zenjora wanted it. It was to keep the police guessing. Well, I don't know if it confused the police, but it certainly confused me. It's a unique pulpish touch, but doesn't really make much sense.

And the method of poisoning strains my credulity a bit, as well. Supposedly the envelope contains a stiff correspondence card. The paper has been tapered to an almost knife-edge keenness. The card is painted with the juice of poisonous herbs known only to the Jibaro head hunters. And supposedly, anyone touching the card will receive a slight cut and become instantly poisoned.

Death by paper cut! I always knew paper cuts were annoying, but had no idea they could be fatal. Is it really possible to taper the edge of a card to such sharpness that a paper cut is almost guaranteed? Again, my credulity is being stretched to the breaking point. But I guess that was one thing pulp fiction was good at. You had to suspend your belief in reading those old stories.

A few other points of interest. We are told in various stories that Moe Shrevnitz drives a cab that can change its appearance. Different stories describe different gimmicks, such as rotating license plates or changing colors. In this story, we are told that:

"The cab, itself, was specially equipped for camouflage. The top was down, making it an open cab instead of a closed one. One of the two rear lights had been removed. Conspicuous lettering, of washable paint, had been wiped from the cab's side; also a row of checkered ornamentation had been obliterated. As a final and most important touch, the license plates had been changed to show a new number."

In some Shadow stories, our hero uses strange rubber suction cups to climb the outside of building walls. But not always. When the walls are rough enough, he can dispose of them and climb the walls without apparatus. That's the way it is here. Since the outside wall was jagged, The Shadow crept to the fourth floor like a human fly, using his soft soled shoes to maintain a grip.

Time and time again we've been told that The Shadow is a master linguist. There doesn't seem to be any language he can't understand and speak. But in this story, he finally encounters one language that eludes him. The language of the Jibaro Indians is that special tongue. "It was one of the few dialects with which The Shadow was not familiar; but he noted a similarity to a head-hunter's language that he had heard before."

The Shadow is known by various names: Ying Ko, L'Ombre and El Ombre. This is the only time that I can recall in which two of those names are used in the same novel: L'Ombre and El Ombre. In any other story, it's just one. Never two. Now, if author Walter Gibson had only found an excuse to use Ying Ko, that would have made this story truly unique. But alas, he didn't.

Normally, Walter Gibson would stay away from the more gruesome details in his stories. That was better left to alternate author Theodore Tinsley. But in this story, Gibson makes an exception and has The Shadow shooting a blazing stream of bullets through a dead man's body. It hacks up the corpse, literally chopping it away, so his bullets can get at the master criminal that the body is shielding. That's pretty unique for a Gibson story.

In one of the coolest scenes in the story, The Shadow has been captured by the Jibaro head-hunters. His feet are tied securely to the ground; his arms are tied to saplings, bent to the ground and held in place by the minions of evil. Then the command is given: "release the saplings!" You can use your imagination as to what comes next. This particular scene is the one pictured on the cover of the pulp, and is an effective choice.

This story ends with a short teaser for the story in the next magazine issue. That was typical in Street & Smith's Doc Savage pulps, but very rare in their Shadow pulp magazines. This is one of the few Shadow pulp stories in which the teaser for the next issue is worked into the actual story itself. That next story, "City of Crime."

It's a fun story from 1936. Just ignore that "death by paper cut" issue, and enjoy the rest of the mystery. It's definitely a worthwhile read.
 


John 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.


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