John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #21
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"The Plot Master" was originally published in the February 1, 1935 issue of The Shadow Magazine. It's a battle of wits or a gang of international crooks against The Shadow. And at stake are millions of dollars and the security of our nation. The Plot Master is out to steal the Navy Department's mystery submarine and only The Shadow can stop him!
What a great story we have, here. It's a face-off between two masters of disguise -- The Shadow and Eric Hildrow, the Plot Master. You can never be too sure who's who in this thrilling tale of espionage. This story has plenty of suspense and action, and a couple death traps from which The Shadow escapes in a most unexpected fashion. And any pulp mystery with a location known as Death Island gets bonus points from me, to start with. This is one Shadow story that delivers the goods, right from the start.
In chapter one, we meet our criminal mastermind, the plot master known as Eric Hildrow. He's a master of disguise who never appears to his henchmen in the same disguise. Unlike many stories where the identity of The Shadow's adversary is veiled right up until the story's climax, this one tells us his identity from the beginning. Readers get to enjoy watching his sinister machinations from the get-go. It makes for a nice change of pace, and certainly doesn't dilute the action or suspense.
Eric Hildrow a genius of subterfuge, out to get the secret submarine plans of Commander Joseph Dadren. These plans hold the secret of an invention that is apparently destined to revolutionize naval warfare. At the secret naval base at Cedar Cove, the submarine is being built under the commander's supervision. That's where the plans are, and that's where Hildrow will strike. Or will he...?
Hildrow's first attack is on Professor Arthur Whitburn, the old inventor who lives in the old house on Death Island. Whitburn has duplicate copies of the submarine plans which Hildrow must destroy in order to make sure the sole copies retain their enormous value. But Whitburn, sensing the attempt upon his plans, calls upon The Shadow.
Whitburn has dealt with The Shadow before. This story is a sequel of sorts, because it refers to previous adventures on Death Island, as recounted in THE RED MENACE, the fourth Shadow story, published four years earlier. It mentions that Harry Vincent had long ago aided The Shadow in giving protection to Professor Whitburn. And The Shadow had rescued Harry from imprisonment within the walls of the submarine room.
Anyway, Professor Whitburn has Burbank's phone number from that previous adventure, and establishes radio communication with him. In other Shadow adventures, we're told that Burbank changes his telephone number regularly, for security reasons. But apparently he keeps the old ones active, too, since Professor Whitburn makes it through. He calls upon The Shadow for assistance, and before you know it The Shadow is flying his famous autogyro to Death Island to confront The Plot Master.
Yes, this story features the autogyro, one of my favorite parts of the early Shadow stories. The autogyro plays a fairly large role in this story. It appears early, as The Shadow lands on the roof of Professor Whitburn's mansion, and after some truly astounding adventures on the island, The Shadow takes off from the rooftop. Then, later in the story it appears again, this time manned by ace pilot Miles Crofton, and successfully makes an amazing landing on the roof of a speeding train car. You read that right... a train, lurching down the tracks and Crofton lands the autogyro on the roof of one of the cars. Wow, the stuff they could do in pulp novels!
The story gives us a clue into Crofton's background. A daredevil, a stunt flier, he had once been tricked by men of crime. The Shadow had rescued him from a hopeless situation, and Crofton had since been ready to do The Shadow's bidding. This was all explained in more detail in "The Unseen Killer" just two months before. So Crofton is a new addition to The Shadow's agents, here, this being only his second appearance in the magazine series. Hopefully, you've read "The Unseen Killer" before the story being reviewed here. Otherwise, now knowing that he's one of the good guys, much of the surprise in "The Unseen Killer" will be spoiled.
But anyway, back to our plot. The story later moves to Cedar Cove, where Harry Vincent is employed as secretary to Commander Joseph Dadren, upon the recommendation of Professor Whitburn. There, Harry creates a diversion so as to keep the secret plans safe until they can come under the protection of The Shadow. To create the diversion, he sneaks out of his room, while a special gadget created by The Shadow creates typing noises to give the appearance that Vincent is still in his room. This gadget was used a few months later in another Shadow story, "Murder Every Hour". If it appeared in any others stories, I don't recall them at the moment.
As an aside, it should be pointed out that The Shadow did have several other typewriter-style devices that he employed in his adventures. This was the first appearance of the typewriter "simulator" which faked the sounds of someone typing. In "The London Crimes" seven months later, he used a different typewriter gadget. It had carbon paper inside a hollowed-out roller that allowed The Shadow, or his agents, to read what someone had typed on that machine some time previous. And in "The Yellow Door" in mid-1936, The Shadow placed special caps on his typewriter keys to create special coded messages. Even as late as 1940 in "City of Fear" The Shadow used a battery-operated listening device hidden inside a portable typewriter case. So while The Shadow wasn't as much of a gadget whiz as was his contemporary Doc Savage, he still did invent and use a few such devices.
After six or so chapters on Death Island with Professor Whitburn, and another three or four at Cedar Cove with Harry Vincent and Commander Joseph Dadren, our story moves to Washington, D.C. for the amazing climax. The Shadow appears there as Henry Arnaud, and with the assistance of Harry Vincent and Vic Marquette of the Secret Service, helps safeguard Senator Ross Releston who now has the secret plans stored in his vault. When the evil Eric Hildrow shows up to steal the plans, The Shadow is ready. And there's the ultimate showdown which is one of the best written by Walter Gibson.
Yes, this is one terrific Shadow novel, and it's one in which surprisingly few of The Shadow's agents appear. Harry Vincent plays a leading role in this story. Burbank is there to pass along messages, and Clyde Burke is mentioned but doesn't actually appear. Cliff Marsland appears about half-way through the story and gets to see some action with The Shadow. And of course new agent Miles Crofton gets to see a bit of action, too. But most of the action is carried by The Shadow and Harry Vincent.
Cliff Marsland does get once nice scene where he picks up a wounded Shadow outside of Washington D.C. in a powerful roadster, and drives him back into the city in a whirlwind race against time. When he enters the city limits, he's going a hundred miles per hour. That's pretty fast, even today, but was amazing by 1935 standards. But good old Cliff is up to it, sitting grimly behind the wheel with his weakened, injured chief at his side.
The Shadow really gets batted around in this story. Entombed, shot, blown up... yet he miraculously survives. But now without injury. By the end of the story, he's pretty beat up. And that's where the strange vial of purplish liquid comes into play. As he was going through his earlier trials, I kept wondering why he didn't use that incredible restorative fluid. But at the story's fantastic climax, he finally does. And now I can see that he was waiting until he really needed it. It gives him extra strength and vitality at the time he needs it most.
There are two other recurring characters in this story. Vic Marquette of the Secret Service, gets involved since the stolen submarine plans are a matter of national security. He originally appeared in the third Shadow novel, "The Shadow Laughs" and made a total of forty-six appearances during the run of the magazine series. This marks his seventh appearance. It marks the first appearance of Senator Ross Releston. He went on to appear in eight more Shadow stories, always when government matters were involved. He and Marquette seemed to cross paths a lot, probably because they were both working for different branches of the government. They appeared together in a total of six Shadow stories. In only two Releston stories did Marquette not appear as well.
This is one of the top Shadow novels. It's got just about everything. It's got death traps from which there can be no escape: "The Shadow was encased in a trap of death. Death by confinement, within the suffocating walls of the air-tight submarine chamber." And yet, amazingly, he does escape.
There's also the squishy rubber suction cups that The Shadow uses to climb sheer walls. There's the explosives in the lining of his cloak. There's the secret messages transmitted on the open airwaves using emphasized words in advertisements over WNX Radio in New York. There's the amazing autogyro. The typewriter gadget. And the famous vial containing the purple liquid. Yes, it's all here in this most entertaining Shadow novel.
If you're looking for a top Shadow pulp novel to read, you won't do much better than this one. It's a lot of fun, and will make you glad you chose to read The Shadow.
"Death Jewels" was published in the August 1, 1938 issue of The Shadow Magazine. This is one of
those titles that's somewhat misleading. Yes there is death. And yes, there are
jewels. But the relationship between the two is tenuous at best. Actually, it's
a story of The Shadow's battle against a gang of robbers.
Crime was rampant in Manhattan. Crooks had cracked into large New York offices
and pretentious residences. They had opened safes that invariably contained
large amounts of swag. Stolen property remained untraced. Some hidden brain
controlled the crime ring; someone who could unload the stolen jewels without
We first meet Valencia Gaylor, a wealthy young socialite, and her handsome
suitor Reggie Taunton. After a night on the town, he drops her off and she heads
upstairs to bed. But soon thereafter, he sneaks into the house using a duplicate
key and makes for the safe in the study. Yes, Reggie Taunton is one of the gang
of thieves plaguing New York.
Valencia comes downstairs and catches Reggie in the act before he can open the
safe. He makes her prisoner and spirits her away during a gun-battle between his
cover-up crew and The Shadow. Yes, The Shadow is in at the very beginning! But
he's not able to prevent Valencia's abduction. And he hasn't yet identified
young Reggie as her abductor. But it won't take him long, because once The
Shadow is on the trail, all will soon be revealed!
Valencia lives with her uncle, the wealthy Everett Gaylor. Gaylor doesn't
realize that Valencia has been abducted, because smooth Reggie Taunton shows up
with a phony story that Valencia has decided to visit friends. No one knows
Valencia has been kidnapped. No one knows that Reggie Taunton is in league with
the slick band of crooks. No one knows who is behind the recent crime wave. No
one but The Shadow. The Shadow knows!
So, the job is to rescue Valencia. Unmask the slick Reggie Taunton. Break up the
gang of robbers. And reveal the identity of the criminal mastermind behind the
scheme. Sounds like a job for The Shadow!
Assisting The Shadow are his faithful aides. All the main agents appear in this
story. Moe Shrevnitz, the speediest hackie in Manhattan, Clyde Burke, reporter
for the New York Classic, Harry Vincent, suave long-time agent, Cliff Marlsand,
agent covering the underworld, Hawkeye, the hunch-shouldered little spotter and
Burbank, The Shadow's contact man, all make a respectable showing here.
Representing the police department is Inspector Joe Cardona, ace investigator
for the New York Police, and Police Commissioner Ralph Weston. Notice that Joe
Cardona is no longer "detective" or "acting inspector." He's now "inspector."
His rank jumped around a bit between 1936-1937, but by mid-1937 when this story
was actually written, Gibson had settled on the rank of inspector.
Earlier in the series, Commissioner Weston was not convinced that such a person
as The Shadow even actually existed. And Walter Gibson wrote the stories so that
Weston and The Shadow never quite met. But by this tale, that had changed.
Weston knows that The Shadow is a real person and at the climax of our story,
Weston's in the room when The Shadow shows up to reveal the criminal mastermind.
The Shadow appears in this story as his usual cloaked self, and as his true
identity Kent Allard, the famous aviator whose forced landing in the Guatemalan
jungle had made him the white god of the remote Xincan tribe. Allard, we are
told here, is also a bit of a stunt flyer. Commissioner Weston is Allard's good
friend, but declines riding in his speed plane because of his reputation. None
of The Shadow's agents have identified Allard as The Shadow. There's no
connection between the two, unlike the vague connection the agents make between
Lamont Cranston and The Shadow.
The Cranston character doesn't appear in this story. But The Shadow also does
appear in two other disguises. He appears disguised as a longlimbed, cadaverous
hoodlum in one scene. And later he appears as businessman Henry Arnaud, another
commonly used disguise. We are told he accomplishes this disguise using a
"puttied substance that formed a molded countenance too natural to be detected."
We also get to see the sanctum in this tale. We are reminded that its location
changed at intervals, sometimes to suit The Shadow's own convenience, on other
occasions because crooks guessed the whereabouts of the secret headquarters.
This latter refers to the mass underworld attack on the sanctum in "Crime
Insured." We are told that now that the underworld knows that the sanctum is no
myth, it has worked in vain to uncover it.
The Shadow's mysterious vial (or phial, as it's spelled here) of purplish liquid
makes another appearance in this one. Clyde Burke's been knocked out, and The
Shadow uses that elixir to help him regain his strength. The strange liquid is a
secret concoction of The Shadow's, in case you thought he picked it up at the
local drugstore. Only one person knows what's in it. But the rest of us can
The Shadow's special hollow skeleton key shows up here, too. It's explained that
when he removes a small plug of wax from a hole near the handle of the key, air
is admitted and oil drips from the tip of the key. The lubricant makes the
process of opening doors soundless.
Although the title of this story is "Death Jewels" there's only one death. A
butler is killed early in the story. Of course, lots of crooks bite the dust
courtesy of The Shadow, but only one law-abiding citizen dies. And as for the
jewels of the title...
The story is two-thirds over before we actually see any jewels. It's at the Long
Island estate of Priscilla Ryken. She keeps her jewels in a special safe there.
The gang tries to steal them during her house party, with the aide of a female
accomplice, but they fail. That's all we see of jewels.
In the vast majority of Shadow novels written by Walter Gibson, women are always
innocent. But in a very few, there is a female villain. Never the master
villain, but occasionally a confederate. This is one of those rare stories. A
tall, alluring brunette named Mona Dalgan discovers the combination to Priscilla
Ryken's safe and gives it to the gang. The last we see of her, she's in the
custody of the police, just to reassure us that crime doesn't pay.
The Shadow's wingless autogiro shows up here. It's always a pleasure to see this
in a story. By the description, it seems to be a helicopter not an autogiro. And
it's piloted by an unnamed agent of The Shadow. I think it can be assumed to be
Miles Crofton, even though he wasn't mentioned by name. By this point, he had
worked for The Shadow for four years since his introduction in "The Unseen
I think my favorite part of this story is the cool death-trap found in an old
house on the Long Island Sound. It's a deep cement pit lined with
three-foot-long spikes. A trap door in the entryway of the old house will drop
unwary visitors to certain death. In fact, there's a skeleton lying at the
bottom of that pit giving proof to its effectiveness. But what good is a death
trap if The Shadow doesn't fall through it? So, naturally, he does. And this
time, he does it intentionally, to avoid certain death by shielded hoodlums with
machine guns. It's a great scene!
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.