John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #22
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"Tower of Death"
was published in the May 1, 1934 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The tower of the
story's title is only a part of a fortlike mansion known as Montgard. The large
looming old house sits on the country estate, with the tall tower in the center.
The gigantic turret serves as a huge entry to the house. Inside on the round
tower floor, a double circle of tile borders the circumference of the room,
decorated by Egyptian hieroglyphics along with signs of the zodiac. A strange
tower, indeed, it was built long ago by old Windrop Raleigh, an eccentric
Rumor has it that Windrop Raleigh left a treasure hidden in the old mansion when
he died. Racketeers Mallet Haverly and "Speedy" Tyron have been in contact with
Luskin, a former servant of Windrop Raleigh, and have been informed of the
rumored millions. They decide that since The Shadow is making things too hot for
them in New York, they will travel to the small town of Glenwood and the nearby
Montgard estate, and raid the old mansion.
Ah, but there's more than just a treasure to worry about. There's the mysterious
disappearances. Men have been known to enter the huge turret, to never be heard
from again! Two half-brothers and a cousin. One by one they disappeared - always
after paying visits to Windrop Raleigh. They entered Montgard, one by one, never
to reappear! And Luskin knows why. He knows the secret of Montgard. Luskin has
been let go by Jarvis Raleigh, the old man's son and heir, and thus seeks to
throw in with the gangsters to get his cut of the millions in hidden wealth. And
to reveal the other secrets of Montgard.
Let's not forget the strange terms of will of recently deceased Windrop Raleigh.
Reeves Lockwood, the old attorney, administers the will and arranges for any
rightful heir to live in the mansion. That's one of the terms of the will. The
heirs are required to live in virtual isolation within the walls of Montgard in
order to receive their inheritance. They must bow to the dictates of the master
of the house, Jarvis Raleigh, a strange thin man, son of old Windrop Raleigh and
inventor in his own right.
We meet three of the heirs. One is Sidney Richland, an eccentric cousin of
Jarvis Raleigh. Another is also a cousin - a very attractive young lady named
Barbara Wyldram. She is a relative of Windrop Raleigh's first wife. Both live in
forced isolation at Montgard. They are joined by Stokes Corvin, English second
cousin of Windrop Raleigh's third wife, who has made the trip across the
Atlantic expressly to learn the terms of the legacy to which he is entitled. It
will soon turn into a legacy of death!
Rounding out the cast of characters are Quarley, the sole family retainer, a
tall cadaverous servant; Maria, the haglike cook and housekeeper, whose strange
mutterings and wild eyes terrify young Barbara; and finally Jerome, the
groundskeeper of low intelligence, whose ghastly wailing cry calls the hounds
from the kennels. What part do they play in the mystery surrounding Montgard?
There are many questions to be answered in this strange, sinister mystery. Why
are Raleigh's relations required to stay inside the mansion? Why must they not
engage in any form of gainful occupation? Why have so many people entered the
tower entrance and simply disappeared? What is the significance of the strange
hieroglyphics on the tiled floor of the tower? What are the oft-referred-to
secrets of Montgard? And what is the secret invention of Jarvis Raleigh? It will
take The Shadow to find out!
The Shadow is aided by his agents Cliff Marsland and Harry Vincent in this
story. They are dispatched to the town of Glenwood to assist The Shadow in his
investigation of the sinister goings-on at Montgard. Investment broker Rutledge
Mann, contact man Burbank and reporter Clyde Burke also make brief appearances.
Detective Cardona appears at the beginning of the novel and again at the end.
The Shadow, himself, appears twice as Lamont Cranston, but throughout most of
the story appears attired in his black cloak and slouch hat.
It's interesting to note that The Shadow climbs the stone walls of Montgard with
his gloved hands. No use is made of those rubber suction cups which he would
occasionally use to scale the outsides of buildings. In this story, he's as a
human fly. But wouldn't it have been safer to remove the gloves?
Also, mention is made that the rightful heirs living at Montgard receive a
monthly stipend of five dollars. Not a very princely sum. Englishman Stokes
Corvin muses that this is one pound per month. So apparently in 1934, the
British pound was worth five American dollars. I think it's currently worth
Again in this story, The Shadow grabs the falling body of a wounded thug and
uses it as a shield in his gun battle with a mob of gangsters. This has happened
in many other Shadow novels, so it appears to be somewhat of a standard
practice. And to think that when I saw that technique used in the Arnold
Schwarzenegger movie "Total Recall" some years ago, I thought it was original.
Nope, The Shadow was doing it fifty years earlier!
You'll really enjoy this wonderfully moody story with its fading twilight,
looming edifices, darkened turrets and forbidding walls. Perhaps the haunt of
ghosts of those who have mysteriously disappeared!
"The Hooded Circle" was originally published in the January 15, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Within a Druid Glen, men clad in grayish robes perform a strange ritual. For they are the Hooded Circle, one of the most bizarre gangs of cutthroats The Shadow has ever encountered.
It's a pretty good story. After a couple chapters in the city, the entire story moves to Pinewood, an exclusive suburb out on Long Island where the estates of twenty of New York's richest men resided. And that was a good choice for the setting. It was fun to read of the vast acreages surrounding the mansions, the lifestyle of the rich and the thick woods into which the Hooded Circle disappears. Yes, this is a good solid little Shadow story. A great way to start off the year of 1940.
It was a dark and stormy night. And here we go again! In the deeply wooded sections of an exclusive suburb known as Pinewood sat the ruins of the old Grimshaw estate. There in a wooded valley known as Druid Glen, sat huge eight-foot stone blocks, arranged in a ring - patterned after the famous Stonehenge monuments in England.
There was a circle within the ring of stones. A circle of human forms. All were clad in grayish robes, with cloth masks covering their faces. This was the secret meeting place of the Hooded Circle!
These sinister criminals, robed in gray with hoods to match, break into the estate of wealthy old Humphrey Benholme to steal a series of seven paintings known as the "Seven Hells." Lamont Cranston and Inspector Joe Cardona arrive just five minutes after the paintings are safely locked in Benholme's gallery. Yet, when the doors are unlocked, the gilded frames stand empty. The paintings have disappeared! The Hooded Circle has struck!
Another bizarre robbery follows shortly thereafter in Pinewood. A set of six bronze statutes worth nearly a hundred thousand dollars mysteriously disappears from under lock-and-key. Again, the Hooded Circle are responsible.
Citizens of Pinewood are in a panic. No one is safe! They gather together all their precious belongings and place them in Courtney Kelm's five-ton safe, secured in the strong room of his massive estate. The total value is over a half million dollars. Will they now be safe from theft? Can the Hooded Circle possibly crack this impenetrable safe? Or will they be able to make it disappear like the other treasures? Can The Shadow thwart the seemingly indefeatable evil? And who is the mysterious cowled leader of the Hooded Circle, those gray-robed outlaws who hold their secret meetings within a ring of Druid stones?
Pulling out all the stops, The Shadow calls in his full list of agents. Jericho Druke, one of The Shadow's less-oft-seen agents, makes an appearance in this story as new chef for the Mertons. He has a fairly large role; he gets to aid in several fights and safeguards Marjorie Merton, our proxy-heroine. It's good to see Jericho used effectively. So often, when he does see action, he only gets a minor part. Not here, thankfully.
Harry Vincent takes the part of Lamont Cranston's secretary. Cliff Marsland shows up and takes a job in Pinewood as a footman. Hawkeye gets a job as a stableboy at one Pinewood estate. And Moe Shrevnitz, naturally, gets a job as chauffeur for a Pinewood resident. Clyde Burke shows up in his usual role as reporter for the New York Classic. All told, that makes six of The Shadow's agents who are on hand to assist in the round-up of The Hooded Circle, in the action-packed final chapters.
As for the law, Commissioner Weston shows up in the first third of the story, but pretty much disappears after the setting changes to Pinewood. Out of his jurisdiction, I guess. But that doesn't stop Inspector Cardona. He gets a good-sized role, and is involved in the mystery right up until the end.
Stanley, Cranston's chauffeur, shows up in this story. And, atypically, he actually gets to see some action, here. Usually he only appears briefly to drive his master around to a couple locations. This time, he gets involved in some fisticuffs with a band of ruffians. Admittedly, he is no prizefighter. He stumbles around and gets in the way of The Shadow as he tries to fight off the hoodlums. But at least he gets out of the limousine and gets a little exercise, which is more than he usually gets.
One of the wealthy residents of Pinewood is Wilmer Merton, a banker. His daughter, Marjorie, is the character we come to associate with throughout the story. She is our proxy hero for the tale. She's a plucky gal and she sets the pattern for the Margo Lane character, who would appear in the pulps a year and a half later. She's quite as willing to engage in battle with the Hooded Circle as are the menfolk of Pinewood.
In one scene, Marjorie snatches off her sandals and flings them at her maid. One of them hits the maid in the jaw. That was somewhat jarring to read. Usually, Walter Gibson avoided any violence against women, and woman against woman violence was unheard of. Yet, here it is, in this story. I'm not quite sure what to make of it. It doesn't serve any purpose to the storyline; the maid doesn't play any significant part in the plot. It's bewildering, almost as if someone other than Walter Gibson wrote that part of the story.
There are a few other anomalies, as well. All are subtle, but will be noticeable to anyone who has read all three-hundred-twenty-five Shadow pulp novels. There's a "hell" uttered by Joe Cardona. Gibson's characters never swore. Then there's the matter of the female form. Gibson always wrote in vague terms, when describing a scantily clad female. The descriptions in this story are a bit more detailed. And since when does Cranston smile? Never! Maybe his masklike face carries the trace of a smile, but that's the most Gibson ever allowed. Not so in this story. Could someone have ghosted the story, or part of it, for Gibson? Perhaps we'll never know.
I found one passage that seemed significant: "It was not surprising that he had passed notice. Cranston had a way of remaining quietly in the background, when he came upon a situation such as this." This describes the same ability to render oneself virtually invisible by remaining motionless, both physically and mentally, that was related to readers three months earlier in "The Golden Master." In that story it was said that the wily Shiwan Khan had this ability, and The Shadow was also aware of it. We didn't see The Shadow demonstrate that ability in "The Golden Master," but it seems he may be using it here. Gibson keeps it suitably vague, so the reader can't be sure.
I enjoyed reading this story. It contained enough unique moments to keep me interested, unlike some other run-of-the-mill stories. The final wrapup seems to explain just about everything, including how the various seemingly-impossible robberies took place. It's a bit vague on why the gang of crooks are interested in Druid rituals, but it still gives the reader a feeling of closure by story's end.
This is a well-build Shadow mystery that would probably fall among the better stories of 1940. Maybe not the best, but still well worth reading.
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.