John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #25
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"The Gray Ghost"
was originally published in the May 1, 1936 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The Gray Ghost is a thief, robber and murderer of the most sinister kind. Butlers, housemaids and chauffeurs out on Long Island have seen him prowling about, and heard his weird, low wail. They hold him responsible for recent robberies. But who is he?
The Gray Ghost is a strange, haunting figure, clad in a tight-fitting suit of mottled gray. His sinister eyes shine through the slits in his hoodlike mask. His hands are covered by gray gloves. He's a superhuman figure that's reputed to be immune to bullets. And he's out to rob the wealthy inhabitants of the Long Island suburb of Holmwood.
Mrs. Tyndale's pearls were taken in one of the first robberies. None of the servants knew where they were hidden, yet they were stolen by someone. And the Gray Ghost was seen that night. In another robbery, the Trelawney paintings were spirited away in the middle of the night, from a house guarded by two caretakers. The Gray Ghost is up to no good, and there's more to come!
Our story begins at the spacious home of wealthy banker Martin Debrossler, situated on the shore of Long Island Sound. His two young daughters and their escorts are leaving for the night-life of New York. Left alone in the mansion is Debrossler and his attorney James Pennybrook. They await a secret meeting with eccentric millionaire Hiram Windler.
One hundred thousand dollars has been prepared in cash for the business transaction with old Windler. But it's money that Hiram Windler will never see. For Hiram Windler has been murdered in his own bedroom. Shot through the heart by The Gray Ghost. And, now, standing in the study of Martin Debrossler is The Gray Ghost, come to collect the cash in his stead. With a snarl, he's out the window and away, across the broad estate lawn. He disappears into the night with the hundred thousand dollars.
The Shadow hasn't been idle all this time. He's been investigating the reports of the supernatural Gray Ghost, and shows up at the Debrossler mansion shortly after the robbery has been reported. He enters in his Lamont Cranston disguise to meet with his friend Commissioner Weston and learn the facts of the case. He gets a good description of the Gray Ghost and deduces that this must be an inside job. Someone in the Holmwood social circle who is familiar with the wealthy citizens must be the Gray Ghost.
Harry Vincent is sent to Holmwood to do some undercover work. He has received word from The Shadow, by way of Rutledge Mann, to watch events out on Long Island. He's to look for someone matching the general description that The Shadow has given him for the Gray Ghost. He is to track the various young playboys who live in the Holmwood area out on Long Island. One of them might be the Gray Ghost.
Harry is present at the next robbery. It occurs at the home of wealthy Tom Forbel. Forbel lives in a magnificent mansion out beyond Holmwood in the area known as Narrowneck. He's about to show his house guests a large collection of rare gems acquired in the Orient from a rajah. He's prepared for a possible invasion by the Gray Ghost; his guests are carrying loaded firearms. Yet despite this, the Gray Ghost dares to appear. He grabs the gems and makes his escape, even though apparently riddled with bullets from one of the guests' revolvers.
Who can be the Gray Ghost? One of the wealthy young men Harry's been watching? But which one? Everyone seems to have an alibi. An air-tight alibi. Where will the Gray Ghost strike next? Is someone giving him inside information? Can The Shadow discover his identity before another robbery or murder? All of these questions are answered when you read The Gray Ghost.
Although Harry Vincent has the largest part in this story, most of The Shadow's other agents make an appearance as well. Burbank, Moe Shrevnitz, Clyde Burke, Cliff Marsland and Hawkeye all help fight the Gray Ghost. The forces of law and order are represented by Commissioner Ralph Weston and Acting Inspector Joe Cardona.
The Shadow appears in several disguises, as well as his black-cloaked self. He appears as Lamont Cranston, since the real Cranston is out of the country. And he appears as an unnamed sweatered hoodlum. But most notable is his appearance as the Count of Santurnia, a wealthy Spanish exile of the old Royalist regime. It was a disguise he would also later use in "Washington Crime" a year later. This is the first of the only two times The Shadow would use this unique disguise.
Two final notes of interest. This story mentions some new safety tires that The Shadow's bullet fails to penetrate. Even today's steel-belted radial tires can't defeat a bullet, so I'm not sure exactly what these tires were supposed to be. But whatever they were, they assisted a carful of crooks to temporarily escape The Shadow.
This story also briefly shows us The Shadow's speedboat. It has appeared in a few other stories as well, and is described here as being capable of greater speed than any other craft upon Long Island Sound. And it's a good thing, too, because the climax of the story takes place in a chase on the water. A chase between The Shadow and the Gray Ghost!
"The White Skulls" was published in the November 1945 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Who are the White Skulls? They are a gang of mysterious ex-Nazis who dress in tight fitting costumes of black, painted with the white ribs of skeletons. On their black hoods are painted ghastly white skulls. They control a strange and amazing power to control the shape of matter; they inhabit a hidden domed underground city, far beneath New York City. And it will take all the cunning and power of The Shadow to defeat their sinister evil!
Alban Sark was a strange looking man. After looking at his face, a person would often experience an unsettling optical illusion when looking away. The white shape of a death's head would appear as an after-image. Alban Sark was truly a sinister personage, and not just in appearance. As an in-between in the war construction business, he had assisted in acquiring government bids on the construction of highways, factories and the conversion of plants to wartime production. And always to the betterment of Universal Contractors.
Universal Contractors was a concern owned and operated by an old fossil named Townsend North. Somehow, they have consistently underbid the competition for these contracts, aided by Alban Sark. Competitor Philo Brenz, the president of Brenz, Incorporated, has hired young Jud Mayhew to help him find out how this is being accomplished.
Young Jud Mayhew is just back from the war. During the war, while Jud was overseas fighting the Nazis, his small engineering company was absorbed by Philo Brenz's multi-million-dollar corporation. And now that he's back, his new boss Philo Brenz wants him to act as his confidential agent and secretly access Alban Sark's records to see if he can expose the methods used by Sark to wrest the government contracts away from Brenz.
As our story continues, Jud Mayhew runs into deep trouble. Trouble from which only The Shadow can help him extricate himself. Yes, The Shadow is also looking into the affairs of Alban Sark, for there's something phony going on with him. Both The Shadow, in his guise as Lamont Cranston, and Jud Mayhew show up separately at the small town of Stanwich, where Sark is reputed to be visiting. And there, the action starts to heat up.
It's in Stanwich where young Jud Mayhew first meets the beautiful Gail North, daughter of Townsend North, the opposing contractor. Yes, young love begins to bloom, as we know it must. Our proxy hero, Jud Mayhew, is torn between his attraction to Gail North and his loyalty to Philo Brenz, the business rival of her father.
Only The Shadow can bring the two lovebirds together. Only The Shadow can unmask the evil behind Alban Sark, sinister leader of the White Skulls. And only The Shadow can defeat the Nazi hoards of the White Skulls themselves. Only The Shadow... and his agents!
Nearly all of The Shadow's agents appear in this story. It's a virtual who's-who of secret agents. Harry Vincent, Clyde Burke, Rutledge Mann, Cliff Marsland and Hawkeye all appear in this tale. So does newcomer Margo Lane and hackie Moe Shrevnitz, although he's only called "Shrevvy" here. (shudder) And the lesser agents of The Shadow also appear: huge African Jericho Druke, pilot Miles Crofton and stunt-driver Chance LeBrue all get a chance to show their stuff.
The Shadow appears as himself, black cloak and all, and as Lamont Cranston. As we know from the fourteen previous years' worth of Shadow stories, The Shadow's true identity is Kent Allard, not Lamont Cranston. The Shadow often adopts the disguise of Lamont Cranston when the real Cranston is out of the country. Cranston is described in this story as "a noted traveler, a wealthy art collector, a New York clubman." But in this story, Kent Allard is not mentioned, and it is made to seem as if The Shadow is really Lamont Cranston.
Several of the passages as written by Walter Gibson seem designed to give the reader the impression that Lamont Cranston is The Shadow, something we long-time reader know not to be the case. In one place, Gibson writes, "If Jud had known that Cranston in his other life was The Shadow, he would have..." and in another, "A tug of The Shadow's hat brim and his own face, that of Cranston, was obscured." There's even an illustration in the pulp magazine showing Lamont Cranston with his shadow cast on a nearly wall, with the caption: "Lamont Cranston, alias The Shadow." It's hard for me to accept that Walter Gibson would do such an abrupt about-turn and make The Shadow an alias for Lamont Cranston. I think it's much more likely a case where a Street and Smith editor had a clumsy hand in making some changes to Gibson's manuscript, and had the illustrator do likewise.
There's a lot of stuff packed into this story. A massive warehouse mysteriously tumbles to the ground without any explosion. A caravan of a half-dozen cars simply disappears when being chased by The Shadow's agents. A mystery-man named Tanjor Zune appears, apparently an opponent of Alban Sark. And then there's the evil blonde temptress Ilga Vyx, who is assisting the White Skulls. And there's millions in plundered Nazi treasures. But wait, there's more!
There's a mystery machine which can silently move aside stone and rock to create tunnels, then noiselessly let it settle back again, as though untouched. The machine requires the secret disintegrating fluid known as "Formula Four Hundred" and the special "N-Five" neutralizer. This unique invention not only helps the White Skulls accomplish secret crime, but it also creates for them an underground city hollowed deep beneath New York itself, where Nazi agents can take refuge. A similar location in Germany is briefly mentioned: a huge hidden city that lays beneath Berlin itself. An interesting concept that's unfortunately not further developed.
Yes, there's a lot crammed into this Shadow mystery. And the story does feel a bit crowded, running only 35,000 words. That's a lot of action to get into such a short novel. My guess is that Walter Gibson originally wrote a longer story, but it was shortened by the editors at Street and Smith to fit the required space of the now-smaller digest magazine.
A couple of interesting insights are given in this story. A unique method by which The Shadow can communicate with his agents while enroute in Cranston's limousine is mentioned. As Gibson puts it, "By ordering changes in route which meant odd stops or turns; by telling Stanley to increase or slacken speed, Cranston was able to signal when he wanted his agents to follow and how far." Apparently some sort of code involving the movement of the limousine would tip off his agents, following behind in their own cars, as to his wishes. Pretty clever!
The Shadow uses disguises several times in this story, both for himself and for Jud Mayhew. It involves a gauze mask which, though thin, can be shaped around a person's face to make him appear as someone else. Although it doesn't seem that such a thing would be very convincing, apparently it fools everyone who encounters a person so disguised.
This story was written by Walter Gibson in April and May of 1945, as Nazi Germany was in the final throes of defeat. He submitted this tale to the offices of Street and Smith on May 22, 1945, two weeks after Germany's surrender on May 7, 1945. So it's certainly not surprising that the antagonists in his story were an underground cell of ex-Nazi agents who were left stranded in America at war's end.
The story was published six months later in the November issue of The Shadow Magazine. By that time, not only had Germany surrendered, but Japan as well, in mid-August. World War II was over, but it lingered on in the pulp magazines. Real-life rumors of hidden Nazi strongholds, lost Nazi treasure and escaped Nazi officers continued to fuel the pulp novels for years to come.
This Shadow mystery contains some over-the-top pulp action not often associated with The Shadow - things perhaps more often associated with the pulp heroes such as The Spider and Operator 5.
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.