John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #28
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"Master of Death"
originally published in the September 15, 1933 of The Shadow Magazine.
Eric Veldon is the master of death. He collects fiendish methods of
murder, stolen from their innocent inventors. Then he uses those
diabolical methods of death to eliminate all witnesses. How can The
Shadow even discover the identity of this brutal monster, when all
traces are immediately erased?
Eric Veldon presents himself to inventors as a promoter. He claims to
be a scientist himself, and thus is the perfect person to understand
scientific inventions and promote them. When our story opens, Eric
Veldon is working with Merle Clussig, one of the inventors that he
represents. Clussig has been developing a special high-powered x-ray
machine - a heat ray tube. Little does he realize that Eric Veldon is
about to appropriate the invention for his own benefit. And someone
The sinister Eric Veldon knows that once he uses Clussig's heat ray to
commit murder, Merle Clussig will recognize that he has used it for
evil. So Merle Clussig must die, too. And die he does. A strange death
from carbon monoxide poisoning.
The New York police, headed by acting inspector Joe Cardona, find Merle
Clussig dead inside his locked laboratory. No one else is present, and
his death by carbon monoxide is a mystery. There is no apparent source
for the poison gas. The police can't classify it as murder or
accidental death, because they can't find where the carbon monoxide
came from. But we know that Eric Veldon committed the murder, using a
special dry ice that turns to carbon monoxide vapors and disappears
leaving no trace.
The inventor of the unique carbon monoxide dry ice is Wycroft Dustin.
Dustin developed the dry ice to help in his experiments in neutralizing
poison gasses. But now Eric Veldon has stolen the secret and used it to
commit murder. Merle Clussig is dead because of Wycroft Dustin's
scientific experiments. Eric Veldon, being the crafty brute that he is,
realizes it won't be long before Wycroft Dustin hears of the death of
his fellow scientist, and realizes that his was the method employed in
Wycroft Dustin must die, and Eric Veldon has just the thing. He uses
the heat ray tube developed by Merle Clussig to murder Wycroft Dustin
in his lab. The master of death strikes a second time, using this new
and undetectable method of murder. Two inventors are now dead, and
their inventions have been perverted from innocent use to deadly use.
The Shadow is on the case. But the only clue is the strange man seen
leaving Merle Clussig's laboratory. This was Eric Veldon's henchman
whom he had sent to plant the death-dealing device. But the henchman
was seen. He was a corpselike fellow with dull eyes that stared
straight ahead. His stride was mechanical and his face was an unnatural
white. He was identified by newspaper reporter Clyde Burke as being
Spud Jagron. But that was impossible, because Spud Jagron was dead.
Clyde Burke has seen a walking dead man!
Yes, we're talking zombies, here! Among the other inventions stolen by
Eric Veldon, he has appropriated some extraordinary medical knowledge
from Doctor Joseph Barratini. He has been forcing Dr. Barratini to
perform brain operations on criminals which remove their criminal
tendencies and leave them brain-dead zombies. These zombies are under
Eric Veldon's control. They do his bidding, with no will of their own.
Now if this sounds a bit like what Doc Savage was doing at his up-state
New York "college" in the Doc Savage pulps, the timing was most
coincidental. This Shadow novel was written by Walter Gibson in January
1933 and submitted to Street & Smith on February 3 of that year. It
was published seven months later.
In the intervening months, Doc Savage started doing brain operations on
criminals, too. It was in the June 1933 issue of the Doc Savage pulp
magazine (The Polar Treasure) in which those operations were first
mentioned. Although I don't know the date Lester Dent actually penned
that story, it's quite possible it was written about the same time as
Gibson was writing this Shadow story.
Could some editorial suggestions from Street & Smith have been made
about that time? Perhaps in some brainstorming meetings? And maybe
various incarnations of the same general concept inadvertently made its
way into both pulps. It's pure speculation. But in the Doc Savage
stories, this became a continuing feature, appearing in other stories
as well. In the case of The Shadow, however, it was a one-shot
Dr. Barratini explains that "brain surgery performed upon criminals
would be justified by its results. Others had advocated the same
practice." Could Doc Savage have been one of those others? I'd like to
think so, even though there's no solid evidence to indicate so.
Regardless of how the idea was born, there are zombies in this Shadow
story. Zombies created by Doctor Joseph Barratini and under the sole
control of Eric Veldon. Barratini is being forced to aid Eric Veldon in
this sinister enterprise. He desperately wants to escape the fiendish
grip of Eric Veldon. And to these ends, he contacts Doctor Rupert Sayre.
As those of you know who have read The Shadow pulp stories out of
order, Doctor Rupert Sayre is a continuing character that will appear
in many future tales. He will be physician to The Shadow. When The
Shadow or one of his agents is injured, they are taken to Dr. Sayre's
clinic for medical treatment. This particular story is the introduction
of Rupert Sayre. When the story begins, he has no relationship with The
Shadow. He's brought in to help Dr. Barratini, who is responsible for
the brain operations.
Before you know it, Barratini is killed and Dr. Sayre is forced to take
his place. Dr. Rupert Sayre and Cliff Marsland, The Shadow's underworld
agent, are captured by Eric Veldon. Sayre is ordered to perform the
brain operation on Marsland. Will The Shadow arrive in time to save his
secret agent? Can he find the hidden laboratory of Eric Veldon? And
will he be able to overpower the zombie army that serves the evil Eric
Veldon? You betcha! And what a story!
As mentioned previously, Clyde Burke, reporter for the Classic, appears
to assist The Shadow in this tale. Also, Cliff Marsland is on hand to
help out. Other agents appearing are contact man Burbank and investment
broker Rutledge Mann. No other agents appear. Lamont Cranston's
chauffeur Stanley and his valet Richards appear as well, but they
aren't agents per se. They serve The Shadow without realizing it.
The real Lamont Cranston is out of the country for the entire length of
this pulp story. We are told he is in Abyssinia, on one of his many
trips. But taking his place with perfect disguise is The Shadow. When
he arrives at Cranston's New Jersey mansion and asks, "Has everything
gone well during my absence?" the servants answer in the affirmative,
none the wiser that the man before them is an impostor.
Remember, The Shadow uses the guise of Lamont Cranston with the real
Cranston's knowledge and consent. So we aren't surprised to see a
secret hiding place in the hall closet of the New Jersey mansion. When
The Shadow unlocks a nearly invisible panel at the end of the closet,
he draws out a brief case. Inside that brief case, we all know, is
found the cloak, gloves and slouch hat of The Shadow.
Exactly where The Shadow had been before this story began, we aren't
told. We are just told that The Shadow "had returned from one of his
strange journeys." We can only speculate that perhaps he was on an
overseas assignment. We are also told that "during his absence, his
agents in New York had been on watch for the unusual." The unusual, in
this case, was discovered in the mysterious death of inventor Merle
Although Cliff Marsland was introduced to the series over a year
previously, author Walter Gibson still takes time to remind us of
Marsland's past. Cliff had served time in Sing Sing for a crime which
he didn't commit. The Shadow pressed him into service, using Cliff's
unsavory reputation to assist with his undercover work in the badlands.
Cliff Marsland was the only agent of The Shadow who was married. But
his wife was mentioned only briefly in previous stories and then
forgotten. By this story, Marsland is apparently no longer married. One
selection reads: "Cliff had always resigned himself to an adventurous
career with violent death as its inevitable termination." Now that
doesn't sound like a man who had a wife to come home to, does it? Some
speculate that his wife might have died shortly after their marriage.
But it's sheer speculation, since Walter Gibson never gave us any
It should also be pointed out that Cliff Marsland carries a pair of .45
automatics. The Shadow wasn't the only one who carried those huge smoke
wagons! It's just that Marsland's choice of weapons was rarely
This early Shadow story has many of the famous little bits that have
become associated with The Shadow over the years. Sealed envelopes
contain blue-inked lines of code that disappear quickly after being
exposed to air. The reason for this, as other stories explained, was
that The Shadow's code was a fairly simple one. If a coded message
should fall into the wrong hands, the enemy could probably break the
code given enough time. Having the message disappear prevented anyone
from having that time.
Although many Shadow tales include a visit or two to his sanctum, we
very rarely get to see the other rooms of the sanctum. In this mystery,
we are privileged to visit The Shadow's laboratory. It's a square room
of shining black walls, lit by a single bulb. This is not the usual
blue light that shines in the other room of the sanctum; it's standard
white. The Shadow works on a jet-black laboratory table with thick
rubber gloves. It's here that he discovers some of Eric Veldon's
We also get to visit The Black Ship, that infamous gangster hang-out.
This is where Cliff Marsland gets his first clue that leads him to Eric
Now here's a point of interest. In this story, The Shadow saves a
millionaire from a death trap - poisonous gas. He casually comments,
"Poison gas... I know a lot about it - through my war experience." He
says this while in the guise of Lamont Cranston. But, to the best of
our knowledge, Cranston had no war experience. Could this have been a
slip of the tongue? Was The Shadow referring to his own war experiences
as the Black Eagle? Perhaps something he experienced when acting as
secret agent behind enemy lines back during The Big War? What a
tantalizing tidbit upon which to ponder...
When you've read as many Shadow stories as I have, you get used to the
author's tricks. You get to the point where you've seen it all. "You
can't fool me!" But Walter Gibson pulled another rabbit out of his hat
and fooled me again. There's a secret twist ending that caught me
totally off-guard. I won't reveal it here (no spoilers, you know), but
I'll just say that it was really cool and I was impressed. That Walter
Gibson feller was quite a writer!
There's a lot more in this story than I've taken the time to describe.
Like the living skeleton. No wires; a true living skeleton! But I won't
spoil it for those of you who have yet to experience the joy of reading
this one. Master of Death is truly from a master storyteller.
"The Rackets King"
was originally published in the June 15, 1938 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Tex Dybert was the rackets king. He was on his way to becoming supreme dictator of the underworld, when he was murdered.
There had been a wave of rackets lately, and Inspector Joe Cardona was investigating them. He had come to question Tex Dybert, the biggest racketeer in New York. Instead, he uncovered a scene of murder. Tex lay dead, a bullet through his heart. The rackets king was dead; someone else was moving in on the rackets!
The main suspect is now Lou Channing. Channing and Dybert were at odds, because of an unsettled gambling debt. Joe is of the opinion that Channing has now settled the debt in a fatal fashion. So the search is on for Channing.
But Lou Channing isn't an easy man to find. He's a man of many aliases. He's also known as Chester Vayd, who has been romancing Irene Marcy - secretary to Alfred Formion, business magnate. Since Formion's businesses were hardest hit by Tex Dybert's rackets, it's suspected that Channing, alias Vayd, helped Dybert set up Formion's businesses by getting secret information from Formion's secretary Irene.
Channing's hold on Irene was not merely romantic. He currently holds some IOU's from Irene's brother, Dick. Perhaps he used this as leverage to get information which could ruin Formion. It certainly puts Irene in a bad spot, from the standpoint of the law.
But Channing claims to be innocent of Dybert's murder. He's said to have an alibi, under one of his other aliases. As Charles Dome, he claims to have an air-tight alibi. Private detective Roger Grell supports this alibi, but is murdered before he can provide proof. Was Grell killed to keep him quiet?
Into the story steps famous aviator Kent Allard who has won fame by his long-distance flights. But we readers know he's famous for more than just that. He is in reality, The Shadow! And he's taken an interest in this case. He not only wants to find the real murderer of Tex Dybert, but he wants to put an end to the rackets that are flourishing under ever-changing leadership.
It all makes for a great crime novel in which The Shadow clears the mystery of the murders and cleans up the town of the sinister rackets. Appearing in the story are all the major characters, except Lamont Cranston. In this story, when The Shadow appears in public, it's in his true identity as Kent Allard. Making appearances in the story are Hawkeye, Clyde Burke, Harry Vincent, Burbank, Cliff Marsland, Moe Shrevnitz, Commissioner Ralph Weston, Inspector Joe Cardona, and Doctor Rupert Sayre.
One point of interest, is the appearance of "the devil's whisper" in this story. Yes, those mysterious pastes that the Shadow rubs on his fingers! One paste carefully rubbed on his thumb, and a different one on his middle finger. When he snaps his fingers, there's an explosion and flash that blinds his opponents. That's always impressed me, and I look forward to the rare occurrences when it appears. This was based on a real-life concoction which Gibson ran across in his research on magic and appropriated for pulp use. A neat concept...
I liked this Shadow crime novel. No ghosts. No mad scientists. Just The Shadow battling against thugs, henchmen, crooks, and criminal masterminds. It's a fun story.
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.