John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #32
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"The Silver Scourge"
was originally published in the July 15, 1933 issue of The Shadow
Magazine. Counterfeiters have discovered a new metal; one which mimics
silver yet costs only pennies on the dollar. And unless The Shadow can
stop them, they are prepared to unleash a silver scourge of counterfeit
coins upon America!
The premise is a bit shaky, but reading this early Shadow adventure
still makes for a rip roaring good time. Being an early Shadow story,
you can expect that The Shadow is at the peak of his powers. His
piercing intellect can unravel the most complex of schemes; his stamina
can outlast any man; his skill at hand-to-hand combat is unexcelled and
his marksmanship with his twin .45 caliber automatics is without peer.
Few have ever seen The Shadow, but his name brings shivers of terror to
the minions of evil who recognize his shivery laugh. Yes, this is The
Shadow as you want to remember him.
The story starts modestly. Silk Elverton has gathered together a mob to
break into the convention rooms of the Gargantuan Hotel and steal the
display of gold and silver tableware that had originally been used in
the Winter Palace of the Russian Czar. It's a featured attraction at
the United Silverware Manufacturers' Association annual meeting. And,
naturally, The Shadow appears and thwarts the evil plans. But at the
same time, Silk Elverton is presented with a new opportunity.
At the convention, Silk Elverton meets Foulkrod Kendall, whose
silverware factory in New Avalon is one of the largest and most
substantial in the United States. It seems that Kendall is selling his
patented tableware, which he calls Kendallware, at a remarkably low
figure for Sterling silver - two thirds the price of his competitors.
His competition can't figure out how he's able to make a profit. But
Silk Elverton figures it out, and confronts Foulkrod Kendall.
Silk Elverton discovers that Foulkrod Kendall is not manufacturing his
trademark Kendallware from true Sterling silver. Kendall has discovered
a new metallic alloy that looks like silver; it has the ring of silver
and the weight of silver. But compared with Sterling silver, this new
alloy runs ten cents on the dollar. And that gives Silk Elverton an
idea: counterfeit silver coins!
Silk Elverton approaches Foulkrod Kendall, and quickly discovers that
Kendall is as crooked as they come. It's easy for Elverton to convince
Kendall to join forces with him. And luckily Elverton knows someone
with the machinery and dies for making counterfeit coins. Cyrus Barbier
owns an obscure brass shop in Brooklyn, and in the back room stamps out
counterfeit nickels from an inferior metal. Barbier and his aide Tony
Cumo are just the two men that Elverton needs. What Elverton doesn't
know is that the Feds are on the trail of the coin counterfeiters, and
are closing in on Cyrus Barbier and Tony Cumo.
Vic Marquette is heading up the US Secret Service task force searching
for the counterfeiters. But when Vic storms the small brass shop he
finds the place is empty. Silk Elverton has already enlisted the aid of
Cyrus Barbier and Tony Cumo in his new counterfeiting scheme. Without
realizing that a Secret Service raid was impending, the men moved their
equipment to the city of New Avalon, where Foulkrod Kendall has his
silverware factory. There, in a hidden back room of the factory, the
four men will begin counterfeiting new coins that are so similar to
silver that they can't be detected as fake.
Now this may not sound like a very exciting story, but it will surprise
you. It really is quite good. And it gets even better! There is an
execution scene at the state prison that is electrifying - both
figuratively and literally. Yes, Silk Elverton gets the electric chair
for killing a man in front of witnesses. And then, he's brought back to
life by Doctor Conrad Guyon, who turns out to be as evil as Silk
Elverton. There are a couple of really excellent scenes where the
reader learns how the execution is to take place, and exactly how it
works. Then we see Silk Elverton being strapped in and receiving the
death-dealing jolts of electricity. And the scene where the mad
scientist brings him back to life is pretty amazing! Yes, the story
gets a lot better as it goes along.
Can The Shadow defeat the walking dead? Can he unmask all the
participants in the astounding plan to blanket America with counterfeit
silver coins? Well of course he can! And it's a pretty terrific tale,
reading just how he goes about it. I think you'll enjoy this story,
especially because it features some interesting firsts.
This story contains the first appearance of Pietro, the pushcart
vendor. In this story, Pietro doesn't work for The Shadow, yet. He's
just a street vendor who has uncovered the existence of poor quality
counterfeit nickels, and who reports it to Vic Marquette. In Pietro's
next magazine appearance, the following year's "The Chinese Disks,"
Pietro joined The Shadow's service as an agent. Here, in his first
magazine appearance, he is a private citizen. But it is his first
appearance, and deserves special mention for that fact.
And how did Vic Marquette identify those nickels as counterfeit? Well,
they were all dated 1922. And Vic knew that there were no nickels
minted in 1922. That's not just the fiction of a pulp magazine story,
by the way. There actually were no nickels minted by the United States
in 1922. It was because of the mint placing a priority on silver dollar
production that year, so for one year they halted production on
nickels. But this fact does bring up the intelligence of the
counterfeiters. Of all the years to pick for their counterfeit dies,
why did they have to pick that year? Not too smart.
In this story we also see an early version of that strange purplish
liquid that The Shadow uses to restore vitality. In 1931's "Gangdom's
Doom" The Shadow revived Harry Vincent with a pungent liquid. It was
not purplish, but was the earliest mention of a similar concoction. In
1933's "Shadowed Millions" the purplish liquid made it's first official
appearance, but was only used as smelling salts; something to be
inhaled, not imbibed. In this story, Doctor Conrad Guyon uses a vial of
bluish liquid to bring the dead Silk Elverton back to life. He lets
three drops of the potent liquid fall into Elverton's mouth, and along
with other ministrations, succeeds in bringing him back to life. The
color of this fluid isn't quite purplish, but is close. I think it can
be safely assumed that the mystery fluid was closely related to that
which The Shadow would start using officially five months later in
"Treasures of Death."
Another point of interest for this story is that Cliff Marsland sits
quietly waiting in the Hotel Spartan. And he waits, his thoughts revert
to the first time that he had met his mysterious chief. That strange
event had taken place in this very hotel. It was here that Cliff had
been recruited by The Shadow, a story that was described in the 1932
story "Mobsmen on the Spot." And it's nice to see it mentioned, here.
As also mentioned in that story, Cliff had actually met The Shadow
years previously in France during World War I. But they both went under
different names at the time, so the meeting in "Mobsmen on the Spot"
was their first in their current guises.
In this story, we get to see The Shadow's strange clock that sits on
his table in the sanctum. It's only briefly described, but it receives
such rare mention in the pulps that it's worthwhile to list it here.
This clock was introduced in the story "The Red Blot" just a month and
a half earlier. And it is more fully described in that story, for those
of you who wish to read how the concentric circles on the clock can
tell the time.
The Shadow's suction cups are used in this story. He uses them to climb
down the outside of the Gargantuan Hotel. Several floors down, in fact.
This was the sixth time they had appeared in any of the Shadow magazine
stories. They would go on to be featured in thirty-five more stories,
right up until 1948 and "Dead Man's Chest."
The Shadow's cloak is described in this story as having a crimson
lining. It was described that way early in the series, but was dropped
later. It seems that the crimson lining might flash in the darkness,
giving away the position of The Shadow in the black of night. The
crimson lining played an important part in the plot to the 1936 story
"The Voodoo Master," but was rarely mentioned after that... at least by
Walter Gibson. Author Theodore Tinsley picked up the idea, when he was
writing for The Shadow, and he often used it in his stories, including
those as late as 1941's "Master of Flame." Although the cloak's crimson
lining wasn't very practical, it was visually very striking and made
the pulp magazine covers really stand out. The hint of crimson appeared
on quite a few magazine covers, even if it didn't actually appear in
the story within. The crimson lining was first seen on the cover of
"Gangdom's Doom," the fifth issue of the long-running magazine, and
continued to be displayed until the very last issue, "The Whispering
Eyes" in 1949.
A message is delivered to Cliff Marsland in a unique manner, in this
story. The Shadow writes his message and encloses in a black envelope
of stiff paper. He then scales it through the air to Cliff, with great
accuracy and over quite a distance. This harkens to the famous magician
Alexander Herrmann who performed similar feats in the 1800's. Author
Walter Gibson, a skilled magician in his own right, was quite familiar
with historical figures in magic, and would incorporate some of their
tricks into his pulp tales. This was a good example of that.
Of The Shadow's agents, only Harry Vincent and Cliff Marsland appear,
here. Burbank, the erstwhile contact man, does get one brief scene. The
story is too early for cab driver Moe Shrevnitz, or spotter Hawkeye.
They hadn't been introduced to the series, yet. And Clyde Burke, who
was a current agent, wasn't needed, apparently. Also appearing is
Detective Joe Cardona. The Shadow appears only as himself, cloaked in
his usual black garb. He doesn't appear in any disguise, here. No sign
of Lamont Cranston, Henry Arnaud, Phineas Twambley or any of his other
The weakness in this story is the basic premise. We have to believe
that counterfeiters would be interesting in counterfeiting coins. Any
savvy counterfeiter wouldn't waste his time faking coins, as making
fake paper money is faster and cheaper... and has a far greater profit
margin. Yet, as our story opens, the counterfeiters are making very
realistic nickels. Can't be a lot of profit, there. They must have been
REALLY desperate. I can't imagine anyone counterfeiting coins, unless
perhaps they were rare collector coins that sold for far above face
value. So the guys in this story are doing a lot of work for only a
modest profit. And we have to believe it, if this story is to work. So
readers must suspend their disbelief in this case. We have to believe
that experienced criminals know what they are doing, even if it doesn't
really make sense.
I would recommend that you ignore the shaky premise, and read this
story anyway. Once you get past that weakness, you'll find a very
enjoyable story. After all, how often in a Shadow story do the dead
come back to life? That's gotta be worth the price of admission, alone!
"The Book of Death"
was originally published in the January 15, 1942 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The magazine cover for this story is probably one of the most well-known of all the Shadow covers. It features a large book with a dagger sticking into it. The book is held by The Shadow. On the other side of the book stands a skeleton in a shroud, pointing at an entry in the book. If you've seen the cover, you've probably wondered what the story was about. You're about to find out!
The book of death is a large thick volume bound in vellum. It's not a novel. It's a book of facts. It is a complete record of how the principal millionaires in America acquired their fortunes. It includes all their tricks, their swindles, and their misdeeds. The book tells all, and would make a great source for blackmail.
The book was originally compiled by Alexander Munston, a man worth half-a-billion dollars before his untimely demise. Now that he's dead, the book has come into the hands of Asaph Darwick who was Munston's financial advisor. Darwick has decided to use the book for a lofty purpose: to make restitution to the victims who were swindled so that rich men could become richer.
Asaph Darwick first visits James Wilvern, of Wilvern & Co. Wilvern is a man of mammoth wealth, who handles corporation presidents like errand boys. Darwick opens the huge book of records and reveals to Wilvern that the original fortune that he inherited from his uncle was founded on a fraudulent mining stock scheme. Darwick has a list of names of the persons swindled along with a list of their heirs, and suggests that Wilvern make restitution to those heirs. Wilvern can afford it, and Darwick will in exchange give him the incriminating pages from the book.
Asaph Darwick has appointed himself a one-man committee to arrange the return of fortunes to claimants who never knew those fortunes existed. He plans to visit each of the wealthy men listed in the book and ask that they give a fair share of their fortunes to the heirs of those originally swindled and duped. It's not blackmail; there's no threat of exposure. But in exchange for their cooperation, Darwick will rip out the appropriate pages from the large ledger and give those sheets of damaging facts to the millionaires. At least that's how it's supposed to work.
Things don't always work as planned, and thus it is with Asaph Darwick's plan to aid justice. James Wilvern stalls for time, claiming he needs to consider the request. In the meantime, he hires a private investigator named Otis Jurn to get the book by hook or crook. Probably by crook!
While Asaph Darwick goes on his way to other wealthy men with his huge volume of incriminating information, a plot is underway to acquire that book. There are many more pages in the book. Each batch is sealed as it represents more accounts that should be settled. Each batch also represents the potential for blackmail, should the book fall into the wrong hands. And thus, each batch also represents a potential murderer who would kill to acquire the book and keep its secrets from being revealed.
Murders, murders, murders! First Asaph Darwick is killed. Or is he? The body disappears and the supposedly-dead Darwick soon makes another visit to seek justice. Then Otis Jurn, the investigator, is killed. What did he know that forced his murder? Old Seth Blanning is killed because he discovers Darwick's secret. Beautiful young heiress Irene Blanning is shot three times and dropped through a trapdoor. But her body is never found. Is she still alive?
Mystery abounds in this swiftly-moving tale of murder and intrigue. The Shadow moves through the story with the assistance of his aides Harry Vincent and Margo Lane. Brief appearances are made by Rutledge Mann, Burbank and Moe Shrevnitz. Appearing for the law are Commissioner Weston and Inspector Cardona.
There are some interesting death traps in this story. There's the booby-trapped safe in Darwick's office. It has three combination dials on the front, but one will set off an explosion powerful enough to blow anyone in the room to perdition. And there's the above-mentioned trap door actuated by an electric-eye beam that drops the unwary victim to a cement cellar far below. Irene Blanning falls through it; so does The Shadow.
As one point of interest, this story tells us that The Shadow has many black cloaks and slouch hats. And presumably black gloves as well. When he's nearly killed and his outfit is shredded, The Shadow tells Harry Vincent to bring him another one. Makes me wonder where get gets them. They're certainly not something you'd buy off the rack. Does The Shadow have a seamstress somewhere churning these things out as fast as replacements are needed? Or maybe he sews them himself in his off-hours. Can you imagine The Shadow sitting before a fire with thimble, needle and thread? Somehow, I'm having trouble picturing that...
As another note of interest, we get to see the petty side of The Shadow. In one part of the story, The Shadow is knocked out cold by a man standing motionless in the dark shadows that The Shadow enters. Apparently The Shadow's embarrassed at being caught unawares, since he's "The Shadow" and such things just don't happen to him. So later in the story when he has the opportunity to sneak up on the same man and tap him on the skull to render him unconscious, he intends to do it more neatly that the man did to him. We are told that he intends to make a single clean tap to daze the man slightly but still allow him to retain his senses, thereby appreciating the fact that this time he had been outguessed. That sounds like petty revenge to me. Its a side of The Shadow that I hadn't seen before.
It's a nifty story and whodunit. And why. And how.
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.