John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #33
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"The Strange Disappearance of Joe Cardona"
was originally published in the November 15, 1936 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The weird purple death menace which The Shadow battles is but a prelude to an even more amazing event. The master of the night must delve to the depths of crime's underground to rescue Inspector Joe Cardona from a monster who terrorizes all of New York.
Not a bad story at all, despite what is arguably the most boring title of any Shadow pulp magazine. Perhaps a few others vie for the honor of the most boring title, "The Three Brothers" being one of them. But this one is certainly in the top few. Why not call it "The Purple Death"? A pulpy title, that, and certainly most suitable since the entire plot revolves around a strange method of murder known by that designation. But no, Walter Gibson named it "The Disappearance of Joe Cardona" and the editors at Street & Smith added the word "Strange" as their contribution. Maybe they figured the cover illustration would sell magazines; the title certainly wouldn't.
"Five men have died," announced Commissioner Ralph Weston, "from the effects of some baffling poison that turns their bodies purple. We know that the poison coagulates the blood of the victims to such extent that we have been unable to learn the time at which death struck them. That fact has masked the murderer's movements."
Five strange deaths, all apparently disconnected. An obscure mechanic, a university instructor, a radio announcer, a Wall Street promoter, a pawnbroker. None, apparently, ever knew the others. Yet all fell victim to the purple death. And what's more, five detectives were missing. Two - Lacey and Kirk - were gone before they learned anything. Two others - Jenkins and Doolan - vanished after delivering clues to headquarters. Clues that didn't help. And the fifth missing detective would soon be... Joe Cardona!
Cardona was put on the case, having been called back from vacation after the first four detectives turned up missing. The ace sleuth found Frederick Tabor, the latest victim of the purple death. And he found a clue. A mysterious clue that spelled his own doom! Only The Shadow could save him. Only The Shadow could reveal the secret behind the purple death. Only The Shadow could unmask the mastermind behind the sinister plot!
It won't be giving much away to reveal that the motivation behind all the mayhem is huge profits for a new invention. It's called a "telesighter." The telesighter is a large, square-shaped box that looks like a radio receiving set. The front of the blocky object forms a black screen. Upon the wall above it sits a grayish plate that projects a picture, projected as upon a screen. It's a new fangled television device controlled by a photoelectric cell. Television was still fifteen years from becoming a common household appliance, but it was still the stuff of which speculative fiction was made. And it formed a great plot device for this story. It also plays an important part in the final climax of the tale.
This story has some nice touches which make it a very satisfying Shadow mystery. There's the mad scientist. The secret invention. The death traps. And the visit to The Shadow's sanctum. It all makes for a wonderfully exciting story that had me hooked.
Although many Shadow novels take us inside The Shadow's sanctum, it's rarely that we get to see inside his shiny laboratory. This story takes us there, as we watch The Shadow perform experiments with the purple poison. Quite a few guinea pigs bite the dust, all in the interests of science, of course. Animal rights activists will probably want to avoid reading this story...
And while we're in The Shadow's sanctum, we get a tantalizing glimpse at that strange clock on The Shadow's desk. The clock is a singular arrangement of dials, set in concentric circles; three different rings for minutes, hours and seconds. It was seen as early as 1933 in "The Red Blot" and showed up sporadically throughout the thirties, with one final appearance in 1943's "Death's Premium." It's good to see it mentioned here. I want one of those clocks!
There is one thing in the story that puzzled me. Perhaps a typo in the original? The Shadow is referred to as a master crook! Huh? A crook? Maybe Gibson meant a master sleuth. But the line in the story clearly states, "Master crook who hunted men of crime, The Shadow, like the law, was on the trail of the purple death." I'm thinking the word "sleuth" fits better. Or maybe he meant "Master of crooks"?
Few of The Shadow's agents appear this time around. Moe Shrevnitz, touted as one of the cleverest hackies in New York, gets to see action in the middle of the story. Contact man Burbank shows up a couple times. Reporter Clyde Burke is mentioned once, but doesn't actually show up. And that's it. A streamlined cast, here. The Shadow doesn't seem to need many agents to battle the purple killer.
Naturally Inspector Joe Cardona appears, since his name is in the title of the story. And his boss Police Commissioner Ralph Weston gets to show up frequently and bluster around. In earlier tales, Weston didn't believe in The Shadow. He figured it was an unknown person, and probably a different one each time he was spotted. But he now admits that there is a single individual under that black cloak. After all, his life has been saved, more than once, by The Shadow. He finally got it through his thick head that there really is a Shadow.
Weston seems to change chauffeurs like his sox. This time around, the chauffeur is named Larkin. Larkin doesn't really get into any of the action, and so after this story he was never seen again. But there was always a ready replacement handy. Must be the perks of being police commissioner.
While on the subject of the police, let's not forget Detective Sergeant Markham. He was a minor character who worked with Cardona in some fifty-six of the pulp novels. And he shows up here, assisting in the mystery of Cardona's disappearance.
The Shadow gets to use his vaunted ability at disguise only to appear as Lamont Cranston. We aren't told where the real Cranston is off to, this time. Probably adventuring in some far corner of the globe. But The Shadow continues to use his identity without exposure. Unfortunately, we don't get to see him use his make-up abilities to become anyone else, as we do in some of the other stories. To bad... I always enjoyed seeing that metal make-up box come out.
Don't be fooled by the benign title and avoid this story like I did. Take my word for it, it's a very enjoyable Shadow mystery, considering its underwhelming title. I put off reading this one for years, based on the fact that it just didn't sound very interesting. How wrong I was!
True, it has the longest title of any Shadow magazine story. But it's anything but boring. It's got plenty of action and mystery. And it's got "the purple death." That alone should be worth something.
This story has a lot going for it. You'll enjoy it.
"The Hand" was originally published in the May 15, 1938 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A loosely arranged organization of crime is known as The Hand. It is composed of five master criminals, each one finger of The Hand. One by one, The Shadow must meet and overcome the five masterminds of crime.
This is the first of the five Shadow novels in which our hero battles against The Hand. "Pinkey" Findlen is the villain of the piece. The complete list of magazine stories and their criminal kingpins is as follows:
05/15/38 The Hand (features "Pinkey" Findlen)
07/01/38 Murder for Sale (features "Ring" Brescott)
11/15/38 Chicago Crime (features "Long Steve" Bydle)
01/15/39 Crime Rides the Sea (features "Pointer" Trame)
02/01/39 Realm of Doom (features "Thumb" Gaudrey)
After months of comparative quiet, following the smashing of Manhattan's racket rings, crime has again reared itself. The Masked Playboy is all over the newspaper headlines. He and his small band of masked marauders have been raiding night clubs and small hotels. The Shadow is tracking down the gang, and discovers their next target. He plans to show up and thwart the crime. His agents indicate the new crime will be at nine o'clock at the Nu-Way Loan Company.
The Shadow stands in the darkness of the Nu-Way offices, and watches as the gang enter and begin working on the safe. The strange thing, however, is that The Masked Playboy is there, not as their leader, but as their prisoner. He is being forced to commit the crime! The gang even takes photographs of their alleged leader in action, both masked and unmasked.
In an ensuing gun battle, The Masked Playboy and most of his gang escape, leaving The Shadow to figure out exactly what is going on. Why has the tuxedoed Masked Playboy become a tool of crime? As it turns out, he is actually the son of an influential businessman, being forced into crime as a means of blackmailing his father. Behind this bizarre blackmail scheme is "Pinkey" Findlen and his lieutenant "Slick" Thurley.
Pinkey Findlen is the brains of the outfit. Slick Thurley's contribution is his unique appearance. He is the spitting image of an ace on the racket investigation squad, Detective William Quaine. Capitalizing on his accidental appearance as Quaine's duplicate, he works with Findlen to fleece the innocent rich.
The two visit Martin Meriden, treasurer of Eastern Refineries, Incorporated. They want him to buy a worthless chain of service stations for a quarter-million dollars. He refuses; then they pull out the incriminating photographs of his son, Reggie, breaking into the safe at the Nu-Way Loan Company in the guise of The Masked Playboy. Meriden has no choice but to agree to their terms. And they are a quarter of a million dollars richer.
That's how the scheme works. And this isn't the first time they've used it, either. Howard Milay, general manager of Sphere Shipping was blackmailed into sinking an freighter, loaded with junk metal. Findlen and his crew collected the insurance money and came out three hundred thousand dollars ahead.
John Thorry, president of Western Oil Fields was blackmailed into buying worthless oil wells for another two-hundred thousand. And then, most recently, there was young Meriden, whose father was coerced into buying the worthless service stations. Each time, Findlen and Thurley frame an innocent victim for some crime, then they use the phony evidence to blackmail their victims.
The Shadow immediately suspects the five members of The Hand. He checks his list. "Thumb" Gaudrey is in Bermuda, posing as a retired business magnate. "Pointer" Trame is gambling at the Havana casinos. "Long Steve" Bydle is in business in Chicago, and "Ring" Brescott is in California. That leaves one man alone unaccounted for. The Shadow knows he is on the trail of "Pinkey" Findlen.
The gang's next target is Lewis Bron. He's the auditor for World Oil, and they want him to overlook the discrepancies in the record books. Discrepancies caused by their forgeries in the amount of another quarter million dollars. They plan to frame him for murder, which will force him to bend to their will.
But The Shadow is determined to stop them. He's out to thwart the gang, free the blackmail victims from their evil grasp, and stop their schemes once and for all. And along the way, he also takes time out to rehabilitate Pinkey Findlen's girlfriend, Maude Revelle. She starts out as Findlen's moll, but by story's end, she's turned to the side of law and order.
Assisting The Shadow are his usual crowd of faithful agents. Moe Shrevnitz, the speediest hackie in Manhattan, Harry Vincent, one of The Shadow's most trusted agents, Cliff Marsland, The Shadow's underground contact, Clyde Burke, reporter for The New York Classic, and Burbank, the ever-present force who keeps agents and master in constant contact with each other. Also appearing is Stanley, the clueless chauffeur, who aides The Shadow without knowing it.
The New York Police department is represented by Inspector Joe Cardona, ace detective, and Detective Sergeant Markham. Commissioner Ralph Weston isn't mentioned this time around.
The Shadow, himself, appears both in his cloak of black and in disguise. He uses his popular Lamont Cranston disguise, here. He also appears as the Police Department janitor Fritz. And, being the master of disguise that he is, he also appears as a bent-shouldered, droopy-faced Bowery bum. And he replaces one of the thugs in the gang, a fellow named Joey, without anyone being the wiser.
We are reminded in this story that The Shadow keeps in contact with Burbank not only by telephone, but by short-wave set as well. He keeps a small portable short-wave outfit hidden in Cranston's limousine and another in Moe Shrevnitz's taxicab. And he also keeps a spare outfit of cloak, hat and gloves in hidden drawers in those vehicles, as well.
The clock in The Shadow's sanctum is briefly mentioned again. But, as usual, no details are given. For that, you'll need to read the fuller description set forth in "The Red Blot" from 1933. But since its presence on the black-topped desk in the sanctum is rarely mentioned in these pulp stories, I thought I should point out the appearance here.
I enjoyed reading this one, partly because of some of the colorful characters associated with Pinkey Findlen. There's "Bugs" Hopton, the leader of Findlen's strong-arm crew. He is an expert at putting on a "wild and crazy" act; hence the name "Bugs." There's also Claude Ondrey, owner of The Bubble Club. And the usual assortment of lower-echelon hoodlums.
It all makes for a fun story to read when you are in the mood for a Shadow pulp tale. Ah, the world was so much simpler in 1938. You just whipped out your .45 automatics, and resolved your problems by pumping bullets as fast as you could! Such was the world of pulp.
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.