John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #36
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"Crime Rides the Sea"
was originally published in the January 1, 1939 issue of The Shadow Magazine. This is the fourth in the five-part "Hand" series. The stories were only loosely related, each a separate adventure of The Shadow fighting one member (or, "finger") of The Hand. This time, The Shadow will battle against "Pointer" Trame. It's a battle that will take him from land to the high seas, as crime rides the seas.
The Shadow has ordered Harry Vincent to take passage on the steamship Ozark, an old, unpainted vessel. That's a sure sign that trouble's due. And Harry's pretty sure he knows what to expect when he sees a massive steel strong box, six feet on a side, being loaded into the cargo hold. The heavy steel cube holds bars and ingots of gold and silver. A fabulous treasure valued at over two million dollars. And a treasure that will tempt crimedom.
Also on board is Cliff Marsland, another of The Shadow's agents. Cliff is not a passenger; he has shipped as a member of the Ozark's crew. As Cliff and Harry talk surreptitiously, they agree that the entire setup is suspicious.
Four other ships have been recently lost, each sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean with their valuable cargoes. Each sunk too far at sea to permit their salvage. Survivors from the lost freighters had told conflicting stories, but in each case there was some element of mystery in the disaster. And in each case, each ship had been carrying valuable cargoes from the same company: Hugh Barvale & Co. All lost at sea with Hugh Barvale collecting insurance on the lost shipments. The Ozark seems doomed to the same watery fate.
There's someone behind Hugh Barvale, so The Shadow is trying to track down whichever big-shot is behind the entire scheme. Only then can something be done about Barvale himself. The Shadow's convinced that the unknown big-shot is Pointer Trame, the fourth member of the band that had once styled itself The Hand. Pointer Trame was last heard from in Havana, just before the first of the lost ships had vanished in mid-ocean. So while Cliff and Harry are on board the Ozark, The Shadow is tracking down the current location of Pointer Trame.
And that brings us to the Marmora, a yacht owned by a reclusive multi-millionaire Jerome Trebble. Trebble spends his entire life at sea on his yacht. The only time that the Marmora touches at a port is when she needs supplies. The Shadow concludes that the Marmora is suspicious enough to warrant investigation. He decides to pay a visit, in his guise as fellow-millionaire Lamont Cranston.
What The Shadow doesn't know is that Jerome Trebble isn't who he seems. The real Jerome Trebble has been replaced by an impostor. This person who does a perfect imitation of Jerome Trebble is in reality none other than Pointer Trame, the mastermind behind the sinkings of the cargo ships. And the crew has been replaced by Pointer Trame's own thugs. When The Shadow steps aboard the Marmora, will he fall for the disguise? Will he be taken prisoner? And will he be able to stop the scuttling of the freighters?
Well, The Shadow has plenty of help on hand in this story, so he's not battling single-handedly. In addition to Harry Vincent and Cliff Marsland, sneaky little Hawkeye is also assisting. And let's not forget Burbank, the contact man. Plus second-stringers Tapper and Jericho Druke help out as well. Only Clyde Burke is missing from the regular crew of agents.
The only lawman in this story is F.B.I. agent Vic Marquette. Marquette had appeared in other Shadow stories, as early as the third one, "The Shadow Laughs" in October of 1931. All told, he appeared in forty-six Shadow pulp novels, the last one being 1948's "Jade Dragon." Since most of this story takes place on the ocean, it's appropriate to have a government man assisting, rather than a New York official like Commissioner Weston or Inspector Joe Cardona.
The Shadow gets to spend quite a bit of time in his disguise as Lamont Cranston. Of course, his agents recognize that this is The Shadow, not really Lamont Cranston. They remember occasions when two Cranstons had appeared in different places at the same time. They know there's a "real" Cranston, as well.
Both Vincent and Marsland knowingly converse with The Shadow in his guise as Lamont Cranston. This is something that is very rarely shown in these adventures. Usually, they give their reports over the phone to Burbank. Occasionally, they report directly to The Shadow, but nearly always in the dark of night when he is in his black garb. This is the only instance I can recall where they both sit down to breakfast with Lamont Cranston in the light of day and discuss their assignments, realizing, of course, that he isn't the real Lamont Cranston. A nice, unusual and rarely-seen twist to this excellent adventure on the high seas.
Another nice touch in this story, is a little reminder of how Harry Vincent entered the service of The Shadow back in the very first pulp magazine in April 1931. As he leans on the fog-shrouded railing of the Ozark, he thinks back:
"Harry could remember a bridge rail, a fog that shrouded the deed that he had intended: a suicide leap into dank water that awaited him. But he had never taken that fatal plunge. Instead, a hand had clutched him and drawn him from the brink. The hand of The Shadow!
"Years ago, but unforgettable... For, on that night, Harry Vincent had entered the service of The Shadow, never to leave it."
It's not often that author Walter Gibson would refer back to that first Shadow story, so it's a treat to see it here. And I'm sure it helped clarify things for readers who had missed the first issue and had picked up things somewhere during the ensuing eight years.
Two other things deserve mention. The Shadow's autogiro appears in this story. It's not referred to as a "wingless" autogiro, as it would be in some of the other stories, so apparently this is the original model. The one that looks like the pictures we're more familiar with when we think of an autogiro.
The other thing worth mentioning is the use of The Shadow's flashlight to deliver coded messages using colors. Green, red and white. Each has a separate meaning to his agents. And he can blink more detailed messages in his own code.
This is a fun story, and probably the best of the five "Hand" novels. The previous three were: "The Hand" from May 15, 1938, "Murder for Sale" from July 1, 1938 and "Chicago Crime" from November 14, 1938. The fifth and final in the series, "Realm of Doom" would appear in the following issue, February 1, 1939.
You should read this story if for no other reason than to see The Shadow using a grenade launcher against the hoards of thugs who are closing in upon him. Its one of those rifle grenades made famous in World War II battles. Ride the high seas with The Shadow!
"River of Death" was originally published in the March 1, 1939 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Grisly crime strikes Manhattan from an unexpected source. Up from the bottom of the Hudson River comes Davy Jones, to combat The Shadow for mastery over his domain!
The year 1939 was a pretty good one for The Shadow, and this story is one reason why. The year started off with the wonderful "Silver Skull" and ended up with two of the four Shiwan Khan novels. There was lots of cool stuff going on in that year's stories. And "River of Death" fits into that category very nicely. It's probably in the top five of that year's twenty-four Shadow mysteries.
The story opens with a stealthy robbery taking place on The Equator, a steamship docked on the Hudson River. Two competing gangs meet on board the ship, and one side loses in a bloody battle. The law is surprised to learn that for weeks the underworld has been buzzing with quiet rumors that a supercriminal has taken over the entire water front of New York.
The police has had no knowledge of gigantic crime going on under their very noses. They had no suspicion of the existence of a supercriminal who called himself Davy Jones, or the theft of priceless loot aboard steamships anchored along the Manhattan side of the Hudson River.
Our story involves an international jewel smuggling racket. Sparkling beauties in their antique settings have been stolen from aristocratic country houses in England. They have passed with lightning speed from the hands of the actual thieves to a grimy shop in London. There they have been appraised, sorted, listed.
Then they have gone aboard the steamship Equator in the keeping of a crooked steward. Instead of smuggling the loot ashore when the ship arrives, its taken a day or so before she leaves port again. No customs inspection is made of departing ships. The stones are then recut and reset before they are sold.
It's a great racket, but it can't last. There's competition out there! A second gang, headed by the mysterious Davy Jones, is trying to horn in on the scheme. And who is this Davy Jones? He's described as a thing of raw horror with a corpselike face. Dressed in a sea-green smock and trousers that clung damp and soggy to his body. Wet hair hung in stringy locks, plastered on his forehead. On the forehead of that ghastly thing was a seal was printed in the crimson hue of fresh blood: a trident.
The Shadow tries to track down Sailor Marco, the one man who knows the secret identity of Davy Jones. In doing so, Marco is killed and The Shadow is set upon the trail of lovely young Edith Turner, daughter of Ned Turner, one of New York's most important theatrical men. She was present when Marco was killed, and leads The Shadow into intrigue and mystery.
Edith Turner's fiancee, Roy Hollister, is somehow involved with Pike, the gang leader who helped rub out Sailor Marco and his gang. Pike surreptitiously takes orders from the mysterious Davy Jones, and The Shadow wants to use him to track down the master criminal. And so begins a gritty, whirlwind story that is a bit heavy on violence.
There's a good reason that this story is a bit grittier than usual. It was one of Theodore Tinsley's stories - one of the three he wrote that year, in place of the usual author Walter Gibson. Tinsley wrote in a very similar style to Gibson, and readers probably never noticed the substitution. If they noticed anything, it might be the slight additional elements of sex and violence that Tinsley invariably added to his tales.
In Gibson's stories, thugs took a bullet and slumped to the floor. In Tinsley's writing, a slug pierces the crook's kneecap, and he thrashes around in agony. The top baddies have a fondness for torture; they grin in delight at the suffering they afflict. They will drag their victim along behind their speeding boat, to watch him drown. And our main villain, Davy Jones, takes pleasure in branding the foreheads of his victims with a gruesome trident. Yes, Tinsley's crooks were sadists. And they often enjoyed the use of drugs; in this story one of the lesser thugs uses cocaine.
Theodore Tinsley also liked to insert a bit of sexual titillation into his stories. It was nothing overt, but it was certainly more than Walter Gibson would add to his Shadow tales. This story has a daringly nude dance act aboard a showboat that is featured throughout the story. The Shadow is caught hidden in a dressing room, peering out as the star disrobes unknowingly in front of him. The beautiful young star of the night club act is Flip Wiley. Tinsley describes the showboat owner caressing her pliant figure. Then later, he kills her off. Her barely clad form lies twisted grotesquely on the floor of her dressing room. Walter Gibson would never have described such a scene. He avoided anything remotely sexual, and especially would never have killed a beautiful woman.
Harry Vincent and Clyde Burke are the main agents of The Shadow to appear in this story. Burbank is mentioned once. And Stanley isn't mentioned by name, but he is apparently the chauffeur in Cranston's limousine. Commissioner Weston's name pops up twice, but he doesn't actually appear. Inspector Cardona, however, gets a few good scenes. And that's all that we see of the familiar characters.
Both Clyde and Harry get really abused in this story. Harry is knocked unconscious twice, and each time it is described as a viscous bloody blow. Poor Harry. And then later, to add insult to injury, the baddies try to drown Harry, and nearly succeed. Finally, Harry is mercifully replaced by Clyde Burke. Before the story is half over, Harry is written out, and Clyde is brought in.
But Clyde isn't treated gently by Davy Jones and his crew, either. He is garroted from behind and kidnapped. Then he is tortured in a pretty shocking scene. A plumber's blowtorch is held to the soles of Clyde's bare feet. And by the time The Shadow rescues him, poor Clyde's feet are a charred bloody mess. Again, the influence of Theodore Tinsley is evident, here.
The Shadow appears as his usual self in garb of black, and in disguise as Lamont Cranston. He also gets to use a couple additional disguises in this story, which is always heartening to see. He is an old cleaning man with mop and pail in an office building. And later he does surveillance as a seedy looking man standing across the street from a parking lot. The Shadow was always a master of disguise, and Tinsley always remembered that in his stories.
Theodore Tinsley's portrayal of The Shadow was slightly different from that of creator Walter Gibson. When Gibson wrote the action sequences, he often let our hero escape unscathed. And when The Shadow did receive an injury, it was usually severe, and became a significant plot point. Tinsley, on the other hand, had The Shadow receive many minor injuries in his battles, and they were usually just briefly mentioned and the forgotten. They didn't usually affect the shoreline.
The Shadow really gets slammed around in this story. In a fight with a goon, blood drips from his arm after a knife slash. In a gun fray, a bullet nips his ear like the slash of a red-hot knife. A chunk of broken glass cuts his cheek, spilling a thin trickle of blood into his mouth. A bullet creases his ribs, stunning him with the burning impact. Another bullet licks along his wrist, with fiery pain. And the gunsight on a slugging gun barrel rips a crimson furrow in his forehead. Luckily these injuries aren't all suffered in the same battle. They are sprinkled throughout the whole story. But by the novel's end, The Shadow must have been a mass of bruises, scabs and bandages.
A couple points of interest. I don't think I've ever seen a real brand name mentioned in a Shadow novel before. Whenever a product brand is mentioned, it has always been a fictional brand; something made-up for the expediency of the tale. But in this story, Lucky Strike Cigarettes are mentioned. An early example of product placement? I don't know...
Tinsley creates a "sanctum-like" abode for Davy Jones, something we don't see very often in Shadow villains. It's very reminiscent of The Shadow's secret retreat. A dark, closed room. A light glows suddenly. A pair of hands come into the light. And when he's through, darkness fills the closed windowless chamber. Out of that velvet silence comes the triumphant laugh of Davy Jones. If you don't see the similarities between this and The Shadow's sanctum, you haven't read enough Shadow mysteries!
I did notice one discrepancy in the story which I'll mention here. The Shadow is dunked in the Hudson River and captured. He makes his escape and grabs a taxicab. He has no money, so "by the gleam of his piercing eyes alone (he) cowed the reluctant driver into taking him on as a fare." Fair enough. Yet, we follow The Shadow as he leaves the cab and after another altercation commanders a second cab. This time, he leaves the unconscious taxi driver a fifty-dollar bill! The strange thing is that he was broke and never had a fifty-dollar bill to start with. Since we followed along with The Shadow the whole time, we know he had no opportunity to get any money. Obviously Theodore Tinsley overlooked the fact that The Shadow was broke, and had to resort to the "gleam of his piercing eyes alone" to get the first cab ride. But the story is so jam-packed with action and excitement, that I guess we can forgive him this simple oversight.
Usually in the exciting climax to a Shadow story, when the chief villain is finally revealed, he is wounded by a gunshot from The Shadow, and then downed in a hail of bullets from the law officers who have just barged in. Occasionally the mastermind lives and is in the custody of the police. Once the chief baddie died of a heart attack. But this is the only time I can remember that the master villain turned his pistol upon himself and took his own life. But that's what happens here. And it's unusual enough to warrant mention.
I really enjoyed reading "The River of Death." The action was exciting and non-stop. There were plenty of interesting locations, secret headquarters and gruesome encounters with Davy Jones. The characters weren't written by Walter Gibson, but were true to his vision of them. Tinsley's writing adds a little "pulpiness" to the story, but that's a good thing. This one gets my recommendation. I know you'll enjoy it, too.
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.