John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #38
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Dead Men Live" was originally published in the November 15, 1932 issue of The Shadow Magazine. No, we're not talking about zombies, here. These are actual living men who have been abducted. Their deaths have been faked. To the world at large, they are dead; in actuality, they live confined and forced to reveal their closely guarded secrets. It will take The Shadow to discover their unfortunate plight and release them from the sinister castle in which they are held prisoners.
Lamont Cranston is among a select few potential investors who has been granted the privilege of witnessing Clark Murdock's latest experiments in atomic disintegration. Murdock, a stoop-shouldered, gray-haired man of around fifty, is a world-renowned chemist. He has made some remarkable discoveries and has consented to display his promising inventions to potential investors.
Cranston stands in Murdock's lab, viewing a large, hollow sphere of glass. Inside tiny sparks appear, then intensify. There are countless bursts of flame as invisible particles break asunder in atomic action. Murdock explains that he has discovered a method of atomic control which is the gateway to power surpassing all dreams. Say, now, this sounds pretty valuable. Valuable enough to steal! Valuable enough to kill for!
(To put things in perspective, keep in mind that this story was written in early 1932. At that point in time, atomic power was still the work of fiction. It was ten years later in 1942 when Enrico Fermi first successfully controlled a chain reaction releasing energy from the atom's nucleus.)
Later that evening, after all the visitors have gone, Doctor Gerald Savette, one of those witnesses, returns to Murdock's lab. He jabs a sharp hypodermic needle into Murdock's shoulder. Clark Murdock falls to the floor, in every simulation of death. Savette stores away the body in a packing crate and has truckmen haul it away. He then sets his sinister plan into action; placing a dead body made to look like Murdock at the lab table, and letting the atomic reaction run wild.
The next morning, newspapers report a terrific explosion and fire at Clark Murdock's laboratory. His body was found in the wreckage. A noted scientist has died. Or so the world believes. But we know that Murdock still lives, and has been spirited away to some undisclosed location.
And Clark Murdock isn't the only person whose death has been faked. Others still live, prisoners, while everyone believes them dead. Nearly three years ago there was a fire at Doctor Savette's sanitarium on Long Island. Austin Bellamy, a retired manufacturer had perished in the blaze. Or so it was thought. Then there was the strange disappearance of Professor Pierre Rachaud, a radio technician who was considered an expert on television. He was alleged to have died at sea, during an ocean voyage.
So what is exactly going on, here? We learn early in this story that we're dealing with three master criminals. Doctor Gerald Savette is just one of the group. Glade Tremont, respected attorney, is the second. And the third is bushy-haired Ivan Orlinov, wealthy Russian of the czarist realm, who had become a naturalized American citizen. These three having been "collecting" men of wealth and men of specialized knowledge.
The headquarters of this trio of sinister characters is a large estate of some thirty acres located in the rolling mountainsides of the Catskills. Situated about three miles from the small town of Glendale is a replica of a medieval castle. Inside this foreboding gray stone structure surrounded by high-spiked iron fences, prisoners are forced to continue work on their inventions. Men of wealth are forced to give up their millions. And in the dungeon below, men are tortured if they don't cooperate.
It will take all the cunning of The Shadow to discover the masterminds behind this horrible scheme. It will take all The Shadow's power to defeat the army of gangland's best who guard the castle. And it will take all of The Shadow's amazing powers, when he too is injected with the "death serum" and falls victim to the same terrible fate shared by so many others. Yes, The Shadow becomes one of the dead men who live!
The Shadow doesn't have a lot of help, in this early story. There are only very brief appearances by contact-men Burbank and Rutledge Mann. Clyde Burke, reporter for the New York Classic, has a small part in the first half of the tale. Harry Vincent is sent overseas to Europe to do some research, and only receives several brief references. Hawkeye and Moe Shrevnitz had not yet been introduced into the magazine series. Most of the action is carried by Cliff Marsland.
Cliff Marsland had been introduced to the series about six months earlier. He was The Shadow's agent in the underworld, well-suited for the job since he had spent time in Sing Sing prison. Of course, he was actually innocent; he had taken the blame for someone else. But he kept that fact secret so he could mix in with the denizens of gangland and be an effective agent for The Shadow. And so he is, in this story.
Cliff Marsland becomes our proxy hero in this tale. He is sent by The Shadow to work undercover as Orlinov's secretary. He insidiously worms his way into the gang, and spies on their secret conversations. As such, he gets a good deal of the action in the piece.
We are given a tantalizing hint of Marsland's background. We are told:
"Cliff Marsland played hunches. He was a man of action. He had gained his craving for excitement on the battlefields of France. He had continued it in the service of The Shadow."
Marsland carries a fountain pen containing The Shadow's special ink. It's with this clear-blue ink that Cliff writes his reports to The Shadow. He quickly seals the reports, knowing that the coded writing will disappear after too much exposure to the air. But he carelessly leaves the pen lying around, and Ivan Orlinov find it. When he discovers the unusual properties of the ink, he realizes that Cliff Marsland isn't to be trusted. Thus Marsland is captured, tortured and becomes a victim in need of rescue by The Shadow.
The Shadow was being broadcast on radio at the time of this story in 1932, but not in the form that he is best remembered. In that year, The Shadow was still just the narrator for dramatic stories. Yet, his presence on the radio is mentioned in this novel:
"It was true that his voice was heard over the radio, in a program over a national broadcasting chain. That also served The Shadow's purpose. The tones of his mysterious voice were recognized by all who heard them. Yet all the efforts of the underworld to learn the identity of the broadcaster had come to no avail.
The Shadow spoke from a soundproof room, boxed with black curtains. His method of entrance and exit from the place was a mystery that had never been solved - not even by those connected with the broadcasting studio."
Such was the integration of the pulp novels with the then-current radio broadcasts. The magazine stories admitted that The Shadow was on the radio. They alleged that these broadcasts were The Shadow's way of making his voice recognizable so that the denizens of the underworld would fear the sound of his voice when they encountered him in person.
The exact nature of the magazine character was not fully realized when this story was written. Although most things had fallen into place, there were still a few things that hadn't hardened into cement yet. The Shadow does wear his famous girasol ring, the fire opal that is "unmatched in all the world." Of course, after many year passed, we learned that there were actually two identical "matching" stones, both eyes of a Xincan idol.
In The Shadow's sanctum, we are told, twice, that he sits beneath the rays of a green shaded lamp. This changed and constantly became a "bluish" light for the run of the series.
But while in the sanctum, we get an interesting view of The Shadow sitting at a different table. It's a makeup table in a corner of the sanctum, at which The Shadow puts on his amazing disguises. We see:
"... his white hands appeared within the sphere of light. The hands appeared with what seemed to be a thin mask of wire gauze, no more than a skeleton framework filled with a few solid patches. The object disappeared as it was raised into the dark.... Guised with the colorless surface of the thin mask, only The Shadow's eyes were visible as they glowed through a plastic mass of grayish blur!"
Yes, he's the master of disguise. He can change his features at will by adjusting that wire gauze. In this story, he becomes a nameless tall man clad in a dark suit. He also appears in his most famous disguise as millionaire Lamont Cranston. And he even takes on the guise of one of the three masterminds, sporting the perfectly formed face of Glade Tremont!
This is the early Shadow who can make himself appear as anyone, with only moments of preparation. He's also The Shadow who shoots to kill, and the body count rises rapidly. By the end of the mystery, at least thirty gangsters have bitten the dust, courtesy of The Shadow.
Pitiful captives, forced to produce their life's work for a trio of brain thieves. And only The Shadow to stand between these slaves who are forced to perfect their inventions, and their sinister captors. It all has the makings for a terrific Shadow mystery novel!
"Dictator of Crime" was originally published in the October 15, 1941 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The Shadow travels to the small Caribbean republic of Centralba, there to confront Luis Castenago, dictator of the banana republic. The Shadow fights for the rights of the oppressed against this cruel dictator of crime.
In general, the Shadow stories from the 1930's were superior to those of the 1940's. Admittedly, there were a few clinkers from the 1930's; but there were a lot more from the 1940's. There were also a few gems from the 1940's stories, and I'm happy to report that this was one of those gems. It's really quite good, and a nice change of pace as The Shadow gets out of New York and takes on the dictator of a Central American country.
This certainly wasn't the only Shadow pulp adventure that had an international scope. Although The Shadow was most widely known as a crime fighter whose haunts were Manhattan, there were many stories that took place outside New York, or even outside America. There were visits to London, Paris, Moscow, Mexico and Canada. And this story involved a visit to Centralba, a fictionalized nation that undoubtedly had a real-life counterpart. Exactly which nation it was based on, was conjecture left up to the readers.
Our story opens in Miami, where Margo Lane has been instructed by The Shadow to learn everything she can about an incoming group from Centralba. There are passengers on the Clipper who have been exiled from their native country; militant leaders who opposed Luis Castenago, dictator of Centralba. These men, headed by Colonel Jose Durez, bring with them ten million dollars in gold. The treasure is from their liquidated holdings in Centralba. The treasure is also a strong lure for crime. The Shadow knows!
This small group of foreign nationals are a magnet for evil doers out to relieve them of their fortune. But that's not the only reason The Shadow is keeping tabs on them. It is a time of international unrest. The United States was dickering for defense bases in Centralba, as were other nations. There was suspicion that the Japanese had already penetrated the small nation under the guise of business. American officials recognized that Centralba's dictator, Luis Castenago, was the sort who would sell out, if offered enough money. At any time, Centralba might be turned into a cat's-paw for some un-American power. The Shadow is taking it upon himself to make sure that doesn't happen.
Just as The Shadow has feared, crimedom has targeted Colonel Jose Durez and his ten million dollars. Gangs of thugs strike at the Centralban exiles in their Miami hotel, while Margo watches helplessly. Murk Wessel, ace of con men, has moved up in the underworld; moved up to robbery and murder. He gathers a ruthless mob and together they storm the Hotel Equator in Miami where the exiled men have settled.
The Shadow arrives at the Miami airport, piloting his own plane down from New York. But unfortunately, he's too late. The entire group from Centralba are killed and the millions are stolen. There's a thrilling chase by both The Shadow and the local police, as they trail the mobsters through Miami and Miami Beach. Ultimately, however, the gang of thugs makes good their escape.
The trail of Murk Wessel and his gang of killers points to the north. But it's a little too obvious for The Shadow. He isn't fooled. He knows that the true tail leads not north to New York, but southward to the small republic of Centralba. So Cranston tells Margo that he is going north to continue the hunt for Murk Wessel, but in reality, he plans on traveling to Centralba in a different guise.
Margo was originally in Miami to meet Lamont Cranston to take an air cruise with a small group of travelers down to Rio. Cranston tells her to continue with those plans while he travels north. What Margo doesn't know is that The Shadow will shed his disguise as millionaire world-traveler Lamont Cranston, and will travel with her under his true identity as Kent Allard. Yes, the pilot of the airplane on that Rio trip will be Kent Allard.
Margo Lane has no idea that Kent Allard is The Shadow. In fact, she has never even heard of Kent Allard before. But, as author Walter Gibson put it, "It didn't take her long to find out why the pilot of their deluxe plane was celebrated." She was traveling down to Rio in the company of a world-famous pilot who had survived years lost in Central American jungles after his plane was downed. And unknown to her, she's also traveling with The Shadow.
As they fly down toward Rio, The Shadow intentionally runs low on fuel and must make a "forced landing" in the small banana republic of Centralba. Once safely landed in Centralba, the action really begins to heat up. They encounter Luis Castenago, the dictator who masquerades under the title of president. They meet Francisco Peridor, former president of Centralba and idol of the populace. And they begin the search for Murk Wessel and his mob of cutthroats.
Horror of horrors! As The Shadow sneaks into the presidential palace, he is captured. Yes, The Shadow is captured and put on trial. He is put on trial as "La Sombra" the cloaked figure who is recognized by many in this Central American country. Not only is he put on trial, but he is found guilty and sentenced to death before a firing squad. Yikes! Things are getting serious.
The only assistance that The Shadow receives from his agents comes in the form of Margo Lane. No other agents of The Shadow are present. And there's no assistance from any local law or international law figures, either. It's just The Shadow and Margo Lane. The Shadow appears in disguise as Lamont Cranston and as his true self Kent Allard. He also appears in the dark of night in his black cloak and slouch hat.
I should point out that this Margo Lane/Kent Allard story was unique. It was a singular, one-of-a-kind story. It was the first time she met The Shadow in his true guise as Kent Allard. It was also her last time meeting Allard. In all 325 of the original pulp adventures of The Shadow, Margo never again appeared in the same story as Allard. And never did she discover that Kent Allard was in reality The Shadow. Not even a hint; not a clue.
Margo Lane has no idea that Kent Allard is The Shadow. She knows that the man she recognizes as Lamont Cranston is The Shadow, and she figures he will be joining the group in Centralba soon. Kent Allard is just the pilot and famous adventurer of whom she has heard. At Cranston's suggestion, she makes friends with Allard, little realizing they are one and the same.
And since we're on the subject of Margo Lane, we get a little insight into her financial condition. Even though she's usually described as a member of the Manhattan society set, apparently she isn't all that wealthy. It seems that often, she can't afford the expensive hotels like the Equator in Miami. And even at the times when she could afford them, she considered the rates outlandish. When friends of hers were staying there, she would use her guest privileges, rather than check in. I'm guessing, though, that if she had need for money, The Shadow would see to it that she had all she needed.
This story was written by Walter Gibson in March of 1941 and published in October of that same year. By that time, the United States was edging close and closer to war. It's official entry into World War II would come less than two months later. So it's natural that there will be some mention of world tensions and politics. And a few racial slurs are tossed at the Japanese. All a sure sign that international tensions were rising.
A lesser writer than Walter Gibson might have left nagging little threads untied. For example, why did dictator Luis Castenago allow Colonel Durez and his men to leave the country with all that wealth? And why didn't The Shadow travel to Centralba as Lamont Cranston? And why didn't Castenago's men remove The Shadow's cloak and slouch hat during the trial, to see who he really was? Yes, a lesser writer would have trusted that the fast paced story wouldn't have allowed time for the reader to ponder such questions. But not so wordsmith Gibson. Everything is answered. Everything makes sense. And it makes this Shadow mystery/adventure an excellent one.
A few final points of interest. The Shadow uses his flashlight in this story. It's the special flashlight that has been described in previous stories. He normally uses it to signal his agents, by adjusting the colored lenses to red or green. Of course, he's not using it to signal agents in this story, because none of his agents, excepting Margo Lane, appear. But he uses it for something else; you'll have to read the story to find out exactly what. It is pretty clever.
I also noticed when Kent Allard flies his plane into Centralba, the roar of the motors awakens flocks of condors and sends them scattering. Apparently, the condors weren't an endangered species in 1941. It sounds as though they were in abundance at that time. A nice atmospheric touch from a time when condors were aplenty.
As mentioned earlier, The Shadow is referred to as "La Sombra" in this story. It is mentioned that many have heard of La Sombra from the times when he had visited other Caribbean countries on previous occasions. These stories were unrecorded by Walter Gibson, but certainly do add to The Shadow's international reputation. Perhaps, someday someone will pick up the mantle and continue writing The Shadow. And if so, we may get to read more of his Caribbean adventures.
This is a great Shadow novel that sweeps you up in international intrigue. Before you are done, you will encounter a mysterious marimba player, a Japanese agent named John Smith, intrigue at the Casino Internacional, earthquakes, smoking volcanoes, a flock of condors and hidden treasure beyond belief.
This is a Shadow novel that I can heartily recommend. It has a "Doc Savage" feel to it, with its broader international scope. Only The Shadow can find the criminal gang that murdered for millions. Only The Shadow can end the tyranny of Luis Castenago and free the populace of Centralba from the iron fist of the cruel dictator. You owe it to yourself to read this great Caribbean adventure of The Shadow.
John 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.