John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #43
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Key" was originally published in the June 1, 1934 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Perhaps it would be more accurate to entitle it "The Keys," for there's more than one. There are three keys in this story. Three mysterious keys that are linked together in intrigue and murder.
It all started several years ago when Hugo Verbeck, Attorney at Law, was engaged by a wealthy client who gave him a strange key. It was the key to a safe deposit box at the Paragon Trust Company. He was told that in the event of the client's death, Verbeck was to open the safe deposit box and distribute the contents among the client's heirs. Verbeck suspected this was an attempts to avoid inheritance taxes, but since he had no direct knowledge of the contents of the safe deposit box, he had no evidence. Only suspicion.
About a year later, the client died. But when Verbeck opened the safe deposit box to follow his prearranged orders, he found it empty. What was he to do? Had a crime been committed? Since no one knew the contents of the box, no one could say what, if anything, had been stolen. There was nothing to do but keep quiet.
Hugo Verbeck wasn't the only lawyer to be approached in such a manner. There was Clark Durton. He was also approached by a millionaire with a similar request. And after the millionaire's unfortunate demise, Durton also found his key opened an empty safe deposit box. And Kingsley Keith was another lawyer similarly engaged, only to find out at a later time that he was holding a key to nothing.
Someone has been setting up the wealthy clients and swindling them out of their millions. That same someone has been sending those clients to different lawyers to avoid suspicion. And now, that same someone is starting to murder the lawyers to erase all evidence of crime. Yes, Verbeck is killed by a mysterious gunshot. Clark Durton is killed by machine-gun fire on the streets of Manhattan. And Kingsley Keith is killed by Whitey Calban in front of The Shadow!
The Shadow is hot on the trail of crime. He knows that something sinister is going on. Each time he gets a lead, that trail is closed by death. The Shadow travels to Rio de Janerio to meet with Torrence Dilgin, a retired millionaire who has also been duped. But Dilgin mysteriously dies before The Shadow can talk to him. His last words... "The Key! One million dollars!" And his lawyer? Yes, he also finds an empty safe deposit box with the key entrusted to him. There's no million dollars in sight.
It's a mystery that surrounds lawyers. Lawyers who are suspect. Lawyers who are being murdered. Lawyers who have referred their clients with special keys. And the hidden mastermind just has to be... a lawyer! (And notice how scrupulously I've avoided making any lawyer jokes...)
The mystery of Torrence Dilgin's body; its hasty shipment from Rio on the Steamship Southern Star; the fact that Dilgin's lawyer Edwin Berlett had been bringing it north without embalming; the mysterious burial at sea -- all make for a most strange case for The Shadow. It's one that you'll find difficult to put down.
Appearing in this story are Clyde Burke of the New York Classic, Harry Vincent, Cliff Marsland, Rutledge Mann and The Shadow's faithful contact man Burbank. While The Shadow is in South America, Burbank takes over the daily routine of running affairs for The Shadow. We get a rare glimpse of the activities involved in his vital job for The Shadow. It's not often in these novels that we get to see an inside view of Burbank at work. It's a nice treat that makes this story extra special.
This early story was originally entitled "Death Millions." But I think the change to "The Key" is more appropriate.
"The Case of Congressman Coyd" was published in the December 15, 1935 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The Honorable Layton Coyd, member of the House of Representatives, is a famed congressman of sixty. A man of great political power. A man who can change national policy and control corporate destinies.
There's something strange going on with Congressman Coyd. He seems to be having a nervous breakdown. One minute he's normal, and fighting corruption. The next, he's making policies that will help the schemers and speculators. Is he in it for the money? Or does he have some ulterior motive? Is he honest? Or a grafter?
To clear up the mystery, Senator Ross Releston calls in The Shadow. Releston is chairman of various committees, and is concerned that powerful interests hidden in America will profit from the deregulations proposed by Congressman Coyd. He needs to find out what's going on. Senator Releston knows that somehow Lamont Cranston can contact that mysterious fighter who has aided the government in the past. He is sure that Cranston can bring The Shadow to Washington.
First, The Shadow sends in Clyde Burke. A few years ago, Burke had opened a news bureau in Washington, DC. The National City News Association had figured in the exposure of a criminal ring in Washington (see "The Embassy Murders," January 1, 1934). Because of the success of the bureau, The New York Classic hired him back, and the bureau was closed. But now, he reopens the news bureau in order to report the doings at the Capitol to The Shadow.
Next, The Shadow sends in Harry Vincent. On a previous adventure ("The Plot Master," February 1, 1935) Harry had been assigned as special secretary to Senator Releston. And now, Releston needs him again. He is to serve as an intermediary between Releston and Congressman Coyd. Only Vincent has the intelligence and loyalty to be trusted with this assignment.
Also brought into the case by The Shadow is Hawkeye. Hawkeye, the scrawny little trailer, had become an agent for The Shadow about a year earlier, in "The Chinese Disks." Before that, he had worked for Slade Farrow. He was first introduced in "The Green Box" in early 1934.
Cliff Marsland is also brought into the fray. Cliff had joined The Shadow in the April 1932 story "Mobsmen on the Spot." And one of The Shadow's earliest agents, Burbank, leaves his hidden headquarters in New York to travel to Washington and assist with electronic eavesdropping.
Now let's look at the others in the cast of characters. There's Congressman Coyd himself. An enigma of a man. What is he really working for? And his daughter, Evelyn. She's as confused about her father's strange behavior as the others.
Tyson Weed is the most persistent lobbyist in Washington. A bird that still hopes to sell the government a carload of gold bricks. He's due to get his.
Dunwood Rydel, magnate of many interests -- steel, coal, lumber and a dozen other things. Influential in Washington. What is his part in the mystery? And his daughter Beatrice Rydel, engaged to Montgomery Hadwil, who thinks he is the greatest character actor in the profession. Old Dunwood Rydel can't stand him, and has promised to disinherit his only daughter the moment she becomes Mrs. Montgomery Hadwil.
Foster Crozan just arrived in town. He's a man with a lot of money, mostly inherited, who's gone in for politics. A friend of Releston's.
Don Jurrick and Hugh Tabbert, secretaries to Congressman Coyd. Both are keeping a close eye on his beautiful daughter. Donald Lanson is secretary to Senator Releston. Can he be trusted?
Doctor Borneau, Congressman Coyd's personal physician, has a foreign accent. He happens to remain in Washington as he is preparing a series of speeches on Oriental diseases. Seems a bit sinister.
And rounding out the cast are Walbert and Quidler, private investigators working for lobbyist Tyson Weed. Neither knows the other is on the case. Why is Weed keeping them separate?
It will take The Shadow to sort out the connections in this strange case. And it will take The Shadow to reveal the secrets behind the unusual behavior of Congressman Coyd.
In this story, The Shadow appears in disguise as Lamont Cranston and Henry Arnaud. Cranston speaks with a slight drawl in this story. I don't remember that from any other story. Makes me wonder where Gibson was going with this.
Gibson has an interesting description of Cranston turning into Arnaud. The top part of Cranston's suitcase opens. An electric light illuminates a metal mirror. Long fingers work upon his face, molding it, changing its contours, applying dabs of puttylike make-up. Soon he is Henry Arnaud.
The Shadow's famous suction cups that assisted him in climbing the outside of buildings had been used frequently during the previous three years, but Walter Gibson was beginning to phase them out. In this story, The Shadow climbs the outside of the Halcyon Hotel from the eighth floor to the tenth floor, but without any assistance from those strange rubber discs. They would be used in future stories, but with less and less frequency.
A couple of interesting notes about Burbank in this story. As mentioned previously, Burbank has left his hidden room and joined The Shadow in Washington in this story. He sits in an eighth floor room at the Halcyon Hotel listening to what is happening two floors above.
In one scene, Burbank appears at Congressman Coyd's dressed as a workman. He surreptitiously passes a note to Harry Vincent. Vincent doesn't see his face, but recognizes his voice as being that of Burbank. Apparently, Vincent has never met Burbank in person. And here, he still doesn't get to see his face.
And speaking of Burbank's voice, The Shadow impersonates that voice in this story. We are told that Burbank is off duty, sleeping in another room, when the telephone buzzes. The Shadow answers it in the quiet, methodical tone that's a perfect imitation of Burbank's voice. Harry Vincent makes his report, never knowing he was giving it directly to his chief instead of Burbank. Apparently The Shadow doesn't want even his closest agents to know he occasionally answers the phone himself!
One final point of interest. In this story, Cliff Marsland tries The Shadow's system of unlocking a door with a thin prying tool. We are told that his efforts are comparatively clumsy. He requires several minutes to unlock the mechanism, whereas The Shadow would only need seconds, and he chips the woodwork in the bargain. Hey, if just anybody could do it, we wouldn't need 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.