John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #44
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Atoms of Death" was originally published
in the July 15, 1935 issue of The Shadow Magazine. It's The Shadow vs.
an atomic ray gun. Crime has struck Manhattan -- crime aided by an evil
inventor and his sinister device that can disintegrate matter. The
Shadow must meet this ultimate challenge or become dispersed into "Atoms
This is another top-notch 1935 story that shows off The Shadow's amazing
abilities. We get to see The Shadow return in his guise as Henry
Arnaud, and in his most familiar role impersonating millionaire Lamont
Cranston. We even get to witness a rare conversation between the "real"
Cranston and the "fake" Cranston. And this story brings back the
character of Bruce Duncan, who was our proxy hero in two previous
stories, "The Eyes of The Shadow" and "Red Menace."
Long ago, Bruce Duncan had identified Cliff Marsland, a man of repute in
gangland, as a secret agent of The Shadow. Now, he seeks out Marsland
to deliver a warning to The Shadow. Crime is about to strike! Crime
unlike anything that Manhattan has ever seen.
It seems that since we last saw him, Bruce Duncan has been working as
secretary for an inventor by the name of Professor Baldridge Jark. The
professor has invented an atomic disintegrator ray, and while it is
still in its infancy, it already holds an amazing power. Right now, it
can only project a foot or so in front of its large concave bowl. But
the professor is working on extending the range to five miles or more.
He has visions of squadrons of airplanes dematerializing under the
withering effect of his machine; of melting battleships. This creation
is more than just a future danger; it's a danger right now.
While working for the professor, Bruce Duncan has overheard things. He
has seen mobsters hold clandestine meetings with old professor Jark. The
professor is entering into crime! The disintegrator device has plenty
of power, in its current form, to burrow into impregnable vaults.
Jewelry stores, bank vaults and more will all lie open to his diabolical
invention. And that's his plan. A crime wave is impending. Bruce Duncan
knows that he must warn The Shadow.
Unfortunately, Bruce Duncan is being tracked by the cutthroats who have
joined forces with Professor Jark. Early in this story, he is attacked
by them, only to be saved by The Shadow. The black cloaked specter of
the night takes the injured Duncan to Dr. Rupert Sayre, where he slowly
recuperates while the story progresses. Basically, he's out of action
for the majority of the story. So while we don't get to see a lot of
him, it's still good to see him back again after several years.
The Shadow takes matters directly in hand and sets out for Professor
Jark's large old house. What he doesn't count upon is a series of
diabolical electrical booby-traps set by the wily inventor. And before
you can blink an eye, The Shadow falls prey to one of those sinister
traps. Huge arcs of electricity shoot a powerful current through our
hero. Rendered helpless by the terrific electric shock, The Shadow
becomes a prisoner of the evil inventor.
It's not often that we see The Shadow a helpless prisoner, but we do
here. The powerful jolts of electricity have left him weak as a kitten.
He's securely bound to a chair and his slouch hat is removed to reveal
the features of Lamont Cranston. Luckily The Shadow was wearing his
Cranston disguise under his black garb. But how will he extricate
himself from this perilous situation? I'll leave it to you to read the
story to find out.
With The Shadow out of the way, the professor can continue his reign of
crime without interference. The police can't stop him; no one can! His
plan is clever. He uses his disintegrator to burrow through the
foundations of buildings. He makes off with the currency, jewels, gold
or whatever. Then, after a safe getaway, he blows up the tunnel that he
has created, destroying all evidence of the disintegration ray. Police
are lead to believe that crooks had dynamited their way in. But how they
made off with the loot and disappeared so quickly remains a mystery.
This is a most enjoyable Shadow mystery to read. It's got a lot of cool
stuff in it. There are those underworld dives with strangely romantic
names like The Black Ship, The Pink Rat and Crazy Tochler's pool room.
We get to visit The Shadow's sanctum and watch him write his thoughts
down on paper in his strange blue ink that gradually fades away to
nothing. We get to see the usual gang of The Shadow's agents, including a
rare appearance by Tapper.
Tapper, you may remember, was an expert at locks who worked for The
Shadow's mentor Slade Farrow. He was loaned out to The Shadow
occasionally, and eventually became associated with The Shadow, even
when Slade Farrow wasn't in the story. But he didn't actually show up in
all that many Shadow stories. By my count, he was only in ten of the
over three-hundred pulp novels. So when he does show up, as he does in
this story, it's good to see him.
Two other lesser-seen characters are Stanley and Richards. They are
Lamont Cranston's chauffeur and valet -- the real Cranston's servants.
But when The Shadow takes on the guise of Cranston for his own purposes,
these two serve as unwitting agents of The Shadow. They always labored
under the impression that they were serving their true master, and never
suspected someone else was using his identity. Both appear in this
The more familiar agents of The Shadow who appear in this story are
Clyde Burke, newspaper reporter for the New York Classic, Moe Shrevnitz,
crafty taxi-driver, Harry Vincent, one of The Shadow's most experienced
agents, Cliff Marsland, purported gangland triggerman, Hawkeye, the
trailer extraordinaire, and Miles Crofton, The Shadow's personal pilot.
And, yes, we get to see him fly the famed autogiro at the story's
climax. Dr. Rupert Sayre also appears; he's not an agent, exactly; but
certainly is a friend and aide of The Shadow.
As for the police of New York City, Detective Joe Cardona makes another
of his many appearances. Wainwright Barth is the acting police
commissioner. This story was written during the period that the previous
commissioner, Ralph Weston, was out of the country. Also appearing for
the law is detective sergeant Markham. He's a minor recurring character,
but worth noting.
One of the high points of this story is when Harry Vincent gets to dress
up in the black cloak and slouch hat, and pretend to be The Shadow.
And, he gets away with it. With plenty of support from his fellow
agents, the fake Shadow lays down a blanket of gunfire that only the
true Shadow could do alone. And the gangsters fall for it. The disguise
is proven; they truly believe he is The Shadow. This isn't the first
time that Harry has gotten to don the cloak and hat, but it didn't
happen very often.
Another high point is when we get to see Cliff Marsland and Hawkeye both
wearing tuxedos. They are both assigned to visit the Club Cadilly, and
in order to do so have to dress up. Talk about two fish out of water!
Usually these two patrol the badlands in grimy, worn clothes. So what a
shock it is to see them all cleaned up and shiny, looking gentlemanly in
Yet one more high point of this story is when Cliff Marsland is captured
and identified as an agent of The Shadow. He is tortured to identify
his master, and comes mighty close to spilling his guts before he is
miraculously saved by The Shadow. Whew! It's a great scene.
It's also pretty cool when we get to see The Shadow open his flat
make-up box and change his disguise. Author Walter Gibson is always a
little vague about exactly how he changes his visage, but it involves
his fingers moving nimbly across his face. Soon, his face takes on a new
look. The Shadow is a master of disguise, and he gets to demonstrate
that ability once again in this story. He becomes a twin for "Pete," one
of the thugs working for Professor Jark.
Probably the very best part of this story is when the two Cranstons sit
down for a long talk. It takes place in Cranston's New Jersey mansion in
an upstairs bedroom. Servants walking outside the closed door believe
they hear Cranston talking to himself. But inside, it's The Shadow,
disguised as Lamont Cranston, talking with the real Lamont Cranston. We
rarely get to see these two together, and its a real treat to see them
discuss their unique situation.
They compare notes, something that's especially important since The
Shadow must evidence a convincing portrayal of Lamont Cranston. It seems
the real Cranston has recently picked up a new expression, "Jove." Now
The Shadow must remember that for future reference, and use it when
appropriate. Doubling for another person certainly isn't easy!
This is one of those stories that has a very satisfying ending. You've
been waiting for the whole story to see the attacking gang of cutthroats
being withered down by the disintegration ray. And, yes, it happens!
The newly completed long-range model crackles with blue lightening. The
mouth of the death machine moves back and forth, spraying instant death
upon the massed hoard of gangsters. The mobsters drop like flies. And
that's just the way you would want it, too. A most satisfying conclusion
to a wonderful Shadow mystery pulp.
This is another Shadow story that gets my strong recommendation.
Happily, there are many Shadow stories that get such a recommendation.
Especially those from the early and mid-thirties. This is definitely one
of them. Read it; you won't regret it!
"Buried Evidence" was originally published in the September 1, 1937 issue of The Shadow Magazine. But the evidence won't be buried for long. Because someone is gathering up that evidence. Murdering to do it, but getting it at any cost. All so they can use the evidence in blackmail. What evidence is this? Well, let's start at the beginning.
Young Ludlow Rhyde came from a wealthy family. A little over two years before our story starts, young Ludlow's stepfather, Black Hoburn, died of natural causes. While the estate was being settled, Ludlow had money to spend. And spend it he did. Fast cars, fast women.
Then came the accident. He was driving out to the old family hunting lodge, nudging the speedometer up to sixty as he usually did, when he crashed his car into another automobile. The other driver, a man with no relatives named James Silven, was killed in the accident. Young Ludlow Rhyde was convicted of manslaughter and was sentenced to the minimum two-year sentence. While he was serving that sentence, the estate of his stepfather was settled and he came into millions of dollars.
As our story opens, young Ludlow has just been released from jail. An old friend, a ne'er-do-well named Herbert Widdington, gives him some shocking news. It appears that the man killed in the automobile accident was actually someone else. The dead man was in reality Dennis Carston, the long lost nephew of old Black Hoburn, and the true heir to the Hoburn millions.
Herbert Widdington, the old friend, had covered things up, back two years ago, so that young Ludlow wouldn't be accused of killing the rightful heir. If it had appeared that he had killed the true heir of millions, so that he could inherit it instead, the charge would have been first-degree murder, not manslaughter. And that would have meant... the chair!
But Herbert covered up for young Ludlow, and no one else knows that it was really Dennis Carston who died in that accident. Rhyde has his millions, and Herbert Widdington has the secret. It's a secret for which he wants to be paid. Yes, we're talking blackmail, here!
There are some people who have evidence. Evidence that has been buried for some time. Evidence to establish the true identity of the man killed in the automobile accident. Evidence which will prove the dead man was not James Silven, but actually rightful heir Dennis Carston. Suddenly, one by one, those men start dying. And the evidence has disappeared.
Is Widdington going around knocking off young Ludlow's friends to acquire his blackmail evidence? Or is it thug Badger Grifflin, Widdington's henchman? Maybe gangland big-shot Kale Bewer is muscling in on the act. Or could it be kindly old family attorney Curtiss Haslock? The Shadow has his job cut out for him in this strange mystery. But only The Shadow can unveil the secrets behind the murders. Only The Shadow can unmask the true killer.
Appearing in this story are all the usual characters. The Shadow appears as himself as well as in disguise as Lamont Cranston and Henry Arnaud. He's assisted by his agents Cliff Marsland, Burbank, Hawkeye, Moe Shrevnitz and Clyde Burke. And the law is represented by Police Commissioner Ralph Weston and ace inspector Joe Cardona.
It should be noted that in the earlier stories, Commission Weston didn't believe The Shadow was a real person. He preferred to think of him as a myth. That's changed by this story. At the climax of this story, The Shadow reveals the identity of the killer in Weston's presence. Yes, Weston knows that The Shadow is real!
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.