John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #45
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Terror Island" was published in the August 15, 1936 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Upon the island, a group of castaways will inadvertently include The Shadow. This group will encounter death. Death and terror. And only The Shadow will be able to defeat the sinister forces at work on Terror Island!
The island is actually known as Timour Isle. It is but one of many that line the Georgia coast. It once formed a colonial plantation house; the manor house in the center of the isle, a look-out house on the Atlantic side and slave quarters on the inland side. But it's now overgrown with jungle. The only person living on the island is Purvis Elger, an academic who has restored the look-out house and lives there with his two servants. But our story doesn't open with him or with the island.
Our story opens in Florida in the spacious bungalow of New York millionaire James Tolwig. Tolwig has an appointment to meet with George Dalavan. Dalavan has in his possession the famed tiara that once was owned by the Princess de Lamballe, favorite of Marie Antoinette. The Shadow sends Tolwig a note advising him not to meet with Dalavan until after nine o'clock. But James Tolwig ignores the advice and meets Dalavan early.
Dalavan, it turns out, is a purveyor of stolen goods. The tiara was stolen from a French duke, and Tolwig can now purchase it at less than half its value. Tolwig is shocked, but Dalavan assures him that he sells many stolen articles to wealthy men such as Tolwig. A big steel man in Chicago purchased a tapestry stolen from Buckingham Palace. A movie magnate bought a collection of rare gold coins originally belonging to the Munich Museum. Yes, this is a large multi-million-dollar racket, and Dalavan is just a small part of it.
James Tolwig and his secretary Bagland confront the fence George Dalavan. They refuse to take part in the racket, and attempt to place Dalavan under arrest. There's a pitched gun-battle, and both Bagland and James Tolwig are slain by Dalavan and a treacherous servant of Tolwig's. Tolwig ignored the advice of The Shadow and met with Dalavan early. He has paid the price.
The Shadow appears at nine-o'clock at the climax of the gun battle. The treacherous servant is killed, but George Dalavan makes good his escape. Rather than follow Dalavan to New York, The Shadow must return to Havana to continue a mission he had left in mid-execution. He had left Havana and flown to Florida to save James Tolwig. In that he failed. But he must now return to Havana and pick up where he had left off.
In Havana, wealthy shoe manufacturer Kingdon Feldworth boards his yacht the Maldah. He and his guests have taken a cruise down from New York, and he is preparing to leave Havana and return north. While in Havana, he has completed secret negotiations for a million dollars in Cuban treasure. The valuables had belonged to a Cuban who had fled Havana at the time of the revolution, and Feldworth had secured them for a mere two hundred thousand dollars. The jewels; the gold coins; the other treasure, is all hidden on the Maldah awaiting transport back to New York.
As the slim yacht prepares to depart, Kingdon Feldworth's niece Francine and his other guests come aboard. One is Bram Jalway, a business promoter who has traveled to many places in the world. Kingdon Feldworth, a great traveler himself, has always made friends with other globe-trotters. Another guest is Seth Hadlow, a millionaire sportsman. And finally there's elderly Professor Thaddeus Marcolm, a mathematician.
One of the persons on the yacht the Maldah is actually The Shadow. It seems that crime was in abeyance in New York. It was a logical time for The Shadow to take a vacation, so he joined Feldworth on a cruise south. We are not told his identity. He could be one of the guests or one of the crewmen. But while he's here, he will safeguard the secret treasure that Feldworth has hidden aboard the yacht.
On the cruise back north, the Maldah is overtaken by a hurricane. It is swept in toward the Georgia coast. Afraid that the ship may be swamped in the storm, Feldworth sends his guests and his niece ashore on the nearby island. While Feldworth and the crew stay aboard and try to limp to any inlet where the ship can be beached, the four guests and two crew members take to the lifeboats and row toward Timour Isle.
What do they find on Timour Isle? As mentioned above, they find Purvis Elger living in the small look-out house, the remaining habitable building among the colonial ruins. But they find more. Much more. They find death. Strange gangs roam the island. Lights appear in the woods. There are underground passages. Hidden tunnels. Secret entrances. Caverns originally used by pirates.
And, by a surprising coincidence, the gang of smugglers who were responsible for the death of James Tolwig in Florida. OK, this may be stretching the laws of probability quite a bit, but yes, the ring of racketeers who steal from rich Europeans and sell the stolen pelf to wealthy Americans has their headquarters upon the very island that those from the Maldah have been cast away.
The Shadow must avenge the death of James Tolwig. He must break up the international crew of smugglers and thieves. He must safeguard the castaways on Timour Isle. And he must unmask the identity of the leader of the gang. It's going to be quite a job for the master of the night. But luckily, he has his aides upon whom he can call.
Assisting The Shadow in this story are recent recruit Hawkeye, long-time agent Harry Vincent and underground contact Cliff Marsland. The Shadow is able to secretly send out a message to these agents in New York, and they find berth aboard a ship heading toward the island in order to join their master. Exactly how is he able to send such a message in the middle of a hurricane? It's pretty neat, and involves morse code and a message within a message. But I won't say any more. I don't want to spoil it.
Also assisting The Shadow in New York are Rutledge Mann, Burbank and The Shadow's good friend Slade Farrow. Farrow has, in times of emergency, supplied able workers for The Shadow. Rutledge Mann calls upon Farrow to help out once more. It is the only time I can remember Mann having direct contact with Farrow. A singular occasion, indeed!
This story has all of Gibson's little touches that make reading The Shadow so interesting. One of my favorites is the hulking servants who don't speak and have only one name. In this story, it's Golga and Royne. Yes, they are quite forbidding and sinister. And quite typically Gibson!
It took over two years for this story to be published. Although completed in May of 1934, it wasn't published until August of 1936. Walter Gibson was writing at a fantastic pace, during these years. The editors at Street & Smith probably had quite a backlog of stories from which to choose. But why they put off printing this one, I don't know. It's a great Shadow story, and one which they should have been anxious to publish.
Interestingly enough, a year later in the fall of 1937, there was a Shadow radio broadcast that used the same title, "Terror Island." The plot had nothing to do with this pulp story... well, except there was an island, obviously. The radio adventure took place on a small tropical island off Haiti, and dealt with voodoo. Not even close to the pulp story being reviewed here.
It's a great Shadow mystery. I wasn't sure exactly which character was The Shadow in disguise until nearly the very end. And when Walter Gibson can fool me, that's a good sign.
"City of Ghosts" was originally published in the November 15, 1939 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Pomelo City, Florida, is the city of the title. It's rapidly becoming a ghost town. Nearly everyone has left town, because of the strange run of bad luck that has plagued the region. But The Shadow knows that something funny is going on here. So, disguised as Lamont Cranston, he travels to the area to uncover the strange goings-on.
The term "pomelo" is the correct name for grapefruit. When growers first came to this area of Florida, they specialized in grapefruit, so when the town formed, it was naturally called Pomelo City. And now the once bustling city is nearly deserted. All because of a series of unfortunate events. There's the scourge of the Mediterranean fruit fly; the appearance of some sinkholes; the drying up of a lake, a cattle epidemic, a reappearance of the supposedly extinct black wolf, which had once roamed wild in Florida; and finally, reports of accidents - hunters shot by mistake, and automobiles wrecked through chance collisions. It's all too much; people have moved out and away.
Only three men remain. Martin Welf is the proprietor of the Pomelo Hotel. He's a portly, baldish man, a one-man staff of clerk and bellboy, as well as hotel owner. Chester Tilyon, Realtor, is a haggard man with gray-streaked hair. And Louis Bayne, a half-starved man who owns the local department store. They are all that's left of the once thriving town.
Outside of town is the old Severn mansion. The place is owned by Laura Severn and her brother Roger, who's an invalid. The house was built a hundred years ago, and it's belonged to the Severns ever since, although the estate has dwindled along with their fortunes. Graham Clenwick has helped them out, buying up the mortgage so they wouldn't be evicted. He lives there at the house, paying them enough rent to carry the interest charges.
The Shadow is certain that one of this group is masterminding the "accidents" that seem to plague the area. Who it is, and what his motives are, remain unknown. Could it have to do with the mysterious sinkholes that seem to pop up with no warning? Or perhaps the close-by Kewanee Springs, "Nature's Wonderland," with its golden grottoes, crystal waters, and unspoiled jungle? Or is there some other sinister purpose behind the mystery?
Only The Shadow can resolve this strange situation. And so he does, alone and without the aid of his agents. Well, up until the end of the story, anyway. His agents do travel down to Florida near the end of the novel, to take part in the climax. But their part is only described in general terms, and nearly all of the action is carried by The Shadow.
One interesting earlier battle is that of Lamont Cranston against an alligator. Cranston is known as a world-adventurer and hunter, so it's not all that out of character for him to jump into the water and fight an alligator bare-handed when lovely young Laura Severn is attacked by the beast. But usually, we see The Shadow as the man of action and Lamont Cranston as the languid, calm and somewhat lazy individual. It's nice to see Cranston jump into action, even if it's not the "real" Cranston, but The Shadow in his Cranston disguise.
One other note of minor interest is a comment made that "There's no State coppers here in Florida." Say what? I thought that all states had State Police. Was this really true back in 1939? Or was it just fiction?
The setting in this Shadow story is a nice change of pace. I really enjoyed reading it.
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.