John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #46
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The House That Vanished" was originally published in the October 15, 1935 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Murder takes place in an old house. Murder that is discovered by two men. But all traces of evidence vanish along with the house itself. The Shadow must find that evidence along with the house that vanished.
This story really sweeps you along on a thrilling ride. Then, after you have finished reading it, you look back on it and realize it was was pretty cliche-ridden. But all the cliches work. And it makes for a fun time adventuring with The Shadow in a lively mystery. But at it's heart, the story is firmly in the B-movie category. But that's not necessarily bad.
B-movies have taken a bad rap. As it turns out, B-movies are some of the most enjoyable movies I've watched. So think of this Shadow story as a B-movie. It's like sitting down in a 1930's movie theater watching an old Monogram mystery. The film, like this pulp story, is filled with cliches. But they make the story feel familiar; comfortable. And they probably weren't noticed as cliches back then; it's only from being repeated so many times since then that they have taken on that aura.
It is a dark and stormy night. Now, don't roll your eyes; yes, it's a cliche but it works in this case. Jay Goodling, the new county prosecutor of Sheffield County is driving down a muddy country road in the storm. In the car with him is his good friend Fred Lanford. The two are on their way to Westbury. The bridge is out, and they are forced to take a little-used side road. The car skids and the two find themselves seeking shelter in an old house out in the country. I don't know about you, but I can almost see the film on the screen before my eyes. It's a typical murder mystery from a low-budget studio. You rub your hands in glee, as the story unfolds.
A servant answers the door. He's a huge, stoop-shouldered brute who only grunts. The two men enter to dry themselves, as the servant goes to call his master. You've seen movies like this many times before, and you know that something's going to happen. Will the master of the manor be some crazed scientist? You wouldn't be surprised.
A young raven haired beauty mysteriously appears in the room with the two men. She is dressed all in black. Like her hair, the darkness of her costume accentuates her pallor. A white face; red lips. Tensely, she implores them, "You must go! It is not safe here." Then she flees the room.
In an adjoining room, the two men find a horrible sight. The dead body of a man, lying on his back, his unseeing eyes staring upward. Shot through the heart at close range. Croy, the giant servant, ushers his master into the room. There is a physical altercation, and the two young men are overpowered by the hulking brute. And the lights go out.
Yes, this pulp story should have been made into a movie by one of the poverty row producers. It has all the classic elements. As I read the story, it was as though an old grainy film was being projected onto a screen before me.
The following morning, the storm has passed. Jay Goodling and Fred Lanford awake to find themselves in their car. It sits, not in front of an old house, but on the edge of an embankment beside the washed-out bridge. Each thinks he has had a horrible dream until the two compare notes and realize that the adventure in the storm actually did happen. They retrace their steps to find the house that holds a murder victim, but when they arrive, they find that the house has vanished. All traces of the crime have disappeared, even to the building in which it occurred!
There are so many common stereotypes in this old bromide that I've already lost count. There's always the danger that such a story could become trite and boring. But in this case, they just serve to make it delightful and exciting. They don't make 'em like that, anymore. So I read on with great anticipation.
Soon, The Shadow enters the picture. The Shadow reads a newspaper account of the strange occurrence of the vanishing house with it's murder victim. He sets out to solve the mystery. Clyde Burke and Harry Vincent are sent ahead to scout the situation. Clyde goes in his capacity as reporter for the Classic, and Harry joins him as a fellow newspaper man. Together, they lay the groundwork for The Shadow.
These are the only two recurring characters in the story. There is a brief mention of Rutledge Mann at the story's beginning, as he collects newspaper clippings and passes them along to his master. But after that, Clyde and Harry are the only two agents involved in this exciting mystery. And The Shadow, when he appears, is always the black-cloaked scourge of crime. He never appears in any guise, whether it be Lamont Cranston, Henry Arnaud or any other. He's just... The Shadow!
As the story unfolds, we discover that the beautiful young mystery woman is an heiress. But of course! Who else would we find in a B-movie? She's just days away from turning twenty-one and inheriting a vast fortune. There are two opposing factions. One group holds the beautiful Myra Dolthan. Is she their prisoner, or do they guard her from the second group who wishes her death? The second group is headed by Rufus Dolthan, her uncle. Is he really out to kill her and take control of the fortune? Or is he out to rescue her from those who would confiscate her wealth as soon as she legally inherits it? We're never sure exactly who to root for until the very end. Only then does The Shadow reveal the truth behind the entire mystery.
This is the 1935 version of The Shadow. He works mysteriously in the background, and we don't see a lot of him. Clyde Burke and Harry Vincent carry most of the story. They are our proxy heroes in this story. And Myra Dolthan is the proxy heroine whom we are all pulling for.
We get to visit The Shadow's blue-lit sanctum. He wears his trademark girasol ring. And when he meets up with young Myra Dolthan, he displays that distinctive ring. He explains that the ring is his token, and she will always be able to recognize him by it, no matter what his guise.
One thing that puzzled me was a giant Russian wolf-hound in the story. It appeared in the house before that house vanished. When the gang moved to other quarters with Myra Dolthan, the dog was mentioned again. It seemed like a future encounter with The Shadow was being set up. A scene in which The Shadow could demonstrate his mastery over the animal. But it never happened. By the time The Shadow was skulking through the darkened headquarters, there was no further mention of the hound. Maybe those scenes got cut out by the editors to make space. Or maybe author Walter Gibson intended to write such scenes, but changed his mind. It was something I was looking forward to reading, and was disappointed to find missing.
But that's about the only disappointment in this story. Otherwise, it was a top-notch mystery which I enjoyed immensely. It's a classic story in several senses of the term. I can recommend this story for both Shadow fans and casual readers. You'll be drawn into a web of intrigue and mystery that is pure joy to read.
And don't be surprised if you, too, can easily imagine watching a movie of this story projected on the silver screen of your imagination.
"Wizard of Crime" was originally published in the August 15, 1939 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A little over three years later, a second story would be published in The Shadow Magazine with the same title. The two stories were entirely separate and had nothing in common, excepting the accidental usage of the same title. Of the two, this Shadow mystery was clearly the better.
Our proxy hero for this tale is young Ralph Atgood, recently out of a job. He's engaged to beautiful Alicia Weylan whose father is a wealthy owner of a patent-medicine business. He needs to prove himself responsible and gainfully employed, in order to win the approval of old Carter J. Weylan. So when he's offered a job working for the mysterious philanthropist R. G. Dean, he can't be choosy.
Atgood will be responsible for correspondence, delivery of important packages and other such matters. He will receive his orders from Frederick Glenny, who manages the affairs of Mr. Dean. And being the innocent young man that he is, he accepts the position. Little does he realize that his unseen benefactor R. G. Dean is in reality a swindler and extortionist. And gradually, Ralph Atgood will be drawn into the web of crime and deceit.
One of R. G. Dean's victims is Eugene Bristow, president of the Chem-Lab Company. He sabotages Fibrolast, their fiber-finishing formula. The secret formula is dangerous and can easily ignite. But it's all because of Dean's sabotage. He is forcing Bristow to purchase an alternate formula from the Experimento Company for a half million dollars.
Eugene Bristow is going to consult with famed chemist Ray Parringer. He'll give him the secret formula for Fibrolast, and see if he can test it and find a way to salvage the formula. The mysterious R. G. Dean, of course, doesn't want this. If the Fibrolast formula can be fixed, he won't be able to extort the half million from Bristow under the guise of selling him an alternate formula. Dean is out to get chemist Ray Parringer. But he doesn't count on the intervention by The Shadow.
Yes, The Shadow is on the scene! The Shadow is keeping an eye on Parringer, in an effort to keep him from harm. But R. G. Dean has young Ralph Atgood deliver a sample of the Fibrolast formula that has been modified to explode. And explode it does, destroying the laboratory and killing Ray Parringer in the accident. The Shadow barely escapes death, and although injured, is taken to Dr. Rupert Sayre who nurses him back to health.
Because of the incident at Parringer's laboratory, R. G. Dean has discovered that Lamont Cranston is The Shadow. Now, Dean is out to get The Shadow, to remove him as an obstacle to his extortion schemes. And the death traps start appearing. Death traps all designed for The Shadow!
One of the death traps involves the revolving door to an office building. It's one of those glass affairs that's divided into four sections. When a victim steps into the revolving door, it locks halfway around and scalding white steam fills the interior. Boiled alive by an automatic jet of steam!
And then there's the strange bomb at the Cobalt Club. When Cranston walks down the steps to the grillroom, a cylinder is propelled into the air. A fountain of greenish liquid spurts forth, instantly turning the air into a thickish vapor that kills by petrification. The Shadow escapes, but a parrot in the grillroom is petrified hard as a rock. Makes me wonder exactly what was in that gas bomb. Unfortunately, it was left unexplained.
The Shadow decides that his Cranston disguise is becoming more of a liability than an asset, so he has the newspapers announce that Cranston is heading south on an exploration trip up the Amazon River, to return in six months. But in actuality, we know that after throwing off the crooks in Havana, The Shadow will return to Manhattan to continue his battle against the strange wizard of crime known as R. G. Dean.
The wizard of crime strikes again and yet again. The Sololight Corporation falls victim to R. G. Dean, when he starts a whispering campaign denouncing their product as using dangerous phosphorous. Under his pressure, they are forced to purchase a newly developed replacement chemical compound. Purchase at great price!
He shakes down a huge dye corporation by threatening to put a cheaper process on the market. Thus, he forces them to buy the alternate process at great profit to himself. He cuts off the supply of a special chemical to a wax-products company, in order to exact another small fortune from the company. The wizard of crime strikes again and again.
The Shadow must stop this unknown mastermind who calls himself R. G. Dean. He must free young Ralph Atgood from the evil clutches of the criminal. He must release Atgood's beautiful finance from the metal coffin filled with sleeping gas, where she is being kept to force Atgood's loyalty to the wizard of crime. All this The Shadow must do. And so he does!
Assisting The Shadow are his secret agents including Moe Shrevnitz, who drives The Shadow's taxicab, Harry Vincent, his most capable agent, Cliff Marsland, agent who hob-knobs with big-shots in the underworld, Hawkeye, the crafty spotter who can trail anything larger than a flea, Clyde Burke, who works for the New York Classic, and insurance broker Rutledge Mann.
The Shadow's personal physician Dr. Rupert Sayre is mentioned several times, but doesn't actually appear. The Shadow is sent to Dr. Sayre's clinic twice in this story. Yes, twice, he's injured severely enough to be sent to Dr. Sayre's. That's most unusual. He sure could have used that phial of purplish liquid to help him in those moments of pain and weakness. But, alas, the strange elixir doesn't appear in this mystery.
The forces of the police are well represented by Police Commissioner Ralph Weston, Inspector Joe Cardona and even Federal agent Vic Marquette. It's always good to see Vic Marquette again.
The Shadow doesn't get to use his abilities at disguise much in this story. He uses his Cranston disguise, as he does so often. But that's it. He doesn't appear as any other characters, sorry to say.
We do get a rare glimpse into The Shadow's laboratory, in the black tiled room adjoining his sanctum. It's here where The Shadow tests the chemical formula for Fibrolast that's given to Ray Parringer. And when he spills some of the liquid, he cleans it up with a large black cloth. Yes, even the rags that The Shadow uses are black. No normal rags for him!
The Shadow goes through several different outfits of black cloak and slouch hat. One is ripped to tatters in the laboratory explosion at Parringer's. But luckily, The Shadow has plenty of backups available. There must be a seamstress out there getting rich on making spare outfits for The Shadow. There always seems to be a need for more!
The Shadow also looses a brace of guns in the ruins of Parringer's laboratory, but as with his costume, he has extras. I think he must have an arsenal of firearms, if you start counting the times he has discarded spent automatics in the heat of battle.
Several methods of secret signaling are mentioned in this story. The Shadow uses colored lenses on his flashlight, as he has done in other stories. Flashing red or green indicates to his agents whether they should wait or follow him. Blinking ordinary white light is the way he sends Moe a brief coded message.
The Shadow also signals his agents by means of his eyes and head. Yes, there's an actual visual code that he uses with Harry Vincent:
Then came The Shadow's signals. He gave them with his eyes, whenever he gazed toward Harry. The changes of Cranston's glances, with the slight tilts of his head, spelled the letters of a visual code: "Watch Atgood. Look for a gun."
The Pulaski Skyway gets a brief mention. This was the featured landmark in the famous Shadow novel "Death Rides the Skyway" from February 1, 1936. Author Walter Gibson mentioned it in several of his Shadow novels, following this one.
Oh, and did you notice that the villain, R. G. Dean, is an anagram for "DANGER"? Walter Gibson was fond of such things, and they appear several times a year in his Shadow stories.
The title of this story, as mentioned previously, was used by accident for a totally different story in 1943. And this isn't the only time such a thing happened. Two other titles were also accidentally used twice: "The Shadow Meets The Mask" and "Alibi Trail," plus there were a couple of other really close misses. So, such things happened more often than one might suspect. But keep in mind that these stories were produced at a breakneck speed by Street & Smith which also had many other pulps coming out at the same time. So it's not surprising that some editor didn't catch a duplicate title occasionally.
This was a fun story, in which The Shadow battles against an unseen supercriminal who discovers The Shadow's identity and is out to destroy him. Lots of cool death traps are always a plus, too. If you get a chance, you should read this one. Just be sure to get the 1939 story, not the 1943 story with the same title by mistake. This is the good one.
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.