The Shadow's radio origins are showcased in two classic pulp novels by Walter Gibson, writing as Maxwell Grant. First, the Dark Avenger teams with Secret Service agent Vic Marquette to investigate a far-reaching counterfeiting ring in "The Shadow Laughs!", the landmark novel that introduced the real Lamont Cranston. Then, how can The Shadow prove that an innocent man is not a murderer when several witnesses have identified the young man as the "Voice of Death"? This instant collector's item features the original color pulp covers by Jerome Rozen and Graves Gladney, classic interior illustrations by Tom Lovell and Edd Cartier, and commentary by popular-culture historians Will Murray and Anthony Tollin.
John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #49
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Shadow Laughs" was originally published in the October 1931 issue of The Shadow
Magazine. When murder strikes, The Shadow challenges the might of one
hidden mastermind who reigns supreme in the criminal underworld.
During the eighteen year run of the Shadow pulp magazine, there was an
amazing consistency in the series, probably due to the fact that Walter
Gibson wrote most of the stories. So it's a bit jarring when I read this
story and found a few inconsistencies. In any other pulp series, that
would be nearly taken for granted. But in the case of The Shadow, it's a
surprise indeed. The characterization is a little off, the backgrounds
are a little off and the guise of The Shadow is a little off. But all
that can be laid to the fact that this was only the third story in the
series, and not all the elements had yet jelled. Gibson was
experimenting with a few things -- minor things, to be sure -- and it
And with that caveat, I still think this is a terrific Shadow story.
It's surprisingly long, at over 54,000 words, about 10,000 more than
usual. But it's easy to read, and I didn't notice the extra length. This
particular story has an important place in the magazine series; it
contains key elements and help develop the title character and the
supporting characters. All of this I'll explain after you get some
general overview of the plot.
Murder strikes in Philadelphia. Frank Jarnow has discovered a sinister
plot that involves wealthy clubman Henry Windsor and his younger brother
Blair. Windsor tries to warn Henry, but as he is about to reveal the
plot, he is shot by an unknown killer. Henry Windsor is framed for
Frank's death. Detective Harvey Griffith, the keenest man on the Philly
police force gets too close to the hidden murderer, and is killed by the
same mystery man!
Now all this is just the window wrapping that gets out story started.
For most of the story, the chapters alternate between Manhattan where
The Shadow tracks down the identity of the hired killer and his cohorts,
and Brookdale, somewhere in Massachusetts, where Harry Vincent has been
sent to guard young Blair, brother of the man framed for murder, Henry
Windsor, and discover the true nature of the threat. And that's when
things start getting interesting. There's a whole crew of suspicious
people staying with Blair at his country mansion. Vincent must weed out
the suspects before disaster strikes!
By the climax of the story, the reader has discovered that the
mastermind behind the whole plot is old Isaac Coffran. That's not giving
away any vital plot elements; it's revealed to the reader about a third
of the way into the story. Isaac Coffran first appeared in the previous
issue "Eyes of The Shadow." He escaped justice at the end of that
story, to reappear here in this one.
Coffran isn't the only recurring adversary of The Shadow. Another
character reappearing from a previous story is Steve Cronin. Cronin was a
gangster who appeared in the first two Shadow novels. Having slipped
past The Shadow in the previous two, he appears in this third one, still
as nasty as ever! This time, The Shadow will get him for sure... maybe.
Spotter and Birdie Crull are two more gangsters who show up in this pulp
tale, who had previous run-ins with The Shadow. Birdie Crull was a
cold-blooded killer who escaped The Shadow's vengeance in the first
novel "The Living Shadow." Spotter had appeared in both the previous
magazine stories as a small wiry hoodlum who slinks through the criminal
underworld. He was something of a template for the character who was
later introduced as an agent of The Shadow, Hawkeye.
It seems that in these very early Shadow stories, author Gibson wanted
to keep some of the criminal characters as recurring characters,
bringing them back again and again. That policy changed, as of this
magazine issue, however.
Although all four characters, Isaac Coffran, Steve Cronin, Birdie Crull
and Spotter, once again escape The Shadow at the end of this story, only
Steve Cronin ever played any further part in a Shadow pulp mystery.
Coffran and Cronin were mentioned in "Gangdom's Doom," the fifth story
in the series, but only by name; they never actually appeared. And from
then on, we never heard of those three again. Maybe Gibson was holding
them in reserve for future novels, but never ended up using them. Steve
Cronin, on the other hand, met his demise in "Gangdom's Doom." After
escaping The Shadow's brand of justice in three other tales, the fourth
one was his downfall.
But not to worry... there are plenty of other bad guys in this story who
don't escape The Shadow. Plenty bite the dust as they receive .45
caliber slugs from the thundering automatics hidden beneath that black
cloak. So even though four crooks escape, the end is still a most
The single thing that makes this Shadow novel the most famous is that
for the very first time, The Shadow meets the real Lamont Cranston. In
the first story of the series, there was no mention of Lamont Cranston.
In the second story, readers learned that The Shadow would often
disguise himself as millionaire, world-traveler Lamont Cranston, when
the real Cranston was out of the country. In this third story in the
series, the real Cranston returns from abroad, and his presence puts a
crimp into The Shadow's plans.
So The Shadow accosts Cranston in his New Jersey mansion in the middle
of the night. It's not a very friendly meeting. Cranston awakes to hear
his voice whispered in the dark. It's The Shadow in his cloak and slouch
hat. He drops the garb and shows his face -- its an exact duplicate of
Cranston's! The Shadow tells Cranston that he intends to use his
identity, and that he must leave the country the next morning. It's not a
request; it's a demand. No explanation is given.
When Cranston balks, The Shadow threatens him. Not with violence, but
with the ursuping of his identity. The Shadow proves that if the two men
come into conflict, The Shadow would win. He knows more about
Cranston's background than even the real Cranston does. He knows
intimate details of his financial situation that the true millionaire
doesn't even know. He can duplicate Cranston's signature perfectly. The
real Cranston, realizing he has no choice, capitulates and leaves the
That's the last we see of Cranston in this story. He leaves, not knowing
what The Shadow is up to. He doesn't know that the cloaked man is on
the side of right; he has no clue that his identity will be used to
fight crime. But the threat is real enough that he leaves, as commanded.
It is only in later stories of The Shadow that the relationship between
the two men thaws. Only later does Cranston realize that The Shadow is
using his identity to fight against evil. And in some later stories, he
even assists The Shadow. But not in this one. He is threatened; he
leaves... the end.
So, one might wonder, why did The Shadow pick the identity of Lamont
Cranston as the one to use as his disguise? Of course his great wealth
would be the obvious answer. Crimefighting can be a very expensive
business. But there was another, less obvious, reason, as well. The
Shadow chose to contact his agents by short-wave radio. And, as The
Shadow explained to the real Cranston, "There are reasons why I choose
to be here - as Lamont Cranston. There is an excellent wireless station
upstairs." Readers of the second story in the series, "Eyes of The
Shadow," will remember it played an important part in the storyline.
A minor, but intriguing, note to the story is that Claude H. Fellows,
the prosperous insurance broker and confidential agent for The Shadow,
hired Burbank, who became his contact man and appeared in the vast
majority of pulp stories. For anyone interested in the timeline, it
would seem that Fellows worked for The Shadow first. Readers are told
that in "Eyes of The Shadow," when Lamont Cranston, actually The Shadow,
had been wounded, Fellows had hired the services of a wireless operator
named Burbank who operated Cranston's amateur sending set while The
Shadow was incapacitated. So, for those of you who are keeping track,
Fellows was the earliest recorded agent of The Shadow. Harry Vincent was
next, followed by Burbank. Hope that keeps the record straight.
Another reason that this story is a key one is that it introduces Vic
Marquette of the Secret Service. Vic was a recurring character to aided
The Shadow, and appeared in nearly four dozen pulp stories. His
introduction, here, is a typical Gibson one. When he appears, the reader
doesn't know if he is a crook or if he follows the law. Throughout the
entire story, his actions can be interpreted two ways. It's only at the
end that Vic reveals himself to be a lawman. Author Walter Gibson went
on to use this ruse nearly every time he introduced a recurring
character: Hawkeye, Miles Crofton, Myra Reldon, Dr. Roy Tam, Inspector
Eric Delka, Slade Farrow and the list goes on. Each was introduced in a
story which made their actions suspect, but then explained it all away
in the end. It should be noted, however, that this is the first time he
used that ploy.
This story repeats the facts regarding The Shadow's radio broadcasts, as
described in the first two novels. At the broadcasting studio, no one
knows the identity of The Shadow. In a special room, hung with heavy
black velvet, he speaks over the air in cloak and mask. An underworld
spy watches the door, yet no one ever enters that room!
Then this story goes into a bit more detail about the radio show,
itself. Harry Vincent listens to the broadcast at Blair Windsor's
estate, and hears the radio drama over WNX at nine o'clock. At the end,
the narrator comes on, speaks his lines, and closes with that uncanny
laugh. Yes, the narrator is The Shadow! In real life, that's how The
Shadow's radio show was back in 1931. And the pulp story mirrors the
actual broadcasts of the time.
Again, The Shadow uses those seemingly innocent broadcasts to send
hidden messages to his agents. No matter where the agents are, if then
listen to the program being aired, they will detect certain words being
emphasized. Stringing together those emphasized words recreates The
Shadow's message. This is the only story I can recall reading in which
those emphasized words appear in the dramatic portion of the program,
spoken by actors not the announcer. Usually, they appear in commercials
and other announcements.
Another thing that was atypical about the secret messages in those
broadcasts was that there were two different radio stations used, here.
Harry Vincent is advised to listen in to WGG at three o'clock and WNX at
six and nine o'clock. This is the only story that mentions the call
letters of WGG. In all other stories that this scheme is used to pass
messages, WNX is the radio station to which the agents listen. Certainly
There were a couple other things that appeared in this story, which
caught my attention because they weren't "normal." In this story, when
The Shadow removes his black cloak and slouch hat, he wears a mask
underneath. Twice, his appearance is described as a think, dark-clad
figure in jersey-like clothing with a black silk mask over his face.
It's the only time I can recall such a mask being described. I can only
attribute it to the fact that Gibson was still fine-tuning his
In all the other stories, Claude Fellows delivered reports to The Shadow
by taking them to the old office building on Twenty-third Street, east
of Broadway, and placing them through the mail slot of the cobwebby
office with the name "B. Jonas" on the door. But in this story, he hands
them to his stenographer and tells her, "Take this to the Jonas
office." That's strange, putting such vital information into the hands
of an employee. It would only make sense to me if she were an agent,
too. Makes me wonder...
Stanley, Cranston's chauffeur, was also apparently being fine tuned.
It's mentioned that the faithful limousine driver had previously been a
racing driver. He doesn't often get to display his skill in these
stories, but in this one he certainly does! His usual characterization
is as a very quiet, calm employee. Never questions his master's orders.
In most stories he rarely even says a word. In this pulp tale, however,
he's quite a talkative guy. He smiles, he grimaces, he mutters to
himself and talks up a blue streak. And he questions his instructions.
Again, Gibson was still tinkering with the characters. I'll admit, I
liked the later Stanley better.
A few other points of interest that should be mentioned about this
story. It's suggested that The Shadow was a spy during the War (that
would be World War I, using today's naming). It's mentioned only as a
rumor, but certainly an interesting one! And I figure there must be some
truth behind it, or it wouldn't have been mentioned in the story in the
And for frosting on the cake, we also get a visit to Chinatown. There we
get to see The Shadow evade some really nasty death traps in the
underground maze. That should be worth the price of admission, alone!
There is a character named Loo Look who resides deep in an underground
maze. The later character Yat Soon was patterned after Loo Look. But Loo
Look was one of the bad guys, assisting the overlord of the underworld,
Tiger Bronson. Yat Soon, on the other hand, was a friend of The Shadow
and staunch supporter of law and order.
As would be expected of a 1931 pulp story, the Chinese characters aren't
treated gently. They are stupid, slant-eyed brutes who speak in pidgin
English. "See crazy things. You keepee quiet. No talkee." Yes, I'm
cringing as I see it again. But that's the way things were, back then.
No other agents of The Shadow appear in this story, because actually
none of the others had been introduced, yet. And no sign of Commissioner
Weston or Detective Cardona. It's just Harry Vincent, Burbank, Claude
Fellows and The Shadow. We do get to see the black-cloaked master of the
night use a couple of disguises, to remind readers of his amazing
abilities with makeup. He appears as out-of-town gangster Reds Macklin
in a couple scenes, and as an unnamed policeman in another. He is a
master of disguise!
Readers take a short visit to the Black Ship, that notorious underworld
hangout run by Red Mike. And the other underworld dive, The Pink Rat, is
mentioned, as well. But we don't get to visit there.
The only unresolved plot element that I can remember has to do with come
counterfeiting printing plates that are found in the coal bin down in
the basement of a pawn shop. The Shadow finds them; later the police
take possession of them and arrest the pawnshop owner, even though the
reader knows he's innocent and they were planted. And then... nothing
further is said. Who planted them? Why? What were they used for? What
happened to the slimy pawn shop owner who was guilty of many things, but
not of those printing plates? I hate loose threads, and this was one.
You should read this story. It's a key issue that includes the
introduction of Vic Marsland and the actual Lamont Cranston. Crooks from
the past return, and plot elements are set up for future stories. Plus
it's a darned good Shadow story on its own.
"Voice of Death" was originally published in the February 15, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Ted Lycombe couldn't escape the obvious. His voice was heard by several reliable witnesses as he murdered Frank Barstead. He was identified easily. His was the voice of death. And it would take The Shadow to prove otherwise.
Ted Lycombe is a big-time polo player and member of the society set. But at the moment, he is short on cash. He needs five thousand dollars to pay off a debt to Frank Barstead. Normally Barstead might have let the loan slide for a while. But both Barstead and Lycombe are in love with the beautiful young Marian Farris. And Barstead doesn't feel in any generous mood when it comes to his romantic rival.
Frank Barstead demands immediate payment. Ted Lycombe tries to raise the cash, but he has all his money invested with Sherwood Gern, a first-rate swindler. Gern has plenty of promises for Ted, but no cash. Finally, the entire matter climaxes at Barstead's Greenwich Village apartment. There is an argument; a fight; gunshots!
Outside Frank Barstead's apartment stands Guy Winrow, his neighbor. Winrow has admitted Archie Freer and two others to the building, since Barstead didn't answer the buzzer. The four of them hear everything through Barstead's open transom. They hear and recognize Ted Lycombe's voice, hear the scuffle and the gunshots as well as the sounds of Lycombe making his escape via the balcony. They break down to door to find the dead body of Frank Barstead.
Inside the apartment is found other clues, all pointing to Ted Lycombe. There is no doubt; Lycombe committed cold-blooded murder. Four men were witness to the fact. And now Lycombe is on the run!
Ted Lycombe, naturally, professes his innocence. He's been framed! But his alibi doesn't hold water. He was supposedly meeting Marian Farris at the time of the murder. But, as it turns out, she was late for their appointment, and can't verify his whereabouts at the time of the crime. And that leaves Ted on the run from the police.
Will Ted turn to crime? It sure looks like it. Lycombe has always liked risks and considers crime to be something of a game. Now, with a murder rap pinned on him, he has nothing to lose! Only The Shadow can untangle the twisted threads in this strange mystery. Only The Shadow can clear young Ted and restore his reputation so that true love can reign victorious between Ted and Marian.
The Shadow doesn't do all of this by himself, of course. He has the assistance of his aides Moe Shrevnitz the taxi driver, most trusted agent Harry Vincent, contact man Burbank, and underworld contacts Cliff Marsland and Hawkeye. Assisting The Shadow from the side of law and order are Police Commissioner Ralph Weston, Inspector Joe Cardona and Detective Sergeant Markham.
In the earlier Shadow mysteries, Commissioner Weston believed there was no such person as The Shadow. By the time of this 1940 story, however, Weston has to concede that there is a fighter who calls himself The Shadow. Weston has met him on more than one occasion. But Weston still argues that the so-called Shadow might be anyone, perhaps half a dozen people, who take turns cloaking themselves in black. He's a hard guy to convince.
The often-mentioned but rarely-seen Burbank actually gets out into the field in this story. We still don't see his face; it's always conveniently concealed by shadows. But he does get a chance for active duty when he assists The Shadow in setting up some technical apparatus in an empty apartment. But always keeping communications open, he brings with him a switchboard and short-wave radio so he can continue his contact duties from his temporary headquarters. What a dedicated guy! Its good to see him have a chance to get out and get involved more directly.
The Shadow appears in several disguises in this story. He appears as Lamont Cranston, his most-oft used disguise. He appears as a gloomy unnamed man in a restaurant whose broad, sallow face masks The Shadow. And he spends a great deal of time in his official Shadow garb of black.
This Shadow character is not the same one of the earlier years. He no longer shoots to kill. He still shoots, but now he shoots to wound. Any attempts to do otherwise are met by unplanned accidents which prevent a fatal shot. Something always intervenes, and bullet is deflected.
The Shadow still keeps his cloak and hat in a secret drawer hidden beneath the rear seat of Cranston's limousine. And a duplicate set resides in a similar hiding place in Moe Shrevnitz's taxi. Also in that secret drawer is kept a flat make-up kit which The Shadow uses to switch disguises. We get to see him do so in this adventure.
The Shadow still displays the amazing ability to climb the outside of buildings. His rubber suction cups are not mentioned, having fallen out of favor with author Walter Gibson, apparently. They had only been mentioned once in the previous four years. Their use would return in later stories, but in this one, The Shadow climbs to a second-story balcony by finding finger grips and toe holds along the outside wall.
We are reminded of some of the locations from the earlier stories. The underworld dive on the East Side known as Red Mike's is mentioned. Red Mike, it may be remembered, was originally the proprietor of The Black Ship tavern before he opened up his own place. Red Mike, named not for his hair color, but for his florid face, was neither on the side of the law or on the side of the underworld. He carefully tread the fine line between. Red Mike doesn't actually appear here, but is briefly mentioned.
As to the mystery, itself, the solution is easily guessed by today's technology. Reproducing a voice, switching words around to create a different meaning - these things are commonplace today. But back in 1940, even though home recordings were possible, it was most uncommon. If you heard someone's voice, you rarely considered it could be a reproduction. And it's upon that fact that you must focus when you read this story.
We do get to see an interesting glimpse of an old radio studio, and some of the devices used for sound effects in recording radio scripts. And for an old time radio buff like myself, that alone is worth the price of admission.
There is one rather neat invention mentioned here: a teletector. It's described as something like a dictograph, but with a television attachment. It carries pictures, as well as sound. It doesn't broadcast, but rather depends upon wires to transmit the signal. And it explains how some of the puzzling crimes are committed. Again, you have to put yourself in a 1940 mind-frame in order to enjoy this story to its fullest. If you think in terms of current times, things tend to start to fall apart.
This is one of the few Shadow stories that I've read where the characters have somewhat normal names. No more Uther, Shiwan or Dortha. Here we have Ted, Marian and Frank. It almost makes you wonder if a Street and Smith editor made some changes to Gibson's work. These names are definitely not the usual Gibson-style names.
Of course, you know from the beginning that Ted Lycombe is probably innocent. Frank Barstead has been slain as the result of some premeditated scheme which will pave the way to newer and bigger crime. Of all who investigate the murder, only one will pierce the surrounding facts to the evil core. Only 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.