John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #4
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"The Murder Master" was originally published in the February 15, 1938 issue of The Shadow Magazine.
He broadcast over a little-known radio station in New York. But he broadcast for
an elite audience, among which was New York Police Commissioner Ralph Weston.
His message was simple. Men would die during his broadcast. He knew the names,
the times, the places and the methods. He was... the Murder Master!
Author Walter Gibson had originally intended this story to be entitled "The
Radio Crimes." And it was a most appropriate title, because it all begins with a
strange radio broadcast over station WQJ. And it includes an interesting visit
to the radio station by The Shadow. But editors at Street & Smith decided, for
some unknown reason, that "The Murder Master" was a more appropriate title. I
think Gibson's original instincts were more accurate.
Few radio listeners had ever heard of WQJ; the vast New York audience ignored
it. But when Commissioner Weston receives a strange typed letter, suggesting he
listen in to a special broadcast, he does so. The letter promises that the radio
show will offer new slants on crime detection. So the commissioner along with
Joe Cardona, his ace inspector, tune in to the fifteen-minute radio show.
Instead of the expected content, they hear a fifteen minute rant on crime by a
person calling himself The Murder Master. He claims to predict crime. And his
first prediction is the death of wealthy lawyer Richard Hyvran in just five
minutes time. Cardona, not believing the boasts of the voice on the radio, still
calls the household of Richard Hyvran to make sure of his safety. While on the
phone with the butler, there is an explosion in the garage. Richard Hyvran, who
was in the car, is dead.
Just five minutes into the broadcast, The Murder Master has struck down his
first victim! He gloats that the commissioner can't stop him. And he announces
his next victim. In five minutes, retired manufacturer Justin Palbrock will die
at Pennsylvania Station. Cardona scrambles to get police cars there in time. But
he fails. As the police arrive, redcaps are catching the slumping body of Justin
The strange, evil broadcast continues. Ten minutes have passed; two men have
died. And The Murder Master makes his third pronouncement. In exactly five
minutes, politician Frank Denniman will die outside the main entrance to the
Metrolite Hotel. Weston and Cardona are now taking this madman seriously. His
first two announcements were accurate. This third must not succeed!
Police are dispatched to the Metrolite. Another squad is dispatched to the
broadcast studios of radio station WQJ. But time is short; there is not enough
time. A taxicab swings up to the curb of the Metrolite. The door whips open and
the dead body of Big Frank Denniman pitches headlong to the sidewalk. The Murder
Master has made good on all three of his boasts. And with just moments left
before his quarter-hour broadcast ends, The Murder Master predicts one more
death. At the radio studio itself, one more will die. And that one will be...
As it happens, The Shadow had also been listening to the broadcast of The Murder
Master. And while the broadcast was in progress, The Shadow had headed for the
obscure radio station, WQJ. And so it was that The Shadow entered the broadcast
building not knowing that his own name had been just uttered by the sinister
So far, this story has been a fast paced whirlwind of action and excitement, and
we aren't even past chapter four, yet. And now, it gets even better. The Shadow
enters the studio and finds radio personnel locked inside an unused broadcasting
booth. The Murder Master is nowhere to be found. In one room, The Shadow
discovers, too late, a death trap. It's a trap he desperately tries to avoid,
but can't. He falls victim to thousands of volts of electricity, coursing
through a steel plate invisibly situated on the darkened floor of the control
room. He receives a shock as powerful as the current used in an electric chair!
Our hero is barely alive as evil minions of The Murder Master pick up his limp
body and carry it out of the radio station. He's taken to a secret location
where his nearly-dead body is dumped in a stone pit lined with steel. In the
ceiling is the huge lens of a gigantic microscope. The Shadow is a laboratory
specimen under the microscope of some mad scientist. And then, if all that
weren't bad enough, the steel walls begin to grind closer and closer together.
The walls will clamp together in just minutes, snuffing out the remaining life
from our barely conscious hero.
Keep in mind that all this happens in just the first eight chapters. That should
give you some idea of how action packed this story is. And there's lots more to
come. Before we're done, The Shadow will face even more insidious death traps.
He'll face the strange Professor Jerome Quedden. He will investigate the secret
Foundation for Inventors. He will join forces with the beautiful Elsa Wendley.
He will thwart the biggest crime of The Murder Master, yet. And he will finally
confront the man who hides behind the radio voice of The Murder Master, himself!
This 1938 story is a slam bang pulp adventure that will keep you turning the
pages long into the night. Most of the story involves The Shadow in his usual
cloaked guise of black. He makes a few other appearances as Kent Allard, his
true identity. That was all explained in the pulps just six months earlier in
"The Shadow Unmasks." There's no mention of Lamont Cranston. Apparently that
angle was being played down at this point in time.
The Shadow receives a bit of assistance from his ever-faithful contact man
Burbank, as well as underworld aides Cliff Marsland and Hawkeye. No sign of any
of the other agents. Other recurring characters are Commissioner Ralph Weston
and inspector Joe Cardona. It's a pretty streamlined cast, but there's no real
need for more.
For fans of old radio shows, this pulp story holds special interest. There's the
visit to the radio station and the broadcast booths. And let's not forget the
stacks of electrical transcriptions containing possibly an untold wealth of
A few gadgets appear in this story. The Shadow's amazing rubber discs that he
uses as suction cups to scale smooth walls is mentioned. They don't actually
appear, more's the pity. But at least they are mentioned. And there's a hidden
recording device that The Shadow uses to record the voice of the unseen Murder
Master. The Shadow wasn't well known for his use of gadgets. Certainly not to
the extent of Lester Dent's Doc Savage. But Walter Gibson did introduce a few
for The Shadow to use.
This is another of those Shadow pulp novels that gets my hearty recommendation.
As with so many of the stories from this era, it's an enjoyable romp which will
thrill you and chill you. Follow The Shadow on the trail of the Murder Master.
You won't regret it.
"The Hydra" was originally published in the December 1, 1942 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The Hydra is a vast evil organization with many heads. And just like with the Hydra of mythology, whenever one head is cut off, two sprout to take it's place. How, then, can The Shadow defeat this sinister organization? It takes two Cranstons to do it!
This is probably the definitive tale involving the two Cranstons - The Shadow in disguise and the real millionaire Lamont Cranston. It's a wonderful story. This one gets my hearty recommendation. Lots of action, some fantastic death traps in the Museum of Mechanical Science and a climax that involves six - yes, six - of The Shadow! It's a story you won't want to miss.
In most stories that involve the "real" Lamont Cranston, he usually appears only briefly in a scene or two. But in this story, the millionaire world traveler appears in the entire story. He assists The Shadow and becomes a de-facto-agent for the master of the night. In this unique story, the two team up and combine forces to fight The Hydra. Normally, the real Cranston is out of the country on one of his many trips to foreign lands. But in this story, he's back to stay. As he puts it, "Globe-trotting is an obsolete sport nowadays, with world conditions as they are." He is referring to World War II which was hotly ablaze by then.
Lamont Cranston - the real one - is our proxy hero throughout the entire story. And his continuing presence makes for some intriguing situations. The real Cranston goes to the club to have dinner with Commissioner Weston, not having seen him for quite a while. But from the Commissioner's standpoint, he's dined with Cranston only recently. He dined with the disguised Shadow, but of course he doesn't know that. And the real Cranston finds that he is expected to show interest in the police cases discussed by Weston, even to the point of making comments and suggestions. This is something that The Shadow often has done, when in his Cranston disguise. But the real Cranston feels a bit out of his element in this situation.
When the two Cranstons drive home to New Jersey in the limousine, chauffeured by Stanley, only one can openly get out and go into the house. The other has to hide in the shadows and sneak into the house - the same house he knows so well and has entered openly so many times before.
When the two are inside the house, the real Cranston has to explain some changes to his imitation self. He's done some renovations, and needs to explain them to The Shadow, so The Shadow won't be caught off-guard when posing as Cranston. A floor-length mirror has been moved, which affects The Shadow's stealthy movements. And the rifles have also been moved, which is vital information for The Shadow.
In Cranston's New Jersey mansion, there is a huge cabinet filled with trophies and awards won by Cranston for marksmanship. The real Cranston is a big-game hunter, remember, and an excellent shot. But The Shadow is also an expert marksman, and has often won additional trophies in Cranston's name, when in his disguise. When visiting the mansion, The Shadow smiles when he realizes that Cranston has arranged the awards on the shelves so that the ones won by The Shadow are on a special Shadow shelf by themselves. A fact that only two people would recognize, and one that The Shadow appreciates with irony.
So, what's the plot? Well, there's this sprawling criminal organization known as The Hydra. And it seemingly can't be stopped. Whenever one of the lieutenants, known as "heads" is captured or killed, two more are recruited to replace him. The underlings in the organization are split into "eyes," "ears" and "teeth." Each "head" has an assortment of each reporting to him. They are usually butlers, chauffeurs and other menials working for the rich, who observe and listen. The "teeth" are the thugs who add muscle to the organization.
This sinister group known collectively as The Hydra is scooping in millions of dollars from Manhattan's wealthy upper crust. They stop at nothing, including murder. Nothing can stop them, not even The Shadow. Or so it would seem. Every time he removes one head, the organization grows two more. How can our hero prevail? Just wait until the rousing climax where the six Shadows mentioned earlier appear. Wow, what a finish!
Just about all of the familiar characters appear in this story. Appearing for the law is Commissioner Weston and Inspector Cardona. Cranston's servants Richards the valet and Stanley the chauffeur both appear. As for agents of The Shadow, we have Harry Vincent, Moe Shrevnitz, Clyde Burke, Cliff Marsland, Hawkeye, Burbank, Rutledge Mann, Jericho Druke. Miles Crofton and Dr. Rupert Sayre. And then there's Margo Lane. We mustn't forget her.
One thing that makes this story stand out is the "origin" of Margo Lane. Of course Margo had appeared in the pulp stories for over a year before this. But she just appeared without any explanation. It was just as though she had always been there. In this story her appearance is explained when the real Cranston comments to The Shadow about how he first met Margo on a Caribbean cruise. The Shadow met her shortly thereafter when she assumed he was the same man she had met a few days before on the boat.
Moe Shrevnitz cracks up his cab in an encounter between The Shadow and some thugs... make that "teeth"... of The Hydra. We're told that repairs will take weeks, and new cabs are hard to come by. Another reference to the rationing of World War II, here. So Moe takes a job working for a cab company.
Chauffeur Stanley gets to do more than just drive Cranston around. He's sent out to some ticket agencies and is instructed to buy up a block of fifty seats for a local stage performance. The import of that task later proves to be vital. And good old Stanley is allowed to assist The Shadow in this matter, even though he innocently believes he is acting on behalf of his master, the millionaire. Stanley never did figure out that there was a second person who assumed Cranston's identity. Not even up until the final 1949 magazine story.
In this story, we learn that The Shadow is a bit of a conservationist and animal-rights proponent. He comments that Cranston can "make amends for any elephants you may have killed." A growing awareness of a environmentalist conscience, it would seem.
Another point of interest is at the end of a scene that takes place in Cranston's New Jersey mansion. Both Cranston and The Shadow are present when Willard Mance, one of The Hydra's Heads, attempts to kill The Shadow and is himself killed by Cranston. The Shadow's parting comment is, "Be ready later to admit my agents. They will remove the body..." This brings up the obvious question as to the fate of that dead body. What do The Shadow's agents do with the dead bodies that they frequently encounter... or create? Is there some secret cemetery that is their clandestine burial ground? Or do they just dump it off in front of the morgue? Maybe cremation removes the evidence? Readers were never told, but it does create room for some intriguing speculation.
There was one scene that seemed a bit atypical. One of the "teeth" of The Hydra - that is to say, one of the thugs working for the organization - is a cabby. He's out to do murder and mayhem. The Shadow disarms him, and then tells him to get going. Yes, he lets a criminal go! The relieved cabby hits the accelerator and speeds off, never to be seen again. It's not often that The Shadow lets a criminal go intentionally, and deserves mention. But there is no explanation, which is a bit confusing.
In this story, we also get to see the chemical paste known as "The Devil's Whisper." This is the mysterious mixture first appeared in the 1933 tale "Treasures of Death." The Shadow smears a paste (or in some stories a powder) on his thumb and finger, so that when he snaps his fingers there is a terrific explosion and blinding flash of light. Pretty amazing stuff, and it's good to see it here again.
There's a lot packed into this 43,000 word Shadow adventure. And it all makes for fantastic reading. Read how the two Cranstons work together. Read how Margo Lane met Cranston and The Shadow. Read how the multiple monster of crime that called itself the Hydra is finally brought to justice.
Will you like it? Yes. Trust me!
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.