John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #54
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Golden Quest" was originally published in the May 1, 1935 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A gold mine named "The Quest," lost in the wilds of Michigan. The search for it will lead The Shadow out of his usual haunts of Manhattan and into the timber country of the mid-west. There, he will find greed, betrayal and murder in this top-notch 1935 pulp tale.
The year 1935 was one of the best years for The Shadow Magazine. And this mystery is a good example of why it is so well remembered. In a sense, it is a "fish out of water" story. The Shadow is used to skulking through the dark alleyways of Manhattan's underworld. In this story, he must use his stealth to stalk through the underbrush of the wooded lands surrounding Lake Chalice in Michigan. But no matter where the battle against crime takes him, The Shadow uses his amazing strength and deductive powers to fight against evil-doers where ever they are.
As our story opens, darkly tanned Rex Brodford returns to New York after ten years in Central America. He has been called back to America by the death of his uncle, old Ezra Brodford. Cyrus Witherby, his uncle's lawyer, announces that Rex is the sole heir to old Ezra's estate.
Sitting in the library of the old brownstone owned by his uncle, Rex Brodford learns that the estate is worth less than fifty thousand dollars. He also inherits a worthless gold mine out in Michigan called the Quest. Not only is it worthless, it's lost. Somewhere in an area of several hundred acres is the forgotten shaft of the closed mine.
Young Rex decides to travel west to visit the land upon which his gold mine lies. But someone doesn't want him out there. An attempt is made upon his life. He's saved by a young chap named Harry Vincent. Vincent, as regular readers recognize, is an agent for The Shadow. Vincent and Rex Brodford become fast friends, and together they board the train for Michigan. Together, they will investigate this lost mine. And together they will encounter peril in the vast outdoors of the Lake Chalice country.
It all makes for a very exciting story. It gets off to a rousing start in New York for the first six chapters. But starting in chapter seven, the story gradually moves to Michigan where Harry Vincent and Rex Brodford stay at Cortland Laspar's lodge on Lake Chalice. From there, they fan out across the wooden acres, searching for the lost gold mine. And from then on, things get even more exciting. Author Walter Gibson was writing at his best when he did this story.
As is typical in the early Shadow novels, The Shadow works in the background. Most of the story and the action is carried by our proxy-hero Rex Brodford as assisted by his new acquaintance Harry Vincent. Harry has been instructed by his master to befriend young Brodford and accompany him to Michigan where they will look into the shady dealings at the mine. The Shadow is there too, but we see very little of him until the climax of the story. Then he makes an appearance to thwart the evil forces that are building against our protagonists.
The Shadow travels to Michigan by his famous autogyro. In this story, it is described as having wings. In later stories, it would be described as wingless. Most likely, The Shadow had two autogyros during his long crime-fighting career. The earlier one was probably the winged model.
Several of The Shadow's agents appear in this story, although Harry Vincent gets the largest part, by far. Making much smaller appearances are Moe Shrevnitz, Cliff Marsland, Hawkeye, Rutledge Mann and Burbank. The only other familiar character is Vic Marquette of the Secret Service. Vic gets a large and juicy role as he puts on a very impressive disguise and joins Vincent and Brodford in the search through the timbered countryside for the lost mine.
The Shadow, himself, only appears as the black-cloaked nemesis of crime who fades into the night. There is no mention of any of his usual disguises, Lamont Cranston, Henry Arnaud or Phineas Twambley. And Kent Allard didn't appear in the magazines until 1937, so there is no mention of The Shadow's true identity.
The Shadow does take a real beating in this story, as was more typical of the 1930's pulp stories. In one scene he is shot in the shoulder. Later, the crime boss's thugs blow up the Quest mine, with The Shadow inside. He is blood stained. His left arm is wounded, and he is limping. But he grits his teeth and carries on. There's no purplish elixir to restore his strength in this story, even though it had been used in over a dozen previous stories. Maybe it was left behind in New York. Regardless, his resolve and iron will must suffice to push him onward to victory over the forces of evil.
Before all the action moves to Michigan, we do get to see Rutledge Mann inscribe a coded report to The Shadow in that vivid blue ink that will disappear shortly after The Shadow reads it. And then he visits the old, dilapidated office building on Twenty-third Street where the B. JONAS office is located. There, he drops the report into a mail chute on the door, and we know The Shadow will receive it forthwith.
A couple of interesting notes. This story reminds us of how taxi driver Moe Shrevnitz entered the service of The Shadow. He had been saved from death by the strange crime fighter, and had later been singled out for service to The Shadow. We're also reminded a bit of Harry Vincent's past. He tells Rex Brodford that he lives in Michigan, in St. Joe's County.
At the story's end, after all the criminals are either dead or in custody, Harry Vincent is given a reward. Shares in the Quest gold mine, which by this time has been found, are transferred to Harry by a grateful Rex Brodford. This is the only time I can remember in any Shadow story that a reward was given to an agent. Did Harry get to keep the shares? Were they later transferred to The Shadow? Nothing is said, so we can only speculate. In my mind, Harry probably signed them over to his master, The Shadow, to aid in the furtherance of crime fighting.
One final note. If the plot of this story sounds familiar, it should. Author Walter Gibson recycled the plot of a lost gold mine in the January 1, 1941 story, "Forgotten Gold." The location was moved from Michigan to Georgia. But much of the original plot was maintained, even down to the climax of being trapped underground as the gang of thugs dynamite the mine entrance. The 1941 version, however, was vastly inferior to this 1935 story.
This story will keep you on the edge of your seat, turning page after page, late into the night. Pulp novels were designed to do just that, and when they did it well, time could pass without notice. That's what happens here. You'll get so engrossed in the story that you'll lose track of time. I can see a satisfied smile on Walter Gibson's face, knowing that he soundly succeeded in writing a terrific Shadow mystery. Yes, it's a good one!
"The Masked Headsman" was originally published in the April 15, 1937 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The treasure of Old Spain! Millions in jewels and gold were at stake, and The Masked Headsman was determined to gain the pelf. A foeman worthy of The Shadow's steel, this is the story of two strong men meeting on equal footing. It will take The Shadow's blazing guns to decide the issue.
Let's get some head choppin' goin' on! What's that? There's no head chopping? But this tale is entitled "The Masked Headsman." The lurid magazine cover shows the evil executioner tempering the large curved blade of his axe. And now we find out there's no head chopping? Not even one? That's no fair; we was robbed!
With a title like that, I had visions of a story involving some crazy guy with an axe, going around lopping off people's heads. Nope. Nothing like that. The Masked Headsman is the name of the master villain in this piece. But nobody's head goes arollin'...
It seems that a colony of Spaniards has grown up in the town of Whitefield, outside of New York. Ousted from their homeland by war, many have settled in Whitefield. But they are being polarized into two separate groups: the wealthy aristocrats and the poor peons.
A radical group that calls itself the Spanish People's Party has set up headquarters in Whitefield. Behind Rojillo, the figure-head leader of the party, is The People's Emissary. He is Verdugo whose name means "the executioner's sword!" The most dreaded murderer in all Spain! Verdugo - the Masked Headsman! Wearing a rounded skullcap, the man looks like a medieval executioner. The former Spanish government had wanted the evil killer for numerous murders.
In Spain, you'll remember, a civil war was actually taking place when Walter Gibson wrote this story. So it was topical and of interest to the reading public. In this purely fictional tale, the Spanish group that styled itself the People's Party had long conducted a campaign of outright seizure in that country, taking all wealth belonging to persons who opposed it. This policy was carried to America, as well. Verdugo and his henchman Rojillo are out to sieze the millions in gold and gems belonging to the wealthy Spaniards, aristocrats of the old regime, who live in Whitefield.
It starts with a protest parade, which gets quickly out of hand. A bomb is thrown into the middle of the parade, killing dozens. It appears that the Chief of Police is responsible when his bullet-riddled body is found in the hotel room from where the bomb has been thrown. But we know that the Masked Headsman from Madrid has murdered the police chief and bombed the parade. All so as to stampede the mob into attacking the home of Count Jernimo Darraga, headquarters of the wealthy Spanish colony.
The Shadow shows up to disperse the mob and save the innocent aristocrats from slaughter. But can he save their hidden fortune? There's ten million dollars at stake! Can he release them from the terror of The Masked Headsman? And can he unmask Verduga and reveal his hidden identity? It's a huge task, but only one man is up to it. That man is the savior that the Spanish know as "El Ombre!" The Shadow!
In this story, we see The Shadow in a disguise as Senor Jose Rembole. When he first shows up, he is recognized by Count Darraga as an old friend. The Shadow had used this disguise before, two months earlier, in "Quetzal." Count Darraga didn't appear in that story, but apparently Rembole had saved the lives of some of his friends in that adventure. There may have also been some other encounters between Rembole and Darraga, which author Walter Gibson never wrote about.
Rembole. Did you catch the anagram, there? Rearrange the letters and you get "El Ombre!" Pretty clever, that Gibson fellow. He was a magician, code aficionado and lover of puzzles, so he snuck that little trick into the story and most readers never realized what he had done. And this isn't the only time he used anagrams in his Shadow pulp stories. The Shadow appeared in another disguise, one Wade Hosth, in two stories: 1933's "Mox" and 1940's "Crime County." Rearrange Wade Hosth and you get The Shadow. Another anagram for The Shadow appears in the 1936 tale "The City of Crime" where our hero turns up as Theo D. Shaw.
The Shadow uses no other disguises in this story. No mention is made of Lamont Cranston, Phineas Twambley, Henry Arnaud or any of his other aliases. He's either Jose Rembole or the black-cloaked Shadow.
As to his assistants, only two aides appear. Clyde Burke appears in a small role, and Harry Vincent in a much larger one. Those are the only characters we recognize from other Shadow novels.
A point of interest is that Harry Vincent falls in love with beautiful, young Jacinta Castellana, the grandniece of Count Darraga. The two are madly in love, to the point that when Harry joins The Shadow to rout the hordes commanded by Verduga, The Masked Headsman, she follows and assists in the climax. At the end of the story, the two drive off together into the sunrise in his coupe, her hand on his shoulder. And then? The story ends. But inquiring minds want to know... What happened? Unfortunately, this story doesn't tell us. In all the future Shadow pulp stories, there was never any follow-up to that part of the story.
It's interesting to note that The Shadow is a fencing master. He knows all the tricks in the book, including the dirty tricks. There is a sword duel between El Ombre and The Masked Headsman, and The Shadow gets a rare opportunity to show his skill with the blade. Actually, The Masked Headsman is the one wielding the blade. The Shadow is stuck holding the blade's scabbard. But he uses it quite efficiently as a sword in a thrilling scene with the masked villain.
There is one scene where Verdugo, The Masked Headsman, gets the better of The Shadow. Trapped in a steel-lined room with a bomb set to go off beneath him. How The Shadow escapes is pretty amazing. But he doesn't escape unscathed. He's squeaks out a victory by the skin of his teeth, outracing the death blast, but not escaping the barrage of debris the followed.
This is a pretty good Shadow tale. The story starts slowly, but picks up as it goes along. By the end, things are pretty frantic, with The Shadow rescuing Harry Vincent and Ramos Ferrero from a torture chamber and then confronting the Masked Headsman himself!
Once you learn the secret identity of The Masked Headsman at the story's climax, it's probably best not to think back over the story you just read. If you do, you'll realize there are some serious contradictions in the behavior of our criminal mastermind. There's no way a self-respecting villain would have done some of the things that The Masked Headsman did when in his other disguise. At the time, you didn't realize it, because you didn't know that this other character was actually The Masked Headsman. But now you know! And now you realize he acted completely out of character.
Beneath the mask of The Masked Headsman is actually... OK, you've been warned... it is Don Luis Robera. And now that you know that, his earlier actions make no sense. He appears as Don Luis before Harry and Ramos in the torture chamber, pretending to be seriously injured. Ramos gives Don Luis the location of the treasure and the secret password. At this point, that's all Don Luis, alias The Masked Headsman, needs! So why continue with the charade? Why not straighten up, laugh, "Fooled ya!", grab your henchmen and go get the gold that you want so desperately?
But no. Instead, Don Luis continues with his masquerade, limping out of the dungeon and having his minions continue torturing Harry and Ramos for the very information he already has! Say what?! Yes, it makes no sense. But I guess readers weren't supposed to think back to that scene and ponder its absurdity. They were supposed to forget Don Luis's illogical behavior. And then go out and buy the next issue of The Shadow Magazine, I guess.
Even with the flaws mentioned above, I still enjoyed this story quite a lot. Death traps, the fencing scene, the torture dungeon scene, the love-story angle... all add up to a good rousing Shadow adventure.
But I'm still disappointed that there were no beheadings. The Masked Headsman never gets to use his nasty-looking axe. Yes, readers were cheated. As much as I enjoyed the story, I'll still grumble over that...
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.