John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #56
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Embassy Murders" was originally published in the January 1, 1934 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The various South-American embassies of Washington, D.C. are in an uproar. Five men have died. Five attaches and government employees have been murdered, and important papers they carried are now missing. The Shadow travels to the capitol to solve the mystery of the embassy murders!
The sinister mastermind behind it all? A man of peace. A man who proclaims peace, but in reality is a hidden monster dealing with mass murder and global unrest. A man with a limp. A man by the name of Darvin Rochelle. Rochelle is the founder of the International Peace Alliance, which is devoted to promoting world peace by means of a new international language, Agro. (Keep in mind that the world was largely at peace in 1934.)
Yes, as slick Darvin Rochelle explains it, the way to produce international understanding is if everyone speaks the same language. Not Esperanto. Rochelle sees Esperanto as a failed attempt. He is promoting Agro, a new language that's patterned after languages derived from Latin. But it's all a cover. Rochelle isn't really interested in Agro, or in world peace either, for that matter. Rochelle is interested in making a fortune by setting the nations of South America against each other.
Rochelle's true agenda is to inflame the natural distrust among the South American nations, and start the entire continent to war. He is poised to make enormous profits from the upcoming war. He is the architect of war, making his designs in secret. All he needs is to get one more set of secret papers. Then he can make them all public at the exact moment when war will be inevitable.
The Shadow steps in at the critical moment and thwarts the plans to murder yet another attache and steal his papers. Yes, The Shadow has traveled to Washington, D.C. and is taking a hand in the series of murders. It will take all the might of The Shadow to discover the true reasons for the murders. And it will take all his cunning to thwart Darvin Rochelle before the evil monster can set his final plan in motion.
Darvin Rochelle has a handful of lieutenants who assist him. There's sultry Anita Debronne; con-man Alvarez Menzone; proprietor of the Club Rivoli, Whistler Ingliss; shifty gentleman Maurice Twindell; and the gang leader Bugs Ritler. But his right-hand man is an evil dwarf named Thurk. He's a twisted figure, deformed with vicious face. And he's an expert at swift murder with a long sharp blade.
Have you noticed how dwarfs always seem to be evil in the pulps? Snow White's benefactors not withstanding, dwarfs sure seem to get a lot of bad press. They are always twisted and evil. Weren't there any good dwarfs back in the 1930's? We've come a long way since then. The little people of today's fiction, whether it is in the written form or in TV and movies, receive a more well-rounded portrayal. But back when pulps were in their heyday, if a dwarf was introduced, you could be sure he would have an evil glint in his bulging eyes and a pointed dirk hidden in his belt.
Did you also notice a female listed among the lieutenants of Darvin Rochelle? It wasn't often that author Walter Gibson would use a female antagonist, so it deserves notice here. She doesn't get a large part, but is responsible for at least one death. She doesn't die in the end, as do all her male counterparts. Gibson didn't let females die, even the evil ones. But she is taken into police custody as our story ends.
The federal government is on the case. Carl Dolband, secret-service operative, is on the trail of Glade Tromboll, a government employee, who had important papers on him. Tromboll disappeared. Then Dolband disappeared as well. Fulton Fourrier, divisional chief of the secret service, calls in his top man, Vic Marquette. Marquette, who has met The Shadow before, realizes that he will need the help of The Shadow to uncover the Washington D.C. conspiracy. And The Shadow makes an opportune appearance, as needed.
Assisting The Shadow are his two top aides, Clyde Burke and Harry Vincent. Reporter Clyde Burke quits his job at the New York Classic and goes to Washington, D.C. There, he opens the National City News Association, which accumulates news items for syndication. Burke was first to arrive in the capitol. It was in response to Burke's report that The Shadow came to Washington as well.
Harry Vincent is called in last, to be assigned undercover duty. He is to insinuate himself with Rochelle's lieutenant Alvarez Menzone. He takes a job as Menzone's secretary in order to pass along information to his master, The Shadow.
No other agents appear in this story, nor do any other law-enforcement officers. There's no sign of Burbank, Marsland or Moe Shrevnitz. Nor do Commissioner Weston or Detective Cardona show up. It's a streamlined cast of The Shadow, his two agents, and government-man Vic Marquette. It's up to them to defeat the schemes of Darvin Rochelle.
The Shadow gets to use his mastery of disguise in this story. He appears as Henry Arnaud, as he enters Washington. As Arnaud, The Shadow sets up his headquarters at the Hotel Starlett. He also uses another disguise, but to avoid spoiling the surprise ending of the story, I won't mention who it is. No mention is made of his most oft-used disguise of Lamont Cranston.
The Shadow, in this early story, still has all the power and ability attributed to him in later years. He moves swiftly and invisibly through the night. He can read lips as plainly as though they were speaking beside him. He drives a speedy car equipped with bulletproof glass. And he shoots to kill, not wound.
It's a pretty good pulp mystery from 1934. Will the diabolical Darvin Rochelle be able to throw an entire continent into chaos, just so he can build a mighty financial empire? Will The Shadow fall into the deep pit filled with murky, greenish acid? Trust me... all ends well. And The Shadow would go on to further adventures in the pulps for the next fifteen years.
Spies! Government agents! Secret Service! Intrigue! Mystery! Murder! This story has it all. An excellent Shadow mystery novel.
"Hills of Death" was originally published in the January 15, 1938 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A bag stuffed with bundles of currency left on a country road. The Shadow strives to solve the mystery and break the grip of evil as terrible death hovers over the hills of New Jersey.
This is a most enjoyable Shadow adventure. Of course, this story comes from a time period when there were many, many good Shadow tales. Luckily, this one doesn't suffer by comparison. It stands right in there with the other terrific 1938 Shadow pulp novels. The plot is more fully fleshed out, not just a framework upon which to hang a variety of battles with crimedom. The situations are intriguing, and there are some surprises at the end. It was easy to read; time just seemed to slip past.
Clyde Burke, reporter for the New York Classic and secretly an agent of The Shadow, is our proxy hero for the first half of the tale. As our story opens, Clyde is driving the back roads of New Jersey, seeking information about New York gang members seen in the area. But before you know it, he's involved in a murder, and is captured by a mysterious Turk named Yakbar.
He's taken to a mysterious underground citadel and brought before strange old Doctor Nicholas Borth, a man of uncertain nationality. Either Borth was a man who had no country, or he was one who was at home in any land. He tells a story of wealthy Europeans forced to flee from their homelands because of the war. He is assisting them to convert their fortunes in jewels into cash. But if he's so innocent, why is he holding Clyde Burke prisoner? And why does Borth's "secretary," the beautiful young Diane Delban, seem so uneasy in the presence of the Doctor? Is she a prisoner, too?
Soon, Burke's disappearance becomes apparent to The Shadow. All his secret agents are set out the scour the New Jersey countryside, searching for the missing reporter/agent. Just about every agent is called into play: Miles Crofton, Tapper, Hawkeye, Cliff Marsland, Harry Vincent, Moe Shrevnitz and even faithful Burbank. While they are fanning out in their search, Diane helps Clyde escape from his underground prison cell with the promise that he'll bring government men back to free her and capture the nefarious Doctor Borth.
The freed Clyde Burke soon runs into Harry Vincent, one of The Shadow's most trusted agents. Harry gets Clyde headed off to New York in his car, while he stays behind to scout out the secret abode of Doctor Borth. But before you know it, the Turk, Yakbar, strikes again. This time it's Harry who is captured and taken to Borth's stronghold, that impregnable underground castle, tucked in a veritable wilderness.
What will happen next is uncertain. But what is certain, is that there's more excitement ahead. More thrills! More action! More mystery! It makes for a great story that I had trouble putting down.
As mentioned above, nearly the whole cast of regular characters appears some time during this story. For agents of The Shadow, we have Clyde Burke, Harry Vincent, Moe Shrevnitz, Hawkeye, Cliff Marsland, Burbank, Miles Crofton and Tapper. About the only one missing is Jericho Druke. Similarly, the law is represented by Inspector Joe Cardona and Commissioner Weston, along with federal lawman Vic Marquette.
As for The Shadow, he appears briefly as his true self, Kent Allard. Other than that, he's strictly The Shadow. There's no false identity, no disguise as Lamont Cranston. Just the black-cloaked Shadow! Oh, Fritz is mentioned - the police station janitor doesn't actually show up, either in person or as a disguise of The Shadow, but it's described that using that disguise is one of The Shadow's methods of gathering information at police headquarters.
It's always of interest to me, when The Shadow's gadgetry is mentioned. I love gadgetry - must be the "Doc Savage" influence on me. So it should be noted that this story features the short-wave set that is stored in the rumble seat of Vincent's car and is used by agents of The Shadow to contact their chief. And, of course, the disappearing ink is used; agents routinely carry a pen on their person that is filled with the stuff. And the secret sanctum is visited. Oh yes, and let's not forget the autogiro. The Shadow's famous wingless autogiro (sometimes spelled autogyro) is featured in the rousing climax to this story.
Other items that always catches my interest are the death traps. Outside Doctor Borth's huge vault, the floor slides open, leaving a gaping pit below. And if that weren't enough, there's a second death trap, later. At the secret entrance to the underground hideout, where the stairs lead down from the lodge's fireplace, the steps collapse and an unwary victim will fall into another bottomless chasm. Two death pits in a single underground sanctuary! Now there's a guy that's taking no chances!
The Shadow falls into the latter death trap, and escapes by a miracle. By the time he has avoided certain death, he is completely spent. His fingers twitch nervelessly; his head throbs; he is barely able to flounder outward. But that doesn't stop our stalwart hero. He staggers to his automobile and races off. As author Walter Gibson tells it, "The Shadow realized that his brain was swimming; but he maintained the mad pace, relying on sheer instinct to keep him on the highway." It sounds like something straight out of a Spider pulp adventure. Shot, stabbed, beaten, bruised and nearly unconscious, the hero surges relentlessly onward. Nothing will stop him!
I'm about to give away a key plot element, so if you don't want me to spoil the story for you, skip the next two paragraphs.
In Walter Gibson's Shadow novels, women are lovely, innocent young things. In Theodore Tinsley's Shadow novels, where they are often guilty of many things, but he wrote a slightly different characterization of The Shadow. In Gibson's stories, women are never masterminds, molls, or even part of gangs. The female is always guileless. But this story breaks the rule. In this story, we actually have a "bad" female.
Yes, as the story ends, we discover that Diane has been working for the jewel thieves all along. And the last we see of "the treacherous girl", she is in custody along with the surviving gang members after the big shoot-out at the finale. Apparently, she will be dealt with by the law.
END OF SPOILER...
The underground lair of the master criminal was one of the favorite plot elements of Theodore Tinsley. He was a big proponent of underground headquarters, tunnels, caverns, etc., and worked them into most of his own Shadow tales. Of course, he didn't write this story, but it does make me wonder if perhaps he had some input into the story development. Perhaps Walter Gibson used part of an old plot outline? Or maybe Gibson tossed around story ideas with his contemporary? If so, any collaboration that may have taken place was successful in producing a Shadow mystery that was a lot of fun to read.
If you're looking for a good solid Shadow mystery/adventure to read, this pulp novel is a good bet. I found it most enjoyable, and would recommend 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.