John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #59
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Green Box" was originally published in the March 15, 1934 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A strange metal box, smaller than a shoebox, dented and worn, but still showing a green color. That's what everyone's after. But the big question's, why. Why is the contents of that strange box worth human life? The Shadow will find out, and while at it, will clear the besmirched name of a dead man.
Our story opens in the state penitentiary. It's night time and two cell-mates are conversing. Ferris Legrand doesn't have long to live, and knows it. He's whispering his secret to Sam Fulwell, who's ready to be released. He tells Fulwell the secret of the green box! Little does Legrand realize that he's also telling his secret to The Shadow. Yes, The Shadow - amazing master of stealth - has actually secreted himself within the locked cell and is listening to the entire whispered conversation.
The Shadow leaves the cell and the prison without detection, a pretty good trick if you ask me. He returns to his sanctum, hidden somewhere in the heart of Manhattan, to formulate his planes. The next morning finds Ferris Legrand dead, and his cell-mate Sam Fulwell being released.
Sam Fulwell, it turns out, is not Sam Fulwell. That's just an alias. His real name is Slade Farrow. He returns to New York just long enough to meet with an associate and pick up some cash. Then, he's on his way to the small city of Southfield. Southfield, where Ferris Legrand lived. Southfield where Ferris Legrand was convicted of burglary and sentenced to ten years in prison. Southfield where Ferris Legrand hid the green box.
Once Slade Farrow arrives in Southfield, he wastes no time in consulting young Norton Granger, a prominent young Southfield attorney. He purchases The Southfield Clothing Shop from Ferris Legrand's daughter Mildred Legrand. It seems that with her father now deceased, she no longer needs to hold on to the business for him. That sets Farrow up in town as a solid citizen and merchant.
But no sooner has Slade Farrow set up business than he sneaks out in the dead of night. He drives out of town to a railroad trestle. He climbs underneath a huge iron girder and pulls from its hiding place a green metal box. Yes, he now has the mysterious green box that Ferris Legrand had told him about. All of this is mighty suspicious, but that's not all.
There's something suspicious going on in the basement of the clothing store, as well. Large crates are being brought into the store cellar. And when they are opened, out steps three ex-cons. Men who will work for Farrow on the sly, without the knowledge of the simple, unsuspecting townsfolk. Men who will eventually be forced to face The Shadow!
Readers who don't wish to have secrets of this story exposed are advised to skip the next eight paragraphs.
The character of Slade Farrow may be a familiar one with readers, since he appeared in nearly a dozen Shadow stories. Long-time readers know he is not a criminal, although this story seems to indicate otherwise. Actually, Slade Farrow is a sociologist who meets The Shadow for the first time in this story. He became The Shadow's friend and close confidant. He was the only person who eventually came to know The Shadow's true identity, other than the two Xincan Indians.
Author Walter Gibson was trying to trick the reader into believing that Slade Farrow was a lawbreaker. Then at the story's end, it would be revealed that all Farrow's actions which had seemed sinister, actually had an innocent explanation. And at the story's climax, Farrow would be revealed as an honest man, a staunch supporter of law and order, dedicated to the rehabilitation of criminals.
This story also introduces The Shadow's agent "Hawkeye" in the same manner. Hawkeye is one of the three men smuggled into the clothing store basement in those crates. And throughout the story, Hawkeye is described in a manner which leads readers to assume he is also a crook. But, of course, he is also an honest man, having been rehabilitated by Slade Farrow. Hawkeye went on to become one of The Shadow's most faithful agents and appeared in over a hundred of the magazine stories. He often partnered up with Cliff Marsland to help cover goings-on in New York's underworld.
The second of the three men secreted in those large crates was "Tapper" an expert safe-cracker. He was also part of the surprise ending, in that he was also a reformed crook, not a baddie. He was destined to become a second-string agent for The Shadow, and appeared in a total of ten pulp novels.
The third man in those crates was "Skeets." He too was on the side of law and order, although his early actions belied that fact. After this story, Skeets disappeared and never showed up in any other Shadow novels. If he became an agent for The Shadow, it was never acknowledged.
Introducing continuing characters by the method of making them appear to be the story's antagonists until the final surprise twist ending, was one that Walter Gibson used several more times. The Shadow's pilot, Miles Crofton, was introduced in 1934's "The Unseen Killer." Dr. Roy Tam was introduced in 1935's "The Fate Joss." A month later, Inspector Eric Delka was introduced in "The Man from Scotland Yard." Myra Reldon, often known as Ming Dwan, first appeared in 1937's "Teeth of the Dragon." All of their initial appearances were intended to throw off readers into believing them criminals, until the surprise ending.
The clever twist surprise ending could only work so many times before readers caught on. Gibson was really pushing it with the second use of that technique when Miles Crofton was introduced nine months later. After that, he should have stopped. It was becoming painfully obvious to readers, and the surprise ending was no surprise at all. If you ask me, he continued using that technique way too long.
I suppose if you read these old pulp novels out of original publication order, like I did, it makes the guilty/innocent surprise ending a total flop. I had already read stories involving Slade Farrow and Hawkeye, and knew they weren't crooks. So the story didn't fool me one bit. But I suppose to the original pulp readers, it came as quite a shock. At least this first time. And maybe the second time with Miles Crofton, too. But after that... it's another story.
END OF SPOILER
Most of this story takes place in Southfield, hometown of Ferris Legrand. The first two chapters take place in the state prison. The third one, in New York. But after that, the action moves to Southfield and stays there. The Shadow brings in several of his agents to assist. Trusted agents Harry Vincent and Cliff Marsland show up and check into the local hotel, the Southfield House. But that's all the assistance The Shadow receives. Detective Joe Cardona appears briefly in chapter three, but that's all.
As for disguises, The Shadow uses his favorite one, that of millionaire Lamont Cranston. He also gets to disguise himself as the prison guard, Mike, in order to sneak into and out of the state pen. And he appears as a tall, unnamed observer at the Grand Central Station.
How does he change his disguise? To quote: "The Shadow pressed finger tips against cheeks and chin. His false features changed a trifle as the fingers molded them." Sounds a bit like the putty and gauze which is described more fully in other pulp adventures. But that's all we're told, here.
We've got a little love interest in this story. The young attorney Norton Granger is in love with Ferris Legrand's daughter Mildred. But until her father's name is cleared, she will never feel free to marry him. So The Shadow helps the cause of true love by clearing the name of Ferris Legrand and catching the true criminals.
There is no proxy here in this story. Most of the action focuses on Slade Farrow, but readers are supposed to conclude he's a crook, until the very end. So he can't be a proxy hero. I suppose young Norton Granger is the closest we get to a proxy hero, but the story doesn't really involve him much, so he doesn't exactly quality, either. All of this makes the story a bit atypical.
We do get a visit to The Shadow's sanctum, in this story. And that's always a fun place to visit. And we get to see The Shadow use his rubber suction cups to scale the outside of an apartment building wall to reach Slade Farrow's second floor room. Those little consistent touches make The Shadow stories all the more enjoyable.
National holidays are never mentioned in Shadow pulp mysteries, strangely. There was never a special Christmas story. Never a mention of Thanksgiving. Or New Years. Or Easter, Independence Day, etc. So this one surprised me when I saw: "The upper concourse of the Grand Central Station was thronged with holiday travelers." No mention of which holiday. But the mere fact that an unnamed holiday was even alluded to in passing was quite a surprise. Since the story was published in March, perhaps the holiday was Easter? Or since it was written the previous July, perhaps it was Independence Day? Whatever it was, it certainly was an unusual mention, and deserved acknowledgment.
And another unusual occurrence was a rare self-reference by the magazine to itself. Pulp readers at the time were led to believe that the then-current Shadow magazine was based upon an actual person, just as radio listeners were encouraged to believe that The Shadow, narrator of the radio show, was a true-to-life crime fighter. In this story, the pulp magazine actually refers to itself! To quote:
"The clerk, taking his chair, picked up a copy of The Shadow Magazine and resumed his reading. Little did he realize that The Shadow himself was here!"
I think my favorite part of the entire novel was the rousing climax on a thundering locomotive. The bad guys are making their escape by automobile. They grab a touring car and race out of town. The Shadow climbs aboard a panting locomotive and takes off after them. The huge leviathan reaches speeds of ninety miles per hour! And just as the automobile rounds the curve to the grade crossing, The Shadow's locomotive engine slams into it at full speed, tossing the crumpled vehicle off the trestle to the depths of a two-hundred foot gorge. The occupants of the car fall like toy soldiers, plunging to their well-deserved doom. Whew, it's a real page turner!
So, what does the green box contain, and why is it important to so many people? You'll have to read the story to find out. You'll discover the answers with The Shadow as this terrific tale of mystery unfolds. It's a great Shadow mystery novel, that contains some historic introductions that you won't want to miss.
"The Getaway Ring" was originally published in the February 1, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A new racket has sprung up in New York; one that caters to the criminal gangs that seek a safe and guaranteed method of escape from the law. But they can't escape The Shadow!
This is a pretty average Shadow adventure that rises up a notch because of the higher than average body count. Yes, the bullets are flying in this pulp tale. It reads like one of the earlier Shadow mysteries, where The Shadow never misses a shot and dead bodies pile up like logwood.
By the time this story was written, The Shadow had been tamed somewhat. In the earlier stories, The Shadow often shot and killed the crooks that crossed his path. But by 1940, he was shooting less. Often he used his .45 automatics as cudgels to sledge the crooks on the jaw and knock them senseless. And when he did finally take aim, he often missed. He was still a crack shot, but there were always extenuating circumstances that prevented the his accurate shots from reaching their targets. But not in this story. The bloodshed and body count harken back to the earlier Shadow tales. Note this one passage:
"Machine guns raked the staggering killers, flaying them with streams of bullets, so that they lashed about, seemingly alive, after they had taken death sprawls."
And it's because of the higher body count that this story rises above the standard 1940 fare. And only because of that. By all other reckoning, this story has nothing special to make it stand out. It's a pretty traditional gangster story. Personally, I like something with a little more spice. Give me a flashy super villain like the Voodoo Master, Doctor Rodil Mocquino, or Shiwan Khan. Give me a story with a supernatural bent, like "Ghost of the Manor" or some mad scientist with his crazy invention, like "The Black Hush." But this one is just a story about mobsters who have come up with a system to evade the law. Kind of a yawner.
Our story opens with Speed Kirkel, Manhattan's Public Enemy No. 1, breaking into a jewelry store. Old Ned Turbin, owner of the wholesale jewelry company Turbin & Co., is forced to open the safe. As soon as Speed Kirkel rifles the safe, Turbin's life will be forfeit. There's only one person who can save him... The Shadow! And just on cue, The Shadow shows up.
In a pitched gun battle, Speed Kirkel makes his escape with The Shadow hot on his heels. There is a heated chase through the streets of Manhattan with Speed Kirkel leading the way, closely followed by The Shadow. The parade grows as police join the pursuit. Taxi cabs join in as well, and pretty soon the procession of vehicles stretches for blocks. In all the confusion, Speed Kirkel makes good his escape.
How did Speed Kirkel make good such a complete disappearance? And it's not just Speed Kirkel, either. Other gangs are finding similar success. It seems that gangsters are committing increasingly bold crimes, and then escaping the clutches of the law. It doesn't matter how tightly the police net is drawn, the mobs miraculously elude the pursuing coppers. How is it possible that time after time they can get away with such ease? The Shadow intends to find out.
There's a new racket in town. Within a short time, The Shadow uncovers a "getaway ring" that promises crooks a safe getaway for five thousand dollars. Once they pay their money, they are provided with hidden channels of escape from the law. Crooks are spirited to mysterious hideaways along a route that rivaled the historical "underground railway" of the nineteenth century.
Every eventuality is planned for. A trail is laid with decoys to evade the police. Then the trail takes them to a doctor, in case the crooks have need for medical assistance. A special hidden gas station keeps their cars fully fueled. The trail takes them to a lunch stand were they are provided with food. A repair shop is available, in case their cars need fixing. There's even an abandoned cemetery along the trail, in case the crooks' brush with the law resulted in mobsmen dying enroute.
Who is behind this new racket is unknown. But someone very clever has found a way to profit from crime without becoming directly involved. This hidden crimelord gets his cut of the illicit gains by offering his unique services to the gangsters of Manhattan, and providing them with a complete getaway, right down to the hideout at the end of the underground trail.
There's plenty of action in this story. Plenty of crimes are committed, gunbattles engaged in, and escapes accomplished. And plenty of cheap thugs bite the dust as the swift and unerring bullets from The Shadow's thundering .45 automatics spell their doom. All the action helps keep things going, even if it does tend to get a bit repetitive after a while.
The Shadow gets to use a few disguises in this story. Of course, he appears as Lamont Cranston, his most often-used disguise. He also appears as Clicker Lordon, an expert safecracker from Chicago. As such, he gathers together a gang, robs Rutledge Mann's safe and makes his getaway. He wants to use the getaway service that other criminals are being offered. He wants to travel the same trail they have traveled, to uncover the details of the complicated scheme.
The Shadow also gets to disguise himself as Gurthy, the contact man who acts as liaison between the getaway ring and the various gangs who wish to avail themselves of the getaway service. All in an effort to learn more about the inner workings of the getaway process.
We also see The Shadow in one of my favorite disguises, that of Fritz, janitor at police headquarters. Of course there was a real Fritz, but The Shadow arrives at headquarters about a half hour after Fritz has left, and starts mopping the floor in Cardona's office. As usual, he is ignored and is thus able to pick up valuable inside information. And Fritz gets a little more dialogue, here. Usually, Fritz is limited to a one-word reply to just about any query: "Yah." This time, Fritz gets to say "Yah, nobody." That one extra word must have been quite a luxury for good old Fritz. He's becoming quite loquacious!
In this story, most of The Shadow's agents appear. Moe Shrevnitz, the speediest hackie in Manhattan gets involved early on. Cliff Marsland, known as a capable mob lieutenant, gets to do plenty of undercover work here. And, as is often the case, he is assisted by his partner Hawkeye. Rutledge Mann doesn't actually appear, but his office is ransacked by Clicker Lordon, who you remember is actually The Shadow in disguise. Clyde Burke, reporter on the Classic, gets brief mention near the end. And contact man Burbank is mentioned once. Even Cranston's chauffeur Stanley gets a scene or two. Harry Vincent is the only regular agent who doesn't appear, here.
When it comes to law-enforcement officers, they are out in full force. Police Commissioner Ralph Weston appears throughout the entire story, as does Inspector Joe Cardona. Detective Sergeant Markham, one of the lesser regulars at headquarters, gets to show up. And semi-regular Vic Marquette of the F.B.I. gets to help The Shadow mop up the gangs of thugs that they eventually trap in a climactic shootout.
One of the nice little touches that I appreciated in this story was the inclusion of the silhouette of The Shadow printed on one of his notes. And, as always before, it fades mysteriously as it is being viewed. It's not often that this emblem is mentioned in these pulp stories, but it makes a nice touch of authentication for such notes.
There was one loose end, which I noticed. Something that author Walter Gibson should have tied up, and easily could have. Four crooks from Nick Angreff's gang are captured by The Shadow. Cliff Marsland and Hawkeye were working undercover with the gang, and showed their true colors during a battle when they helped The Shadow overpower the men. At the story's end, these four crooks are alive and in custody. But most importantly, they live with the knowledge that Cliff and Hawkeye are secret agents for The Shadow. Long has the underworld sought the identities of The Shadow's agents. And now, they are exposed! Yet, nothing is said about this alarming gap in security. Apparently the four men are turned over to the law, and will receive jail sentences. Jail, where they can pass along information to all of crimedom of the identity of two of The Shadow's agents. That's a big "oops" that Gibson should have caught.
The Shadow has his work cut out for him in this story. He must close the trail of the getaway ring, and at the same time defeat the mobs using it. And that still leaves the question of who is masterminding the entire scheme. It's a task that only The Shadow can handle, with the able assistance of his agents and the F.B.I.
This story isn't too bad, although it certainly isn't one of the classics. It's a good solid gangster tale that is a touch more grisly than the usual Walter Gibson fare. And that helps it rise about the normal 1940 pulp story. It's definitely worth reading.
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.