John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #5
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"The Salamanders" was originally published in the April 1, 1936 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Yes,
the April Fool's issue! But it's no April Fool's joke when The Shadow must
confront the most amazing dangers of his entire career: a ring of criminals who
use fire to cover their crimes. A gang that's impervious to the flames - much as
the mythical salamanders of old - they actually walk through fire! The Shadow
has never seen a challenge like this before.
It all starts at the Capital Hotel in the small city of Riverport, several
hundred miles south of New York. Harry Vincent, secret agent for The Shadow, is
there on a mission from his master. He's there to investigate why Chester
Woldorf is afraid of some unspecified threat. Fire breaks out. Vincent rushes
to Woldorf's room to find him dead - murdered - stabbed through the heart.
The entire building is one huge conflagration. Harry makes his way down the
stairs through the inferno when he encounters Woldorf's murderer. The man
punches Harry, knocking him out. Harry tumbles to the bottom of the stone steps
and lays helpless in the basement of the raging furnace. The brick walls of the
hotel crumble leaving Harry imprisoned inside the death trap.
When the fire is finally out, it is discovered that the hotel safe is missing.
Obviously no one could have lugged it out in the middle of the blast furnace, so
all assume it must have melted in the intense heat of the hotel fire. All assume
that except The Shadow. Yes, The Shadow is on the scene and knows that something
unusual has taken place.
The Shadow figures that the safe was spirited away in some unexplainable
fashion, and takes to tracking a mysterious truck that is the likely method of
transportation. But he follows it straight into a death trap. On the road
outside town, the hillside is blasted away and The Shadow's car is sent through
the guard rails to a thirty foot drop to the river below. The coupe is sunk deep
in the waters, a man-made avalanche of massive stone on top of it, and The
Shadow trapped inside.
The gang of thugs who have perpetrated the two crimes returns to New York. On
the fiftieth floor of a Manhattan skyscraper, they report to the offices of the
Great American Power Company. Inside, the company president Huxley Drune awaits
their report. Huxley Drune is the mastermind behind the crimes. Drune's
co-conspirator is Gordon Colgarth, who headed up the team that traveled to
Riverport and back. Together, Drune and Colgarth are planning more crime.
Three crimes are planned. The first has already been successfully completed in
Riverport. The second will take place in New York at the home of Lincoln Breel.
And the third will be at the Sheffield National Bank outside New York. All three
lead to a single goal: the accumulation of some special stock which will, when
combined, be worth over fifty million dollars.
The safe that was taken from the Capital Hotel in Riverport has been opened and
the stocks removed. Huxley Drune now has them safely in hand. His next step will
be to obtain the papers belonging to Lincoln Breel here in Manhattan. His method
will once again be fire. Again, his plan is to set incendiaries to turn the
Breel mansion into a blazing furnace, and to secretly remove the desired papers
during the conflagration.
How is it done? How are Drune's minions able to walk through the intense heat,
flame and smoke of their own making? These are his Salamanders. Named after the
ancient beasts of mythology who lived in fire, these are men equipped with
special suits that allow them to tread where any unprotected man would instantly
These Salamanders are men in bulky garments that look like undersea diving suits
with round glass-fronted helmets. A hose trails out of each suit to a compressor
outside. A portable air-cooling plant provides them with fresh air through the
hoses as well as keeps them cool inside their insulated suits. They carry
strange weapons that shoot withering blasts of flame. They don't fear the
flames. Fire is their friend!
How will The Shadow stop them? It's an amazing story filled with death traps and
peril. And in the end, of course, The Shadow defeats the two evil masterminds
and their Salamanders. But not before he's forced to endure more danger and
excitement than ever before in his career. Death is his constant companion
without hardly a single moment's rest. The story moves dizzily along right up to
the final confrontation in the bowels of an even more horrific inferno.
This story has a lot more action than your normal Shadow mystery. And that was
no accident. It was planned as a response to the rival pulp "The Spider" from
Popular Publications. The editors at Street & Smith were under pressure from
President George C. Smith, Jr. He feared that The Spider was taking magazine
buyers from The Shadow, and wanted The Shadow to become less complex and more
So circulation manager Henry Ralston and editor John Nanovic sat down with
author Walter Gibson and planned out a new Shadow novel. They started with one
of Gibson's existing story outlines and came up with a story that featured
relentless action and suspense. No slow, moody opening here. This story starts
as fire wracks the Riverport hotel and Harry Vincent is in immediate peril. And
things don't slow down until the end. The result of this collaboration was "The
It should be pointed out that Street & Smith's concerns were overstated, and
that this "new" Shadow didn't last. The next two Shadow novels were also
somewhat unusual: "The Man From Shanghai" was a Chinatown story and "City of
Doom" was a sequel to the earlier "The Voodoo Master." But after that, Gibson
returned The Shadow to his old style. President George Smith was satisfied when
sales picked back up and he let the magazine return to it's old ways.
The Shadow works nearly alone in this story. That also harkens to the more
"Spider-like" story. Harry Vincent appears at the beginning of the story, but
then disappears until the middle when The Shadow rescues him from a fiery pit of
flaming coal in a blast furnace. Harry really doesn't get to do much, other than
get captured again, requiring yet another rescue.
As for other agents, Clyde Burke is mentioned briefly in passing. And contact
man Burbank gets two lines of dialog. Miles Crofton, The Shadow's pilot, appears
briefly at the story's climax. But other than that, there are no familiar
characters. Not even lawmen Joe Cardona or Ralph Weston appear.
The Shadow, as portrayed here, is a non-stop whirlwind of action. He shoots to
kill. He's never wounded. He falls into one death trap after another, and each
time escapes intact. He can't be killed. Even the criminals recognize this fact,
as witnesses by this passage from the story:
"Unless you see him dead, an absolute corpse, you can not be sure that he is
gone. Even then, he should be cremated; his ashes scattered to the winds."
As to disguises, there is no appearance by Lamont Cranston, Henry Arnaud, or any
of his other famous oft-used disguises. He does appear in several nondescript
disguises. The Shadow appears as an unnamed tall, calm-faced stranger at the
Riverport train station. Later, he is an impassive, hawk-faced taxicab passenger
from Times Square. And he is a dull-faced car washer at the West Side Garage.
But his most impressive disguise is that of Lincoln Breel.
We get to see The Shadow putting on his disguise in his sanctum. This takes
place "elsewhere" in the sanctum, rather than at the usual polished table. The
Shadow sits before a mirror and examines a photograph of the man he will
impersonate. He opens a make-up kit and presses a wax-like substance against his
features. Later, when he appears at the brownstone mansion of Lincoln Breel, he
is taken for Breel himself.
The Shadow uses his ring of skeleton keys in this story. Most often in The
Shadow pulp stories, our hero used his lock picks. And indeed he does use them
later in the story. His special ring of skeleton keys is rarely mentioned in
these stories, and so it's worthy of note that they are used here. And his
special lock picks are used, later, as well.
The Shadow carries some powerful explosives with him. In other stories, we are
told of two powders carried in the lining of his cloak. But in this story, he
carries three small bottles in a little pocket of the bag he keeps with him. The
first bottle contains a black graphite-like powder. The second bottle holds a
grayish powder that is mixed with the contents of the first bottle. The third
bottle is a colorless liquid that when added to the previous mixture provides a
sudden blast. And when you're trapped in a room that's afire, such a mixture is
bound to come in handy!
It's good to see The Shadow's autogiro show up again. Miles Crofton, pilot to
The Shadow, brings it in at the story's climax so that The Shadow can fly it
down inside a burning building. Whew! Now that takes guts.
It should be noted that the special fire-proof suits used by the Salamanders
were made of asbestos cloth. Back in the 1930's, asbestos was a wonder-material
used to fire-proof just about everything. Today, of course, we know it to be a
carcinogen; its use is banned. If those thugs who wore the suits had survived
The Shadow's bullets, they might easily have succumbed later to cancer caused by
asbestos fibers in their lungs. But they were doomed to a quicker and more sure
fate at the hands of The Shadow.
One final comment, refers to The Shadow's reputed mystical abilities. One line
in the story states: "The Shadow had a persuasive power that would rally men to
proper action." It doesn't exactly say he had a "hypnotic" power, but it does
seem to allude to that alleged ability. He has the power to sway the masses to
his will, but the exact nature of that power of left to the imagination.
This is bit of an unusual Shadow novel. There are death traps enough for a dozen
novels. There's the car plunging eighty feet to a rock quarry far below, being
trapped in the basement of a burning building, the flaming pit of coals, and it
goes on and on.
When The Shadow confronts opponents who can walk through fire with impunity, you
know you've got the makings of a great story. And indeed, it is!
"The Black Falcon" was published in the February 1, 1934 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Who is The
Black Falcon? That's what all of New York is asking. That's what the underworld
wonders, as it admires the audacity of this master criminal. That's what the
wealthy social class wonders, as it barricades itself seeking safety from the
brutal kidnapper. And that's what the New York police department wonders as it
attempts to unmask the strange mastermind behind the high-profile kidnappings.
A black feather. The dyed feather of a falcon is the only clue to the man behind
an insidious game of crime. Even his evil minions don't know his identity. Yet
they readily accept his payments, packets of money banded along with a single
black feather. The law receives taunting letters from the crime master, affixed
with another of those black feathers.
The Black Falcon boasts of his ability of kidnap wealthy society members and
return them at will. And he makes good upon his boasts!
First to be taken was Hubert Apprison, prominent New York banker. Apprison and
his secretary, Jonathan Blossom, were in his upstairs study. Guests downstairs
heard shots and rushed upstairs to find Jonathan Blossom lying dead on the study
floor and Hubert Apprison gone. Abducted by The Black Falcon!
Commissioner Ralph Weston receives a letter from The Black Falcon announcing his
next kidnapping. Although the person is not named, Weston is sure he knows the
identity of the next victim. Elias Carthers, the tobacco magnate, is in
Commissioner Weston and his ace detective Joe Cardona attend an exclusive
reception at the Carthers' Long Island home. They are there to safeguard Elias
Carthers from the announced abduction. But their presence is for naught. Their
efforts are futile, as Carthers is taken from under their noses.
Who will be next? None other than Lamont Cranston! Yes, The Black Falcon has
confirmed that Cranston is The Shadow, and determines to kidnap him. This will
not only serve the purpose of a million-dollar ransom, but will also eliminate
the threat from the black-cloaked avenger.
And The Black Falcon isn't done yet! His next kidnapping is promised to be such
a notable achievement that will startle all of New York. Who could possibly be
his next victim? How can he be stopped? It will take all the unique abilities of
The Shadow to thwart this Napoleon of crime. It will tax The Shadow to his
fullest. And it's a classic early story that you won't want to miss.
Featured in this story are underworld-agent Cliff Marsland, reporter Clyde Burke
and long-time agent Harry Vincent, with Burbank and Rutledge Mann in brief
appearances. The Shadow appears in disguise as Lamont Cranston. And representing
law and order are Commissioner Weston and Joe Cardona.
This story features the appearance of those unique rubber discs. The Shadow uses
the concave suction cups to scale the sheer outside wall of a tall apartment
house. These strange cups first appeared in the 1932 story "The Crime Cult" and
were a popular feature in the early Shadow novels.
In these early stories, The Shadow was apparently a bit of an inventor. He was
occasionally mentioned as having invented some device that was used. In this
one, Harry Vincent uses a wireless sending set, secreted in the rumble seat of
his coupe. The equipment, it is mentioned, was The Shadow's own invention. Is
there no end to what The Shadow is capable of?
He can even impersonate the voice of Commissioner Weston. He does it in this
story, giving a perfect representation in order to fool Weston's servant Kempton
over the phone.
In this early story, Harry Vincent does not know Lamont Cranston. In later
years, of course, he knew Cranston and believed him to be another of The
Shadow's agents. And in some of the later stories, he even knew Cranston was one
of The Shadow's disguises. But not in this story. Here he comes face to face
with Cranston, and views him as just another wealthy prisoner.
Another feature of the early Shadow novels that disappeared after time was The
Shadow's "horror face." It was suggested that the true face of The Shadow was so
horribly disfigured that he always kept it hidden beneath the collar of his
cloak and beneath his slouch hat. Either that, or he kept it hidden beneath a
putty-like disguise. In later years, the horror face was discarded and we
learned the under the slouch hat was the face of Kent Allard. Apparently it was
Allard's true face and not disfigured.
In this novel, however, The Shadow has his horror face, and reveals it to The
Black Falcon in the exciting climax of the story. The Shadow tells The Black
Falcon, "...those who have seen the true face of The Shadow have never lived to
recite their discovery!" And then he unfolds his collar. The sight of his face
causes The Black Falcon to slump in horror. His ashen face reveals terror,
something the evil fiend had never felt before.
Yes, this is The Shadow at his finest. It's a thrilling early pulp novel.
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.