John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #60
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Prince of Evil" was published in the April 15, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. This was the first of the four "Prince of Evil" novels. The series, written not by Walter Gibson but Theodore Tinsley, is widely considered to be some of the best Shadow novels ever written.
Someone is out to destroy the Harmon family. First John Harmon was ruined financially. In some mysterious manner, he was swindled out of nearly a half-million dollars. He signed the sales agreement for five-hundred thousand dollars, and received a check for the same amount. All securely tucked away in his safe. But when he later removed them from the safe, they were for fifty-thousand dollars. The check and bill of sale all had mysteriously changed. The police carefully examined the documents and found no trace of invisible inks or other evidence of tampering. They concluded that Harmon was delusional.
Harmon was hounded until he was finally driven to suicide. But that wasn't the end of it. Next, his wife was murdered in an "accidental" switch of medicines. Nurse Peggy Dooley was framed as the guilty party, since she had given the fatal dose. And because she had been the innocent dupe in a similar case three years previously. With Mrs. Harmon dead and all evidence once again pointing to her, Nurse Dooley took her own life. Another suicide orchestrated by some evil mastermind. Some Prince of Evil!
Anyone attempting to assist the stricken Harmon family receives quick retribution. Hubert Jackson, John Harmon's attorney and personal friend, attempts to help the family by fund raising. Before the day is out, his apartment is ransacked, his valuable paintings torn to shreds, his furniture attacked with ax and acid, and the thing he values most in his whole life, his prize-winning beloved terrier Pippo, is brutally slain.
Lamont Cranston volunteers to take over the fund-raising efforts on behalf of the Harmon family. But within minutes, he is struck as well. A homeless young boy whom Cranston has befriended is attacked by a brutal thug. He's struck in the temple with brass knuckles, then picked up and thrown bodily in front of a speeding truck. He's taken to the hospital, critically wounded. All because Cranston has volunteered to help the Harmon family.
The rein of terror for the Harmon family has not ended. Who is behind it? And why? The Harmons had no enemies; no one sought them any ill-will. The Shadow must enter the picture and find out who is the sinister force wielding such animosity toward the Harmons. And he must do it before the two orphaned Harmon children, Bob and Jane, fall under the ominous machinations of the Prince of Evil.
Who is the Prince of Evil? Whoever he is, he is interested in inflicting as much pain as possible. Emotional pain. Physical pain. How can one man enjoy wielding such horror? To throw a young boy under the wheels of a speeding truck. To cut the throat of a beloved pet dog. To drive two humans to suicide. To poison a woman and place the blame on an innocent nurse. To do these things, and more, would require someone of inhuman feeling. Someone truly evil! It will take The Shadow to solve this strange mystery.
In this story, The Shadow appears in several guises. He appears as Lamont Cranston, as a white-haired old man and as Kent Allard, his true self. In fact, in one scene, he must appear as both Lamont Cranston and Kent Allard to allay suspicions that he plays a dual part. Exactly how he accomplishes it is rather clever, and I'll leave it to you to read the novel to find out how it's done. But no, the "real" Cranston is out of the country and doesn't assist in any way.
Assisting The Shadow in his hunt for the Prince of Evil is Clyde Burke, ace reporter for the Daily Classic, Harry Vincent, his most trusted agent, Moe Shrevnitz, taxicab driver, and Rutledge Mann, investment broker who gathers information for The Shadow.
Rutledge Mann plays an unusually active role in this story. Usually, in other Shadow stories, Mann stays in his office and goes through newspaper clippings. He receives visits by other agents who hand in reports to him. And he occasionally leaves his office to deliver sealed envelopes containing the information to the "B. Jonas" office. He even shows up at the Cobalt Club, although rarely. But in this story, he is given several assignments that require him leaving his investment office.
Unfortunately, one of those assignments leads to his capture by the Prince of Evil. And at story's end, he's still in the evil clutches of the Prince of Evil. It would take nearly three months until The Shadow could rescue him from his incarceration in the follow-up story "Murder Genius." This story, "Prince of Evil," has the unique honor of being the only story in the history of The Shadow magazine which has a cliffhanger ending. Instead of the villain meeting his doom and all being resolved, this story ends with the villain making his getaway with the captured Rutledge Mann. I can imagine readers being shocked. This had never happened before!
If you want to read all four of these stories in order, they are: "The Prince of Evil" from April 15, 1940, "Murder Genius" from July 1, 1940, "The Man Who Died Twice" from September 15, 1940 and finally "The Devil's Paymaster" from November 15, 1940. Yes, it would take The Shadow four mystery novels before he could finally bring the Prince of Evil to justice. It's quite a series of adventures, and is justifiably considered among the best Shadow novels.
Theodore Tinsley wrote these four novels, not Walter Gibson. The editors at Street and Smith spaced the four stories each several months apart. The intervening stories were written by Walter Gibson. The editors were careful to select stories between "The Prince of Evil" and "Murder Genius" that did not feature Rutledge Mann. It wouldn't do to have him captured, then show up in an ensuing novel as if nothing had happened, only to be shown still in captivity months later when "Murder Genius" was published. The editors were careful to select Shadow stories from their backlog of Gibson-authored novels that did not feature Rutledge Mann for that period of time.
As mentioned previously, Theodore Tinsley was noted for his writing style that was similar to Walter Gibson's, but a bit more edgy. His version of The Shadow is a bit more vulnerable. He's wounded more often than Gibson's Shadow. In this story, a slug creases his thigh. Nothing serious, but in Gibson's stories usually the slug passes harmlessly through the cloak or hat brim.
Theodore Tinsley's Shadow novels were notable for additional emphasis on violence. Not a lot; just slightly more. The descriptions are just a little more graphic. A little more blood. A little more torture. Like when acid is thrown at The Shadow's face. Luckily, it misses, but if it had struck him directly in the face, it would have hopelessly blinded him and left him with a face like a mask of horror. Of course, long-time readers will remember that originally The Shadow had just such a horror face hidden beneath his masklike countenance. It was referred to in the early Shadow tales, but had been dropped long before this 1940 tale had been published.
Just how does the Prince of Evil inspire his minions to such wild, savage cruelty as described in this story? By drugs! The drugs are delivered by chewing gum. After chewing the gum, his thugs are overcome by a powerful urge to savagery. Their blood boils with brutal sadism; they become savage killers wanting only to deliver terror and torture.
And Tinsley was also noted for some titillation of a sexual nature in his novels. It was mild, but there. In this story he describes a high-class strip tease in a night club, where a trained parrot snatches the silken veils from a dancer. Nothing is graphic, but the scene is there. And it's pure Tinsley.
A few other thing of interest pop up in this story. Clyde Burke gets a romantic kiss in this one. Usually, he gets left out in the romance department. But in this story, more than once he takes a woman in his embrace and presses her lips to his. Of course, she turns out to be an agent of the Prince of Evil, and Clyde Burke knows this. But it doesn't stop him from performing his duties for The Shadow.
We get to see The Shadow in his sanctum. And this time, we get to see the antique quill-tipped pen he writes with. Usually, the pen he uses is not described, although it has been shown on the cover of at least one Shadow magazine.
We also get a more detailed explanation of the torture that The Shadow uses on the henchmen he captures. There have been vague references to it in other Shadow novels, but this time we see more of how it works. It involves light and sound, leaving not a single bruise on the body. It's bloodless, yet efficient. The nerves and senses have been assaulted in a manner which is designed to obtain information from the captives. Sounds like the same method used when loud rock music was played outside Manuel Noriega's compound in Panama back in 1989. And more recently in Guantanamo, Cuba where Iraqi detainees were inundated with strobe lights and loud music. So these methods aren't new. And I suspect somebody in the CIA's been reading The Shadow!
In the "Prince of Evil" series, this is where it all began.
"Messenger of Death" was published in the August 1, 1943 issue of The Shadow Magazine. There is no "messenger of death" in this story. But there would have been, had it not been for the tireless heroics of The Shadow. Chet Ferris, young detective in the employ of tottery old inventor Hugh Staffert, would have unwittingly become the "messenger of death" if The Shadow had not intervened.
It all starts in the laboratory of elderly Wayne Dunstan. A group of businessmen headed by wealthy Gregg Garland are negotiating the purchase of a secret formula for a new miracle metal known as glazite. Glazite is a transparent steel that has recently been perfected in secret by a group of five scientists. This strange substance appears to be glass, but has all the strength and conductivity of steel. And Greg Garland wants to buy the secret process for making it.
Gregg Garland offers Wayne Dunstan a million dollars for the full formula, all patents and rights. He sees vast potential in this new metal. Warships constructed from glazite. Airplanes made from the same transparent material. Weapons of war that possess near invisibility. Yes, there's great potential to the profits in this new metal. And Gregg Garland wants to own it!
But old Wayne Dunstan resists. He wants the nation to benefit from this new material, and has decided that he won't sell it outright. He will provide the finished substance only on a royalty basis. Naturally, this doesn't sit well with Garland who wants to own the entire thing.
To prove the value of the new metal, Dunstan has called together a group of investors and influential citizens to observe a test of the transparent material. The test will demonstrate the bulletproof properties of glazite. To this end, he has invited Commissioner Ralph Weston to attend the demonstration. And along with Weston comes ace crime hunter Inspector Joe Cardona and Weston's good friend Lamont Cranston. Unbeknownst to Commissioner Weston, this is not the "real" Lamont Cranston, but is instead The Shadow in disguise.
As they arrive, doom strikes Wayne Dunstan. A fire explodes in the laboratory, and Dunstan is trapped behind a wall of glazite. In the time it takes to circumvent the impenetrable barrier, Dunstan is overcome by the poison fumes.
Of the five inventors involved in the creation of glazite, old Wayne Dunstan was the spokesman. The other four chose to remain unknown, remaining in hidden locations with their individual parts of the secret formula. With Dunstan's death, the only clue to their identities is his last word, "Youstaf."
Who is Youstaf? Only The Shadow has a clue. While the police are looking for someone of Turkish or similar origin, The Shadow divines that the last word spoken by Wayne Dunstan was in reality a first name and part of a last name. "Hugh Staffert" must have been the inventor spoken by Dunstan with his last breath. The Shadow decides to pay Hugh Staffert a visit.
But Hugh Staffert hasn't been sitting still. Having heard of Dunstan's death, Staffert has called upon young detective Chet Ferris to visit the other three inventors of glazite. With Wayne Dunstan dead, it falls upon Hugh Staffert to pull together the parts of the formula so it can be given to the government.
Rather than give young Chet Ferris the names of all of the other three inventors, Staffert gives him the name of just one: Louis Channey in Tulpahannock, Pennsylvania. Once Ferris contacts Channey and receives his portion of the formula, Staffert will give Ferris the next name, and so on.
The Shadow recognizes that as young Ferris moves from one inventor to another, he could easily leave a trail of death behind him. Sinister forces are at work, attempting to acquire the secret formula, and they will stop at nothing to achieve their ends. Knowing that Chet Ferris could become a messenger of death for the other three inventors, The Shadow has Chet captured by his agents. The Shadow will impersonate Chet Ferris and take his place along the trail to the other inventors.
The Shadow's famed powers of disguise and impersonation are put to the test in this story, as he must become Chet Ferris to track down the pieces of the secret formula. It makes for a thrilling story as he faces death traps created by wily scientists to protect their valuable secret formulas. It's a task that only The Shadow could accomplish, and you'll read all about it in this story, "Messenger of Death."
Familiar characters appearing in this story are Police Commissioner Ralph Weston, Inspector Joe Cardona, Lamont Cranston, Moe Shrevnitz, Margo Lane, Harry Vincent, Cliff Marsland, Hawkeye, Jericho and Burbank. These last make only brief appearances, however. Most of the action is taken up by The Shadow himself, both in disguise as Lamont Cranston and as Chet Ferris, and as his more familiar black-cloaked self.
Although this story was published in the August 1943 issue of The Shadow Magazine, Walter Gibson actually finished writing it in December of 1942, just one year after America entered World War II. At this point in history, America was fighting an uphill battle. Things were grim; America needed all the help it could get. And the time was ripe for a story involving a new critical wartime material that could help tilt the balance of the war in the other direction. Gibson's story hit the spot with this new material glazite.
There are some pretty cool death traps in this one. The sliding barrier of glazite that seals the room, the portrait that comes to life, and the large safe composed of impenetrable glazite in which The Shadow is helplessly trapped.
"Room 1313" was originally published in the April-May 1947 issue of The Shadow Magazine. How to track down a brutal killer who kills not for revenge or money, but for the sheer, inhuman joy of it? And how to clear an English Earl of the murder charges, issued when he innocently was lured into room 1313?
You want to read a good Shadow pulp mystery? Well, look elsewhere. This ain't it.
Once upon a time, a long time ago in a faraway place known only as "Pulpland" a man with two first names was hired to replace Walter Gibson as author of The Shadow magazine stories. And so it was that Bruce Elliott wrote fifteen Shadow novels over a two year period — an age that became known as the Dark Times. It was a time of great despair, because The Shadow changed so radically that readers could barely recognize him. The pulp novel reviewed here, "Room 1313" is one of those stories.
For those of you who don't know the background, here's a brief synopsis. Walter Gibson who created The Shadow in 1931 and wrote the vast majority of the magazine stories left the series in a contract dispute with publishers Street & Smith in early 1946. As a replacement, the editors selected Bruce Elliott. Elliott was an established writer of mystery and science fiction novels, short stories and radio scripts. (He wrote for the CBS radio series The Whistler.) He was also a magician, as was creator Walter Gibson. Although it seemed he would make a capable replacement for Gibson, it was a disastrous decision. Under his charge, the Shadow stories took a nosedive. They were so unlike the stories written by Walter Gibson, and alternate author Theodore Tinsley, that readership dropped precipitously. In early 1948, Street & Smith begged Walter Gibson to return. He did so with the wonderful story "Jade Dragon." But the damage Bruce Elliott had inflicted upon the series had been done. The magazine limped along for five more issues, then ceased publication with the summer 1949 issue.
This is one of the infamous "Bruce Elliott" Shadow stories. This was a low-point in the magazine's history. The stories weren't what we have come to expect from The Shadow. Well, let's look at it and see...
In this story, The Shadow appears but once. The rest of the time it's just Lamont Cranston, acting as a detective. Oh well, it could have been worse. In some of the Bruce Elliott stories, The Shadow never appeared at all! The Shadow's single appearance in this story, is vintage Shadow, however. He flits invisibly through the foggy night, and battles against seemingly insurmountable odds.
The Shadow's nemesis, in that scene, is Count Germain, a fiend who claims to be over 200 years old. The count has just finished a murder, and is in the process of slowing flaying the skin from the corpse. (ick!) The Shadow engages The Count and his henchmen in a battle that harkens back to the glory days of The Shadow. So we'll give Elliott credit for that one scene, at least.
The story takes place in England. Lamont Cranston has just arrived in foggy London to look into the case of accused murderer, the Earl of Bostick. The Earl claims to have been framed, but his story is too fantastic to be believed. Only Lamont Cranston can clear his name and reveal the true murderer. And so he does, in this very short story of less than twenty-five thousand words.
The length of this story is just one of its problems. Since it is much shorter than the usual Shadow novel, it needed by necessity to have a streamlined cast of characters. And that makes it easy to identify the hidden mastermind. There are so few characters that it could only be one or two people to start with. And knowing mystery authors as we do, it is undoubtedly the one least expected. And, sure enough, it was.
The first one-third of the entire novel is taken up with the Earl of Bostick's story. He tells -- and really drags it out -- how he was lured to a strange room on the thirteenth floor of a hotel. There he found some hundred people involved in a bizarre wild party. He passed out and awoke somewhere down in Limehouse. A bloody knife was in his hand, a corpse lay nearby, and the Earl's pockets were filled with jewels. He came to just as the police were entering the room. And when the Earl tries to convince the police of his story, they find there is no such hotel, no such room and the jewels belonged to the dead man. If it weren't for the fact that he was a member of the landed gentry, he would have been thrown in jail right there. As it is, he's free from jail, but can't leave the city.
Two things occurred to me as I read this story. Two things that I never saw in a Walter Gibson authored Shadow novel. There is a medieval scene featuring bare-bosomed women. That would never have appeared in a Gibson novel. Even Theodore Tinsley with his penchant for a bit more sexual titillation would have hesitated, there. But it was 1947 and maybe times were achanging, along with the guy who wrote the story.
Also, in this story, The Shadow actually sleeps at night. He goes to bed and sleeps! In the classic Shadow stories, The Shadow was master of the night. That was when he did his best work. He never slept! But, obviously, this is not a Gibson novel. It's an Elliott one, and so we must get used to these incongruities.
Lamont Cranston doesn't just show up in England on his own. He was summoned there, hired by Jackie (that's how the Earl of York wants to be called). So in Bruce Elliott's version of The Shadow, apparently Lamont Cranston is a world-renowned detective who people call upon to get them out of trouble. "I've read a lot of the doings of the estimable Lamont Cranston," as the Earl's finance puts it. Quite a far cry from a world-traveler and millionaire — the Lamont Cranston as created by Walter Gibson. But then, that was typical of the Bruce Elliott Shadow novels. Cranston seemed to have forsaken his roots, and lost his fortune. All of Elliott's stories featured Lamont Cranston -- detective!
This story features a Scotland Yard man by the name of Inspector Lalage. He's a fairly competent lawman, a step above the Inspector Lestrade type, as described in the Sherlock Holmes stories. If Walter Gibson had been writing this story, he undoubtedly would have re-introduced Inspector Delka, who had appeared in five previous Shadow adventures. But Bruce Elliott, with his lack of history with the stories, rang in a new character. These stories by Elliott lacked continuity... among other things.
The character of the Count Germain was an interesting one. He was a maniac with a lust for killing. In one place we are told he had poisoned sticks of gum, carefully rewrapped them in their gaudy paper coverings, and placed them in vending machines. Apparently machines at that time vended sticks of gum, not gumballs. The Count enjoyed the idea that random people would die -- people with whom he had no apparent contact.
Another point of the story which caught my interest was one of the Cockney fighters in the only scene featuring The Shadow. Our black-cloaked hero sneaks into a house and discovers Count Germain gleefully removing the skin from the body of his latest victim. The Shadow is attacked by the Count's henchmen. One in particular used a most unusual weapon: "Under the man's grubby fingernails, narrow crescents of razor blades were adhesive taped. The five fingers were in effect claws." Certainly effective -- a sort-of Freddy Krueger of the Forties -- but I bet it sure made tying his shoelaces tricky.
The story, while not even close to classic Walter Gibson, is a fairly good detective story if taken upon its own merits. It's the story of a serial killer who kills those he doesn't even know, just for the pleasure of it. But if you wanted to read just any detective story, you would have picked up a different pulp magazine. Maybe "Dime Detective" or some such. But, no, you picked up a Shadow pulp with the intent of reading a Shadow mystery. And unfortunately, you found only a pale imitation of what you sought.
While it may be an acceptable generic detective novel, it is a truly abominable Shadow pulp mystery. The characterization is way off. Bruce Elliott just didn't get it. If Street & Smith found it necessary to replace Walter Gibson, they could have done much better with Theodore Tinsley or some writer of his ilk. But instead, readers suffered along with Bruce Elliott stories for two full years.
Luckily, you don't need to suffer as the pulp readers of 1947 did. You can select a different Shadow mystery... a better one from those available. You can, and you should. And avoid this one, unless you are overwhelmed with curiosity, and just a bit of a masochist. You've been warned.
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.