John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #60
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Triple Trail" was published in the April 15, 1935 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The Shadow must follow the trail of crime, the triple trail. One man holds the Cellini treasures. Another man holds the manuscripts that prove their authenticity and established their value. And a third man - a man of evil - seeks to aquire both the treasures and the manuscripts. Which is which? Only The Shadow knows!
Our story opens in the small hillside town of Droverton, New Jersey at the old mansion of wealthy Stanton Treblaw. Treblaw has been contacted by a mystery man who answers to the name of Signet. The man called Signet wants to buy some old manuscripts from Stanton Treblaw. They have been in negociations by mail, and old Treblaw has finally decided to accept Signet’s offer.
These old papers, known as the Cellini manuscripts, are not worth a great deal in themselves. But their value lies in the fact that they were written by Benvenuto Cellini and can verify the authenticity of certain of his art treasures. The art treasures, previously throught to be relatively worthless, will now be suddenly worth a million dollars, since the papers can prove they are genuine. The mysterious Signet owns those treasures. But he needs to obtain the manuscript to give them true value.
Stanton Treblaw travels to New York to meet with the mystery man whom he only knows as Signet. He takes with him the Cellini manuscripts, which he intends to sell for thirty thousand dollars. But once Treblaw has settled into his room at the Hotel Goliath, death strikes. Stanton Treblaw is found bludgeoned to death in his room, and his papers are missing.
The murderer apparently has not gotten the highly sought-after Cellini manuscripts, however. Several factions are still out to get them. Of course, there’s Signet. He still wants them. And there’s Treblaw’s secretary, the pale Mr. Wickroft, who’s spying on his employer for some mysterious chief. He’s out to find them as well. And several New York gangsters have gotten into the act as well. The thugs Crawler Clane and Duster Shomak are in search of the manuscripts. In whose employ are they? And how about the private investigator from London hired by Stanton Treblaw? Or Treblaw’s old friend Silas Tilton, fellow collector of rarities?
Yes, there are plenty of suspects to go around in this exciting mystery. When The Shadow steps into the picture, he has to sort through all the characters and identify the murderer. He has to identify the rightful owner of the Cellini manuscripts. And he has to discover the hiding place of those valuable old papers.
To assist him in his investigations, The Shadow has the aid of his agents Harry Vincent, Clyde Burke, Burbank, Moe Shrevnitz, Cliff Marsland and Hawkeye. Also stepping in to give a hand at the most opportune moments is New York police detective Joe Cardona. Police Commissioner Ralph Weston also makes a brief appearance. And when called upon, The Shadow also appears several times in disguise as Lamont Cranston, wealthy world traveler. The real Cranston is, of course, conveniently out of the country.
One note of interest, in all the early Shadow stories, Commissioner Weston denied the existance of The Shadow. He felt that there was no such person, and forbade Joe Cardona to speak of him. But finally in this story, Weston now admits there is a single man, a cloaked crimefighter who calls himself The Shadow. This is a rather singular event that is worthy of note.
Only The Shadow can straighten out the tangle of threads and decipher the clues to solve the mystery.
"Murder Genius" was published in the July 1, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. And the “Murder Genius” of the title is Benedict Stark, one of the world’s richest men and also one of the most evil. He appeared previously in “The Prince Of Evil” in the April 14, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. And we aren’t done with him, yet! This is only the second of four Benedict Stark novels. Knowing this in advance, you realize that Stark won’t meet his demise at the end of this story. But that doesn’t make it any less exciting.
As you may remember, when the first Benedict Stark novel (The Prince of Evil) ended, Rutledge Mann, investment broker and secret agent of The Shadow’s, had been kidnapped. It was the only pulp story in the entire eighteen-year run that had a cliffhanger ending. The Shadow had stopped Stark’s evil plans, but had not been able to save his secret agent. In this story, The Shadow’s top priority is to rescue Mann. His second priority is to prove that Benedict Stark is the Prince of Evil who has committed dastardly murders.
Our story opens on a privately owned tropical island in the Bermudas. Multi-millionaire Benedict Stark is vacationing there with his secretary, the lovely Millicent Whitney, and guest Howard Paxton. Paxton is a British scientist, an authority on tropical fish and coral formations. In the center of the island stands a large mansion on a green knoll. Surrounded by the gorgeous tropical gardens, love blooms between young Millicent and Howard Paxton. It’s a love that is kept secret from the jealous and violent Benedict Stark.
Benedict Stark begins to suspect Millicent has fallen in love. She plans on marrying Paxton and leaving the employ of Stark. This, he will not allow. He makes plans to confirm his suspicions, and if necessary murder Howard Paxton. To assist his plan, he has planted a spying employee in the person of Millicent’s personal maid, Marie. Marie hides her dark heart beneath her pretty French looks. But she confirms what Stark has feared. Millicent and Paxton are deeply in love.
Once Stark is convinced that Millicent is unfaithful to him, he concocts a plan to murder Howard Paxton and make the body disappear. He forges a note to Millicent, allegedly from Paxton, asking her to meet him at a secluded spot on the island and does the same for Paxton. When she shows up, Paxton is not there. She finds a note, allegedly from Paxton but actually forged by Stark, telling her that their fling is over and he is returning to his wife in England. In truth, Benedict Stark met young Paxton earlier and killed him in cold blood, then dumped the body in the ocean to be eaten by sharks.
The forged note is the one weak spot in Stark’s crime. Paxton actually was unmarried, and Stark’s fingerprints are on the note. The note is the only link to connect Stark to Paxton’s disappearance. Stark must get it back and destroy it. Marie, the French maid, is given the job of recovering the note from young Millicent. But she plans on double-crossing her boss. She wants the note to use as blackmail against Benedict Stark.
Meanwhile, aboard Stark’s palatial yacht anchored in the cove, messages are being sent by Stark and received in return. Some refer to his various businesses; a few regard Rutledge Mann who is being held a helpless prisoner in some unknown rat-hole in New York. Vicious thugs in Stark’s employ are working slow torture upon him, in efforts to force him to reveal the secrets of The Shadow’s crime-fighting organization. They want the exact location of Burbank’s lair. They want to know where to find The Shadow’s sanctum. And they use gruesome torture to gain their ends. They wire frequent progress reports to Stark on his tropical island.
Listening in to these morse-coded messages is... The Shadow! Yes, The Shadow has secretly come to Stark’s tropical island to find some definite clue to the fate of his agent Rutledge Mann. He sits inside a small rowboat in the waters beneath a porthole in Stark’s yacht, listening to the dots and dashes that come through the ether to the yacht’s wireless room. He hears that Mann is still alive in some undisclosed location, but is not expected to last much longer.
As Benedict Stark prepares to leave the island and return to New York, The Shadow must make plans to follow him; to determine the location of investment broker Rutledge Mann; to rescue his agent before it’s too late; to prove that it was Benedict Stark who was responsible for his kidnapping and torture. But that’s not all. He must also thwart Stark’s plans to destroy Andrew Marshall, owner of the Marshall Machine Works in the small town of Herndale -- destroy Marshall, his factory and all his three thousand workers. And The Shadow must do all this while keeping his identity secret from the murder genius.
Benedict Stark has begun to suspect that millionaire Lamont Cranston is really The Shadow. The Shadow, while he still can’t prove that the wily Stark is guilty of anything, must do all he can to preserve his disguise as Cranston. Due to strange circumstances, Stark also suspects that news reporter Clyde Burke may also be The Shadow. Can The Shadow use that to his advantage?
It’s a thrilling Shadow mystery centering around the possession of the incriminating note that contains Benedict Stark’s handwriting and fingerprints. Who has it? Who will get it? Who will die in the process?
Assisting The Shadow in this story are agents Clyde Burke, newsman for the Daily Classic, contact man Burbank and hackie Moe Shrevnitz. Doctor Rupert Sayre is mentioned, but doesn’t actually appear. No member of the law-enforcement community are present here. No Commissioner Weston or Detective Cardona; not even FBI agent Vic Marquette.
The Shadow appears in several disguises in this story. His commonly used disguise as Lamont Cranston is used several times. He also appears as a beach bum by the name of Portuguese Joe. In addition, he uses the disguises of a white-haired vagabond street vender, an old gray-haired handy man at the factory, and an unnamed prosperous, middle-aged man. A master of disguise!
This story was penned by Theodore Tinsley, not Walter Gibson. The four-part Benedict Stark series was all Tinsley’s work. It is, perhaps, some of his best Shadow work. It reads very much like Gibson’s writing, but with that little extra edge that Tinsley is known for. A small dash of sex and violence, that Gibson usually ignored, were often present in Tinsley’s work.
Tinsley features a female villain, that of the French maid Marie, something that Gibson rarely did. She’s not above murder, torture and mutilation. Tinsley also allows an innocent woman to die in a grisly manner. This was absolutely forbidden in Walter Gibson’s work. Gibson’s women were innocent and were rescued from harm. Tinsley’s women could be equally cruel as the male henchmen, and the innocent were not always rescued from harm.
Tinsley did not shy away from more graphic descriptions of torture. Rutledge Mann lies on the metal floor of a jail cell stripped of his clothing. His eyes are wide and glassy. His swollen tongue lolls from his mouth. His body is one solid bruise. He has been tortured systematically and horribly. Stark flips a switch and the metal flooring turns red-hot. The smell of scorched flesh fills the air. This is the type of thing that Gibson would never describe so graphically.
There are some great death-traps in this story. A room that traps The Shadow and sends bolts of electricity through his body. A booby-trapped machine room that scalds The Shadow with steam. He’s shot. He’s trapped. But he never gives up. The Shadow is clever; The Shadow is stalwart; The Shadow finds strength that any other man would be denied. He finds unexpected ways to escape the evil clutches of Benedict Stark.
The prose of Theodore Tinsley is more lurid than that of Walter Gibson. His killers take dope. His victims aren’t just killed, they are mutilated. His heroes are tricked, trapped, injured and put through the wringer. There are secret passages and underground rooms. There is mass murder planned.
When you think of “pulp,” this is what you think of. It’s fast and furious. It’s purple prose. It’s Theodore Tinsley at his best. And it’s The Shadow fighting one of his most difficult battles against one of the most sinister villains he has ever known: the murder genius, Benedict Stark!
The four pulp novels that make up the “Prince of Evil” series should most definitely be read in order. To do otherwise would lessen their enjoyment immensely. Their proper order is:
04-15-40 The Prince of Evil
07-01-40 Murder Genius
09-15-40 The Man Who Died Twice
11-15-40 The Devil’s Paymaster
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.