John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #63
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
The Devil’s Paymaster was originally published in the November 15, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A hardened criminal claims he has reformed, and wishes to make restitution for his many crimes. This man of evil will pay back his illicit gains with the assistance of a go-between: Lamont Cranston. Yes, The Shadow will become the Devil’s Paymaster!
Our story opens at midnight at the home of New York Police Commissioner Ralph Weston. He awakes to the sound of a ringing telephone. But it’s not his phone; it comes from a phone he’s never seen before - a phone he finds secreted behind the closed door of his wardrobe closet. Although he can’t understand how the phone came to be here, he answers it.
A voice over the wire introduces itself as “Mr. Remorse.” He claims to be a reformed criminal who wishes to undo some of the harm he caused before his retirement. He asks Commissioner Weston to suggest a person who can act as a liaison and help restore stolen money to his former victims. He wants some public-spirited person, someone whose life is above reproach.
Commissioner Weston is puzzled. He’s still half asleep. He doesn’t know how this telephone got in his closet. He doesn’t know who he’s talking to. The first person he can think of who fits the requirements is his good friend Lamont Cranston. Weston suggests Mr. Remorse contact Cranston.
The phone call is terminated, leaving Weston standing there dumfounded. His trusted valet professes no knowledge of the telephone. Headquarters men rush to the scene, but trace the phone wires only to find they dangle cut through. There is no way to trace the strange call.
Meanwhile, at Sing Sing Prison, the warden receives a telephone call at precisely 1 AM. Again, the call comes through on a special wire to a telephone that’s not the warden’s. The voice of Mr. Remorse asks the same question of the warden. What prominent New York citizen would he recommend to help the reformed criminal restore stolen money to his victims? The first name that comes to the warden’s mind is... Lamont Cranston.
And so the calls continue. At 2 AM, the publisher of the Daily Classic is roused from his bed by a phantom telephone call. The same voice has the same question. At 3 AM, one of New York’s best known preachers, Rev. Andrew Dingle, is awakened with the same request. At 4 AM, Benedict Stark, prominent industrialist and banker, is also drawn into the tangled web of Mr. Remorse’s grim questionnaire. Each man recommends Lamont Cranston.
The following day, Lamont Cranston enters police headquarters to meet with Commissioner Weston and the four other men who were telephoned by Mr. Remorse. He agrees to accept the strange position offered to him, in order to further the ends of justice. What those men don’t know, is that this man who appears to them as Lamont Cranston is in reality The Shadow. And The Shadow is going to delve into the mystery and see what’s behind this seemingly benign offer.
The last man telephoned by Mr. Remorse on that fateful night was Benedict Stark. That name alone is enough to convince The Shadow to get involved. Benedict Stark and The Shadow have crossed paths before. To The Shadow, Benedict Stark is known as the Prince of Evil. Three times before, they have battled. Each time, the result was a draw. The Shadow had thwarted the evil plans of Stark, but the sinister genius himself always was able to avoid incrimination. This time will be different!
Could Benedict Stark be behind these strange circumstances? Could he actually be Mr. Remorse, himself? There is something strangely sinister behind this seemingly beneficent being who calls himself Mr. Remorse. What is his true reasons for his generosity? What secret plans are taking form behind the scenes?
Much of the action takes place on an island. Daniel Judson owns a large estate outside Munford, New Jersey. A very, very large estate. On the estate is a huge lake; in the center of the lake is an island; on the island is the fabulous mansion belonging to Daniel Judson. Judson is an eccentric inventor who surrounds his mansion with ferocious dogs, venomous cobras and various other death traps. Inside his fortress, he designs amazing new inventions.
In his fortress laboratory, Judson designs things such as synthetic glass, synthetic rubber, and many other discoveries that would mean millions to a warlike nation. Judson knows that if he could be kidnapped and tortured into revealing some of his scientific secrets, spies could reap a handsome profit from warring powers across the Atlantic. Hence the tall stone walls, the steel shutters and the fortified mansion in the center of the lake.
Daniel Judson is the man whose name is given to Lamont Cranston. Cranston is to deliver Mr. Remorse’s payments of restitution. But The Shadow, in his Cranston guise, watches carefully as he visits the strange island mansion. He knows there is something else going on, other than simple repayment of lost funds. But what The Shadow doesn’t know is that this is all leading up to the ultimate revenge by the Prince of Evil, Benedict Stark!
Benedict Stark is out for revenge. He plans not only to capture and kill The Shadow, but to decimate his corps of agents as well. He wants to wipe out the entire team, leaving absolutely no resistance to his dreams of conquest. And at the story’s climax, we find Harry Vincent, Clyde Burke, Cliff Marsland, Moe Shrevnitz and Rutledge Mann all hanging on a wall, ready to be pinned like butterflies by five deadly harpoons. And The Shadow is securely bound to a chair, forced to watch as the sharp spears slowly inch forward toward his agents!
Appearing in this story are most of the characters that pulp readers had come to know over the nine previous years. Harry Vincent, one of The Shadow’s most senior agents. Cliff Marsland, The Shadow’s underworld contact, helps locate and investigate the small-time hoodlums working for the hidden mastermind. Reporter Clyde Burke pretends to be on vacation, while in reality he watches one of the main suspects at The Green Tree Inn in Munford. Moe Shrevnitz trails a variety of suspects in his taxi. Rutledge Mann is still recuperating from injuries sustained at the hands of Benedict Stark’s men in “Murder Genius.” Burbank appears, but is one of the lucky few not to be captured. And Dr. Rupert Sayre is mentioned, but doesn’t actually appear. Commissioner Ralph Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona appear, as they often did, in their roles as law-enforcement officers.
The Shadow appears as himself, complete with black cloak, slouch hat and black gloves. He also appears in several disguises, including his most famous disguise as Lamont Cranston, wealthy world-traveler. He also appears as a truck driver in greasy overalls and cap pulled down low. And he appears disguised as a book salesman, a rakish-looking individual, hair slickly parted and dressed in a sporty suit.
And speaking of books, did you know that The Shadow has a collection of “adult” material? Yes, indeed! We’re told that in another part of his sanctum is a locked, glass-fronted bookcase containing expensively bound volumes of contraband. These are “private edition” books for millionaires with perverted tastes that are smuggled into New York from abroad. Just what he’s doing with this type of material is left rather vague. But in this story, he uses one of the books along with his book-salesman disguise, to gain entry to a suspect’s apartment. I’m sure he uses these books “only in the line of duty.” I don’t even want to think about any alternative explanation.
Does this sound a little unlike what Walter Gibson would write? Well it is! This story, as well as the other three pulp novels in the “Prince of Evil” series, were written by alternate author Theodore Tinsley. He was groomed as a stand-in for Gibson, in case of accident. Luckily, no such accident ever happened, but Tinsley still wrote a total of 27 Shadow novels in the years between 1936 and 1943. This was one of them.
The Shadow, as envisioned by Theodore Tinsley, was a bit edgier - a bit more “pulpy.” There was a dash more sex, as illustrated by the above mentioned example of the “private edition” books. The violence was a little more graphic. As The Shadow’s agents hang on the wall, the lances slowly piercing their skins is described in more detail than Gibson would have done. And of course there are the underground tunnels and chambers which Tinsley loved, and would insert into any story which he could.
When Theodore Tinsley wrote The Shadow, his hero received injuries more often than when Walter Gibson wrote the character. In this story, The Shadow is wounded in the shoulder from flying shrapnel. But he grits his teeth and forges onward. He’s hit in the face with a strange brownish liquid that forms a poisonous gas. He coughs, staggers, but grits his teeth and forges on again. At story’s end, he intentionally breaks a capsule of acid on his wrists to free him from his bonds. But it also takes his skin with it, eating down to the bone. Yep, that’s Tinsley.
We pick up some interesting trivia about The Shadow and his Cranston alter ego. Cranston loves roses. He’s also a renowned amateur entomologist who loves butterflies. He has a personal car that looks inconspicuous but can reach speeds of over a hundred miles per hour. And The Shadow owns several garages strategically placed around Manhattan for any possible emergency.
In many of the previous Shadow tales, we are shown that The Shadow has great power over animals. In 1935’s “The London Crimes” he turns two fierce watchdogs into docile creatures. In 1936’s “The Northwoods Mystery” he seems to speak the language of the deep forest creatures. In 1939’s “Noose of Death” he tames a bucking bronco. And in 1940’s “Crime at Seven Oaks” he again demonstrates his power over even large, ferocious dogs. In this story, however, he seems to have lost that ability. A snarling wolfhound guards Judson’s island mansion, and the only way The Shadow can deal with it is with a bullet from a silenced gun. I tend to blame Tinsley’s lack of familiarity with small details in The Shadow’s background for this oversight.
In one very interesting scene, we are witness to The Shadow interrogating two prisoners with his special “light and sound” techniques. The two are taken to some undisclosed location and kept in a black draped chamber. We are told that no crook ever entered that secret examination room without confessing all he knew. They are subjected to light, at first dim then growing brighter and brighter to unbearable glare. They are also subjected to sound, starting with a light buzz and gradually increasing until it is louder than a siren.
But this time, something goes wrong. Someone has been in the supposedly secret room and has tampered with the controls. The Shadow can’t turn off the sound. His two prisoners fall to the floor, blood flowing from their ears. He has to rescue them from the superhuman-pitched sound before they die. Benedict Stark has struck again, in an attempt to silence his underlings.
Apparently this scientific torture chamber is not The Shadow’s sanctum. We know that the sanctum was only invaded by outsiders twice, in all the years, and this wasn’t one of those two occasions. Plus, if Benedict Stark had actually found his way into The Shadow’s sanctum, he wouldn’t have stopped at jamming the sound mechanism. So although the location of this strange room isn’t specified, we know it is separate from The Shadow’s sanctum.
The Shadow does rescue the two prisoners from the supersonic sound. The last we see of them, we are told that Dr. Rupert Sayre will nurse them back to health. After that, they would be rehabilitated and “would never again have tendencies toward wrong-doing.” Sounds like he’s going to send them to his secret island for criminals as first mentioned in the 1936 tale “The Broken Napoleons.” It seems likely that this rehabilitation colony was patterned after Doc Savage’s clinic in upstate New York. Both were an attempt to find an alternative to killing the bad guys. Sometimes, it seems, they could be taught to hate crime and become productive citizens.
A couple of things in this story do seem out of place. In one scene, Lamont Cranston and Clyde Burke submit samples of their fingerprints to the police. This just doesn’t ring true, to me. I would think that The Shadow would try to avoid giving his fingerprints at all costs. Think of the complications it could possibly cause in the future! “Hey, you aren’t Lamont Cranston... your fingerprints are those of Kent Allard!” Ooops, there goes one hard-fought secret identity down the drain.
Another note that doesn’t ring true, is the way in which The Shadow’s agents are duped to fall into Benedict Stark’s trap. They receive notes, allegedly from The Shadow, signed with the drawing of The Shadow’s girasol ring. So they blithely accept the notes as genuine and follow the orders that lead them into Stark’s grasp. Whatever happened to the vivid-blue writing that fades away to invisibility? And the secret codes that The Shadow uses when contacting his agents? Their absence should have tipped off the agents that something was amiss. But not in this story. Again, I attribute the oversight to the author, Theodore Tinsley.
There is a purplish fluid in this story, but it’s not the famous phial of purplish liquid that The Shadow often uses to restore strength and vitality in times of emergency. This time, it’s a corrosive acid kept in a thin-walled glass ball about the size of a grape. A captured Shadow uses it to burn through his bonds, and gets a nasty dose of acid-maimed flesh in the process.
This was the fourth and final of the “Prince of Evil” series, so it’s not giving anything away to tell you that Benedict Stark finally meets his doom at the end of the tale. And a gristly doom it is, as well! If you want to read the other stories from the series in order, they are:
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
This is a great ending to the series, filled with action and suspense; mystery and intrigue. It is considered by many to be some of Theodore Tinsley’s best work on The Shadow magazine stories, and often falls into the top-25 Shadow stories ever. I think you’ll agree, a few minor flaws not withstanding, it’s a good one.
The Wasp Returns was originally published in the February 1, 1941 issue of The Shadow Magazine. When the strange and sinister criminal mastermind known as The Wasp returns, can even the power of The Shadow persevere? Or will The Wasp take his personal revenge on his hated foe?
The Wasp was the last of the recurring villains in the Shadow Magazine series. There were others that are still well remembered. There was Doctor Rodil Mocquino, the terrible master of Voodoo who challenged The Shadow on three occasions. And there was The Shadow’s ultimate nemesis Shiwan Khan, who appeared in four of the magazine stories before finally meeting his most well-deserved demise. These two criminal characters represented the peak in the recurring villains. The Wasp, on the other hand, represents the nadir, the low point, of all the reappearing criminal masterminds that The Shadow faced.
The Wasp first appeared in the October 1, 1940 story simply entitled “The Wasp.” He was Basil Gannaford, a schemer who gained control of large corporations and pillaged them. His physical appearance was that of a large wasp. His large bulbous head topped his tall, frail-looking body with its thin waist. His voice had the buzzing sound of a wasp, and his grasp contained an electrical sting.
Author Walter Gibson tried to make The Wasp a force to be reckoned with, but unfortunately, it didn’t really work. Although characters in the story would quake at the mere sight of a wasp’s wing, his signature calling card, the reader was never convinced that this crime boss was all that intimidating. He had no special abilities like Doctor Rodil Mocquino or Shiwan Khan had evidenced before him. He seemed just like any of the other hoards of criminal chieftains that The Shadow had encountered so many other times.
In this story, The Wasp is back. And once again readers are left puzzled by the reason even the mention of his name strikes terror into the hearts of fellow criminals. But regardless, here he is for a return engagement. Back to battle The Shadow for a second, and final, time. This time, though, he comes prepared for battle. And he knows the identity of The Shadow.
At the end of the first story, some four months previously, The Wasp had learned that the man appearing as Lamont Cranston was in reality The Shadow. And The Wasp eluded the clutches of both the law and The Shadow, and escaped into the city. It was pretty obvious that he would be back, and now in this 1941 story, he is. His first task is to wreak revenge upon his nemesis, The Shadow.
The Wasp returns with new identities. He is no longer Basil Gannaford. Now he is Jeroboam Twingle, a Central American representative for businesses. And he has an involved scheme in mind, which will garner him millions of dollars. But first, he has to do away with The Shadow. He has to kill Lamont Cranston!
The Shadow, however, has been anticipating The Wasp’s return. So he’s been watching and preparing for the upcoming battle. When The Wasp makes his first move at the offices of the Amalgamated Export Co., The Shadow is prepared with his countermove. After a couple battles with the minions of The Wasp, The Shadow finally decides it is time to disappear.
The Shadow allows The Wasp to believe his most recent attempt to kill him has succeeded. To the rest of Manhattan, Lamont Cranston has left on another world trip. To The Wasp, this is just a cover, to hide the fact that Cranston is actually dead. The truth, however, is that The Shadow fights on, but has discarded the Cranston identity. The Shadow now appears in public as his true self, Kent Allard.
It’s not long before The Wasp figures out that Kent Allard is The Shadow. That really complicates things, but it also leads the reader to some pretty good action-filled attempts on the life of The Shadow. Things heat up rapidly, as The Shadow seeks to bring The Wasp’s uncanny plans to ruin.
And just what are The Wasp’s plans? Something sinister involving the steamship Tropica, chartered by the Amalgamated Export Co. It’s cargo is bound for Central America and will consist of two thousand awnings, much needed in the tropics; a thousand cases of a mining preparation called Aurezole; and another thousand cases of a very fine varnish, termed Spargo.
What makes this cargo so valuable that an agent for a foreign government will pay a million dollars for it? Well, readers are assured that it represented the maximum of evil. A threat of death to thousands, perhaps millions of American citizens, a terror that might indeed result in the destruction of the nation! Yes, The Wasp has moved into the big time indeed!
The Shadow needs a little help in this story. He gets it in the form of Moe Shrevnitz, the worthy taxicab driver and Harry Vincent, his most trusted agent. And from his contact man Burbank. Burbank gets to leave his dingy, crowded communications room in this story. We find him behind the newsstand at Grand Central Terminal, answering the telephone, passing along messages and aiding The Shadow in one of the many attempts on his life. It’s great to see poor old Burbank getting a chance to work out in the open; the fresh air must have been a refreshing break for him.
Whenever Kent Allard appears in a Shadow story, usually his Xinca Indians aren’t too far behind. And they do appear briefly twice, in this tale. These two men, whose names readers never learn, have voluntarily left their tribe in Central America to serve Kent Allard, a great white chief that they worship. They are the only men who know that Kent Allard is The Shadow. Well, there was Slade Farrow, but that’s another story.
Also assisting The Shadow in this story is a character returning from the first Wasp story, Velma Corl. In that first story, Velma has been an assistant for The Wasp. Yes, she was one of the few “bad” girls that Walter Gibson included in The Shadow stories. But it turns out that she wasn’t all that bad, after all. We are told that after the first encounter of The Shadow and The Wasp, Velma had been captured but went free through lack of solid evidence against her. She had been given a new start in life, and discovered that she actually had a conscience.
When The Wasp returns in this story, he contacts Velma once again. She pretends to play along, but actually she is determined to work undercover for the powers of right. Even if she should lose her own life, she is resolved to save the life of The Shadow! By the story’s climax, she is undercover no longer. She is recognized for her bravery and has redeemed herself.
The other recurring characters in this story include Inspector Joe Cardona and New York Police Chief Ralph Weston. Weston, who at one time didn’t believe that The Shadow even existed, now brags about his relationship with The Shadow. My how times have changed.
As Shadow readers recognize, the first entry of Margo Lane into the magazine series was in the June 15, 1941 story “The Thunder King.” Yet in this story, there is a stenographer at the Amalgamated Export Company by the name of Miss Lane. She only appears briefly and readers aren’t told her first name. Could this actually be Margo’s first appearance? Brief though it was, perhaps she was working undercover for The Shadow at the company offices. Readers are given no further hints, so the matter is left strictly up to the individual. But there is the possibility that Margo Lane actually appeared four months earlier than commonly believed.
This is not a great Shadow story. It is pretty good by 1941 standards, if that’s saying anything. It does have a slam-bang ending, with the emphasis on “bang.” All the loose ends tie up neatly, and readers begin to realize that some of the things that happened earlier, which at the time appeared innocent, had significance beyond what was apparent at the time. The first ninety percent of the story seems pretty routine. But the final ten percent raises the story to a higher level of enjoyability.
If you were to read the first eighteen chapters, but skip the final chapter, you’d be left thinking that the story is pretty uninspired. But after reading the final chapter, you look back at the entire tale and think to yourself that the story was actually not too bad. That last chapter makes all the difference.
I can recommend this story, as long as you promise to read the whole thing. It’s definitely worth reading, once you have the final chapter giving you the big picture. And it’s worth reading if for no other reason that it showcases the last recurring villain that The Shadow ever combatted. It’s a minor milestone in the magazine run, but one 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.