John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #83
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
“Crime Over Boston” was originally published in the September 15, 1938 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A master schemer seeks to thwart The Shadow’s justice, first striking in Rhode Island, then his diabolical hand moves Crime Over Boston.
Here’s another fun Shadow story to read. Not quite the top of the stack, but still pretty darned good. It’s a bit shorter than usual for this era, barely over 38,000 words as opposed to the more typical 45,000 words. But perhaps that’s good. Things move along quickly, and if the story had been padded out to a more customary length, it would have probably bogged down a bit. As it is, it maintains your interest and makes for another strong entry in the series.
As the title indicates, this story takes place mainly in Boston. It starts out in Rhode Island where The Shadow, in his true identity as Kent Allard, comes to interview the wizard of finance Ferdinand Relf. It seems that Relf has gotten himself in a bit of trouble, and will be arrested if he leaves his house. You see, Ferdinand Relf is an out-and-out crook. And Allard shows up offering him escape from the law. If Relf can get out of Rhode Island, the law won’t be able to touch him.
Once in the strange old house, The Shadow is put in peril. The strange Rhode Island mansion is riddled with sliding panels, secret passages, and hidden rooms. The house was once a smuggler’s headquarters. Relf tries to have Allard killed, throwing a knife at him through a sliding panel in his bedroom. Since Allard is The Shadow, he is able to avoid the death thrust, and take out after his murderous host. Relf escapes through a window high above the surging waves, to a schooner in the bay far below, leaving The Shadow to battle against his mansion full of cutthroat flunkies.
All this takes six ,Chapters, but the pages just seem to zip past so quickly that it seems as though it was only a ,Chapter or two. That’s the mark of good writing, and Walter Gibson is in top form, here.
The scene then changes to Boston where The Shadow must track down Relf and safeguard Relf’s innocent financial dupes who could reveal enough to put Relf in jail. Actually, it’s two dupes and one racketeer. All three were involved in Relf’s diabolical schemes that were thwarted when he was forced into inactivity in his Rhode Island mansion. Although the three didn’t lose any money, they have made themselves a target. Partly a target of revenge. And party to silence them -- to keep them from revealing incriminating facts about Relf.
The Shadow tries to thwart Relf’s attempts on the lives of his former partners. It all makes for a non-stop thrill ride filled with chases, gun battles, and death traps. We visit an underworld hangout and watch The Shadow take on the entire room filled with waterfront denizens. We see an amazing battle aboard a sleek ship, a former rumrunner. Harry Vincent gets kidnapped. An innocent young woman is repeatedly put in peril. A death trap where The Shadow falls to certain doom. And two “sealed room” murder mysteries.
The locked room mysteries are pretty amazing. Men sealed inside a room lined with steel plating. Walls, floor and ceiling all of steel plate. Yet somehow, they are killed right in front of Harry Vincent and Vic Marquette. How is it done? Who’s responsible? Can The Shadow unmask the sinister force behind this evil scheme? You betcha!
It all builds to a pretty terrific climax in the underground caverns beneath the Relf mansion in Rhode Island. Yes, it all ends up back in the locale where it started. And there’s a twist ending that you won’t see coming. By the time the story is over, the reader has really gotten his money’s worth in this pulp tale. And I’m pleased to report that there are no loose ends that remain untied. It all makes for a tidy and enjoyable adventure with the master of the dark.
Since the entire story takes place outside of Manhattan, there are only a few of The Shadow’s agents involved in the story. Harry Vincent is there throughout the entire story, and as usual gets bounced around a lot. He’s knocked out and shot at several times. But he carries on, nonetheless, and provides valuable assistance to his master. None of the other agents appear, not even by phone or by brief mention.
As for the law, Vic Marquette of the F.B.I. shows up. It’s a little vague why he should be involved, since Relf’s crimes are only valid in Rhode Island. Seems like it should be a local matter to me. But regardless, it’s always good to see Vic. A local Cambridge lawman, bumbling Detective Wadkin, assists Marquette. No other policemen show up, including regulars Joe Cardona or Commissioner Weston.
The Shadow gets to show off his master of disguises in this story. He appears as himself, The Shadow, in black cloak and slouch hat. He appears as his other self, Kent Allard, at the beginning of the story. He appears as Lamont Cranston, his favorite disguise. And there’s one other disguise which I won’t divulge because it would spoil the surprise ending somewhat. But it’s a corker!
A few final notes. In one scene, the master crook tells Vic Marquette that Vincent is one of The Shadow’s agents. I found that to be significant, because the identity of The Shadow’s agents were always closely guarded. Maybe Marquette didn’t believe him. The story doesn’t indicate. But from this point on, I always read any future Shadow pulps involving Vic Marquette and Harry Vincent with new insight. Marquette may not have solid proof that Vincent works for The Shadow, but from now on, he’ll know there is some connection between the two. If you read The Shadow pulp adventures in order, this story becomes a significant turning point in the relationship between Vincent and Marquette.
Crime Over Boston may not sound like a very exciting story from its title, but it is actually a very nicely written, exciting Shadow mystery with plenty of action that will keep you entertained from beginning to end. I think you’ll like it as much as I did.
“Crime Over Miami” was originally published in the November 1, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The intrigue of a gambling scheme that put to shame any sweepstakes, numbers or other racket. But, only The Shadow heeded the storm warnings, when crime’s hurricane struck America’s outstanding resort city, Miami!
This story exceeded my expectations, which were admittedly low to start with. I went in expecting a routine gangster story. What I found was indeed a gangster story, but it was fun to read and had some nice bonus features that made it worthwhile. That’s not to say the story is perfect. It also has its flaws. But overall it’s a very satisfactory Shadow mystery.
This story takes place in Miami, the peaceful tropical haven for retirees and millionaires. Remember, this was the Miami of 1940, not the high-tension Miami of today. And in Miami it stays until the last five ,Chapters. Then we spend a ,Chapter on a tropical nature-colony island where people go who are tired of civilization. And after that the story winds up with four ,Chapters in Tampa, Florida. But even though none of the action takes place in New York, nearly all of the recurring characters in the series show up down in Florida. And admittedly, it’s nice seeing them in a new environment.
As for the story, itself, crime had taken a new turn in Miami. Crime was being organized, no longer left to the small-time crooks. Behind it was a brain who worked through lieutenants like Lee Clesson, ace of swindlers, and Hawk Silvey, the man who pulled the strings in every major robbery that occurred in Greater Miami. Yet, like the devilfish of tropical climes, that master brain was hidden. No one knew who crouched behind the wave of crime that had struck Miami. But there were suspicions...
The Palmetto Casino, set in downtown Miami, had been nurtured through several seasons by its owner Commodore Denfield. Denfield made it a policy to stay within the limits of the law. At least on the surface. But Steve Galden of the Miami police was keeping an eye on Denfield. Joe Cardona, Manhattan’s top police detective, was visiting, down from New York, and helping Galden with the new wave of robberies and murder.
Into this setting steps The Shadow in his oft-used disguise as Lamont Cranston. Perhaps the disguise is a little too often used! People are beginning to suspect that Cranston is The Shadow... or more precisely, that The Shadow is Lamont Cranston.
Joe Cardona is one of those suspicious souls. As he confesses to Galden, “You know, at times I have actually believed that Cranston might be -“ He bites his tongue before he can utter the name “The Shadow.” And it doesn’t help matters when The Shadow, dressed as Cranston, is forced into gun battle in broad daylight in the middle of a downtown Miami street! Not only does he publicly demonstrate his prowess with his .45 automatics, but he lets loose with his trademark laugh, a challenge recognizable to any crook or lawman. Darkness, not daylight, was The Shadow’s proper habitat. In the present situation, he appeared to be a killer, and a mad one. The police had his description, and it seemed to tally with Cranston. So the coppers are out to find Cranston!
Who should provide Cranston with an alibi but... Cranston! Yes, the -real- Lamont Cranston shows up in the company of Commissioner Weston, having just flown down from New York, proving that it couldn’t have been him in that street gun-battle. From that point on, the two Cranstons work together on the case. One provides alibi for the other! It rare that the two Cranstons appears together in a Shadow pulp novel, and even rarer that they work together like they do here. That’s one of the nice little features that raises this story from the level of mediocrity.
Much of this story revolves around the game of chance called bolita. It is an actual game that was quite popular in Cuba and Florida in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It involves numbered wooden balls, one of which is selected, vaguely like today’s lottery. Crooks who are killed in the commission of the crimes are found to have carried a single numbered bolita ball. Every one is numbered differently. Apparently they are used as a means of identification in the gang. Since one of the main characters in this story runs a casino, he quickly becomes suspected of being the Mr. Big behind the crime wave.
A young woman named June Marwyn is introduced halfway through the story. She is framed for a jewel robbery in a way which really weakens the story. Princess Cordaza sits at her dressing table putting on a half-million dollars worth of jewels. Partridge, her male secretary watches. The phone rings; he answers it; June Marwyn waits downstairs for an appointment. She is applying for the job of traveling companion for the Princess. Partridge, a crook who just happens to be a female impersonator, tells her to come up in ten minutes.
Partridge takes those ten minutes to dress himself up as June Marwyn, then backed by three gun-toting hoodlums in masks, he robs the Princess of her jewels. The idea, of course, is that when June shows up, she will be blamed for the armed robbery. When author Walter Gibson thought this idea up, he must have been suffering from sleep deprivation. It all makes no sense. The flaws are many.
Partridge has never met June Marwyn before. Yet he knows how to make himself up to be a perfect imitation of June. OK, there is vague mention of a photo, so perhaps he could get a rough idea of her features. But somehow he knows she is going to be wearing a blue dress and an over-the-eye hat, and he just happens to have identical ones waiting.
The time element is crazy. In only ten minutes he can switch from Partridge to June Marwyn? Female impersonators take over an hour to get it right. Yet the reader is to believe that Partridge can do it in under ten minutes, and still have enough time left over to let in those three masked thugs, rob the Princess and deposit all the jewelry into a bag, and then escape. All before June comes knocking on the hotel room door, to be accused of the recently completed robbery. Oh yeah... Partridge also had time to put on a fresh coat of fingernail polish and let it dry.
Another reason this scene is weak is that it is totally unnecessary, if you look at it from the robber’s perspective. It would have been simpler to just have the three masked thugs do the robbery. No need for all the fancy subterfuge. It’s my guess that the only reason for trying to frame June Marwyn was as a writer’s device to introduce her character into the story. She goes on to take part in the second half of the story, and her character is one of minor importance. But I think she could have been introduced in some other way that made more sense. Sloppy writing, here!
And Cardona wasn’t alone in his believe that The Shadow was Cranston. Even after the real Cranston shows up with Weston, establishing an iron-clad alibi, June Marwyn has enough run-ins with both Cranston and The Shadow to be convinced they are one and the same. “Lamont Cranston was The Shadow; of that, June was sure.” The strange thing is that by the end of the story, nothing has happened to shake June’s conviction. After this adventure she went her own way, apparently still knowing the identity of The Shadow.
Another one of those head-scratchers that didn’t really make sense was that The Shadow hands a cab driver his own version of a bolita ball. His is perfectly round, whereas the bolita balls had flat section where the number was painted. The ball he hands the cabby is completely black and has no number. Yet he somehow expects the ball to make its way to the police, and for the police to figure out that it’s hollow and screws open upon a reverse-threaded screw. Inside there is a message of vital importance to the police. If I had a message that I needed to get to the police - one that was crucial to an upcoming crime - I wouldn’t trust it to such uncertain methods. I’d simply have phoned the cops... or mailed a letter! The whole black-ball thing just doesn’t make sense.
And yet even for those flaws, I still enjoyed the story. There are some great action sequences and a few surprises in store for the reader. At the story’s climax, there is a city-wide carnival in Tampa. Everyone is in costume, roaming the streets. And The Shadow shows up... as himself. No one thinks a thing about it; he is able to move freely through the crowds in his cape and slouch hat in daylight. So when the final gun battle takes place with The Shadow, his agents and the police battling against the pirate-garbed thugs of the unknown mastermind, The Shadow is able to battle in daylight as himself!
One of the passages that gave me a chuckle was when I read, “It was quite a surprise to find Cranston escorting a lady.” Up until this point, Commissioner Weston rarely saw Cranston in the company of a woman. That would change in the next seven months when Margo Lane would be introduced to the series. Then, he would find himself complaining just the opposite: Cranston was always escorting Margo to the Commissioner’s chagrin.
This story features most of the regular characters in the series: Burbank, Cliff Marsland, Clyde Burke, Harry Vincent, Hawkeye, Vic Marquette, Joe Cardona, Commissioner Weston and Lamont Cranston and... Lamont Cranston. Having both Lamont Cranstons involved in this plot is one of the things that makes this story so cool.
Another thing that makes this story cool and a stand-out, is that Burbank... poor old Burbank... the guy who just sits in an isolated room all day transmitting messages... Burbank gets outside in the nice Miami weather. He joins up with The Shadow’s other agents, and even enters into the enormous gun battle in the last ,Chapter! This Burbank fellow is not simply a wimpy telephone operator!
A final item worthy of note is that readers are reminded that Cliff Marsland also carries a .45 automatic, as does his master. Sometimes we are so impressed with The Shadow’s massive smoke wagons that we forget Cliff carried one, too!
I think you’ll enjoy reading this Shadow adventure, even with its defects. In some ways, it’s a fairly standard plot. But there are enough special features to raise it above the average 1940 story, and make it worthwhile reading.