John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #88
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Creeper" was originally published in the August 15, 1935 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The hiding place of the Doyd millions was encoded upon a secret treasure map. One strange unknown being stood between the rightful heirs and their hidden inheritance. Known only by his stealthy, creeping footsteps, it was up to The Shadow to follow that careful tread to the lair of The Creeper.
They say that The Shadow stories from the 1930’s were the best of the entire eighteen-year run. This story, “The Creeper” is prime justification for that claim. It’s an intriguing mystery with a nice atmospheric mood. It’s a bit longer than the average Shadow pulp novel, coming in at over 52,000 words, but when you’re reading the story you don’t notice the extra length. You are caught up in the story and it seems to just whiz by. And that’s the sign of a good Shadow mystery.
The story has to do with the estate left by a recently deceased millionaire. The dead man’s attorney calls everyone together. Tobias Clavelock, the lawyer for the Doyd estate, called the heirs together for the reading of the will. As legatees of Bigelow Doyd, the soap king who is recently deceased, they were due to inherit millions! Bigelow Doyd’s wealth lay in his collections of valuable gems and art treasures. But only Bigelow Doyd knew the place where these valuables were stored.
The assembled heirs included Mr. Egbert Doyd, a hunched-shouldered, sickly faced man who looked more than sixty - an invalid. Miss Mehitabel Doyd, sister of the deceased Bigelow Doyd - an old lady who was in her eighties. Miss Theresa Doyd - granddaughter of Bigelow Doyd. Mark Lundig a second cousin - a shrewd, sharp-faced man - gray-streaked hair - large spectacles. And Mr. Donald Shiloh - a relative of Bigelow Doyd’s first wife. A descendant of another branch of the family.
The total estate was to be divided equally among all eligible heirs. The catch? Old Bigelow Doyd had hidden his wealth. According to his will, the secret hiding place was written in code and placed in an ebony casket. But the black wooden box that contained the secret of Bigelow Doyd’s wealth has disappeared!
The heirs are out to find the coded clue to the fabulous treasure. But they aren’t alone. Someone else was planning to gain his share of the spoils - The Creeper!
The Creeper gets his name from his stealthy footsteps. Strange footsteps - creeping footsteps that seemed remote. Trying to locate them was impossible. First they seemed to be downstairs; then they were on the second floor. There was something terrible about those footsteps. They were creaky, almost ghostly.
The Creeper, whoever he is, heads three separate bands of gangland’s most ruthless hoodlums. Rick Parrin controlled a force of fake salesmen; Zimmer Funson, the bookie, headed his coterie of touts; and Reggie Spaylor, was silent partner in a gymnasium, where boxers and wrestlers were on hand to serve as thugs. Such were the lieutenants of The Creeper.
Into this strange situation steps The Shadow and his agents. They are out to thwart the evil plans of The Creeper. Can they do it? Who is The Creeper? What is the strange countersign known only to The Creeper and his men? And where is the fortune hidden? Can The Shadow deal not only with The Creeper, but with the supercrook’s fully assembled hordes? All this will be revealed when you read this Shadow mystery novel.
In this story, we initially see Lamont Cranston. But he disappears a third of the way into the story, and the rest of the action is taken up solely by The Shadow. All of his main agents appear: Moe Shrevnitz, Harry Vincent, Cliff Marsland, Clyde Burke, Hawkeye, Rutledge Mann, and the faithful Burbank. Acting Inspector Joe Cardona appears as the law’s sole representative.
We all know that Harry Vincent lives at the Metrolite Hotel. But what about Clyde Burke? It was never specified. In fact, this is the only story in which it is acknowledged that Burke has lodgings. “Instead of heading for the Classic office, he made for his own lodgings.” That seems pretty flimsy, but all the other stories didn’t even say that much. And so it deserves mention.
Readers get to experience the thrill of The Shadow climbing the outside of buildings without his famous rubber suction cups. They had appeared in three previous stories, but apparently they weren’t needed this time around. There were easy handholds and projecting ledges at convenient spacing to allow him to clime up three stories just with his own steely grip. Pretty impressive.
The ebony casket passes through various hands before The Shadow finally brings the evil-doers to justice. Most of those hands were criminal. It passed from one crook to another. But once, it was held by an honest man, Jerry Kobal. Jerry is caught in a shoot-out, and injured. The Shadow has Moe’s taxi spirit him away for medical assistance. Although it isn’t specified, it seems that he probably visited the clinic of The Shadow’s personal physician Dr. Rupert Sayre. Apparently Dr. Sayre had some small hand in this adventure, even though he wasn’t specifically mentioned by hame.
One somewhat jarring note in this story regards our favorite cabman, the hackie extraordinaire, Moe Shrevnitz. We know from countless stories that he’s the best there is. Nothing gets past Moe. Yet in this story, we are told that “Moe was sometimes lax in watching backward to see if his cab happened to have another on its trail.” Huh? Not the Moe that I know! The Moe I know would always keep a sharp eye on his trail. Hey, let’s not go disrespecting the man, here! I’ll chalk it up to a momentary lapse on the part of Walter Gibson...
The Shadow’s prowess at amazing and convincing disguise is showcased in this story. Although it isn’t made clear until the story’s end, The Shadow uses a special disguise here that isn’t exposed until the climax. I won’t spoil the story by revealing the identity of that disguise. But it’s good to see the skillful disguises used, this time to create a new impersonation.
I wasn’t too surprised at the unmasking of The Creeper. As is usual in pulp mysteries, all you need to do is pick out the least suspicious person in the entire story, and that’s who will turn out to be the villain. And so it is here, as well. I got more of a surprise when I discovered one character had been The Shadow in disguise the entire time. I think that made up for the lack of suspense regarding The Creeper’s true identity.
This is the kind of Shadow story you want to read. Interesting plot. No plot holes or loose threads. Plenty of action. And an intriguing mystery. I liked it, and I think you will, too.
"Death's Masquerade" was published in the January 15, 1943 issue of The Shadow Magazine. At a local annual festival known, in the city of Industria, as “The Pageant of Progress” revelers dress in masked costume. But beneath those masks awaits death. The Shadow must thwart the evil that lies hidden in the model city of Industria.
This is one of those typical mid-1940’s Shadow novels that lacks excitement. It’s a pretty standard run-of-the-mill mystery novel. There are some twists and turns, in a weak attempt to generate some enthusiasm. But in the end, this story is lackluster and doesn’t have a lot to recommend it.
America was at war, although you’d never know it from reading this story. By the time this magazine story hit the newsstands, the country had been part of World War II for over a year. Yet there is no mention of the war, unless you count some passing comment about a chemical plant converting from plastics to synthetic rubber. And there are plenty of virile young men in the story; men that by all accounts should have been drafted long before this. In this Shadow mystery, the world war was shoved so far into the background as to not exist. And that was probably done intentionally to allow readers a chance to escape the reality of wartime. Pulp fare was escapist, by nature, of course.
As for the plot, well... we have a “model city” called Industria. It had a perfect system of civic planning, whatever that means. The location of Industria isn’t specified, but it’s apparently somewhere in the eastern half of the United States. There are three major industries in the city, a foundry, a dyeworks and a chemical plant. Controlling them all is Gault Industries. And being vice president of Gault Industries is a job that seems to carry a curse.
The last vice president of Gault Industries had died very suddenly. Heart failure. The vice president before him had also met an unexpected death in an airplane crash. The vice president before him had been killed in a fatal automobile accident. A long trail of deaths has been attached to the position of vice president of Gault Industries. Yes, it seems to be a cursed job, and nobody wants it. Nobody but one person.
Ferris Dane is eager to accept the position of vice president of Gault Industries. Dane has the experience. He has managed each of the three plants at various times. And he’s fearless; a sturdy square-jawed fellow who’s anxious to accept the challenge of being vice president. The Gault Industries board of directors is ready to offer him the job. That, of course, puts Dane’s life in peril.
Creep Hubin is a sneaky assassin who has been imported from out of town by some unknown employer. He doesn’t come cheap; his price is two-thousand dollars. (That would be around $25,000 in today’s money.) His job is to murder Ferris Dane and make it look like an accident. The Shadow’s first job: thwart Creep Hubin.
And thwart Creep Hubin he does. There’s an exciting episode at the foundry where Ferris Dane is nearly thrown into molten steel. But The Shadow is on the scene and after a furious struggle, Creep Hubin is the one thrown into the foaming liquid metal. Ferris Dane’s worries are not over, though. There are destined to be more attempts on his life. And The Shadow must be there to balk them.
If this scene at the foundry sounds familiar, that’s because author Walter Gibson recycled it from a couple of his previous stories. He first used the same setting in the 1936 story “The City of Doom.” Except in that story it was much more exciting as he was also battling voodoo. And it was more graphic. Men flee from a tide of molten steel that’s running loose, it pours onto their feet, melting their ankles and they fall face forward into the molten horror.
Gibson also used the foundry concept in the 1937 story “Brothers of Doom.” In that one, The Shadow actually dips his hand deep into the molten steel... and survives! Now that’s pretty cool. All of which makes the scene in Death’s Masquerade pale in comparison. It’s as though Gibson was trying to inject some life into a lifeless story by using a foundry scenario that had worked twice before. But it failed to work even nearly as well, this time around. And, sad to say, the foundry scene is probably the most exciting one in this novel, even though it takes place in the beginning of the story.
The only other scene that was somewhat interesting was where The Shadow hurtles through a trap door and falls thirty feet to a cement floored pit below. He’s out of action for a couple of chapters. OK, it wasn’t all that exciting, but it was still better than the rest of the story.
One of the high points of the story was supposed to be the big pageant parade. This is where another attempt is made on Ferris Dane’s life. He’s masked and in costume as “King Progress” and he’s both stabbed and poisoned. Of course, it turns out that someone else was using his costume, and was on the receiving end of the knife and poison. But the whole parade thing is a dull read. And as for the masked killer, it’s painfully obvious that we are being tricked and there are different people trading places beneath the mask.
As for other characters, let’s give them a quick rundown. There’s crazy old Ellery Gault who heads up Gault Industries. Diana Gault is old Ellery’s niece, and provides the romantic interest. She’s interested in Ferris Dane as well as his competitor for her affections, Roy Rexford. Rexford is head of the chemical plant. Another virile young man who should, by all rights, have been drafted into the armed forces long before this.
Amon is a strange old guy who runs the local costume shop. All costumes for the Pageant of Progress come from his shop. There’s also the assistant George Traymer who assists just a little too much and ends up dead. Let’s not forget the other two industries and the men in charge of them. Laird Woburn is president of the dyeworks and Warren Helm is president of the foundry. And that about wraps up the major players. Some live, some die. Some are the good guys, some are the bad guys. But somehow, as you read this story, you’ll find yourself not really caring too much about any of them.
The Shadow is assisted by Clyde Burke, his faithful agent and newspaper reporter, and by Margo Lane, who is part of New York’s inner society set. And that’s it, as far as the agents go. There’s no sign of the law, either local to Industria or outside lawmen like Commissioner Weston, Inspector Cardona or FBI man Vic Marquette. As for The Shadow, himself, he uses his usual disguise as Lamont Cranston and that’s all. No other disguises for this master of disguise. Too bad; a little disguise here or there might have helped the story.
It’s unique that in all the Shadow magazine stories, holidays are never mentioned. Never in any of the 325 stories published between 1931 and 1949 was there a mention of Christmas or New Years or Easter or Thanksgiving. The closest we ever got was Mardi Gras in 1935’s “The Mardi Gras Mystery.” However, occasionally Walter Gibson would provide us with a fictional holiday, as he did here. Never a national holiday, but only a local one. And in this story it’s the annual Pageant of Progress.
Even though this is not a very good story, there were a few things that I did like. In the end, the villain gets a bullet straight through the heart from The Shadow. Believe it or not, that’s a rather unusual event by the 1940’s. By then, sometimes the villainous mastermind would be caught and turned over to the law. More often, The Shadow would shoot to wound, and then the chief baddie would be cut down in a hail of gunfire from the police. But this time, it’s The Shadow himself who dispatches the criminal chief.
The other thing I enjoyed about this story was the appearance of “The Devil’s Whisper.” Occasionally, in the various Shadow stories, we witness The Shadow producing a bright flash and a clap of thunder by snapping his fingers. It’s a strange effect that appeared in the earlier Shadow adventures, but rarely showed up by the time of this story in 1943.
It’s explained here that this is accomplished by mixing two substances held in a tiny rounded box. The box has two lids, which The Shadow removes. With his thumb, he takes a dab of ointment from one side of the box; his second finger obtains a different substance from the other half. Thus prepared, he needs only snap his fingers. The friction unites the two pastes, components of The Shadow’s own favorite chemical formula, which Maxwell Grant (aka Walter Gibson) steadfastly refuses to reveal, producing a burst of flame and a report that echoes like a cannon shot. Very cool, and yes it does actually exist!
This was the next-to-last time that Walter Gibson had The Shadow using The Devil’s Whisper. He used it one last time three years later in the 1946 story “Crime Out Of Mind.” And after that, it was never mentioned again. Too bad.
Yes, this story does have a few good points. But not enough. The story for the most part is a bit of a chore to make it through. You read it and enjoy it, but not enough to stay up another hour reading more. It’s pretty typical of 1943 Shadow stories. Not wonderful, but just OK. It’s certainly a far cry from the great Shadow tales of the mid-1930’s. But by 1943 the world was changing. Tastes were changing. And, unfortunately, The Shadow was changing.
This is not the worst Shadow story ever written. Not by a long shot. But I’d put it in the bottom 100. If you miss this one, you haven’t missed all that much. I’d say it is for completists. And for the bored.