John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #93
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Brothers of Doom" was originally published in the June 1, 1937 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Through air reddened with the flaming glow of mighty mills of steel sounds the strident scream of The Shadow’s taunting laugh, as he meets the challenge of the evil four who had made their terrible compact as Brothers of Doom.
This was a fun Shadow adventure that I can recommend. It’s another one of those that I can say is “good” but not “great.” There are a few Shadow stories that are truly outstanding... but this isn’t one of them. However, it is a really good story, and deserves to be enjoyed. There’s plenty of action and mystery. There are some really cool trappings of a secret society with robed and hooded members, secret rooms, passwords and coins that glow in the dark. In some spots, it’s a little “over the top” but in a good way. Here’s a story that you’ll have fun with.
There are four Brothers of Doom, and they form a pretty nasty group. They’ve created their own secret society and they are definitely out for no good.bThe four Brothers meet in secret. They dress in tight-fitting gray silk costumes, including a thin, tight-fitting mask that covers the entire head. They identify themselves to their evil horde of minions by a luminous disc the size of a half dollar that glows in the dark. Each speaks in an identical monotone so their voices can’t be identified. Their identity is secret, and as we might suspect, they are out to acquire massive wealth.
As our story opens Sidney Thrake, head of the Consolidated Metals Corporation meets with Marcus Omstred owner of the Centurion Steel Co. Omstred is on the brink of bankruptcy and Thrake is offering to buy him out for pennies on the dollar. Omstred refuses; he feels he can turn the company around. Little does Marcus Omstred realize that there is a hidden room in the upper levels of his factory that is being used as secret headquarters for the four Brothers.
Each of the four Brothers has devised a sinister crime, the proceeds of which will go into their coffers. Each crime will generate wealth beyond belief for the secret society. But it will be done in such a way that the wealth is acquired legitimately and no crime can be traced back to the four.
The first of the crimes occurs at the pretentious Long Island home of wealthy old Northrup Lason. Lason’s proposed theatrical chain is about to become a reality. A group of investors has gathered at Lason’s mansion to sign the final papers. But before they can do so, a creature garbed in gray silk appears in the doorway with a revolver in his fist. The lights go out. There’s a shot in the dark. And old Northrup Lason is found shot through the heart.
A shot in the dark. Shots that had been dispatched with deadly accuracy by a marksman who had mysteriously been able to pick out Lason from a scrambling throng of guests in total darkness. How was such accuracy possible? The Shadow, disguised as Lamont Cranston, appears shortly after the police arrive. He’s interested in finding out how the crime has been committed. But that’s not the only crime. More crime is due!
The next crime of the four Brothers of Doom takes place at the investment house of Froyd and Company. The directors of the firm meet the next evening in a rear office of their low office building. They have discovered some poor investments, and have agreed to pool their resources to cover the questionable securities. But before they can sign any papers, a tight-clad figure in dark gray appears in the doorway. Senior partner Elwell Froyd grabs for his gun, but isn’t fast enough. The gray-clad figure pumps three bullets into the financier’s chest.
The second crime has been accomplished. Just how the Brothers of Doom expect to benefit by the death of Elwell Froyd is unknown. But their goal was his death before the documents could be signed, and in that they were successful. But this time, they have The Shadow to contend with. The Shadow is on their trail!
More crime is due. More deaths. More destruction. The Brothers of Doom aren’t finished yet. They have even more fantastic crimes planned. And one of the crimes planned is the death of The Shadow. Yes, doom for The Shadow becomes their top priority. And it will take the full power of The Shadow to defeat this secret group of four.
The Shadow battles this fearsome quartet with the aid of his secret agents. All of The Shadows agents appear, but each in only brief appearances. Burbank, Cliff Marsland, Harry Vincent, Hawkeye, Moe Shrevnitz and Clyde Burke all have small parts in this story. And chauffeur Stanley, although not an official agent, appears as well. Marsland and Vincent have slightly larger roles, as they are assigned to infiltrate the mob that supports the Brothers of Doom. But within a short period, they are discovered and captured. It’s up to The Shadow to rescue them from a horrible death: being covered in molton steel!
The forces of law and order are represented by Inspector Joe Cardona and Police Commissioner Ralph Weston. But again, their parts are minor in this story. Most of the action is carried by The Shadow. He appears several times disguised as Lamont Cranston, but most of the time he appears in his famous garb of black.
The magazine cover to this pulp shows The Shadow pulling his hand from a large vat of molten steel. You may have seen pictures of the cover. Yes, this scene really does appear in the story. It’s pretty amazing. The scientific explanation for how he’s able to do that is relatively logical, but with one flaw that I won’t point out here. Ignoring that flaw, I guess anyone could do what he did. Dipping one’s hand in liquid metal with a temperature of over a thousand degrees would sure take a lot of nerve. Not something I’d do! And to the foolish among you, out there... don’t try this at home!
Another interesting scene in this story takes place on the top floor observatory of the Empire State Building. In a furious fight with the minions of the Brothers of Doom, The Shadow falls over the edge! Both he and the gangster he’s clutching fall from the top of Manhattan’s tallest building. How he survives is something you’ll have to read for yourself.
While up there, during his battle, The Shadow flings his empty automatic backwards over the parapet. That struck me as a pretty dangerous thing to do. A handgun falling from the top of the Empire State Building would strike the sidewalk below with deadly impact. Anyone unfortunate enough to be struck in the head by such an object would be instantly killed. And yet The Shadow does so without apparent regard for those below. I think author Walter Gibson could have come up with a better way to dispose of the weapon.
We’re reminded again that the agents of The Shadow have sworn to carry on even after their master’s death. After being told of his demise in the fall from the Empire State Building, both Cliff Marsland and Harry Vincent couldn’t doubt the accuracy of the report. But even believing it was true, they both had the stern duty of carrying on with The Shadow’s plans. Now that’s dedication!
This is another of those pulp stories that puts in a quick mention of the story that will appear in the next magazine issue. It was a regular policy at Street & Smith’s other magazine, Doc Savage. But it was only done on The Shadow for a limited period of time. And this story was during that period. It gives a paragraph to promote “The Shadow’s Rival” appearing next.
As mentioned earlier, this story is a little more “over the top” than many of The Shadow’s exploits. But that’s why they call it “pulp!” Yes, it’s a good thing. It’s definitely a fun Shadow story that you’ll want to read.
"The Three Brothers" was originally published in the May 15, 1939 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The oldest was a visionary. The youngest was a playboy. The middle brother was a businessman. Which of them was the evil one? Only The Shadow could discover his astonishing identity!
If you looked at all the Shadow stories published in the year 1939, and ranked them from best to worst, the story being reviewed here would fall in the bottom half. Although there’s nothing specifically wrong with it, the whole thing is just a standard Shadow mystery with nothing unique to make it stand out above the rest. Some of the characters’ motivations seem a bit weak. You’ll find yourself scratching your head when some character acts in a particular way. You can understand why he or she acts that way, but there’s no compelling reason they couldn’t have also acted completely differently. So you end up asking yourself, “Why did they choose that particular path, not one of several others?”
It’s a good, serviceable plot, even if nothing too elaborate. Gregg Caxter is president of the Caxter Chemical Corporation. He’s the middle brother, and the businessman of the group. He’s looking to expand the business, but needs the legal approval of his other brothers.
Howard Caxter is the older brother. He’s the dreamer. He wants to see the corporation devoted to peaceful pursuits and eliminate the manufacture of dangerous chemicals. Philip Caxter is the younger brother. He’s the playboy spendthrift. Philip usually sides with his oldest brother, Howard. If Howard agrees with Gregg’s plans, Philip will go along.
A series of mysterious death and disappearances begin. Men sent by Gregg to visit his brothers and gain their signatures of approval disappear. Or die horribly. Finally, after four such couriers perish inexplicably, Lamont Cranston is enlisted to deliver the papers to the two brothers. Will he too suffer a horrible fate? Will he find that one of the brothers is behind the plot? Or will he find an even more insidious solution?
By the time Lamont Cranston is appointed as messenger, those pesky motivations come into question again. If it’s all that important to get the papers signed, why doesn’t Greg Caxter visit his two brothers himself? Why send another man into harm’s way and postpone these letters of approval yet again? He should have gone after the first courier failed. But now, it takes five. How illogical. The brothers don’t live all that far apart, and they are all on cordial speaking terms. So why keep sending messengers out? Well, of course, in the end, Greg Caxter finally does visit them himself. But by that point, I was yelling out loud, “It’s about time!”
The Shadow appears here most often as his true self, garbed in cloak of black. But he also shows up as Lamont Cranston, and once gets to disguise himself in the blue-gray coat of an apartment-house doorman. He’s aided by Harry Vincent and Clyde Burke, although they don’t get a lot to do, here. Dr. Rupert Sayre shows up to patch up our hero after an automobile accident, and it’s always good to see him, even if briefly. Miles Crofton shows up to pilot the autogiro, and I always appreciate a visit from them both. Burbank is mentioned several times, but doesn’t actually show up in the story. Moe Shrevnitz shows up in several scenes, driving his taxi in service of The Shadow. And as for the men of the law, both Commissioner Weston and Inspector Cardona get nice parts in the story. Detective sergeant Markham gets a brief mention, as well
A good portion of the story line is taken up with a love story between young Philip Caxter and beautiful Irene Selwood. So often when The Shadow or his agents don’t propel the story, it follows these two young lovers. Will The Shadow help their love triumph? Will young Philip fall beneath the mysterious and fatal influence of a master plotter? Or will he be revealed as the master plotter, himself? You’ve just got to read it yourself to find out...
Two highlights of this story which I always appreciate are The Shadow’s short-wave radio in Moe Shrevnitz’s cab, and The Shadow’s autogiro flown by Miles Crofton. Only rarely is reference made to the portable short-wave radio. In many stories, it’s ignored, and The Shadow must have Moe stop at a convenient cigar store to use the phone and call Burbank. But in this one, he can call from the car. And, of course, any time The Shadow appears flying his autogiro, it sends a thrill down my spine. I love that strange airplane! It’s good to see it here.
The Shadow’s flashlight with the colored lenses shows up here. He gives it to Irene Selwood along with the code sheet, and instructs her in how to contact him secretly via the colored lights. He’s used that special electrical torch before with his agents, but I don’t recall him giving it to an outsider. And giving the code sheet as well! He must have really trusted her.
I found it interesting to note that the Pulaski Skyway is mentioned in passing. Three years earlier, it was the major backdrop of “Death Rides the Skyway.” Author Walter Gibson could have simply described the trip without its specific mention, so I thought it was a nice reference to an earlier story.
One of the major weakness in this story is the wrap-up at the end, where everything is explained. It uses fuzzy science to explain away some of the mystery. I’m no expert, and perhaps the science is based solidly in fact... but I suspect it’s not. It sounds just too convenient. SPOILER! I’m going to explain that part of the ending, so if you want to skip the next three paragraphs, I’ll understand.
The “bad” brother (and I won’t say who he is) has been killing the company employees by surreptitiously dosing them with a special odorless gas. By itself, the gas is harmless. But when the victim is exposed to additional outside stimuli, it turns deadly. For one subject, he uses a gas which will react later with a trace of hydrogen sulphide. When the target breaths a non-lethal dose of hydrogen sulphide, it reacts with the secret gas and perishes.
A second victim gets a gas which reacts to atmospheric compression. So when he passed through the Holland Tunnel, the slight additional pressure -- which is harmless to everyone else -- kills him. A third type of odorless gas is used on a man who later breathes a small amount of carbon monoxide, less than in common automobile exhaust. For him, that dose is fatal. And Lamont Cranston unknowingly inhales another odorless gas which will kill him if he reaches a high altitude, such as in an airplane.
Now, I’m not scientist enough to say that such gasses couldn’t exist. But five or six such gasses, each colorless and odorless, and each that kills when occurring in the presence of commonly occurring situations or chemicals... that just stretches my credulity a bit too much. And yet the entire mystery depends upon these gasses. Without them, no unsolvable killings could have taken place.
END SPOILER. OK, it’s safe to read again. I would have rated this story higher if the solution to the strange deaths had been a bit more plausible. And also, if the motivations for the characters were more compelling. But as it is, the story seems a little weak. It’s still a fun one to read; not a bad story at all. Just not as persuasive as it should have been.
I hope my reservations about this pulp mystery haven’t been interpreted as meaning I didn’t like it. Actually, I did like it. But I didn’t love it. It was a fun Shadow story that was definitely worthwhile reading. But it has some weaknesses which keep it from being a top-notch Shadow adventure. Too bad.
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.