John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #94
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Q" was originally published in the June 15, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A crime wave was engulfing Manhattan. Gangs of crooks were using powerful explosives in their crimes, obliterating all evidence. All except for the wireless message typed out in Morse code: “Q!” Who was the mysterious mastermind who answered to the single letter “Q?” The Shadow was determined to find out.
Our story starts out with another crime wave. Uh huh, yes again. This time they’re using explosives and gathering in a bunch of loot. The Shadow figures that somebody has to be peddling the swag, so he’s keeping an eye on fences. Especially Fence Cortho, who specialized in getting rid of hot merchandise of great value.
The police are on the lookout for Fence Cortho, too. And they trail him to the Hotel Clarion, where they are just about to break into his room when The Shadow intervenes. And it’s a good thing that The Shadow keeps them from entering, because the room explodes into smithereens with Fence Cortho inside. Yes, the mastermind behind this sinister gang has decided to eliminate the weak link in the chain. Fence Cortho will never crack under interrogation; not now!
The police are stumped. But so far, they haven’t noticed a strange wireless signal coming over the airwaves. They haven’t, but The Shadow has! Seems that The Shadow has a habit of listening to short-wave calls in the back of Lamont Cranston’s limousine, when he is so disguised. And he’s noticed that on every night that crime has struck, there has been a special short-wave signal: “Dash - dash - dot - dash -“ In Morse Code, that’s the letter “Q” and it’s repeated over and over.
This is the signal that the mysterious mastermind uses to call his troops, to give the order to detonate explosives. The Shadow is determined to find this hidden master criminal who becomes known only by his call letter, “Q.”
Our story then switches to Jute Bantry, a forger who has spent the last ten years in Sing Sing. He’s just been released. Jute Bantry has a secret. Before mobster Zeke Hoxel died, he revealed the secret burial place of his half-million in loot. All negotiable bonds, good as cash. And now that Jute Bantry is out, he intents to dig up Hoxel’s illicit robbery proceeds. But the mysterious “Q” has other ideas. “Q” wants the money for himself.
That, The Shadow will not permit. Hoxel had buried the loot in some unknown place ten years previously, and even The Shadow had been unable to trace the missing wealth in all that time. But now he has his chance. And he’s not about to let it go!
When Jute Bantry is caught and returned to prison, The Shadow dares to even penetrate the walls of Sing Sing in search of the information he needs. He makes his way unseen past the guards, past the bars and into Jute’s cell. Does he succeed in obtaining the information? No, “Q” is not to be thwarted. Jute Bantry is killed in an explosion of “Q’s” design.
Watching The Shadow track down the hiding place of the half-million dollars in negotiable bonds in quite a treat. Nothing stands in his way, not even the seemingly-undefeatable “Q.” He whips out his cloak, hat and gloves along with his .45 automatics and wipes up the mob with the aid of his agents.
None of the agents who appear have large parts, here. But contact man Burbank, trusted agent Harry Vincent and hackie Moe Shrevnitz all get to play smaller roles. And unnamed others only identified as “certain agents who were always in readiness.” Stanley, Lamont Cranston’s chauffeur, also appears. He’s not a true agent of The Shadow, because he innocently serves the man he believes to be his employer, Lamont Cranston. I think of him as an “unintentional agent.”
As to the police, Commissioner Ralph Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona are familiar faces who again appear. Weston is at that stage where he still officially ignores The Shadow, even though unofficially he recognizes the part that The Shadow plays in hunting down crime. In one scene, The Shadow even telephones the commissioner and identifies himself. Weston isn’t surprised, and recognizes the sibilant whisper.
The Shadow gets to use several disguises in this story. He appears in his long-used disguise as millionaire Lamont Cranston. But he also switches to several other disguises in the back of Moe Shrevnitz’s taxicab. A tiny light on his makeup kit enables him to change his features so that he can become an unnamed man with a broad face in a restaurant. And later, he switches to yet another disguise when he waits in a hotel lobby. Yes, a master of disguise, indeed!
Many of the famous trappings of these Shadow mysteries are present, here. We are reminded that there is a two-way radio hidden in Moe’s cab. The Shadow uses it as a direction finder, when seeking the source of those mysterious wireless signals from “Q.” We are reminded of the hidden drawer (here referred to as a shelf) in the back of Moe’s taxi, where he hides his cloak, hat and guns. The Shadow still uses colored lenses on a tiny flashlight to send signals to his agents. He wears his rare girasol ring, but this time underneath his glove, not openly. And he visits his sanctum, his hidden headquarters somewhere in the heart of Manhattan.
Oh, and The Shadow gets injured in this story. He makes an escape by crashing through a hotel-room window. Apparently there is a little blood on the courtyard paving below, but it seems he wasn’t too badly injured. It’s a nice human touch that author Walter Gibson added here. The Shadow isn’t complete infallible after all.
And who is this character “Q?” Well, for starters, he’s no relation to the Star Trek character of the same name... er... letter. He adopted the name, we are told, because when the Morse Code for “Q” is slowed way down, it becomes “T-N-T.” Well, that’s what they claim, anyway. From what I can tell, when you exchange dots for dashes, then “Q” becomes “T-N-T.” And that’s pretty cool, but it’s not what Gibson describes in this story. Honestly, I don’t get it.
So there you have it. Lots of action, gunbattles and explosions make for a “bang-up” story. (pun intended) Not one of the best Shadow yarns. Not one of the worst. Just a good pulp mystery adventure featuring the Master of Darkness fighting the Monarch of Blast.
"Formula for Crime" was originally published in the March 15, 1942 issue of The Shadow Magazine. One man, a mathematician who had studied crime and its tendencies for years, has worked out a method of charting the course of future crime. He pits his theories against the mysterious “X”, a mastermind of astounding ability. The Shadow, to keep his title as master over all crime, is forced to solve for “X” -- the unknown criminal in Formula for Crime!
Pardon me while I yawn. It was hard making it through this story without falling to sleep. This is not one of The Shadow’s better efforts. It’s safe to say that “Formula for Crime” is tediously... formula! It’s a fairly simple by-the-numbers pulp tale that seems padded to reach its 40,000 word length. When you realize that The Shadow’s gun-battle with a couple gangs of thugs spans three full chapters, it’s pretty obvious that the padding wasn’t just illusionary. And the twist ending leaves hanging plot threads that even the least discriminating reader would find annoying.
The basic idea behind the plot is that one man, a mathematician named Professor Achilles Troy, has devised a formula for crime. The eccentric old criminologist has applied advanced mathematics to the problem of crime prevention, and is advising Commissioner Weston where crime is about to strike.
The Shadow is out to combat crime wherever it exists. And so is Professor Troy. Troy is a close friend of Commissioner Weston, and has been explaining his theories on crime. Troy claims he can calculate where crime will next rear its ugly head. Watch Bartier & Co, the wholesale diamond merchant, he advises. And sure enough, he’s right!
The jewelers is struck, not by one, but by two different gangs at the same time. Both have been sent by a mysterious mastermind known only as “X.” They break in and make off with a fortune in jewels. But the police are on hand, having taken the advice of our good professor.
In the ensuing battle, the police are trapped by both gangs. Only The Shadow can save them. And save them, he does. At the end of that three-chapter-long battle mentioned above, one gang is completely decimated. The other has been whittled down to half it’s previous size, and limps off to its hideout.
The professor has been proven right. But where does he predict crime will appear next? His mathematics indicate that crime’s next attempt will be kidnapping rather than robbery. But not just any kidnapping. Someone worth millions - Rodney Albury! He was termed a “speed-up” expert by the newspapers, because his efficiency methods could speed up production in factories devoted to vital war work.
Kidnapping turns to murder, as Albury is found dead. Enter his secretary Madeline Dale. She is an trim, attractive redhead, and becomes our new proxy heroine. This is no helpless female; she’s a tough steady fighter. She wants to find the murderer of her employer, Albury. And she’s out to spoil the plans of the gang responsible.
Unfortunately, more often she spoils the plans of The Shadow as her interference keeps him from mopping up the X gang in half the time. I suppose that’s why her character is inserted in the story. Without her, the story would have been mighty short. It’s her bumbling that stretches things out. More padding, if you ask me.
The next planned crime of the mysterious X involves two million dollars worth of gold at the East Branch of the Uptown National Bank. And that brings me to my next complaint. The dialogue in one scene is laughably unrealistic. Ken and Chet, two criminals, are planning this bank robbery, and Madeline is listening in on their conversation. Chet says to Ken, “we stay right there, in the East Branch of the Uptown National, until -“ Why in heaven’s name does he mention the full name of the bank? They both know exactly what bank they’re talking about. It would make more natural dialogue to say “we stay right there, in the bank, until -“ It’s almost like they knew they were being overheard and were careful to let Madeline know exactly what their plans were. But they didn’t. It was just a case of poor writing. Author Walter Gibson was capable of so much more, he must have been really rushing this story.
One interesting touch is the special recognition code of X. He makes himself known to his followers by a dash, two dots, and a dash. The signal is the international code for the letter X! It can be rapped on a door. It can be flashed in a light. But wherever criminals see or hear it, they know they are receiving directions from the mastermind himself! But then Gibson goes to far in creating a square blue-and-white flag with upright and crosswise stripes that are the international code for X. Oh come on! Why not just put a big white X on the thing and be done with it?
In this “formula” story, The Shadow takes on his disguise of Lamont Cranston, as usual. Also present are Commissioner Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona, representing the law. Agents of The Shadow who appear are Margo Lane, Moe Shrevnitz, Hawkeye, and Burbank. There’s a brief appearance by Cliff Marsland and Harry Vincent. Chauffeur Stanley also shows up, which is a nice addition to the normal cast.
In a nod to the Shadow radio show, which by this time had become quite popular, a veiled reference is made to The Shadow’s ability to become invisible. On the radio show, as you remember, The Shadow really could become invisible. The pulp character, however, couldn’t. He simply blended into the shadows. But as the radio show became more and more popular, passing references occasionally appeared, alluding to some of The Shadow’s powers. Sometimes his power of hypnosis. Other times his power of invisibility. But they were always kept intentionally vague. In this story, “witnesses had heard rumors as to The Shadow’s faculty for projecting himself into the unknown.” Exactly what that faculty was, is left to our imaginations.
A few notes of interest. The Shadow uses his suction cups in this tale. He uses the oiled rubber disks to move horizontally on the outside of a building, where the ledge is too narrow to support him without aid. And the famous flashlight that The Shadow uses shows up here, too, along with the colored lenses. Blinks of green tells The Shadow’s agents to keep moving. They slow down when it switches to yellow, and stop when it’s red. It appeared in quite a few of The Shadow stories, but is worth noting here.
For the few plusses that this story contains, there are so many more minuses. The identity of the mysterious “X” is pretty obvious from the very beginning of the story. When the readers are only introduced to one new character, ignoring the minor thugs and lieutenants, the identity of the unknown villain doesn’t take too much brain power to figure out.
Madeline Dale enters the house belonging to “X” and hides in his study and discovers his plans. This is another of those highly illogical situations. She was admitted by the butler and was supposed to be waiting next door in the parlor. When “X” appears in the study after a few minutes, he shows no interest in the location of his guest. Did the butler fail to announce her? No self-respecting butler and henchman would do so! Did “X” absent-mindedly forget she was in the house, just next door? Not much of a mastermind, if he’d forget such critical information. Logically he would have looked next door, found her missing, and been on his guard. But, no, he stupidly seems to forget about her presence, and then proceed to reveal his deepest secrets in front of her. To quote Bugs Bunny, “what a maroon!”
The only twist at the very end is that the bad guy turns out to be a good guy. But that leaves lot of loose ends, all by itself. An astute reader will remember back in the middle of the story that “X” revealed to his henchmen that Lamont Cranston was The Shadow. Luckily those henchmen were killed, and couldn’t reveal that secret. But if this was really a good guy pretending to be bad, he wouldn’t have revealed such an important secret to anyone, much less criminals dedicated to the destruction of The Shadow.
And if this really is a good guy, and he’s still around at the end of the story, why is he never heard from again? Are these mathematical formulas no good, after all? The whole situation just lacks logic.
If you are looking for a clumsily written story with illogical situations, loopholes and hanging plot threads, then this would be a good example for you. But for me, I shudder. I want those hours of my life back that I spent reading this one! It’s a poor example of what The Shadow should be. It’s stories like this that make you appreciate the good Shadow stories!
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.