John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #98
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Gems of Doom" was originally published in the July 15, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. )nce again, the weed of crime is nourished by greed; the greed for diamonds! Large diamonds. Small diamonds. Cut diamonds. Uncut diamonds. World famous diamonds. Diamonds of every size and shape concievable. They all scintillated with murder, but they couldn’t blind The Shadow!
This is a nice little Shadow adventure, but really has little to make it stand out from all the others. I hate to call it routine, because that seems to paint it as dull and uninteresting. And that’s not the case. It’s a very respectable Shadow story. But it’s a fairly straight-forward crime story. There were really no “wow” moments in the pulp tale that would make it stand out. I guess I would rate it as average, although again that seems to damn it faint paise. But it’s true. This is an average Shadow mystery.
As our story opens, we meet three men in the diamond business. There’s Alfred Blendon, head of the Gotham Jewelers’ Association. Then Jan Traal, representative of a South African diamond syndicate. And finally, Donald Krell, a wealthy diamond purchaser who also has a plan. A plan for wealth and prestige. A plan which will soon make New York the diamond center of the world, in place of Amsterdam.
Jan Traal’s part in the plan is to produce the raw diamonds through his South African syndicate and supply the expert diamond cutters who will be brought from war-torn Europe to America. Blendon’s assocation will handle the manufacture of the jewelry from those gems. Kreld will buy the jewels wholesale for his country-wide chain of jewelry stores. It’s a plan destined to provide millions for the three investors.
But someone’s out to stop their plan. Someone who knows what’s going on and is out to get the diamonds for himself. Jan Traal, escorted by Alfred Blendon, brings a quarter million in uncut stones to the home of wealthy Donald Krell. But there’s an attempt to steal the jewels. An attempt made by... The Shadow!
Actually, it’s Ape Bundy, lumbering bodyguard for Curly Regal, dressed in a Shadow costume. He’s out to get the jewels and leave the blame on The Shadow. Luckily, The Shadow shows up and Ape Bundy is killed in the ensuing struggle. The Shadow knows that someone is out to get the jewels, but the trail back to the mastermind has been severed by Bundy’s demise.
In order to make their jewelry venture a success, the three investors realize they must create a demand for diamonds. They must put diamonds before the public eye. Promote them. Put them on display. So they create society events that will showcase diamonds. Events which will create a demand for diamond jewelry. But also, events which will attract the minions of the secret mastermind behind the robbery attempt.
And so there are more robberies. More deaths. And more confusion reigns as new and strange ways are discovered to steal the closely guarded jewels. It seems that these criminals can’t be stopped. The law is thwarted at its every attempt to safeguard them. Only The Shadow can step in to save the day. Only The Shadow can stop the robberies. Only The Shadow can stop the murders. Only The Shadow can recover the millions in stolen gems. Only The Shadow can uncover the true mastermind and defeat him in mortal combat!
This story sees the use of those strange flat rubber disks that The Shadow uses to climb the sheer walls of apartment buildings. In fact this is the story that features them on the cover of the magazine. On that cover, The Shadow clings to the brick wall of a building while blazing away at some unseen foe with his famous .45 automatics. Yes, this is that story. And yes, the scene certainly does appear in the story. It’s a great one where the crooks are on the rooftop, firing down upon the helpless Shadow.
Also in this story is seen that strange and mysterious combustible compound we know as “The Devil’s Whisper.” The Shadow keeps the two substances in a small round box in his vest pocket; a box with two lids. He merely dips thumb and finger into the separate sections to dab each with a powdery substance that has a sticky glisten. The dab on the thumb is black; that on the finger is gray. Friction sets it off. “The Shadow snapped thumb and finger two feet from Ape’s face. The powders went with a blast that rivaled any that a gun could produce. There was a flash of flame that produced a puff of pungent smoke, along with the echoes of the sharp report.” It’s a good thing he didn’t use that compound too often, or he’d have soon become one of the hearing impaired. Assuming he didn’t blow off a finger, first...
Appearing in this story are Hawkeye, Burbank, Moe Shrevnitz, Cliff Marsland, Clyde Burke and Harry Vincent. Harry is referred to as The Shadow’s most trusted agent. But I see that as an insult to the other agents. I can’t imagine the others being any less trustworthy. Joe Cardona and Commissioner Weston appear for the law. I expected to see Vic Marquette show up, since it is claimed that the F.B.I. are involved in the diamond case. But nothing seems to come of that. The last of the regular characters to appear is chauffeur Stanley who, as always, does his job faithfully, never suspecting his master is an imposter.
The story also makes reference to the fact that some people actually believe that The Shadow can make himself invisible. “So startling was his evanishment that the cop actually believed The Shadow had faded into nothingness before his eyes.” Of course we know that The Shadow never had such a power in the pulp magazine stories, regardless of what the radio show claimed. But here, in a nod to the radio series, it’s speculated that perhaps the secret lies in the laugh of The Shadow. Perhaps, it is suggested, The Shadow’s laugh has some hypnotic power. Perhaps it has a misguiding effect, as it trails away, that makes a person’s eyes look elsewhere for The Shadow, seeking him where he’s not, and making it appear that he has truly vanished before their eyes. Seems like a stretch to me, but it’s an interesting conjecture.
This story takes us on a brief visit to Red Mike’s, that infamous underground dive that appeared in eightteen of the pulp magazine stories. The Shadow goes there to impersonate a dead gangster and receive an important phone call intended for the dead man. He gets the phone call, and a lot more action that he had counted on. But as always, The Shadow is up to the challenge.
There was one thing in the story that left me a bit puzzled. This same dead gangster, a thug named Growdy, was killed by The Shadow. Hackie Moe Shrevnitz and The Shadow drag him into the back of Moe’s taxi, and there he dies. Our story tells us that “With a whisper, The Shadow told the cabby where to take his dead cargo.” And with that cryptic comment, it’s the last we see of Growdy. I wonder, where did The Shadow tell Moe to take the corpse? He didn’t just dump him in an empty lot, somewhere, because it was important that the dead body didn’t turn up while The Shadow was impersonating him. So where was the body taken? Does The Shadow have a secret graveyard somewhere? A pit of quicksand? His own morgue? Makes me wonder how many other dead bodies he has disposed of in the same manner. This is one of those little mysteries for which there seems to be no obvious answer. But I remain curious!
One little detail that I found intriguing was something that Moe Shrevnitz carries in his taxi. “It was a coil of rope, slender but very strong. Moe carried it as a towing rope, but The Shadow had ordered this special type because it could be put to other uses.” So although its alleged purpose is a towing rope for Moe, it’s actually a special rope used occasionally by The Shadow. Sounds suspiciously like the thin, strong rope carried by a contemporary of The Shadow, coming from another competing publisher, The Spider. He was famous for his thin, strong rope. So famous it was often called the Spider’s web. Was this appearance in a Shadow story a subtle jab at the competition? We can only conjecture.
One final note of interest. The Shadow is often credited with being multi-lingual. He speaks a variety of tongues. In this story, it’s mentioned that he knows Dutch as well. Another one to add to the growing list...
You should read this Shadow story if you’re looking for a good way to kill a few hours. It’s not a great story, but its an average Shadow tale that carries the requisite thrills that any Shadow fan would appreciate.
"Tear-drops of Buddha" was originally published in the May 1945 issue of The Shadow Magazine. And just what are these tear-drops, you may ask? Jewels! Amazing jewels of tremendous value. There are four blood-red rubies, four green emeralds and four flashing diamonds. These twelve stones are all matched for size, each larger than a golf ball. And each contains a secret; a secret that only The Shadow can discover.
As this story was being written, World War II was winding down. Young men could be cast as the proxy hero of these pulp stories without making excuses for them not being active in the armed forces. And the villains could still be the Germans, but it was not as necessary to vilify them to the extent that was prevalent in the earlier years of the war. Our villains, in this story, speak in low guttural tones, but aren’t specifically identified as Nazis. And our proxy hero is young Ted Trent, a seaman waiting for his assignment as skipper of a ship in the merchant marine.
Ted Trent is in New York, seeking the next-to-impossible to find. A hotel room! And helping him out is an old acquaintance, Cecil Grenshaw, from Calcutta. Grenshaw is only too happy to let young Ted use his hotel room, because Cecil Grenshaw is hiding from sinister forces out to capture him. Grenshaw knows the location of the Tear-drops of Buddha, those fabulous gems that used to belong to the Rajah of Bildapore. And someone wants that information.
The criminal mastermind in this story is Count Bela Zurich, proprietor of the Casino Monaco in downtown Manhattan. Now there’s a name that just reeks of European intrigue. And following him around is a slinky fem fatale by the name of Mata Safi. With a name like that, you just know she’s a spy in the Mata Hari mold. But she’s not the only female in the story. There’s also the innocent young Janice Moreland, daughter of Heywood Moreland, retired banker, who lived on Central Park West. She’s looking for the Tear-drops of Buddha, too.
Cecil Grenshaw isn’t long for this world. No, he’s fated to fall into the evil clutches of Count Bela Zurich and his mob. From Grenshaw is wrested the name of the man who currently possesses the Tear-drops. Niles Naseby has them. And once Cecil Grenshaw gives up this information, his days are numbered. Actually, his minutes are numbered. His heavily-weighted body is dragged from the river only days later. Grenshaw is now out of the picture, and things begin to focus on Niles Naseby, the man who has the twelve valuable jewels, the Tear-drops of Buddha.
Before his untimely demise, Cecil Grenshaw called upon Lamont Cranston, a former acquaintance whom Grenshaw had met briefly, years earlier in Calcutta. So when Grenshaw disappears, The Shadow in his guise as Lamont Cranston, enters the case. And this is where things get sticky for The Shadow. As Cranston, he confronts Niles Naseby. He forces Naseby to reveal the location of the Tear-drops of Buddha. They are in the cloak room at the Hotel Argonne.
He confiscates the coat check ticket and heads to the Hotel Argonne. But as soon as he leaves, agents for Count Bela Zurich enter and murder Niles Naseby and his servant. A double murder, for which Lamont Cranston will receive the blame!
When Cranston arrives at the Hotel Argonne, he finds the cloak room in chaos. Someone has bound and gagged the attendant and made off with the package of jewels. Not having seen the face of his attacker, the attendant mistakenly identifies Cranston as the guilty party. This, in addition to the two previous murders, makes Cranston a hunted man.
Who has the Tear-drops of Buddha? Where are they now hidden? What other treasures lie hidden inside an underground hideout? Who is really behind the whole sinister scheme? The Shadow is bound to find out, but he must elude the police as he investigates, since they are seeking Cranston as an accused murderer. Only The Shadow can solve the mystery and clear the good name of Lamont Cranston.
The Shadow receives aid from his agents Harry Vincent, who keeps an eye on the Casino Monaco and Mata Safi, Moe Shrevnitz, who chauffeurs The Shadow around in his taxicab, and Burbank, who gets to leave his cramped little quarters and take on a more active role. Moe, it should be noted, is only referred to as “Shrevvy” in this story. It’s the nickname he acquired in later years, thanks to Margo Lane. And it’s a nickname that personally grates on my nerves. Margo doesn’t appear in this story, nor do Cliff Marsland, Hawkeye, Clyde Burke or Rutledge Mann.
As noted above, Burbank gets to leave his small dimly-lit office and switchboard and venture into the outer world, in service of his master. When The Shadow, as Cranston, takes up residence at the Hotel Ramorez temporarily, he needs someone he can trust on the hotel switchboard. And who else but Burbank is selected to tend the switchboard. Not much of a change from his usual job, granted, but still a nice change of pace for the poor guy forced to work long hours in a cramped office.
Inspector Joe Cardona is here, as is his boss New York Police Commissioner Ralph Weston. Weston has often been described as close friend to Lamont Cranston. But without hesitation, he throws that friendship out the window when Cranston is accused of murder. Some friend! There’s no benefit of the doubt involved here. Weston seems quite willing to believe his “good friend” Lamont Cranston is capable of murder.
As Weston figures it, life was such a bore for Cranston that turning to crime was his only way to relieve the monotony. Convinced that his ex-friend Cranston is the cause of the murders and thefts, he is intent upon hounding his former friend to the absolute limit. At the story’s end, when Cranston is cleared of the charges, Weston finally accepts his friend’s innocence without even an apology. I guess when you’re police commissioner, you can get away with that.
A couple notes of interest. We all know that The Shadow doesn’t possess any powers of invisibility in the pulp stories. At least not the power to “cloud men’s minds” like the radio version of the character. But in this story, we are told that “Somehow, Cranston had a way of not being noticed when he so chose.” This seems to be a reference to the ability to render himself nearly invisible by the cessation of all movement and thought.
This ability was mentioned in the four Shiwan Khan novels as “the trance condition of samdhi.” In this state, other people tend to ignore the person in the trance to such an extent that he is close to invisible. For more information, you may wish to read the four Shiwan Khan novels: “The Golden Master” September 15, 1939, “Shiwan Khan Returns” December 1, 1939, “The Invincible Shiwan Khan” March 1, 1940 and “Masters of Death” June 15, 1940.
By the time of this 1945 novel, apparently everyone knows of The Shadow. In fact, when he shows up at a masked ball in his black cloak and slouch hat, the crowd assumed him to be a reveler in disguise as The Shadow. Laughs and jests fill the ball room. Look, it’s a guy dressed as The Shadow! So much for that mystery man and master of the night that we knew so well in the earlier years. What a come down!
Author Walter Gibson inserted a little “inside” joke into this novel. A minor character - the cloak room attendant that Lamont Cranston is accused of binding and gagging - is named Elliott Bruce. This name is a reversal of one of Gibson’s closest friends, and fellow magician, Bruce Elliott.
Little did Gibson realize at the time that slightly more than a year hence, he would leave Street & Smith, publishers of The Shadow, and be replaced by Bruce Elliott. Elliott would be the sole author of The Shadow pulps for the two years between 1946 and 1948. How competent a replacement Elliott turned out to be, is a matter for discussion elsewhere. Let’s just say his work was uninspired.
But when all is said and done, at the end of the pulp novel, where are those twelve jewels of great value? Where are the Tear-drops of Buddha? Lost, unfortunately. Lost deep inside a cavern, where a cave-in has filled the underground rooms with tons of rock.
But that’s no reason not to read the story. You’ll want to know what other amazing treasures were hidden in the cavern. And who is caught beneath the rubble, as well. It’s a fun, and short (at only 32,000 words) pulp adventure of The Shadow. Spend a couple hours enjoying it. You could do worse.
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.