John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #101
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Gangdom's Doom" was originally published in the December 1931 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Chicago crime at its most insidious rears its ugly head to strike down those who would oppose it. Only The Shadow can travel to the nation’s most corrupt city to finally wreak gangdom’s doom.
An excellent Shadow story, and a key one in the history of The Shadow. Make no mistake about it, this is no mystery. We know right from the beginning who the bad guy is and what he’s up to. This is a straight-forward gangster tale. It’s a tale of gangland Chicago and the crime kingpins who are supported by bootlegging illegal liquor. When author Walter Gibson submitted this tale to the editors at Street & Smith, he entitled it “The Shadow Cleans Up Chicago.” And that summarizes the story quite nicely. Although there no mystery in the story, there is plenty of action. And that makes for a top-tier Shadow pulp tale.
This is the famous story in which Claude Fellows dies. It’s unique in that this is the only time in the ten-year, 325-issue run of the magazine that one of The Shadow’s agents met an untimely death.
Claude Fellows, as you’ll remember, was the contact agent for The Shadow. He not only kept in constant contact with The Shadow and his agents, transferring instructions and reports back and forth, but he also gathered information for The Shadow. And at the same time, he kept up a thriving insurance business as a front for his hidden activities. He appeared in every Shadow mystery since the first issue up through this one, the fifth story.
As the story begins, Fellows is in Chicago, having been sent there by The Shadow to gather information about the crime and corruption in that city. Fellows meets with socialite Horace Prescott who has been selling booze on the side to keep up the expense of his high social position. But Prescott wants to quit the rackets, and tells Claude Fellows everything he knows. And that’s a lot. He knows names; he knows dates; he knows places. All this makes him dangerous to the Chicago mobs.
Horace Prescott is murdered, to keep his mouth shut. He’s shot down brutally in front of his apartment house as Fellows is leaving. In the ensuing police investigation, Claude Fellows is interviewed by Barney Higgins, assistant detective commissioner. He indicates his willingness to tell all he knows, which is considerable. And that puts him on the spot.
Fellows is hustled down to police headquarters, but the word is out. It’s too late. As he’s entering the headquarters building, he’s mowed down by machine-gun fire from a passing touring car. Yes, one of The Shadow’s agents has been killed in the line of duty. And you just know that The Shadow’s not going to take this lying down!
The Shadow comes to Chicago with the intent of cleaning up the crime, the corruption, the rackets, and specifically with the intent of finding the man who murdered Claude Fellows and the man who paid him to do it.
Aiding him in this task is his trusted agent Harry Vincent. Harry gets insinuated into the gangs by becoming a point man for Frank Marmosa, the gambling king. Once there, he quickly learns the set-up in town. Nick Savoli runs most everything in this town; he’s the big-shot in Chicago. Everyone else works for him.
One of the new gangsters who has blown into town from New York is Steve Cronin. Cronin, as you may remember, was in the very first Shadow story, THE LIVING SHADOW. At the end of that story, he had escaped the clutches of The Shadow. He appeared again in the second Shadow story, EYES OF THE SHADOW, and tried to kill Harry Vincent. In fact, he didn’t know that Harry had survived and assumed Harry was dead. Cronin appeared in the third Shadow tale, THE SHADOW LAUGHS, as well. And again he escaped the grasp of The Shadow. A slippery character, if there ever was one!
You’ll be happy to hear that at the end of this story, Steve Cronin finally meets his well-deserved fate. Yes, Steve Cronin finally bites the dust. But not before causing Harry Vincent a lot more grief. You see, Harry is posing as a gangster as well, and the two run into each other. Steve Cronin recognizes Harry immediately, but can’t believe at first that he’s the same guy who Cronin killed earlier. When Cronin finally pieces it all together, he deduces that Harry must be working with The Shadow. And that puts Harry on the spot!
I won’t go into all the twists and turns of the plot, but let’s just suffice it to say that The Shadow worms his way into gangland Chicago and soon starts pitting one faction against another. By the end of the story, he has broken the back of Chicago gangdom. All the mob bosses and their hirelings are thrown into jail, along with the kingpin Nick Savoli. The Shadow has cleaned up Chicago! Just the way you know that only The Shadow can!
Strangely enough, at the end of the story, the head mobster Nick Savoli and his chief lieutenant Mike Borrango, jump bail and escape. In most Shadow mysteries, the mastermind ends up dead in a blaze of gunfire. But not in this one. However it’s still a satisfying ending, in that Steve Cronin finally meets his fate. And Machine-gun McGinnis, the man who mowed down Claude Fellows, is himself riddled with bullets.
Several points of interest. Most of the Chicago crime surrounds the bootlegging of illicit liquor. The end of prohibition, you might remember, was still two years away. So the only gangland crimes mentioned here are bootlegging and gambling. And, of course, murder.
Lamont Cranston is nowhere to be found in this story. The Shadow appears as himself, in black cloak and slouch hat. He appears in disguise as an unnamed quiet gray-haired gentleman who shows up several times playing roulette at Marmosa’s gambling den. Later, he is a limping, middl-e-aged man with a dull face. And then he is Howard Blake, an advertising man from Boston who moves into the same apartment house as the crime boss Nick Savoli. Truly a master of disguise!
The Shadow speaks fluent Italian in this story. One more tongue mastered by the multi-lingual Shadow. I’ve lost track of how many languages he speaks...
As was typical in these early tales, mention is made of The Shadow’s Thursday night radio broadcasts. This was an attempt to tie the radio show to the magazine, and keep the Shadow name copyrighted to prevent piracy by other radio shows and pulp magazines. In this story, we are told that gangsters have tried learning the identity of The Shadow by sneaking into the broadcast studio disguised as electricians. But they have learned nothing. Some claim that there’s a telephone hook-up which allows The Shadow to broadcast from anywhere, but no one has penetrated the entire scheme. So although The Shadow’s voice is familiar, his identity is still hidden.
The Shadow’s famous disappearing ink shows up in this story. In fact, it is the disappearing ink which allows Steve Cronin to link Harry Vincent with The Shadow. Cronin sees Harry reading a note, which he crumples into a ball and tosses in the garbage. When Cronin later retrieves the paper and finds it blank, he knows something is up and immediately suspects The Shadow’s influence.
Also in this story, we see that strange vial of liquid that The Shadow carries beneath his cloak. When Harry’s been injured, The Shadow has Harry drink the pungent liquid. It revives him and gives his sudden strength. Sounds suspiciously like illicit narcotics to me, but I guess we’ll give The Shadow the benefit of the doubt, here...
There is a fellow named Nails Pietro in this story. He is a minor character... a thug... and he gets shot in the end. I only mention him because The Shadow had a minor, part-time agent by the name of Pietro. He was a push-cart vendor who appeared two years later in the 1933 story “The Silver Scourge” and went on to appear in four other Shadow pulp stories. I wanted to point out that they were not related in any way. Two separate characters with the same name.
I had to laugh when I ran across a gangland character named Joe Le Blanc. In the story, he’s supposed to be a tough guy. But it was hard for me to take him seriously with a name like Le Blanc. It kept bringing up memories of Jack Benny’s harried violin teacher, Professor Le Blanc, as played by the talented Mel Blanc. I kept hearing his whiney voice saying, “Pleezz, M’sieu’ Benny...”
There are certain Shadow stories upon which fans agree, “you just gotta read this one!” And this is one of those stories. Only the fifth Shadow story written, and although not all of The Shadow’s mythos had been created, yet, it was essentially there. A fun story to read. A key issue. Yes, you just gotta read this one!
"The Golden Grotto" was originally published in the May 1, 1933 issue of The Shadow Magazine. An act of piracy on the high seas begins a puzzling tale of mystery and intrigue that culminates in a massive confrontation between The Shadow and a foe who would tax his genius: the master of the Golden Grotto.
Now, here we have an excellent Shadow adventure, one which I can heartily recommend to any reader, whether a fan of The Shadow, a fan of the old pulps or just a mystery fan. There’s plenty of action, but there’s also periods of plot and character development. It makes for a near-perfect mix for a Shadow story.
The story opens with a bang. The steamship Patagonia, bound from Southampton to New York, is attacked by pirates. On board, by order of The Shadow, is Clyde Burke. At this point in our story, Burke is a freelance journalist who has been working as a newspaper correspondent in England and France. He received a special order from The Shadow to embark as a regular passenger upon this particular boat. All this was apparently precipitated by the fact that the S.S. Patagonia was transporting two million dollars in gold.
When the pirates strike, Clyde Burke assists the crew and passengers in trying to repel the invaders. In an exciting pitched gun-battle, bodies are dropping like flies. The ship crewmen, passengers and pirates alike, are being gunned down and are stacked up like cord wood. The pirates are finally fought off, but not before they make away with all the gold. And this all leaves a lot of dead bodies lying around. Luckily Burke survives, although he receives a bullet in his shoulder.
Since all this happens off the coast of the United States, the Coast Guard gets involved. They figure that rum runners might be involved. (Remember, Prohibition was still in effect at the time of this story.) The entire eastern seaboard is searched for signs of where the pirates might have stashed their pelf. But there is no sign of the pirates or their loot. Where did they go? Where is the gold? What sinister schemes is the gold intended to fund? These are all questions that The Shadow takes up in his quest for justice.
After weeks of searching in vain for the pirates and their loot, authorities have just about given up. But not The Shadow. He uses the information gained by authorities to narrow down his search for the place where the treasure could have been taken. Through a painstaking process of elimination and cunning logic, The Shadow pinpoints one location along the coastline that he feels needs surveillance. It’s a bleak, deserted tip of cape land known as East Point. That’s where he sends Harry Vincent to watch things and report back. And that’s where I found things started to get even more interesting.
There are three beach houses on the jutting promontory called East Point. It’s a solitary point of the coast, and only three men are living out there. Harry Vincent is sent out to watch them, to judge which one might fall under the suspicion of The Shadow.
Malbray Woodruff is an artist, alone and eccentric, yet pleasant enough to have Vincent as his guest in the small bungalow which is his home. Professor Kirby Sheldon, lecturer of note, lives at East Point with his two house servants. He comes here to get away from the hubbub that he so dislikes - the confusion of New York, where he is forced to go when he delivers his lectures. And finally, there’s Elbert Cordes, a sour, ugly-faced man, a retired banker with a reputation not too good. On the surface he lets the other residents alone - but Harry Vincent sees beneath the surface.
The Shadow stays mostly out of the picture during the first half of the story. Clyde Burke is the proxy hero for the first two chapters, but after he’s partially incapacitated by his shoulder wound, Harry Vincent takes over as proxy hero for the next eight chapters. It’s only in the latter half of the novel where the story starts focussing on The Shadow and his own exploits.
By this point in The Shadow’s chronology, Clyde Burke was an experienced agent, having appeared in the stories for the previous year and a half. When this story opens, Burke not yet working for the New York Classic. However, due to his brush with the pirates, he gains a position on the New York Classic as a special staff writer. After that, he fades from this story and isn’t even mentioned after chapter four.
Harry Vincent carries the action for most of this story. We follow his exploits out on East Point as he watches the inhabitants of that nearly-deserted stretch of sand. Each of the three homeowners exhibits some strange behaviors, and Harry reports on them all. All the clues are there for the reader to correctly interpret and be able to solve the case along with The Shadow. And it’s quite a thrill ride to see The Shadow in action, revealing the mastermind behind the gold robbery and the amazing plot that it was to have funded.
The cast of familiar characters is streamlined in this tale. There’s no sign of Burbank, the faithful contact man for The Shadow. His place is taken by Rutledge Mann the investment broker. It’s always good to see Mann, and watch him deliver messages to The Shadow via the B. Jonas office in the old building on Twenty-third Street. Also, no sign of Cliff Marsland who had appeared in ten stories before this. Both taxi-driver Moe Shrevnitz and spotter Hawkeye hadn’t been introduced to the series, yet. The only other recurring character who appears is Lamont Cranston’s chauffeur Stanley in a typically minor role.
This story is filled with those special little touches that made the early Shadow stories so unique. We see the remarkable disappearing ink, which The Shadow uses to sent messages to his agents. After brief exposure to air, just long enough for the agent to read it, the message disappears permanently. There’s also an ink that works in the exact opposite manner. It disappears immediately, and can be brought back to visibility.
Harry Vincent uses this alternate version of the disappearing ink. He carries a red fountain pen which is designed for special emergencies. In this story, we are told that this is the first time Harry has ever used it. He writes his concise report with the pen, but no words appear. Later, The Shadow brings a wet sponge from a little metal box and dabs the surface of the paper. The coded words of Harry Vincent appear! This reverse invisible ink is rarely mentioned in the magazine stories, so deserves special mention here.
Another method of communication between The Shadow and Vincent is the announcements over radio station WNX. At a certain time each night, Harry tunes into the station and listens for the announcer’s voice. If the speaker emphasizes certain words, Harry strings those words together to obtain a message from his master. That method of communication does appear in this story, although the call letters of radio station WNX are not mentioned this time.
Another point of interest is that we see The Shadow draw a flawless freehand circle. This was mentioned in several other Shadow stories including “Circle of Death” the following year. It is unique in that few throughout history have been able to accomplish such a feat. Supposedly Leonardo daVinci was one of those few. But only a person of perfect coordination would accomplish it.
The Shadow is not known for his gadgets, unlike his contemporary Doc Savage. But he did use a few of them, most notably his rubber suction cups that enabled him to scale the sheer outside walls of buildings. Those climbing discs aren’t mentioned here, but The Shadow does employ a thin, blackened tube of telescopic metal which he uses as a miniature periscope. He also has a tube in his pocket which opens to reveal several tiny vials inside the padded interior. In this story, he selects one containing a greenish liquid. It’s a counteragent he uses when drugged by one of the suspects. And I’m guessing in that tube is also a vial of a different color. There most certainly must be one of purplish color, which contains The Shadow’s famous restorative potion. But it’s not mentioned specifically, so that’s only my conjecture.
Usually, The Shadow carries two braces of automatics. When, in the midst of a pitched gun fray, he expends all the slugs from his two .45 caliber automatics, he discards the empties and pulls out a second set. In this story, however, he carries three braces into battle. Yes, he actually has six pistols hidden on his person. This is the only time I can remember that happening. But in this case, it’s necessary, because he is battling legions of armed antagonists, and he’s dropping them one after the other. I lost count of the exact number, but there must have been over twenty ruffians killed during the exciting climax. Whew! A record bloodbath for The Shadow.
So, just where does the Golden Grotto fit into all this? It’s the lair of a super-villain, the likes of which The Shadow has never seen before! Before this story is over, it will become the grotto of doom, wherein innocent lives are threatened with drowning. And it all hinges around the secret identity of a master plotter whose opening salvo is piracy on the high seas!
I really liked this story, perhaps more than any other Shadow novel I’ve read in the past six months. It flows so smoothly and naturally, and contains thrills and excitement galore. It’s a great story from the early years of The Shadow, when he unlimbered his .45 caliber automatics and ruthlessly gunned down hoodlums without hesitation. Read this one; I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, too.
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.