"Crime Caravan" was published in the April, 1944 issue of The Shadow Magazine. From coast to coast stretched a devilish net of crime waiting to snatch needed cars from vital war workers! It was a caravan of crime that was operating on a nation-wide scale. Car thefts, bank robberies, and murder were sweeping across America. And it would take The Shadow to stop them!
I had a tough time getting through this one. Not one of Walter Gibson's better Shadow stories. The story is a bit rambling and lacking in plot. What plot is there, I found rather confusing. But I have to admit the ending was fun and helped make up for the other weaknesses. The basic premise of driving a caravan of cars from coast to coast seemed unbelievable, since this was written during the war years when gasoline and tires were in strict rationing. I just kept telling myself, "it's fiction... it's fiction..." If I were to rank all 325 Shadow pulp stories from best to worst, this one would fall in the bottom hundred, somewhere. Not as low as Bruce Elliott's stories, of course. But still low.
Our story opens at a conference of car dealers. Because of a shortage of cars during the war, the dealers have formed the Cross-Country Delivery Association. Police Commissioner Ralph Weston is talking business with the association president Thomas P. Marldon and six of the other members. A nationwide crime-wave has struck, using the Cross-Country Delivery Association as its method of delivery.
Automobiles are needed badly on the west coast. They can't be shipped via rail because of war-time rationing. So the Cross-Country Delivery Association was formed by east-coast car dealers to buy up cars on the eastern seaboard and have them driven across the country to the west coast.
Cross-Country Delivery Association has hired drivers to drive a caravan of cars, a hundred or more, across country to deliver the cars to San Francisco. The cars are never driven more than thirty miles per hour, follow routes where traffic is light, and are inspected at designated places along the way. In this way, the badly needed vehicles can be easily and cheaply transfered cross country... or so this story claims. I still have my doubts.
Hoodlums have infiltrated the drivers, and are committing crimes enroute to their final destination. All along the caravan trail, bank robberies, truck hijackings, disappearances of payrolls have been occurring with alarming regularity. Yes, it's truly a caravan of crime stretching from coast to coast.
Into this setting, steps our proxy hero, Rod Ballard. Ballard gets a job driving a car across country with the Cross-Country Delivery Association. It's not explained why young Ballard isn't serving in our armed forces during the current World War, because he certainly seems plucky enough. And healthy enough to battle gangsters and other minions of evil along the way. Ballard is joined by Harry Vincent, agent for The Shadow.
Together, Ballard and Vincent join the caravan of crime, and set out to thwart the evil plans along the way. They are also gathering evidence which The Shadow needs to crack the crime ring and discover the secret identity of its leader. It all leads to a rousing climax in Pass City, near the junction of the four states Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. A climax in which The Shadow wipes out not one, but two gangs of thugs!
Appearing in this story are Harry Vincent, Burbank and Shrevvy. Vincent plays the main part, while Burbank and Shrevvy play minor roles. Shrevvy is only referred to by his nickname, never as Moe Shrevnitz. This became more prevalent in the mid to late 1940's, unfortunately.
Poor Harry gets knocked about in this pulp tale, as he does in so many of The Shadow's adventures. "Sagging under the blows... Harry felt his senses reel." Pulps heroes of the thirties and forties were always getting into fights, being beat up, and knocked out. Yet they never seemed to suffer from traumatic brain injury. They must have been made from pretty tough stuff. Indeed, they earned the name "the greatest generation."
Ralph Weston is the only representative of the law. There is no mention of Joe Cardona. Since these are a multi-state crimes, the FBI is mentioned more than once. But, surprisingly, Vic Marquette isn't brought into the story. The Shadow appears in disguise as Lamont Cranston and, of course, in his usual garb of black.
This story was supposedly written by Walter Gibson but there are many slight indications that perhaps someone else wrote it, and Gibson cleaned it up. Some of the phrasing just isn't Gibson's style. But regardless of the true author, many of the usual Shadow items are present.
The special blue ink used by The Shadow appears. And the special code used between The Shadow and his agents. As expected, the writing disappears as it hits the air, obliterating itself as an agent reads it.
Reference is made to the special keys owned by The Shadow and given to Harry Vincent. Harry has been taught how to use them by The Shadow. A person needs to be taught how to use keys? I thought they were pretty simple to use... insert and twist. Am I missing something here?
Something I hadn't seen used before was a special high-pitched horn on Shrevvy's cab. We are told that Harry wears a special ear-plug that enables him to hear the peculiar pitch of Shrevvy's special horn. In this way, Shrevvy can act as lookout and warn Harry of advancing thugs. Whether this special ear-plug is just an amplifier or something more unique is left unknown. It does sound like something that The Shadow invented, though. While The Shadow as less well-known for his gadgets than Doc Savage, he did rack up a respectable number of inventions, and this was undoubtedly one of them.
I can't say I really enjoyed reading this story. I kept having a nagging feeling that Walter Gibson didn't actually write it. But records show he received the paycheck for it, so I suppose he did. But this isn't one of his best. Not even an average effort, unfortunately. I still would recommend that you read it, but don't go into it with high expectations.