John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #106
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Room of Doom" was published in the April 1, 1942 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The room in question is the den of Arthur Aldriff. It’s the room in which he meets his demise. But was it suicide or murder? It will take amazing deductive abilities of The Shadow to prove it murder.
It all begins at a dinner party being held by Arthur Aldriff, one of the three partners in the Magnax Corporation. Aldriff is confronted by beautiful young Joan Kelburn. She’s concerned about some stock that her uncle, Smead Kelburn, has been selling on Aldriff’s behalf. She suspects some fraud, and wants to make sure her uncle isn’t involved in the swindle.
Arthur Aldriff assures her that her uncle is safe. All is on the up-and-up. While Joan rejoins the guests in the dining room, Aldriff decides to stay in the den to finish up some business, alone. Outside the locked door, guests hear the sound of a gunshot and the thud of a falling body. Death has visited the Aldriff mansion.
The guests break into the room to find the body of Arthur Aldriff. They make a meticulous search of the room. There is no one else there, and no way for anyone to enter. It must have been suicide!
A masked man enters the room. He’s armed with a revolver and he holds the guests at bay as he attempts to make off with a sealed metal box. The lights go out and there’s a mad scramble as a fight ensues between the guests and the masked intruder. After nearly demolishing the room, he makes good his escape.
The dinner guests help scour the house and surrounding grounds in search for the masked thief. A man takes off in an automobile, but he’s recognized. It’s Joan’s uncle, Smead Kelburn. Everyone assumes he was the masked robber, and the chase is on.
Was it really suicide? Everyone assumes so. Everyone but The Shadow. To The Shadow, it is a locked room murder mystery. But how to explain the method? With no way to enter or leave the room, how could it be other than suicide? And what was the role of the masked man? What was his true purpose? And who was he? Was he really Smead Kelburn? Only The Shadow knows. Only The Shadow can untangle the strange web of deceit and mystery that surrounds the death of Arthur Aldriff.
Assisting The Shadow in this story are his contact man Burbank and secret agents Moe Shrevnitz, Margo Lane, Harry Vincent, Clyde Burke and Cliff Marsland. It’s nice to see Moe Shrevnitz referred to by his own name, not the nickname “Shrevvy” that often was used when Margo Lane also appeared in a story. Dr. Rupert Sayre also is mentioned in passing, but doesn’t actually appear. Police Commissioner Ralph Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona appear representing the law.
This is another of those stories in which Police Commissioner Weston doesn’t officially recognize the existence of The Shadow. In the earlier stories, Weston truly believed that there was no single person called The Shadow. In later stories, he began to believe he was real, but still forbade any official mention of him. Finally, he had to admit even officially that such a person did exist. This story comes from a period when Weston knows of The Shadow, but officially denies his existence.
The Shadow appears as Lamont Cranston, his most-oft-used disguise. He also appears disguised as art-shop owner Junius Wilstead. And of course he appears as himself, the black-cloaked wraith of the night.
In this story, Margo Lane knows that Lamont Cranston is really The Shadow in disguise. You may remember that in some of the earlier Margo Lane stories, she was unaware of the relationship between Cranston and The Shadow. Later she began to suspect. Here, she knows.
It this story, as in several others, the deceptive color of The Shadow’s cab is mentioned. The cab, owned by The Shadow and driven by Moe Shrevnitz, is maroon in color. This combination of red and purple has the ability to take on different appearances in different lightings. In sunlight, it looks more reddish. At night under artificial light, it appears purple. This chameleonlike ability to change color once again assists The Shadow in trailing suspects who don’t recognize the same cab because of its changing appearance.
Speaking of colors, The Shadow uses his special flashlight with the colored lenses again in this story. He gives blinks with the tiny light, so small that they are only a speck of light. A glimmer of green indicates that his agents should trail along behind him. A yellow blink tells them to slacken their approach. And when the speck of light turns red, The Shadow indicates the limit to their advance.
The solution to the sealed room murder is quite ingenious. Walter Gibson used a method quite well-known to his fellow magicians, but then added several additional layers of misdirection to make a very satisfying resolution to the seemingly-unsolvable murder. It seems to be an impossible case; a perfect crime. But The Shadow reveals the diabolical secret behind the murder and unmasks the true perpetrators of the million-dollar swindle.
"The Chest of Chu-Chan" was published in the September 1944 issue of The Shadow Magazine. And inside the large cabinet, originally belonging to the Chinese dealer in antiques, was found a dead body. How did it get there? Who could have done it? And what secrets did the chest of Chu Chan hide? Only The Shadow could solve this most startling murder mystery.
Chu Chan was a Chinese dealer in Oriental antiques who resided in Hanoi. He smuggled his valuable treasures out of Indo-China before the Japanese invasion, and sent them to America where they were to be auctioned to raise funds for the cause of China. The antique chest was one of his most valued possessions.
Standing nearly six feet high, the chest of Chu Chan looked like an old-fashioned wardrobe cabinet. It was mounted on six bulky legs, shaped like dragon’s claws. It was large enough to hold a life-sized statue of a Bangkok dancer. And it did, when it arrived in this country. A strange Siamese figure of ivory and jade.
Dariel Talcott, owner of the Talcott Antique Galleries, purchased the cabinet along with Chu Chan’s other treasures. And now, he’s going to sell the chest of Chu Chan. Jared Shebley, a New York curio collector, is interested in the chest. So is Lamont Cranston, millionaire and world traveler. Professor Giles Frescott, curator of the Museum of Antiquities, claims he isn’t interested, but his actions seem to speak otherwise.
And then there’s Lionel Graff. He’s not interested in the chest for himself. He’s a speculator who buys on behalf of others, and earns a percentage of the sale for himself. And he’s desperately trying to purchase the chest of Chu Chan. Unfortunately, he has acquired a bad reputation and isn’t trusted by antique dealers, including Dariel Talcott.
But the person who finally succeeds in buying the chest is Simon Benisette, another collector of Oriental rarities. He had earlier purchased the statue of ivory and jade that was originally shipped to America inside the chest of Chu Chan. Now he purchases the chest itself. But his ownership is brief.
Simon Benisette is found dead inside the locked cabinet. Stabbed through the heart with the katar of Pagan Min. The Burmese katar or Oriental thrusting dagger, was originally owned by Pagan Min, the son of Tharawaddy, ruler of Burma. It was a strange weapon that hid its razor sharp blade inside the sheath of an outside dull blade.
How was it possible that Simon Benisette could be killed and found inside the chest of Chu Chan? It had been locked safely inside the Talcott Antique Galleries, after he bought it and was seen to leave. Yet here he is, dead. And who could have done it? Gallery owner Dariel Talcott? Curio collector Jared Shebley? Professor Giles Frescott? Or speculator Lionel Graff?
The Shadow must find the murderer. The Shadow must discover how the impossible murder was committed. The Shadow must penetrate the mystery of the dancer statue. The Shadow must reveal the secret of the chest of Chu Chan. And The Shadow must prevent further deaths in this strange case that will test the powers of The Shadow to his limits.
Assisting The Shadow in this murder mystery are his friend and companion, the lovely Margo Lane, and his taxi-driver Moe Shrevnitz. Moe is referred to by his true name only once in this story; the rest of the time it’s his nickname “Shrevvy.” By this stage in the development of the character, he takes to casually changing from Lamont Cranston into The Shadow in their presence.
No other agents are used or even mentioned in this mystery. Police Commissioner Ralph Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona are on hand representing New York’s finest. No other familiar characters appear. That keeps the cast lean, and the story shorter than normal at just over 33,000 words. But it’s enjoyable and it’s clever even at that.
This is a fun murder mystery. A real who-done-it. And how. And why. No gangsters. No ghosts. No mad scientists. Just a nice, clever little murder mystery.
You’ll have to forgive one or two racial slurs in the story. The world was at war at the time this was written, and using derogatory terms for the enemy was commonplace. They’ve been left in, in the interests of historical accuracy. Consider them a sign of the times, and enjoy the rest of the mystery.
What is the secret of the chest of Chu Chan?
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.