John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #128
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Shadowed Millions" was originally published in the January 1, 1933, issue of The Shadow Magazine. Gangsters and millionaires—businessmen and politicians—men of the street and The Shadow—all engrossed in this thrilling story of crime and international intrigue.
I enjoyed this Shadow story, but it’s not a top-tier story. I think of it as a second-tier one. Good but not great. The political intrigue in this story seems a bit weak, as does all the unnecessary secrecy regarding the transfer of money between American investors and a Central American nation. Even back in 1933 there were wire transfers. So why the need to do a fund transfer in person with cash? It just seems like a convenient excuse... a plot device used so as to surround The Shadow with plenty of action. But that weakness aside, the story does carry plenty of action.
And when this title mentions “millions” it really means it. We’re talking about ten million dollars in cash and government bonds. It’s all going to the newly formed Central American government of The Republic of Santander. Or is it? Not if certain sinister powers have their way!
It all begins when we meet the suave South American, Alvarez Legira, consular agent of Santander. He’s working with a group of nine wealthy Americans, including our friend Lamont Cranston, to sell some trade concessions. In return for these valuable trade concessions, The Republic of Santander is to receive ten million dollars. Small potatoes by today’s standards, that amount of money in 1933 dollars would be an invaluable sum to an emerging Central American nation.
All seems to go well with the negotiations. The prosperous businessmen agree to Legira’s proposal and select one from their midst, John Hendrix, to be the sole person to deal with the transfer of funds to Señor Legira. But Hendrix is soon to find out that things are not as they seem. There are ominous plots going on in secret.
Questions abound. Is Legira on the up-and-up? His request for the funds to be in cash, which he will personally transport to Santander, seems unusual. Does he plan on absconding with the funds? Will the millions make it intact to the intended nation? Why is Martin Powell, detective, shadowing Legira? Who has hired him and for what purpose? What about the two thugs that slink about outside Legira’s apartment in the darkness? What are they up to?
Then Pete Ballou enters the picture. Ballou claims to represent the “unofficial” government and demands half of the ten million dollars. He threatens that if he isn’t given half of the fortune, a revolution will take place in Santander. And Legira will be killed! Ballou gives Legira ten days in which to turn over half the monies... or else!
Alvarez Legira isn’t about to take this sitting down. He intends to keep the entire sum. But whether for himself or his country is uncertain. He begins by hiring Perry Wallace to impersonate him. In that way, the real Legira can slide out of the picture and make secret arrangements while Wallace, as the fake Legira, will remain under surveillance by Ballou, Powell and the two unknown thugs.
It’s a wild ride as we watch The Shadow skulk through in the background, watching the various suspicious activities and making his secret plans. The Shadow is unable to stop the murder of wealthy old John Hendrix. And he’s unable to stop the murder of detective Martin Powell. Will he be able to stop future murder? Will he be able to thwart Pete Ballou? Will he discover the hidden master who pulls the strings to which Ballou responds? Will he keep Legira from disappearing with the entire ten million?
It’s a big job, but it’s one that only The Shadow can accomplish. There are coded messages from the yacht Cordova to Legira, that The Shadow amazingly breaks. There’s a sliding panel that reveals the hidden underground passageway to Legira’s stronghold. The shootout between agents of The Shadow and mysterious henchmen seeking to capture the millions. And the mysterious ringleader of a band of international crooks. All these things add to this Shadow pulp mystery!
Appearing in this story are Cliff Marsland, Clyde Burke and Harry Vincent in small roles. Burbank has a larger role in this story. Detective Joe Cardona appears a couple times to help out. And Lamont Cranston appears twice. Most of the references of The Shadow are as his undisguised, black-robed self. Oh, and Cranston’s chauffeur appears. Fans know this to be Stanley, even though his name isn’t mentioned.
Both Harry Vincent and Clyde Burke receive minor bullet wounds in the story’s climactic battle. It all goes to show that being an agent for The Shadow does carry some risk. In future stories agents for The Shadow would be beaten, knocked unconscious, kidnapped, tortured... and the list goes on. Yet they remained faithful. Nobody ever quit, complaining the job was too risky. A hardy bunch, those agents!
Finally, a few notes of interest regarding this story. In The Shadow’s sanctum, we see the rays of a green-shaded lamp falling on the smooth-topped table. Again with the green shade. That was mentioned four issues earlier, too. Apparently there’s a normal yellow bulb in a green shade. In most other stories, it was a blue light, not yellow. I guess we’ll have to chalk that up to being an early story, only the nineteenth written (and twenty-first published).
While in his sanctum, The Shadow writes with pencil and paper. In later stories, The Shadow was famous for writing with a pen filled with his famous blue disappearing ink. Again, we’ll write this off as due to being an early story in the series.
We are told that The Shadow writes cryptically; his handwriting being legible only to himself. Gee, and I thought my doctor had bad handwriting. And speaking of writing, The Shadow has the ability to write in the dark. Yes, in this story he writes with the lights off. And when they are turned on, we are told that the handwriting is “perfectly inscribed.” Sounds like this guy writes more legibly with the lights off than on!
The strange little vial of purplish liquid which The Shadow carries in some of his stories makes an reference here. But rather than using it to imbibe and restore strength, it’s used as smelling salts to rouse an unconscious victim. The man has been doped, but when The Shadow places the small bottle under his nostrils, we’re told the pungent odor of the liquid completely overcomes his lethargy. Now that’s a new one on me.
Another new incident is the reference of two small pills that glow in the dark. They are used by The Shadow to signal to Burbank who is watching from across the street. It seems like a strange way to send a signal, but the story explains that dropping the two pills from the window was faster than making a phone call. But if memory serves, the glowing pills were never used again. So maybe they weren’t that effective after all.
A final note of interest. In this story The Shadow, in his disguise as Lamont Cranston, willingly gives Joe Cardona his finger prints as part of the investigation of the murders. In fact, he suggests it! That doesn’t seem like a very smart thing to do. Having his finger prints on file could lead to all sorts of future problems. Just imagine what might happen if, in future years, the “real” Lamont Cranston were finger printed, and it came to light that they were different from the ones already on file. Or what would happen if Kent Allard’s finger prints were found to match those taken earlier of Cranston? If I were The Shadow, I wouldn’t want my finger prints on file at police headquarters. Too many potential problems in the future! So why does he do it? Who knows...
I have to admit I found my credulity strained when Alvarez Legira conveniently finds a man who looks enough like him to be a double. Of course having a double on public display certainly helps him to skulk around unseen. But even after reading the story all the way through, I’m still not sure I see the reason for such a subterfuge. And the old “double” routine was old, even when this story was published in 1933.
So, although this isn’t one of the best Shadow stories written, it still has a lot going on. And it’s fun to read... even if you are required to suspend your disbelief a bit more than usual.
"No Safety in Numbers" was published in the November 1946 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Gang violence and gambling madness corrupt a city! Crime is on the march again, as innocent men pay with their lives for the cruel schemes of vicious lawbreakers. Terror reigns... and only The Shadow can cope with the monstrous out-cropping of evil.
Why would you want to read this? I can’t think of many good reasons. It’s barely passable as a regular mystery story, and completely unacceptable as a Shadow mystery. Imagine if you would, taking a Tarzan story and changing the names to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Would that make a good Sherlock Holmes story? Of course not. The characters would be all wrong, as would the settings and the entire mood of the story. And so it is with this story. It’s as if a run-of-the-mill detective story were selected and the names of Lamont Cranston and The Shadow were used in place of the previous character names. The story is all wrong. It’s a bad, bad, bad Shadow story. And—as you have probably guessed—was written by Bruce Elliott.
This story was written by Bruce Elliott during the two-year period when Gibson left the magazine. It was his fourth Shadow mystery, out of a total of fifteen. And while none of Elliott’s Shadow stories even came close to those of Gibson, this one isn’t even his worst one. At least The Shadow appears regularly in this story; in a few of Elliott’s Shadow stories, there was no reference by The Shadow at all! And the word count, while low at only 37,000 words, is much higher than some of his later Shadow stories, which sunk to an all-time low of 19,000 words.
I don’t think Elliott really understood The Shadow. There are just too many inconsistencies between the relationships as described by Elliott. The relationship between The Shadow and his agents is way too casual. In this story, they seem to be friends. There’s no sense of master/aide.
In Gibson’s Shadow stories, reports from his agents always were made to communications man Burbank. In this story Burbank owns a telephone answering service, but doesn’t play the part of information clearing house. Instead, agents telephone The Shadow directly. And informally, as when Harry Vincent reports in: “Hi Boss! This is Harry.” Sheesh!
Bruce Elliott never got certain facts right. The most annoying example, to me, is that The Shadow should always wear a cloak. Elliott often describes it as a cape. If its purpose is to enclose his figure in blackness, only a cloak would suffice. A cape would leave the lower half of his body conspicuous. It’s as if Sherlock Holmes was said to wear a loincloth... it’s just plain wrong. Walter Gibson rightly always described it as a black cloak.
In one spot in the story, The Shadow hangs outside a window, clinging to some brownstone decorations, listening to the plottings of the criminals inside. This would have been a natural place for The Shadow to be using his famous rubber suction cups to cling to the wall. But Elliott ignores them. He just didn’t get it...
In this story, Lamont Cranston is no longer a wealthy clubman and world traveler. Instead he is a well-known detective. Many have heard about Cranston’s deductive powers, but all have apparently forgotten that he’s a big-game hunter.
Harry Vincent is the only agent to take an active role in the story. And it’s very minor. Burbank appears once or twice, but basically does nothing. Hawkeye is mentioned as trailing someone or other, but never actually appears. Shrevvy (yes, he’s called “Shrevvy” not Moe Shrevnitz) is mentioned as being unable to make the trip. No other agents are even mentioned.
As for the plot of the story, it’s all about numbers... as in the numbers racket. The illegal gambling racket has become legal today and is now run by the states and is called a lottery.
Back in the 1940s, the numbers racket, also known as a “policy game,” was a big one. People from all walks of life would select their favorite three-digit number and place their bet with their bookie, known as a “numbers runner.” The winning number would be selected in some random manner; in this story they are the last digits in the daily horse-race results. The following day, those who selected the winning number would receive their winnings from the numbers runner. Illegal, at the time, but very common.
In this story, the numbers racket has come big-time to Skillton, a thriving metropolis in an unnamed northern state. Two rival gangs have set up in town. On the north side of town, Larry Bonds runs the racket. On the south side, it is Joey Raoll who controls the game. The two factions are involved in a feud to take control of the entire lucrative racket.
Gang war has broken out in Skillton, and crusading newspaper owner Gerald Winthrop calls his friend Lamont Cranston for assistance. The gang warfare must stop, and Winthrop figures that Cranston is the man to help him clean up the town. And clean it up, he does! Because, he’s The Shadow!
Yes, this man we’re talking about is The Shadow, not the “real” Lamont Cranston. This story makes no reference to the fact that there is another Lamont Cranston. In this story, there is only one Cranston, and he’s The Shadow. The explanation for the discrepancy lies, most certainly, in the fact that this story wasn’t written by Walter Gibson.
As far as Shadow novels go, this one is near the bottom of the ladder. Not quite the bottom rung, but getting close. I can’t really recommend this story to anyone but completists or masochists. Or to someone who has a lot of time on his/her hands and is reeeaalllly bored! There were 325 Shadow mysteries published during its eighteen year magazine run... so go read one of the other ones.