John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #129
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Mobsmen on the Spot" was originally published in the April 1932 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Racketeers—ruthless, relentless—make a great metropolis their blood-bathed battleground to suit their evil purpose. But The Shadow’s purpose is their doom!
All the early Shadow stories were top-notch, and this one is no exception. And this is a key issue, as well. This was only the ninth Shadow story published. In this early gangster tale, we are introduced for the first time to one of The Shadow’s most trusted agents, Cliff Marsland. So, it’s not only a rousing tale of rackets and racketeers, it’s also the story of how Cliff Marsland entered the service of The Shadow. And we, along with Cliff, learn some of the secrets of The Shadow! That makes it a most definitely recommended story.
The rackets were taking over New York! The police and even The Shadow seemed powerless to stop them. There was the warehouse racket. Tim Waldron was in charge of that one. Warehouse owners were approached by a newly formed “Association” and offered protection from unexpected disaster. Those who joined and paid the hefty monthly dues, were able to continue in business unmolested. Those who chose not to join, were suddenly victims of unexplained bad luck. Strikes, fires, deaths and other accidents mysteriously would befall those who refused to pay their monthly dues.
And there were other rackets, too. There was the garage racket, targeting the many garages in Manhattan. There was the dock racket, which affected all cargoes going in and out of the port. And now a new racket begins to rear its ugly head: the theatrical racket.
Howard Griscom, president of the United Theater Corporation, is seeking a merger with another chain of theaters. To do this, he needs the loan of three and a half million dollars. He tries to arrange a loan from Stanley Wilberton, banker and financier. But the loan is in jeopardy because of the racketeering.
Howard Griscom refuses to bow to the powers behind the racket. He’s backed by his secretary, George Ballantyne. But when Ballantyne is murdered by the racketeers, Griscom begins to waver. To put the finishing touches on Griscom, the gangsters then kidnap his daughter, Arline. Is there no where to turn? Can no one rescue the innocent young maiden? Who can save the day? Who can crush the rackets and reveal the secret mastermind behind the billion-dollar racket? It’s The Shadow to the rescue!
The Shadow is assisted by Clyde Burke and his new agent Cliff Marsland. Cliff has just been released from Sing Sing, after eight years in stir for robbery. It was a Brooklyn bank robbery that he didn’t commit. But he willingly took the blame to shield the no-good brother of the woman he loved. He spent his time, and has just been released. And he’s immediately contacted by The Shadow.
The Shadow knew Cliff Marsland during World War I. Both went under different names at that time, but when they meet again, The Shadow jogs Cliff’s memory. He recalls their time together in Esternay, France, in the spring of 1918; their celebratory trip to Monte Carlo after the Armistice. Cliff recognizes The Shadow, but they both agree to put the past aside and speak of it no more. It is the present which is now of the utmost importance.
The Shadow enlists Cliff’s aid in his ever-growing organization. Cliff agrees to follow The Shadow and offer full obedience without condition. And then begins his training. He learns of the disappearing ink that The Shadow uses. He learns one of The Shadow’s codes, this one comprised of dots and dashes. He learns the phone number for contacting Burbank. And he learns the methods of secret communication involving seemingly casual conversations with certain words slightly emphasized. Yes, Cliff Marsland joins the ranks of The Shadow!
Cliff is assisted by three thugs who were in the “big house” with him and owe him their loyalty. Nipper Brady, Dave Talbot and Patsy Birch become de facto agents of The Shadow, as is Cliff. At the end of this tale, all three live. It seems as if they were intended to join the ranks of The Shadow’s agents. Yet, surprisingly, they never showed up in any future stories. Perhaps Gibson changed his mind. But for whatever reason, they faded from the potential ranks of agents.
Also appearing in this story is Clyde Burke. He’s still a former crime reporter, at present running a clipping bureau and engaging in occasional free-lance journalism. In this early story, he’s not working for the New York Classic. Two months earlier, with the story “The Silent Seven” they had offered him a job. What happened, there? Didn’t he take it? Or was it just temporary? As the magazine series ran on, Burke would become a permanent reporter for the Classic, but apparently it’s not official, yet.
Burbank also makes several brief references, including one where he gets out of his stuffy room and tries his hand at trailing a gangster. Apparently, his skills were better suited to his communications work, for we’re told the man eludes him.
Lamont Cranston is the other familiar character in this story. In this early story, it’s not clear that there are actually two Lamont Cranstons—one being the real man and the other being The Shadow in disguise. If one were to read this story only, it might be assumed that Lamont Cranston is The Shadow, not just a disguise of The Shadow. But, of course, that will become clearer in future stories.
A few notes of interest... At the beginning of this story, The Shadow is involved in a shootout with racketeers. The strange thing is that he uses a gun with a silencer. There is never any explanation as to the reason for the silencer, and from the details of the story, there seems no need for one. I think it’s the only time I’ve seen The Shadow use a silencer on his .45s. From then on, in this story, the silencer is never mentioned; the .45 automatics roar loud and clear!
The Shadow tells Cliff Marsland that he started his new career of crime fighting while Cliff was in prison. That would put The Shadow’s creation sometime between 1924 and 1932, for those wondering when The Shadow had his first adventure. An adventure, unfortunately, not put down in writing for our enjoyment.
In this story, The Shadow has the uncanny ability to scale the outside of a building. He crawls like a human fly along the surface of projecting bricks. No mention is made of those flexible rubber disks... those amazing suction cups that The Shadow wore on his hands and feet to ascend the sheer outside surfaces of buildings. They would be introduced to the series three months hence.
It’s also mentioned in the story that Cliff was familiar with codes from his work during the war. It’s a skill he also used in prison, sending secret messages to other inmates. Makes you wonder exactly what he did during the war, and how he ran into the man who would become The Shadow. Could The Shadow have been in the spy game, and Marsland been a code expert? That’s only conjecture...
Apparently black-light was all the rage in the early 1930s, because The Shadow uses black-light on some paper and tobacco. The portable black-light apparatus is described as being science’s latest weapon against crime. Seems to me that Doc Savage used similar apparatus...
This is also the story where Cliff Marsland meets his one true love. And at the end of this story, they marry and go off to honeymoon in France. His wife appeared briefly in several other Shadow stories, notably “Double Z” and “The Crime Cult” from mid-1932. Then, as far as I can tell, she was mentioned no more. Divorce? Death? It wasn’t spoken of, and Shadow fans can only conjecture.
There is some conjecture that author Walter Gibson only wrote descriptions of The Shadow’s black cloak as having a red lining, after it appeared on the magazine cover illustrations. Perhaps it was an artistic choice by the cover illustrator... one then picked up by Gibson. This story does mention the crimson lining: “The only color that showed amidst this mass of black was a splotch of red, where the lining of the cloak was folded back.” The earliest cover showing The Shadow’s red lining was in issue #5, “Gangdom’s Doom”. Although this story didn’t appear in print until four months later, it was in the process of being written when issue #5 was on the newsstands. So it certainly seems possible.
Great plotting, interesting characters and plenty of action that carries the story to a whirlwind conclusion. It’s a story you won’t want to miss.
"Murder Trail" was originally published in the March 15, 1933, issue of The Shadow Magazine. A spy hidden aboard a zeppelin makes his way across the Atlantic to America. That was the beginning of the trail. Millions of dollars, soaked in the blood of innocent victims, marked the path of this Murder Trail.
Any Shadow story that features three chapters inside a dirigible has got to be good. This one does; and it is! It’s a real kick to read—a most enjoyable story, indeed. As is typical of the Shadow pulp tales of the early thirties, our hero has amazing stamina... unerring aim... is a tremendous force with which to be reckoned.
The Shadow, as portrayed in this story, is at his peak of power. He speaks fluent Italian, French, German and Russian. He demonstrates amazing powers of deduction. He shoots with lightning speed and never misses. He climbs the outsides of buildings with ease, using his rubber suction cups. He’s recognized by his aides by his girasol ring, the fire opal that’s a relic of the Romanoff jewels. And he single-handedly flies his autogyro silently through the dark of night.
Before the story is over, we uncover a secret organization. We witness the secret collection of twenty million dollars. The Shadow battles gangland hoards overcoming unsurmountable odds. Bodies drop like flies. A hidden mastermind by the name of Crix lays a sinister plot for The Shadow. And The Shadow finally wins the day in a gun fray that will keep you on the edge of your seat. This makes for a great pulp story, featuring The Shadow as you want to remember him. This story’s a wowser!
Everything starts aboard the inaugural flight of the great dirigible München where Captain Heinrich von Werndorff conceals a secret German agent aboard the dirigible. There, in a hidden room especially built between the bulkheads, Baron Hugo von Tollsburg waits as he begins his mission, to travel undetected from Germany to America.
But also aboard the dirigible is The Shadow. He has traveled in his guise as Henry Arnaud from Moscow to Friedrichshafen, where he was able to catch the dirigible München at the last minute. He recognizes that something sinister is going on, and as the flight finally flies above American soil, he discovers the secret room. Inside he finds the body of the baron; the secret agent has been murdered in his own secret room. The murderer has stolen the baron’s papers and jumped from the dirigible in a parachute. He has escaped to somewhere in the Connecticut countryside.
What was Baron von Tollsburg up to? Why was he secretly placed aboard the dirigible? What was the purpose of the hidden room? Why was he killed? Who was the killer? What did he want? Where did he go? And what will he do next? The Shadow has no clues. But that doesn’t stop him. Somewhere in the State of Connecticut, a fiend of evil is at large, his identity still unrevealed, his purposes as yet unknown. The Shadow gets to work, and with his amazing abilities begins to solve this most puzzling riddle.
At the heart of this story, it’s about a secret courier sent around the country to ten millionaires to receive their contributions to a new organization. And one master criminal intervenes and intercepts those millions. The story is certainly dated in the method of money transfer. Today, it would involve no travel whatsoever. A simple funds transfer via computer would accomplish the deed. But in this story, it requires a courier to visit each man who is contributing their share of the millions. Money in actual bills is bundled up and carried away by the secret messenger. And it’s upon this technique of collecting money that the entire story depends. My how times change!
An interesting mention is made of The Shadow’s previous career as a World War I spy. When Henry Arnaud meets dirigible Captain von Werndorff, the captain has the strange feeling that he has met Arnaud before. Arnaud admits, “During the War, a dirigible flight across the North Sea, when a storm drove you back to Germany. My mission was to see that the Zeppelin did not reach England.” The Shadow had been aboard von Werndorff’s previous ship as a stowaway. And had it not been for that storm, they would have been met in battle.
A new character is introduced in this story. He is a bearded Italian named Folloni. It seems he is being set up to become one of The Shadow’s agents. He is enlisted by The Shadow via a mysterious phone call. He is to receive two guests, innocent men that The Shadow wishes to keep out of sight, temporarily. And Folloni promises strict obedience. But although he is used as an agent here, he was never mentioned in any future Shadow tale. Sadly, his tenure as agent for The Shadow is a short one.
Burbank appears in this story, and actually gets to leave his cramped quarters to do a little field work. He strings a wire from Folloni’s place to a nearby building. There, he can listen in on conversations of Folloni’s two guests and report them to The Shadow. The two men speak Italian, and Burbank unfortunately doesn’t. But he takes phonetic notes that can be repeated to his master exactly as he hears them. Pretty clever. And it’s good to see Burbank getting involved in a little action, as well.
A bit of Cliff Marsland’s history is mentioned in the story. It was at the Hotel Spartan, on the lower East Side, where Cliff had first met The Shadow. Caught in a tight spot, Cliff had been pulled from trouble by The Shadow. After that, he had aided The Shadow in the war that had eliminated New York’s most notorious racketeers. This refers to events related in the April 1932 story “Mobsmen on the Spot.” Interestingly enough, Cliff’s leg still bothers him from the wound received in that story. It’s said he walks with a slight, nearly unnoticeable limp.
Cliff Marsland plays a major role in this story. Harry Vincent shows up in a minor role, as does Burbank. Rutledge Mann is mentioned by name only. And there are no other recurring characters in the story. No mention of the law, in the persons of Commissioner Weston, Inspector Cardona, or even G-man Vic Marquette. The Shadow’s basically on his own here.
The Shadow does appear in two disguises. He appears as a sweatered gangster in a speakeasy. And he also appears as businessman Henry Arnaud, a regularly used disguise. At the beginning of this story, Arnaud has been in Moscow, although we aren’t told why. Certainly some previous adventure of The Shadow, although the details are intentionally left vague.
The Shadow’s autogiro appears early in this story as Harry Vincent is searching the Connecticut countryside for the parachutist from the dirigible. The Shadow does the piloting here. This is its fourth reference in the magazine series. In later stories Miles Crofton would become his default pilot. But Crofton wouldn’t be introduced to the pulp stories for nearly two more years. No mention is made of whether the autogiro is the model with or without wings.
In many of The Shadow stories, our hero would signal his agents using colored lenses upon his flashlight. Flashing them different colored lights could give them instructions. That idea is used here on the autogiro. When the twinkling light from above changed from white to green, it signified to Harry that the ship was preparing to descent.
The Shadow’s amazing suction cups make another reference, in this tale. They are used several times to help him cling to the outside of a building, some twelve stories up. And while outside that twelfth story window, he secretly listens in on conversations taking place inside. No thug would ever suspect his confab with his chief could be overheard way up on the twelfth floor with no fire escape or outside ledge. But that’s where these suction cups really came in handy. They first appeared in the 1932 story “The Crime Cult” and showed up in forty-one Shadow stories.
This is a Shadow mystery that you won’t want to miss. No plot loose ends... at least that I caught. Plenty of action... fistfights... gunfrays... all the sort of thing you look for in a great Shadow tale. And you found it here.