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Shadow Volume134 [Pulp Reprint] #5324
The Shadow Volume 134


 
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The Shadow
Volume 134

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! The Master of Darkness proves that “crime does not pay" in chilling pulp thrillers by Walter B. Gibson writing as “Maxwell Grant." First, a deadly Oriental poison is employed to dominate the world gold market! Will Lamont Cranston fall victim to “The Creeping Death”? Then, a seance, a vanishing blonde and a nymphlike creature lure The Shadow along a trail to hidden treasure in The Banshee Murders! Can The Shadow pierce the occult shroud in one of his most baffling cases? This instant collectors item leads of with one of George Rozen’s most haunting paintings (reproduced directly from the original art) and also showcases the original interior illustrations by Tom Lovell and Paul Orban and historical commentary by Will Murray.
 

John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #134
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Creeping Death" was originally published in the January 15, 1933, issue of The Shadow Magazine. Counterfeit gold. Nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, its priceless secret is guarded by horrible, sinister death! To crack the gold racket, The Shadow must face insidious doom in this tale of creeping death.
 
     I really liked this one. In addition to plenty of action, there is some clever plotting going on here. It's a well-written story that keeps you interested from page one to the final page. Everything makes sense, all is explained and there are no loose ends. There is an amazing number of dead bodies that pile up, many due to the unerring aim of The Shadow's .45 caliber automatics. The Shadow is that ultra-mysterious figure that strikes terror into the heart of all who encounter him. It all makes for a most satisfying Shadow story.
 
     The plot all revolves around gold. Lucien Partridge is an eccentric old scientist who has discovered the secret of making fake gold. It's a cheap alloy, virtually undetectible from gold. He's gradually introducing it into the world's gold supply, and no one is the wiser. His ultimate plan? To take over the world!
 
     To help him with his sinister plans, he uses the creeping death--an insidious Oriental powder that is transferred by touch. But the intended victim doesn't know he's infected for hours or even days. Then, his extremities start to become numb. His hands freeze, then his arms. Gradually the paralysis creeps across his whole body until he lies still, unable to even speak. Finally the light fades from his eyes as even his heart stops. It's a horrible way to die, and it's controlled by the evil Lucien Partridge.
 
     So basically we have a mad scientist with a deadly invention who plans to take over the world by dominating the supply of gold. If that sounds like something out of a James Bond movie, I have to admit the similarities are significant. But author Walter Gibson wrote it first. It would be twenty-six years before Ian Fleming would write "Goldfinger."
 
     We learn that years ago in the Orient, Lucien Partridge was nearly a victim of the creeping death. He was saved only by the quick action of his faithful Corsican servant Vignetti and his long knife blade. Partridge stole the secret of the creeping death from the Oriental assassin, and refined it. He has now perfected it so that it can be transmitted by a simple handshake. And thus, those that he wants dead will fall under the mysterious sway of the poison long after they have left the presence of their killer.
 
     Partridge has created a supply of the fine grayish powder that kills. He plans on placing it in letters and mailing them to Kings, Presidents and other world leaders that he wants to eliminate. With them out of the way, and with his ever-growing hoard of gold, he will soon be able to rule the world. It's chilling to realize that in the years since that fiction was written, such things actually do happen in the world. Letters and packages are routinely checked for poisons and explosives today. But back in the early 1930s, it was still just fiction.
 
     As our story opens, Harry Vincent, one of The Shadow's most trusted agents, is following Jerry Fitzroy. Fitzroy is a secret-service agent who was assigned the work of tracing counterfeit gold coins. But Fitzroy falls victim to the creeping death. He has visited Partridge's lab out in Westbrook Falls, and has stumbled upon Partridge's secret discovery. But before he can tell anyone, he is exposed to the secret death powder.
 
     Clifford Forster is the next victim. Forster is a wealthy mining promoter who owns the New Era Mine in California, and has been working with Professor Partridge. He has been substituting Partridge's fake gold for the real gold supposedly being mined there. But he gets too greedy, and he too falls victim to Lucien Partridge's wrath in the form of the creeping death.
 
     And the deaths don't stop there. More will die. Eventually, the creeping death will threatened Vic Marquette of the Secret Service, and even our old friend Lamont Cranston, in actuality the disguised personage of The Shadow! Can the evil be stopped? Will The Shadow fall victim to the creeping death? Can the evil genius of Lucien Partridge be overcome? All the answers will be found in this terrific story that will keep you on the edge of your seat!
 
     The familiar characters in this story are Vic Marquette of the secret service, and Lamont Cranston, wealthy world traveler. Reporter Clyde Burke is mentioned as being in California, but he doesn't actually take part in the story. Harry Vincent and Joe Cardona appear early on, but then are left behind in New York when the action moves to Westbrook Falls. That's where most of the story takes place and where the climax of the story occurs on the brink of a granite cliff overlooking the river far below.
 
     We get to see those wonderful rubber suction cups in action--those four disk-like objects--flat surfaces that bend as The Shadow twists them, attaches them to his hands and feet, and then scales the slick granite blocks of the Westbrook cliffs, his black form clinging to the sheer wall of the great gorge. Whew! That takes a lot of nerve!
 
     As far as disguises go, The Shadow does appear in one scene as the eccentric old chap Phineas Twambley. But it's brief, and he doesn't really get to do anything. He also appears as Lamont Cranston near the end of the novel, when he shows up at the gate of Lucien Partridge's heavily guarded compound, seeking admission. But just those two disguises are used.
 
     The Shadow, master of the night, is also master of many languages. In some stories we get to see him impressed us with his proficiency of some obscure dialect. Not so here. But we see him speak Spanish flawlessly, which is still impressive.
 
     I earlier said there were no loose ends. Actually, there was one questionable end that might be loose. Near the end, The Shadow avoids the creeping death by wearing his black gloves. The dust gets on the gloves, not The Shadow's hands. It seems to me that now that the gloves are contaminated with the deadly dust, he would want to carefully dispose of them. But nothing further is said. The story's action comes fast and furious and there doesn't seem to be time to remove them. Nothing is said about removing them. But then again, nothing is said about them being left on. They are just ignored. So when The Shadow grabs Vic Marquette to pull him out of harm's way, does he contaminate the secret service man? Apparently not, since Marquette went on to appear in forty-three more Shadow magazine stories. But how hard would it have been for author Walter Gibson to toss in a sentence or two, assuring the readers that the contaminated gloves were carefully removed and discarded? Yes, I'm picky here. But it's the only fault I could find with an otherwise fantastic Shadow story.
 
     So, is this the perfect Shadow mystery novel? No, but it's close to it. It's hard to find anything missing. It would have been nice to have seen The Shadow's amazing powers of disguise, other than the oh-so-brief reference of Phineas Twambley. But I'm not sure how it could have been worked into the storyline.
 
     The story has just about all the important elements that faithful readers expect. We get to visit the sanctum. The Shadow receives his reports from Burbank and writes his notes in disappearing ink. He wears his girasol ring. His strength and stamina is amazing. His skill with his automatic is deadly.
 
     This may not be the best Shadow mystery ever written, but it's sure darned close to it. This is one you should read!
 

"The Banshee Murders" was originally published in the January 1946 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A seance, a vanishing blonde and a nymph-like creature involve The Shadow with a desperate band of adventurers, two kidnappings and hidden treasure.
 
     If you're going to read this Shadow story, it's best to read it all in one sitting. And it won't be all that hard to do, since this is a fairly short adventure that comes in at under 34,000 words. If you stretch it out over several sessions, you'll probably start to lose track of what's going on, making the story a bit confusing. If you read it all at once, it is still a bit confusing, but hopefully you'll be able to keep track of most of the threads of the involved plot.
 
     The year 1946 was not a good one for The Shadow Magazine. About halfway though the year, the magazine started publishing Shadow stories written by Bruce Elliott. Those stories were decidedly the low point of the eighteen-year run of the magazine. For the first seven months, the stories were written by the creator of the character, Walter Gibson. But even that wasn't enough to give them much energy. Many of the stories were lackluster, to be kind. This particular story, "The Banshee Murders" and perhaps "Malmordo" were the top stories of the year. Unfortunately, that's faint praise.
 
     This story has a lot going for it, but it just never seems to come together in a very coherent fashion. The story opens with a seance, and that would seem to be a auspicious sign. Then there's the mysterious reference of a banshee in Central Park, and that's pretty cool, too. But wait! There's more; lots more. This is also a tale of sunken pirate treasure. A strange thuggee cult of leopard-skin wearers. Oh yeah, and let's not forget a gigantic vampire bat. Now with all those things stuffed into the story, you'd think it would have turned out a lot more exciting that it is.
 
     This story has the feeling of a longer story that was severely cut, which may indeed be the case. Walter Gibson was used to writing longer Shadow stories. For years, his featured stories in the magazines were about 45,000 words in length. But the magazine had been reduced in size to the smaller "digest" dimensions three years earlier. And the typical word count of the main story was now between 30,000 and 35,000 words.
 
     It wouldn't surprise me if Gibson wrote the stories with more words, and the editors at Street & Smith did some cutting so the story could fit in the new smaller size. I swear there were a couple missing scenes which were only made reference to at the story's end to help tie up the loose ends. And mysterious happenings which should have been explained away at the end remain unexplained. It's things like these which make reading this story a bit confusing, and that's why I recommend reading the entire story straight through. It tends to help keep things clearer that way.
 
     The story opens in a pitch-black seance room where Madame Mathilda is holding audience for her paying customers. She claims to see a banshee. But not the typical hideous old hag with an unearthly wail. No, this one is very spritely and beautiful. And apparently the banshee likes lilacs, for she breaks a sprig from a lilac tree.
 
     When Madame Mathilda comes out of her trance, there on the table before her is a sprig of lilac and a sharp dagger. Two spirit manifestations proving her vision. And in the audience, watching it all, are Lamont Cranston, Margo Lane, Police Commissioner Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona. Cardona takes possession of the two items that appeared in the seance room. Evidence, you know.
 
     They are interrupted by a call to Central Park where Officer Riley, one of Manhattan's most trusted officers, has witnessed the reference of a strange, beautiful young woman on top of a large rock above a pool of water in the park. At the same time the seance took place in Madame Mathilda's parlor, he was watching the ghostly figure reach up and pull a portion of a lilac branch from the bush. She broke a small twig from it, then disappeared into the night. When Cardona and Weston show up in the park, Cardona examines the lilac branch along with the twig that appeared in the seance room. The jagged mark where the twig had been broken matches the twig from Madame Mathilda's exactly. That twig somehow dematerialized from the park and rematerialized only moments later in the seance room!
 
     Yes, the story is off to a great start. Unfortunately, the plot starts jumping around crazily, and it becomes hard to keep track of what's going on. We meet an ex-Army man named Philip Harley. We don't really know why he's in the story, but he meets an ex-Wave named Arlene Forster. She's carrying a tiny sprig of lilac so the reader assumes she must figure into the story somehow. The two seem to think that they were supposed to meet, but we aren't told why. Then she disappears and later shows up riding in a horse-drawn cab in Central Park. It's all a little vague, but the reader slogs on, trying to make sense of it all.
 
     We also meet Captain Dom Yuble, who works with an inventor named Niles Ronjan. Ronjan has invented a new method of reaching sunken treasure. He's trying to interest new investors, including Lamont Cranston, so he can raise the treasure somewhere off Skipper's Rock. So what's with the blinking lights that can be seen from his penthouse window? Lights coming from the other side of Central Park? The Shadow determines it's a code. But who is sending it? Who is the intended recipient? What do the messages say?
 
     The story continues in a somewhat rambling fashion. We meet characters like the sleek-haired brunette Thara Lamoyne. She seemingly has designs on Phil Harley, but takes to appearing and disappearing at the most inopportune times. Then there's Winslow Ames who we don't really know, but who disappears for some reason. And another person we barely know named Claude Older is also apparently kidnapped.
 
     The story spends much of its time in Central Park. Characters ride into Central Park, fight in Central Park and disappear in Central Park. We visit the Central Park Zoo. We encounter a rundown old merry-go-round in Central Park. The banshee appears several times in Central Park.
 
     As in many of the later Shadow stories, The Shadow's usual roster of agents make a brief reference. In this one, we see hackie Moe Shrevnitz (but he's only called Shrevvy here), Cliff Marsland, Hawkeye, Harry Vincent, Burbank and Clyde Burke. All have very minor roles. The largest role goes to Margo Lane. Burbank does get a chance to leave his small room with the switchboard and get some night air. He drives a hansom cab in Central Park, his face hidden beneath the driver's plug hat. Oh, and Stanley also appears, but he isn't referred to by name; he's just "the chauffeur." Of course, we also see The Shadow in his Lamont Cranston disguise, Commissioner Weston and Inspector Cardona.
 
     In this story, we are told that The Shadow prefers to become unseen by blending into the darkness with his garb of black. But, it's admitted here, The Shadow can actually become invisible, just as his radio counterpart could. Yes, that's right... actually invisible. "Of course there were times and occasions when The Shadow could cloud men's minds, as was done in Tibet where he had learned hypnotic methods from the Lamas, but in usual practice, The Shadow's way was to simply blend with blackness." We never actually see The Shadow disappear from view by clouding men's minds. Not in this story; not in any other, either. But it's stated here that he can do it, and has done it on occasion. To me, it seems as if author Walter Gibson was giving in to the pressure of the radio show to allow his hero the actual power of invisibility.
 
     A couple interesting things in this Shadow mystery deserve note. There's mention of a special code machine that The Shadow has developed for the use of his agents. It's a mechanical decoder with an illuminated dial with buttons which when pushed aligned certain letters and solves the code. In this story, it's used by Burbank to break a code being sent by mysterious forces. It's the first I've seen mention of a decoder device, and is worth mention here.
 
     Another unusual device is a telephone booth in the Chateau Parkview hotel. It has a special revolving wall that ejects the occupant of the booth out into a corridor in an adjoining building. It's unique in that this telephone booth plays a small role in the following month's story, "Crime Out of Mind," as well. The telephone booth is an invention of the hidden gang in this story. But The Shadow discovers its workings, and uses the telephone booth for his own purposes in the next month's story. A most unusual happening.
 
     This story could have been much better if Walter Gibson had been given another ten thousand words to flesh out the story. It would have allowed him to explain things in more detail, rather than to just give them passing mention. As it is, we are never given an explanation for the strange materialization of the lilac twig. How did the twig get from Central Park to Madame Mathilda's seance room? We are assured it is the same twig, because the break matches perfectly. We know the two events happened simultaneously, so there was no time to deliver it from one location to the other. And we know that Inspector Cardona kept it securely in his custody ever since it appeared, so there was no chance for a switch. How was it done? We are never told. And the reader justifiably feels cheated. Gibson sets up a fantastic opening mystery, and then fails to follow through by giving readers an explanation.
 
     Gibson also fails to include any murders in this story. The title "Banshee Murders" notwithstanding, there are no murders in this story. The banshee murders no one. No one murders anyone. In fact, the only death in this story occurs when the giant vampire bat attacks the minor character of Captain Dom Yuble. But it's not a murder. Gibson should have stuck with the original title, "Crime over Central Park." It wasn't as lurid, but it was more honest. I'm assuming it was the editors at Street & Smith that dictated the change, but that's no excuse.
 
     This is not a great Shadow story. It's not even a good one. It's a short and confusing one. Even the title of this Shadow mystery is a letdown. It offers a lot of promise, but doesn't deliver. Of course, as disappointing as it is, there would be worse to come in future months. If you decide to read this Shadow adventure, read it in a single sitting, as recommended earlier, and don't go in with very high expectations. Then you won't be too disappointed. Banshee murders, indeed... harumph!.
 

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.

 


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