John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #100
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Death Triangle" was originally published in the October 15, 1933 issue of The Shadow Magazine. This is a tale of a valuable document lost due to murder. A land deed hidden away and the only man who knows its location is now dead. The Shadow must find the paper and must reveal the three men responsible. The three men who form a death triangle.
It’s a pretty good rule of thumb that any Shadow pulp novel from the 1930’s is a good one, and this story is no exception. It’s a bang up tale of secrecy, intrigue and murder. There is a major logic hole in the plot, but I’ll cover that later. Overall, this is classic Shadow all the way.
There’s no secret who is behind the evil scheme of murder and theft. Early in this story, we are told that Ward Fetzler is the mastermind. Fetzler is a big land owner, developer and head of corporations. It seems that some years ago he sold some Utah property to Cyril Wycliff. Now he has just learned that the property contains large quantities of valuable uranium. This makes him determined to regain ownership of the property. Only he knows that pitchblend deposits have been found, making the land worth millions. Fetzler will go to any lengths to regain ownership.
Cyril Wycliff, being a secretive type of fellow, had his friend Fetzler continue to pay the taxes so as to keep the sale from public eyes. Wycliff didn’t even register the new deed to the property. The scheming Fetzler realizes that if Wycliff were to die and Fetzler were to recover the deed, he would regain ownership of the valuable property with no one being the wiser. And thus starts a strange and twisted chain of events designed by Fetzler to achieve that goal!
First there is the murder of old Doctor Johan Arberg, a blood specialist from Copenhagen. He’s visiting New York, and he’s the perfect way to gain access to old Cyril Wycliff. The crime is arranged by Fetzler, but committed by Martin Hamprell, his associate. Cyril Wycliff is recovering from an attack of thrombosis, and Hamprell visits the house in the guise of Dr. Arberg after disposing of the good doctor. Hamprell, as Dr. Arberg, modifies the dosage of Wycliff’s medicine, with the desired result. Several hours later, Wycliff dies apparently of natural causes. His last words, “The deed! The deed! Find it! Bring it here! It is - it is -“
But where is it? He dies before he can reveal the secret. And thus is set into motion a mystery that confounds his family, his attorneys, and even the police. No one knows where the deed is located. No one knows what the deed contains. No one even knows that old Cyril Wycliff was actually murdered. Only one person knows all. That person is - The Shadow! Only The Shadow can find the deed, prove the murder, and bring the criminals to justice.
There is a secondary goal in this story, as well. The Shadow is not only seeking the hiding place of the land deed, but he is also seeking the identity of the inside man who is feeding information to the mastermind. The Shadow knows that three people are involved, and he has identified two of them. There is the mastermind, Fetzler. There is the actual murderer, Martin Hamprell. And then there is the informant... the mystery character who isn’t revealed until the end of the story. These three men of evil form the triangle in the story’s title.
The agents appearing in this story are Cliff Marsland, Clyde Burke and Burbank. Marsland and Burke only get small roles, but Burbank gets to shine, here. Burbank gets to leave his usual cramped quarters with its switchboard and go out into the field. Burbank, an expert electric technician, establishes himself in the house across the street from Wycliff’s, even to sleeping there on an army cot. He sets up telephone lines so that he can not only relay messages from agents to The Shadow, but he can also watch the Wycliff mansion and report on happenings there. It’s good to see him out and about.
The Shadow appears in disguise as Lamont Cranston, which isn’t all that unusual. But he is a master of disguise, so we also get to see him take on the face and voice of Dr. Johan Arberg, the specialist who is killed in chapter four. The good doctor is the favorite subject of disguise in this story, since Martin Hamprell also dons an Arberg disguise to enter the house of Cyril Wycliff.
Other recurring characters who appear are Cranston’s limousine chauffeur Stanley. He innocently drives The Shadow, thinking he is driving his employer Lamont Cranston. And appearing for the law is police detective Joe Cardona and Inspector Timothy Klein. Commissioner Weston is mentioned, but doesn’t actually appear.
I mentioned earlier that there was a logical inconsistency in this story. It has to do with the hidden deed. The entire story is written around the search for the land deed that is worth millions. The deed that old Cyril Wycliff hid safely away before his untimely death. The logical question is why did he hide it? Keep in mind that he thought it was worthless. Only Ward Fetzler knew its real value, and he was keeping that knowledge secret. It seems to me that if Cyril Wycliff was going to hide something, it would be one of his many valuable possessions, not something he thought had no value. I guess one shouldn’t over-think these pulp plots. It only lessens the entertainment.
Another thing of note regarding this story is that the first three chapters have the distinct feeling of being added on later. They really have nothing to do with the story, itself. It’s almost as if the editors at Street & Smith told author Walter Gibson that they needed another five thousand words. And so he worked up a mini-adventure for The Shadow that involved dealing with crooks who were out to fleece old Doctor Johan Arberg. Even with those three extra chapters added in, the story only reaches a length of 43,000 words. That discounts the commonly-held assertion that early Shadow stories were 65,000 words. Only the first couple actually reached that length.
A side note about The Shadow’s famous girasol ring. In various Shadow stories, the origin of this ring was alternately attributed to either the Czar of Russia or the Xinca Indians of South America. This time around, The Shadow describes it as: “- a rare girasol. Once it belonged to the Russian Czar who -“ And that’s all he says. At least, in this story.
We get to visit The Shadow’s sanctum several times in this tale. And we get a rare visit to his black-tiled laboratory, as well. I’ve always assumed that the laboratory adjoins the sanctum, but this story makes it seem otherwise. We are told, “The Shadow left his laboratory. He reappeared a short while later in his sanctum.” So apparently there is a short delay in reaching the sanctum from the lab. I guess the laboratory isn’t just in the next room after all.
Rarely mentioned are the special records of The Shadow. These are massive tomes that contain volumes of secret information possessed alone by The Shadow. These secret archives are seen in this story, and they just whet one’s appetite for more. I can only imagine what thrilling adventures must be chronicled therein.
This is definitely one of the classic Shadow mysteries. Granted there is a basic logical flaw in the main premise, but you can easily overlook that as you thrill to The Shadow’s mighty exploits. The Death Triangle is one to read. It gets my stamp of approval.
"The Crimson Death" was originally published in the August 1, 1941 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A strange powder, invented to create the hardest metal known to man, is turned into a means of death. Horrible, grotesque death! Who has stolen it? What are their plans for it? The Shadow must confront The Crimson Death to resolve this diabolical scheme.
This story was written by Theodore Tinsley, who filled in for Walter Gibson several times a year between 1936 and 1943. This was his twentieth Shadow pulp mystery out of the twenty-seven that he authored. Tinsley is today remembered for his edgier style. He added a touch more sex and violence that did Walter Gibson. But not in this story. This one is remarkably restrained. Many of Tinsley’s trademarks - torture, female villains, underground lairs - are downplayed, here. But three women do die, and that’s a sure sign that Walter Gibson wasn’t the author.
Our story opens with Porky and Chick. Despite their Warner Bros. cartoony-sounding names, they are thugs working for big-time mobster Flash Rego. They highjack a tank truck and drive it into the Copley Metal Plate Corp. Supposedly there to suck out the soot from the furnace flues, they are actually there to steal a strange pinkish powder. A pinkish powder that is extremely dangerous. A pinkish powder that causes horrible death to anyone unprotected who is exposed to it.
This pinkish powder is the crimson death of the story’s title. Since pinkish isn’t even close to crimson, it would appear the title is misleading. When Theodore Tinsley submitted the story to the editors at Street & Smith, he had it titled “The Falling Sickness.” Apparently, the editors decided it wasn’t lurid enough. “The Pinkish Death” probably wouldn’t have sold many magazines, so I’m guessing they decided to kick it up a notch with “The Crimson Death.” And accuracy be damned. Anything to sell more magazines.
The inventor of this deadly powder was Thomas Wilton, a stout, pompous man who worked for the Copley Metal Plate Corp. They manufacture steel place for the United States defense program. And this strange powder, when used in the steel making process, produces a metal that is very hard. The hardest metal in existence. So hard, it actually can scratch a diamond! And that has the potential to provide armor that would make the US Navy the most powerful fleet on the planet. Such armor could deflect torpedoes and make aerial bombs useless. So the value of this wonder powder is tremendous.
A less productive use of the pinkish powder is that it will cause death in any person exposed to it who is not wearing special protective gear. And that’s what catches gangland’s attention. The criminal element of Manhattan is interested in using the powder as an invisible means to deliver death. It would be a death weapon of great use to some criminal mastermind. That’s why Flash Rego has sought to steal the entire supply of the powder from the steel plant, and replace it with a harmless inert substitute.
The effect of exposure to the pinkish powder is a gristly death, and this is where author Theodore Tinsley comes into his element. He gets to describe the deaths with a little bit more graphic detail that Walter Gibson would have. Victims fall to the ground and lay twisting dizzily. Blood begins to trickle from their ears. Suddenly, their twisting bodies stiffen. And Tinsley gets to describe this scene a half-dozen times throughout the story as more and more innocent people fall victim to the deadly powder.
There is protection from the pinkish powder. Workers in the steel plant were issued special head coverings. They were something like football helmets with goggles and plastic discs on the sides that sealed the ears of the wearers. But this is something of which the general public isn’t aware.
The Navy is going to test the new super steel being produced by the Copley Metal Plate Corp. Inventor Thomas Wilton travels to the proving grounds in Maryland to be there as an antitank gun fires point-blank at a target made of the special steel. In fact, to prove his confidence in this new metal, he plans to stand behind the target during the test. Not a smart thing to do, as it turns out. The steel plate that makes up the target has been made with the fake pinkish powder, substituted by Porky and Chick when they stole the real stuff. So the projectile from the gun goes clean through the armor plate as if it were a slab of cheese. And Wilton... he’s blown to smithereens. Not even a trace of blood.
So the bad guys have the real pinkish powder. The good guys don’t have any of it. All the steel plate is worthless. And the only person who knows the secret of making the pinkish powder, inventor Thomas Wilton, is dead - blown to atoms. What’s going to happen now? Who will die next from the crimson death? Who can stop the reign of terror? That’s right, it’s time for The Shadow to step in and save the day for the old red, white and blue. Only The Shadow can step up to the plate and hit a home run for Uncle Sam.
This is going to be a tough job, and luckily The Shadow doesn’t have to do it alone. He’s assisted by his agents Clyde Burke, ace reporter for the Daily Classic, Moe Shrevnitz, taxi driver deluxe, Margo Lane, a fairly new agent to the pulp series who had been introduced only six weeks earlier, Harry Vincent, suave agent inserted into the society set, and brief appearances by investment broker Rutledge Mann and contact man Burbank.
It should be pointed out that Margo Lane, in her fourth magazine appearance, knows that The Shadow hides under the disguise of Lamont Cranston. It’s the first time that Theodore Tinsley had included her in one of his stories, and he gives her plenty to do. He makes her a qualified agent, not just a damsel in distress. She also gets into disguise as an extremely homely filing clerk who has recently obtained a job in the offices of the Copley company. Later she also appears as a slightly shabby shopgirl who waits at a bus stop to follow a suspect.
Early in the story Margo Lane is admitted into the Cobalt Club, escorted by Lamont Cranston. Author Tinsley should have known better. Women aren’t allowed in the Cobalt Club... ever. This is the only time I can remember that any woman entered the exclusive men’s club. Occasionally Theodore Tinsley made minor slip-ups like these. It’s understandable since he wasn’t writing a series he had himself created. Walter Gibson, on the other hand, was amazingly consistent in such matters.
There’s no sign of Police Commissioner Ralph Weston or Detective Joe Cardona in this story, although Commissioner Weston is mentioned once in passing. Since the plot of the story involves national interests, that’s understandable. Representing the law, we once again meet ace operator of the FBI, agent Vic Marquette. Marquette appeared in forty-six of the pulp stories throughout the nineteen-year run. He always worked closely with The Shadow, as is the case here.
An interesting point is that for the first time, The Shadow is taken into custody by the law. Yes, caught red-handed alongside the body of a man he had allegedly murdered! But he’s not in custody for long. He quickly makes his escape. Unfortunately, there’s a city-wide dragnet which puts a crimp in his crime-fighting activities for the remainder of the story. Of course, by story’s end, the true killer is revealed, so The Shadow has no blot on his record.
Other points of interest, include mention of The Shadow’s special laboratory. We don’t get to actually visit it, but even mention of it is a rare occurrence. We also find out that Lamont Cranston is a member of the Defense Industry Board. It seems that with war looming, Cranston is pressed into service of his country. Plus it was a good way to acquire inside information to use in his crime fighting.
There’s a fake Shadow in this story. In a pitched battle inside the steel plant, The Shadow looks down from the heights of a steel girder, and spies someone dressed as The Shadow. We never find out which crook was underneath that cloak, but it most certainly was one that felt the sting of The Shadow’s bullets by the end of the tale.
Even though author Theodore Tinsley was more restrained than usual in this story, there are still touches of his writing style that stand out. We have a soundproof cellar filled with deadly acid. There’s a torture scene where he drops some of the powerful acid on a victim’s hand just to watch it bite through the skin and flesh beneath. And, of course, one victim falls with a horrible scream into the vat of acid.
Tinsley’s mobsmen seem to use drugs regularly, in this case to build up false nerve. Even Margo Lane takes to using drugs, but not on herself. She drops two small, white tablets into a jug of water. Something to render another woman unconscious so that Margo could search her room.
As to gadgets, normally the purview of Doc Savage, we have the strange helmets that protect the wearer from the crimson death. We also have a colorless fluid that makes fingerprints appear in vivid green when sprayed on surfaces. That’s kind of cool. And I guess we could also consider the custom-built car that The Shadow depends on in emergencies. We aren’t given much of a description of the car, here, but it seems to fall into the gadget category.
I like nearly all of Theodore Tinsley’s Shadow pulp stories, and this one is no exception. It’s fun; it’s exciting; it’s a little more extreme... it’s Tinsley! I give it a thumbs up, and recommend you read it if you get a chance.
"The Seven Deadly Arts" was originally published in the October 1946 issue of The Shadow Magazine. New Orleans and the black arts. A mysterious cult murmuring eerie incantations... death occurring in the wake of an ancient curse. It was more than black magic and superstition - it was the clever plot of mortal men - and only The Shadow sensed the danger.
This story was written, not by Walter Gibson, not by Theodore Tinsley, but by Bruce Elliott. Was that a cold chill you just felt running down your spine? Probably. Because once you realize who authored this story, you know it’s going to be bad. Really bad. The fifteen Shadow stories that Bruce Elliott wrote for The Shadow Magazine were the worst in the 325 issue run. We’re talking bottom of the barrel, here.
If I followed my mother’s advice, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” this could make for a very short review. So, with apologies, I’ll disregard it for now. But I’ll try to find a few nice things to say, among the rest.
This story, his third, along with “Reign of Terror,” his last, were probably the two best Shadow stories that Bruce Elliott ever wrote. And that’s damning them both with faint praise. They were “best” in their own little universe, but in comparison with those wonderful tales of mystery and excitement that Walter Gibson could produce, they quickly lost any claim to luster that they might seem to have.
Unlike some of his other Shadow Magazine stories, this one actually features The Shadow! I know that should seem pretty obvious, but there were some stories published during his two year run that only featured Lamont Cranston. That’s right, some Shadow stories never even had The Shadow in them. And others only contained a single appearance of The Shadow. So let’s give thanks that this one has a lot of The Shadow in it.
The Shadow, as portrayed here, isn’t the strong, silent master of the night that readers had so long become familiar with. In this story, he only engages in one physical battle, and he is no match for his opponent. If it weren’t for sheer coincidence, he would have lost his life in that fight. All his other confrontations are where he skulks around and creates a diversion. Fire seems to be one of his favorite such diversions.
The Shadow is no longer the all-powerful being created by Gibson. And there’s too much soul-wrenching introspection. Too many emotional entanglements. While all of this might be of interest in some other detective novel, it’s just not The Shadow.
The story, itself, is moderately interesting. It’s a story of black magic and voodoo in New Orleans. But of course, it’s all a front for a ring of crooks peddling art treasures stolen during World War II. There’s really no big surprises, there. The only surprise is the unmasking of the hidden mastermind at the story’s climax, and then it’s only a surprise because it’s something that Walter Gibson wouldn’t have done. If readers were surprised, it was only because the story broke the unwritten rules set down by Gibson, which readers had long taken for granted.
As our story opens, The Shadow stands hidden in the Louisiana bayous watching a group of masked people involved in some ancient and unclean rites. A lamb is sacrificed by a concealed woman holding a strange knife. It’s a bizarre combination of witchcraft and voodoo, performed by a swamp cult. As our story unfolds, we’ll learn exactly who these people are, and what evil they are up to.
Why exactly is The Shadow in New Orleans to begin with? The reason is pretty vague. We’re only told that “Burbank had been right, as usual. There was work for The Shadow in New Orleans.” So, reading between the lines, it would seem that Burbank picked up some tip about the art smuggling racket and passed it along to The Shadow.
Our proxy hero in this story is Tommy Rondo, ex-G.I. and current artist. He is hired along with three others to do some art reproductions. At $200 per week, it’s a princely sum. Veterans at the time were paid $20 a week by the government. He is quickly drawn into a sinister web of intrigue when he is abducted by a mysterious masked figure who forces him to obey his every command or face the threat of death to his beloved mother.
Tommy, by some coincidence, knows Lamont Cranston. It seems that Cranston has been on a case in Tommy’s small town five or more years previously. There, they had met. And when Tommy meets Cranston in New Orleans, they renew their friendship, and Cranston (and his alter ego, The Shadow) assist Tommy when he is threatened.
The story, although routine, does have some nice atmosphere. Also, some action scenes that are intriguing. All this is probably due to the fact that the story is longer than usual, at least for a Bruce Elliott story. Some of Elliott’s Shadow stories were as small as 23,000 words. This one is 38,000 words, which is certainly an improvement. Gibson’s average was around 42,000. So, even though this story isn’t the best of The Shadow... by a long shot... at least it does come close to normal length.
In this tale, which takes place entirely in New Orleans, The Shadow and his alter ego Lamont Cranston are the only familiar characters. None of The Shadow’s agents appear, although brief mention in made that they were left in New York. Similarly, the law is not present in this story. We don’t see Joe Cardona, Ralph Weston, or their New Orleans counterparts. The Shadow tackles the evil and resolves the situation all by himself.
The Shadow does get to use his ability at disguise, here, but it’s not the same type of mysterious molding of the face that we’ve seen before. He puts some cotton plugs inside his mouth to change the shape of his face. That, plus a garish outfit, completes the disguise. I much preferred it when The Shadow would pull out his metal makeup box and press his fingers into his pliable flesh to change its form. Ah, for the good old days...
And just exactly what are those seven deadly arts referred to in the title? I really have no idea. The story does feature art. There’s an art forgery ring, but that seems to be the only relation between the title and the story. There’s no mention of “seven” in the story. So it seems the editors at Street & Smith just picked a title that sounded good and had the word “art” in it.
This is not your usual Shadow pulp novel, but then none of Bruce Elliott’s stories ever were. I would recommend you avoid it. It might make you appreciate Walter Gibson’s depiction of The Shadow more, but it’s really not worth the effort.
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.