John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #14
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"The Grove of Doom" was published in the September 1, 1933 issue of The Shadow Magazine. This is one
of the top ten Shadow novels of all time. It's a wonderfully moody mystery set
out on Long Island Sound. Two large houses: Upper Beechview and Lower Beechview.
And between them, several acres of copper beech trees. A grove which people
enter, but never leave. Only The Shadow will dare to confront the strange power
of the grove of doom!
The story opens in the dead of night. Out on Long Island Sound a bare sailing
ship with square-rigged masts drops anchor in the heavy fog. A small boat, its
oars muffled, heads toward the beach. Dark-skinned Malays carry two heavy
cubical boxes onto the sandy shore, then return to the phantom ship.
In the black of the night, a vague, unidentified figure opens one of the two
boxes. From within steps a short, wiry Chinaman named Lei Chang. Lei Chang stops
the unknown man from opening the second box, for inside Koon Woon lies sleeping.
And Koon Woon, the Master, must not be awakened!
The two carry the large box containing Koon Woon from the shore of Long Island
Sound up onto the grass and into the grove of trees. The grove of copper
beeches. The grove of doom.
The next morning, we meet the players of this most intriguing mystery. Lower
Beechview is owned by Harvey Chittenden. He and his wife, Mildred, have just
returned from many years abroad to the house he inherited. His good friend Craig
Ware has been here for a few weeks, organizing the workmen who are putting the
place in order.
Upper Beechview is owned by Harvey's father and his two younger brothers.
There's bad blood between the two houses. A feud has gone on for years, partly
explaining Harvey's long absence. But now he's back and things are bound to heat
Walter Pearson, the old family attorney, visits Harvey and tries to bring peace
between the two factions. But he fails miserably. The next day, he enters the
grove of copper beeches. And he never comes out again. The grove of doom has
claimed its first victim.
Calvin Merrick works for a private detective agency. He's tracking the missing
lawyer, Walter Pearson. In following his last known moves, Merrick strides into
the mysterious grove.
Above the grove of strange coppery trees, adjoining the two properties of Upper
and Lower Beechview, is the Beechview Country Club. Sitting on the veranda,
looking out over the golf course that extends down to the tree line, is Lamont
Cranston. Actually, it's The Shadow disguised as the millionaire world-traveler.
He is there, also to investigate the mysterious disappearance of lawyer Pearson.
He watches through field glasses as the detective Merrick enters the grove.
Hours later, he still hasn't exited. The grove of doom has claimed its second
victim. Its second, but not its last.
More will disappear within the grove of doom. Middle brother Wilbur will make a
midnight visit to Lower Beechview. He will travel through the grove of doom to
arrive there. But he, too, will never escape.
And then there's his huge police dog Beowulf. And his father, Galbraith. And his
younger brother Zachary. Where will it end? Who is behind it all? And what? What
is the secret of the grove of copper beeches? Who is Lei Chang and his master
Koon Woon? What do they have to do with the grove of doom? Only The Shadow can
discover the truth. Only The Shadow can stealthily enter the grove and return
unharmed. Only The Shadow can uncover the sinister plot that dates back years.
The Shadow solves this puzzling mystery nearly alone. He uses Burbank to send
messages to Harry Vincent, Clyde Burke and Rutledge Mann, but we never actually
see them. They are mentioned, but don't actually show up in the story. Likewise,
the law isn't present except for a vague passing mention.
Even The Shadow doesn't appear for much of the story. Most of the story is that
of the two Chittenden families and the mystery of the sinister grove of copper
beech trees. Only when needed does The Shadow show up in his garb of black.
One of the most interesting characters in the story is that of Choy Lown, the
recluse of Chinatown. This is a crafty old man that all tong leaders fear. He
possesses tremendous knowledge and unfailing memory. It is to Choy Lown that The
Shadow goes when he seeks information about the mysterious Koon Woon, master of
Seeking an audience with Choy Lown isn't easy. He is a strange recluse who
values his privacy. To those ends, the way to his hidden abode is strewn with
death traps. And that's one more place where this story shines. The Shadow must
traverse a trail of dangerous traps, each more sinister and deadly than the
next. There's the elevator floor which drops out from under his feet, the
hallway floor that springs open to a pit far below, and a gigantic web of tiny
filaments which holds him helpless.
The Shadow survives all the death traps in most amazing style, and makes his way
to the inner sanctum of Choy Lown, the man whom no one has ever visited. The
Shadow becomes Choy Lown's friend and receives the information he seeks. He also
receives a tiny jet-black disk bearing a special silver character upon its
surface. It is the token of Choy Lown. Henceforth, the way to Choy Lown's
sanctum will always be open to The Shadow.
Unfortunately, Walter Gibson never wrote the character of Choy Lown into any
other of his Shadow mysteries. Five months later in "Gray Fist" he introduced a
similar character in Yat Soon, the arbiter of Chinatown. Yat Soon would be a
recurring character, appearing in seven of The Shadow novels. He played a
similar role, that of the all-knowing Oriental to whom The Shadow could go for
information that was not otherwise available. Yat Soon was a "toned down"
version of Choy Lown. A bit less bloodthirsty, perhaps wiser and definitely less
of a recluse. Perhaps the character of Choy Lown was one that Gibson was trying
out, before settling on the slightly altered Yat Soon.
We get to see some interesting things of The Shadow in this early tale. In the
lining of his cloak, The Shadow carries an explosive. In the lining of the right
side is a blackish powder. A grayish powder is in the left lining. The Shadow
mixes them together and pours a small amount of special liquid from a small
glass vial kept in an unbreakable metal tube. The result is a powerful explosive
that he uses to avoid at least one death trap.
The Shadow carries a fountain pen with him. A special fountain pen that contains
his special ink. We see him test it by writing a single line on a sheet of paper
and wait while the ink dries. As he watches, the ink disappears. He's ready to
send messages to his agents! Coded messages that will disappear before any
outside agent will have time to break the code.
We get to see The Shadow pick up secret reports at the "B Jonas" office, and
then we visit The Shadow's secret sanctum, where he examines his messages and
delivers his orders.
We also get to see a few of The Shadow's amazing abilities here. He can read
Chinese easily. And he can also read lips, as he demonstrates several times in
And, as in many of the early Shadow novels, we are reminded that many people
have heard the voice of The Shadow on his national radio broadcast. They
recognize that laugh! Although this was a common feature of the early Shadow
pulp stories, mention of The Shadow's radio show quickly faded away. After the
first few years, no further mention was made of The Shadow being on radio.
"The Grove Of Doom" is the nearly infamous Shadow novel that was severely edited
when it was reprinted in the 1966. The original pulp version, which I read for
this review, was over 46,000 words in length. The 1966 reprint version was under
33,000 words. Was it cut strictly for length? To remove excess padding? Or was
there some other reason?
It should be noted that although one of the protagonists was Oriental and was
portrayed in a very positive light, the main antagonist is also Oriental and is
written in a fairly racist manner. I'm guessing that it was offensive enough
even by 1966's standards that certain parts were toned down. Descriptions
portraying the Orientals as scarcely human yellow demons who speak in pidgin
English does make me cringe, in today's more PC world. That could also help
explain some of the cuts in the re-release versions.
I looked past the offensive parts, however, putting them in historical
perspective. Reading pulp stories must be done in context with the times that
they were written. Things were much different in 1933. The "yellow peril" was
real to many, many people. In today's world, this story would never be published
as originally printed. And that's as it should be.
But the mystery itself... the story of two feuding families and the strange
foreboding copper beech trees... it one of the most atmospheric and exciting
Shadow tales I've ever read. It definitely ranks as one of my favorites.
"The Masked Lady" was originally published in the October 15, 1939 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A
new criminal has appeared on the Manhattan scene. A veiled woman who deals death
to her enemies as she mocks the law. Can The Shadow unmask her?
Hey, something's wrong here! Walter Gibson wrote 282 of The Shadow Magazine
stories, and he rarely had a female with criminal tendencies. Women were
innocent. In those scarce instances when a "bad" girl did show up, it was always
a minor character. Never the title character in the pulp novel! So regular
readers knew in advance that the Masked Lady would turn out to be innocent in
the end. And sure enough, she does.
For a novice Shadow reader, who doesn't know Walter Gibson's unwritten code
against writing women criminals, this story will be prominently about The
Shadow's search for the hidden identity of the Masked Lady and his attempt to
capture her in the act. But for seasoned readers who know in advance that the
Masked Lady won't be what she appears, this story is primarily a puzzle. It's a
puzzle where readers watch as Walter Gibson sets up the Masked Lady in
circumstances that seemingly allow for no logical explanation. Readers can try
to solve the mystery before Gibson explains it all away in the end.
The story begins with a party at the home of Lucien Darra. Darra had operated a
gambling house in Miami, and moved to New York two months ago. Police
Commissioner Ralph Weston, being the suspicious type that he is, attends the
party in order to see what the gambling king is up to. Joining him is his good
friend Lamont Cranston, who is actually The Shadow in disguise. The two are
present when death strikes.
Lucien Darra is locked in his office in conference with an unnamed lady, when a
gunshot rings out beyond the latched door. The door is flung open and standing
in the doorway is a lady with a small revolver in her hand. Lying dead inside is
Lucien Darra. The identity of the young woman remains unknown, however, because
of a blue bandanna handkerchief that masks her face. She escapes in the mad
entanglement that ensues. The Masked Lady has struck and successfully fled the
We are soon introduced to June Albury and it quickly becomes apparent that she
is to be the main character in this story. And she may be the Masked Lady! She
has a boyfriend in Tony Wardron, a handsome, suave millionaire. And Wardron
becomes her alibi when the Masked Lady strikes.
These alibis are some of the weak spots in the story. She makes an appointment
to meet Tony Wardron at a certain time and place. She shows up an hour late, and
in the wrong place. She smiles, bats her eyelashes at him and sweetly asks him
to pretend that they met an hour earlier and at the originally agreed upon
place. And like a fool, he agrees without any question. Not a trace of
suspicion. Not even when she does it again! As Bugs Bunny would say, "What a
So exactly what was the relationship between June Albury and the deceased Lucien
Darra, anyway? It seems that June's brother, George, owed some money to Lucien
Darra and couldn't pay it. A gambling debt it would appear. So with Darra out of
the way, the problem of the outstanding debt would be resolved.
Lucien Darra had a partner in Waldo Hoxland. And Hoxland still possesses
George's IOUs for the gambling debt. So George is not out of the woods just yet.
His debt is still on the books. Not a good thing, unless of course Waldo Hoxland
bites the dust as well. And sure enough, he's the next victim of the Masked
The Masked Lady appears at the Scamper Club where Waldo Hoxland is enjoying the
night life. She demands the note in his wallet. He refuses and springs for her.
There are two shots from her revolver and Waldo Hoxland falls dead on the night
club floor. The Masked Lady has struck again, and this time in front of
And now comes the part that strains credulity. The Shadow has some of his agents
at the night club, posted with cameras and instructed to take some pictures in
case the Masked Lady should appear. Harry Vincent's photo shows the Masked Lady
reaching for the promissory note in Hoxland's hand. Rutledge Mann's photo shows
a thick curl of smoke coming from out of the gun muzzle. Clyde Burke's photo
shows the Masked Lady firing a shot straight at Hoxland's chest, the dart of
flame issuing from the gun muzzle.
Catching the muzzle flash in a photograph is next to impossible. But it happens
here, just by accident. Hard to believe, but then this is pulp fiction. And it
certainly makes the case against the Masked Lady seemingly air tight. And I
guess that was the point of this highly unlikely occurrence. Author Gibson was
trying to make an impossible case against June Albury, so that she could have no
possible way to claim, later, that she didn't murder Waldo Hoxland. And then,
with the flair of a magician, he would make the impossible possible. At the
story's climax, she would be proven innocent.
The Shadow has suspected June Albury of being the Masked Lady since early in the
story, and by the two-thirds mark has gained proof. But he continues to let
things play out so that in the end he can prove in front of witnesses that June
Albury is innocent. And I will admit that the way in which he proves his case is
one which I didn't see coming. Of course, I knew from the get-go that June
Albury would eventually be proven innocent. I just didn't figure out exactly
how. A nice job of plotting on Gibson's part.
The Shadow appears in disguise as Lamont Cranston, as he so often does in these
pulp stories. And naturally he also appears in his typical garb of black.
Assisting him are his agents Moe Shrevnitz, Cliff Marsland, Clyde Burke,
Hawkeye, Burbank, Rutledge Mann and Harry Vincent. In short, just about all the
major agents that were in the circa 1939 stories appear, here. Even Stanley
shows up, although he isn't specifically mentioned by name; he's just "the
chauffeur." And of course lawmen Inspector Joe Cardona and Police Commissioner
Ralph Weston round out the cast of characters.
We learn a few interesting facts about some of these agents in this story. It
seems that Rutledge Mann doesn't get out much, because The Shadow selects him to
take photographs at the Scamper Club because "The Shadow decided that some night
life would do him good." And Rutledge Mann developed the film, since he is a
Harry Vincent knows that Lamont Cranston is actually his master, The Shadow, in
disguise. In many of the earlier stories, Harry knew there was some connection
between Cranston and The Shadow, but he assumed that Cranston was another agent,
like himself. But here, Harry knows! "Harry noticed that he was carrying
garments across his arm, and guessed that they consisted of a black cloak and
In this story we are also reminded that Moe Shrevnitz's taxi-cab is fitted with
a microphone that allows the driver to hear conversations taking place in the
back seat. And the cab has a top that can be drawn back. At least, this cab
does. Remember, Moe goes through various taxicabs in the series, as replacements
are needed due to age or crash damage.
This story does contain a minor character who is on the other side of the law,
and is also female. She is Freda Grabe, and is George Albury's girlfriend. She
learns the identity of the Masked Lady and tries to use that knowledge to her
own benefit. And she bites the dust at story's end, even though it's only
mentioned in passing: "He passed sprawled bodies in the hallway, Freda's among
them." That's unusual for a story by Walter Gibson. Usually women aren't bad,
and they don't die. The Shadow stories written by Theodore Tinsley were another
matter, altogether. He had no such code about the innocence of women. He could,
and often did, use women as minor and even major figures of corruption and
crime. For Gibson, however, this story is most unusual.
In many ways, this story is routine Shadow fare. But it does have a few
particulars that make it stand out. Whether you read this as a novice reader,
who doesn't understand the unwritten Gibson code about women, or as someone who
knows the way Gibson writes and understands what is to come, it's a fun story to
spend a few hours on. So give it a shot; I think you'll agree.
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.