John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #18
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"The Golden Masks"
was originally published in the September 1, 1936 issue of The Shadow Magazine.
A secret society composed of robed and hooded members who wore thin gold masks
over their faces. Their membership names were assigned from the Greek alphabet:
Alpha, Omega, Epsilon, Mu... Together, they were comprised of some of the
highest and wealthiest men in society. Yet they conspired to wring millions from
the pockets of innocent men.
First was James Lengerton, president of the Oceanic Steamship Co. He was
threatened with blackmail if he didn't hand over a cool half-million in cash. He
refused and was promptly whisked away secretly by the hooded men. The Shadow was
close on the trail.
Can The Shadow now stop the future schemes of this evil menace? Can he avoid the
mysterious gas that robs men of all strength? Can he escape from the prison cell
deep below ground in a hidden headquarters? Can he unmask the leaders of the
strange clan known as the Golden Masks? Yes, he can! And reading how he does
these things makes for exciting reading that you won't want to miss.
This story brings in nearly all of The Shadow's agents. Here we find Harry
Vincent, Hawkeye, Cliff Marsland, Moe Shrevnitz, Burbank, Jericho Druke and
Tapper. Yes, the gang's all here!
It's nice to see Jericho Druke, one of The Shadow's lesser agents, in a featured
role in this story. Druke is one of the few Shadow agents that has a "real" job.
He runs an employment agency in Harlem. But occasionally, he is called upon by
The Shadow to render aid in various situations.
Of course he wasn't the only agent to have a real job. Clyde Burke was a
reporter for the New York Classic. And Rutledge Mann was an investment broker.
But both used their occupations to assist The Shadow. Burke used information
gathered as a reporter in helping The Shadow. Mann used information gathered in
the investment game to also help. Druke, on the other hand, never seemed to use
his occupation to assist The Shadow. He just closed the firm for a few days when
called upon by The Shadow.
One final note is about The Shadow's girasol ring. We are often given a detailed
description of the stone, but rarely the setting. According to this story, the
stone is set in a simple gold band. That's all. Nothing ornate to match the rest
of the ring. Just a simple gold band. At least, that's the description given in
"The Unseen Killer" was originally published in the December 1, 1934 issue of The Shadow Magazine.
Just what makes this story so special? Ask yourself this: "If The Shadow took on
the Invisible Man, who would win?" Well, if Walter Gibson was writing it, The
Shadow would most surely win. And Gibson did write it. And this is the story!
It all starts in the strange laboratory of Professor Melrose Lessep. Lessep, a
tall, wild-eyed inventor with a huge shock of unkept white hair, certainly
appears deserving of the title "eccentric." Business men have come to Professor
Lessep to invest in his latest invention. He has created a machine which
devisualizes solids. That's right, it turns them invisible.
Findlay Warlock, president of the Centralized Power Corporation, is desperate.
He has run the corporation nearly into bankruptcy with his poor business
investments. Not that it's his fault. He was a victim of fraud. But that's
neither here nor there. He needs money, and Professor Lessep's new invention
promises to be a badly needed windfall.
Warlock stands in Professor Lessep's laboratory with the newly appointed
executive secretary Marray Darring. They watch as Professor Lessep's assistant
steps into a glass cabinet. The glass frosts up, impairing the view of the
assistant. Then the doors open; the assistant has vanished from sight! The
professor has truly found the secret of devisualization. The unseen assistant
runs from the glass cabinet, unbolts the laboratory door, and makes his escape
into the night, completely invisible.
And then the murders start. Murders committed by the Unseen Killer. First,
there's Professor Lessep, himself. The crime is preceded by a warning note from
the Unseen Killer which the professor disregards. Shortly thereafter, the
professor is killed in a mysterious manner which only an invisible man could
accomplish. Along with the professor goes the secret of invisibility. His
machinery won't work, and there are no plans in writing. They were all in the
But this isn't the only murder. There are more. Many more. And each is
accomplished under circumstances that point to a madman who can't be seen. The
forces of law and order, personified by Commissioner Wainwright Barth and
Detective Joe Cardona, are stumped. There seems no way to stop the Unseen
Killer, even though he boasts of his crimes in advance. Only one man can stop
him. Only one man can capture the Unseen Killer and stop his reign of terror.
And that man is... The Shadow!
It's a great story from The Shadow's early years. This one features The Shadow's
oft-used disguise of Lamont Cranston. Agents of The Shadow also appearing in the
story are newspaper reporter Clyde Burke, trusted agent Harry Vincent,
underworld link Cliff Marsland, and crafty tracker Hawkeye. Also seen in minor
roles are two early appearances by lesser agents: pushcart vendor Pietro and the
big African named Jericho Druke.
Since this was early in the series of Shadow novels, Hawkeye wasn't a full agent
of The Shadow yet. In this story, he's still working for Slade Farrow, and only
takes orders from The Shadow indirectly. And Moe Shrevnitz, the erstwhile cab
driver, is only a part-time "emergency" aide.
The next three paragraphs contain a "spoiler" so read on at your own risk!
This is the story that introduces a new agent for The Shadow, one who appeared
in the magazine stories with great regularity right up until the end of the
series in 1949. Miles Crofton, who is The Shadow's pilot, appears here for the
first time. Crofton, a war hero, soldier of fortune and stunt flier, appears
here as Professor Lessep's assistant. Yes, it's Crofton who is suspected of
being the Unseen Killer.
One of the drawbacks of reading these stories out of chronological order is that
we occasionally know things that we aren't intended to know. It's like knowing
the future. We know, having read later Shadow stories, that Crofton goes on to
become a valuable aide of The Shadow. So we know that he can't be the Unseen
Killer. And that spoils the story.
Walter Gibson has carefully crafted the story to make it appear that Crofton is
actually the guilty party. Only at the story's end are supposed to discover that
Crofton is innocent and has been framed. Had we read these stories in
chronological order, we would have fallen for the trick. But since we already
know that Crofton is one of the "good guys," we see through the trick from the
very beginning. It lessens the impact of the story and dampens the enjoyment of
the surprise ending.
A couple of notes of interest regarding this story. In the early Shadow stories,
Commissioner Weston and later Commissioner Barth both considered The Shadow to
be a myth rather than a real crimefighter. That's the case in this story. It's
interesting to note how Barth's false belief is carefully preserved, in that
whenever The Shadow appears, Barth doesn't see him. Even when both are in the
It's also interesting to note that never once in the entire story does Walter
Gibson use the term "invisible man." Makes you wonder why. The hit Universal
movie starring Claude Raines had just been released the previous year and was
foremost in the public's mind. Perhaps the omission was intentional, for legal
reasons. The original 1897 story was still under copyright. H.G. Wells, the
author, was still living. Perhaps that had something to do with the avoidance of
the "invisible man" term.
A final note of interest is that The Shadow's hidden sanctum is always bathed in
the glow of a bluish light. It's been that way in every Shadow story I've ever
read, regardless of whether it came before or after this particular one. But in
one scene in this story, The Shadow removes the blue incandescent and screws in
a normal white frosted bulb. And for that one moment, The Shadow's mysterious
sanctum is revealed in a white glow. Never before, and perhaps never again,
would that happen. A most singular event!
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.