John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #20
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"The Blue Sphinx"
was originally published in the January 15, 1935 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A
relic of the Eighteenth Dynasty, a four-thousand-year-old statue known as the
Blue Sphinx has been pried from its moorings in the Libyan Desert. It's small by
Egyptian standards - twenty feet in length, five-tons of limestone, with a
bluish tinge. And around this ancient relic swirls a mysterious riddle, a secret
that The Shadow must penetrate.
Our story starts in Manhattan when Hawkeye, agent of The Shadow, spies Tinker
Furris, his former prison mate at Sing Sing. Yes, in case you forgot, Hawkeye
had been in prison before he went straight and joined The Shadow. Sensing crime
in the making, Hawkeye meets with Furris and learns that Furris is readying to
leave New York for the city of Latuna. There, he'll join up with the infamous
Konk Zitz and his gang.
Konk Zitz - what a name! Any crook with the name of "Zitz" would have to be
infamous. As I read this story, I had a hard time keeping a straight face
whenever I can across that name. I'll admit, it did make taking this story
seriously a little bit of a challenge. But let's get past poor old Mr. Zitz...
Tinker Furris wants to commit one final robbery before leaving New York. Hawkeye
hooks him up with Cliff Marsland, so Marsland and Furris can high-tail it out of
town after the robbery, and Marsland can worm his way into Konk Zitz's gang.
Hawkeye has been informed that The Shadow wants to know what Zitz is up to, and
Marsland will be his inside-man.
After the robbery, which naturally The Shadow foils, Marsland and Furris head
out of state to the city of Latuna. And following right behind is The Shadow
with his two agents Clyde Burke and Harry Vincent. Arriving at Latuna, they find
Konk Zitz and his gang holed up at the Phoenix Hotel. They haven't committed any
crimes, so are living openly. Just waiting for the mysterious "big job" that's
in the works.
Everything in our story now revolves around the Latuna Museum and the Blue
Sphinx. Curator Joseph Rubal is murdered just before he can resign and confess
to something sinister. Who did the murder? What did Joseph Rubal know? And what
strange things are going on in the museum?
Let's take a quick look at our cast of characters... or suspects, if we can
characterize them as such. First is Mayor Quirby Rush who lives beneath the
shadow of doubt for not having exposed the graft he discovered when he took over
from the previous administration. And then there's Police Chief Lawrence
Grewling, who allows strangers of criminal caliber to remain in town unmolested.
There are two newspapers in town, and the owner of each plays a part in our
story. Howard Dunham is the tall, cadaverous-looking editor of the Latuna
Gazette, a morning paper. The owner and editor of the Latuna Enterprise, the
afternoon newspaper, is Harrison Knode.
And then there are the two philanthropists, Barnaby Soyer and Strafford Malden.
Malden donated the land for the museum, and also donated the Blue Sphinx itself
to the town. Soyer donated his entire collection of priceless art treasures:
statuettes of silver and gold, beautiful sets of carved cameos and gems, golden
vessels, objects of jade and gems. It doesn't take much to figure out that this
treasure must be close to the center of the mystery.
So there you have it. Who killed the museum curator? What was his mysterious
secret? What are the crooks after? Who is their hidden chief? And what is the
riddle of the Blue Sphinx? Whew! Lots of questions, but only one person can find
the answers. And that person is... you guessed it... The Shadow!
Most of the familiar characters appear in this story, albeit sometimes briefly.
We have Police Commissioner Barth and Detective Joe Cardona. Moe Shrevnitz,
Hawkeye, Tapper, Burbank, Rutledge Mann and Lamont Cranston all appear early in
the story. But the main part of the story centers around Clyde Burke, Harry
Vincent and Henry Arnaud. Henry Arnaud, of course, is one of The Shadow's many
Several points of interest. Hawkeye originally worked with criminologist Slade
Farrow, and then gradually moved into The Shadow's service. It was Slade Farrow
who turned the ex-crook straight. In this story, when Hawkeye wants to make a
report to The Shadow, he doesn't follow the usual routine of going through
Rutledge Mann or Burbank. Instead, he writes his report in the blue disappearing
ink and sends it to his mentor Slade Farrow. Farrow then forwards it to Rutledge
Mann, from which it then is delivered to The Shadow. It seems that, at this
point in time, Hawkeye still technically works for Farrow, not The Shadow.
Appearing twice in this story are the famous rubber suction cups, with which The
Shadow can scale the outside walls of buildings. If you've ever wondered about
the soft, squidgy noises that they make, and wondered if that could give away
The Shadow's presence in the dark to nearby hoodlums, The Shadow himself
acknowledges that concern in this story. It points out that he had never been
able to eliminate the give-away sounds from these concave disks without
impairing their necessary efficiency.
Also appearing in this story are The Shadow's famous girasol ring, and that vial
of strange purplish liquid that gives mysterious extra strength. I've always
suspected that The Shadow carried some illegal drugs in that vial. Whatever the
contents, they sure work fast. When he gives a few drops to an injured man in
this story, he revives and regains his strength quickly. What makes me think
this wouldn't have been FDA approved?
One last point of interest. If you ever wondered how much Clyde Burke got paid
to work on the New York Classic as a reporter, this story indicates it's a
whopping $60 a week. That's in 1935 dollars, mind you. In today's dollars,
accounting for inflation, that would be over $25 per hour. Not too bad!
(And ponder the name Zitz.)
was originally published in the September 15, 1936 issue of The Shadow Magazine.
Jibaro headhunters from South America stalk the streets of New York bringing
gristly death. Their jungle stealth matches even that of the master of the
night, The Shadow. But Manhattan is his jungle, and The Shadow vows to fight
their evil... to the death!
Manuel Fendoza has come from the South American country of Santander to find
Senor Alvarez Rentone. But he doesn't find him. Instead he finds a horrible
death. He is followed from the Hotel Goliath, where he was given a message
allegedly from Rentone. But the message has been booby trapped, and Fendoza is
It's an unusual South American poison that changes the visage of its victim. In
death, he lies on the sidewalk, no longer with human appearance. His eyes are
open, livid, bulging from sunken sockets. They are glaring brown orbs surrounded
by a rim of bloodshot white. His skin is drawn tight across his cheekbones, his
lower jaw sags, his lips twisted into a terrible grimace. He had been killed by
the poison used by the jungle head hunters. The poison used to shrink heads.
A sedan sweeps up to the curb. The door swings open and a hunched, apish figure
scrambles to the curb. He searches the body and removes the poisoned message,
then plunges a knife into the side of the dead body. He then jumps back in the
sedan and speeds from the death scene. A body is left for police; a body that's
horribly shriveled, stabbed through the heart. A body that will puzzle the
So what's it all about? Money, of course. In this case, it's a million dollars.
A vast sum of money that is needed to help the revolution in the small country
of Santander. This (mythical) country borders Ecuador in the northern part of
South America. Alvarez Rentone, grandson of the recently deceased leader, has
come to New York to claim the money long-ago loaned to businessman James
Standing in his way is the evil Emilio Zenjora, heading the opposition faction
in Santander. Zenjora is an outlaw who is attempting to overthrow the
government. He has traveled to New York with his small but stealthy band of
Jibaro Indians. They are determined to stop anyone who is trying to contact
Rentone and help restore the funds that rightfully belong to his family.
Only The Shadow stands in their way. Only The Shadow has determined the true
explanation behind the strange deaths. The Manhattan police are baffled. But The
Shadow knows. The Shadow will protect Alvarez Rentone as he searches for the
mausoleum vault wherein the family treasures are hidden. Treasures that include
notes worth a million dollars as well as family heirlooms and other treasures.
Only The Shadow can defeat the Jibaro death.
Of course, he doesn't do all this alone. He has help. Long-time agent Harry
Vincent shows up to assist, as well as taxi-driver Moe Shrevnitz and Clyde
Burke, reporter for the New York Classic. Also taking part, in smaller roles,
are small crafty-faced Hawkeye, alleged underworld killer Cliff Marsland and
contact man Burbank. Miles Crofton also shows up to pilot The Shadow's autogiro.
It all makes for a full cast.
The Shadow, himself, appears in several disguises as well as his customary black
cloak, slouch hat and gloves. The Lamont Cranston disguise is his favorite, and
is used here to great advantage. Plus, there is one scene in a restaurant where
The Shadow appears as an unnamed man only described as "a tall, calm-faced
individual." In another scene, he is "an elderly man hobbled with a cane."
Sounds like his Phineas Twambley disguise, to me. But the name isn't mentioned,
so we can't be sure.
Let's not forget the strong arm of the law. New York Police Commissioner Ralph
Weston is present in this mystery tale. And also assisting are Inspector Joe
Cardona and detective sergeant Markham. All get plenty of action, here.
The business of killing a victim with head-hunter poison, but then stabbing him
with a knife so that the police wouldn't know he was poisoned... it just left me
puzzled. What was the purpose? If they were going to kill a guy, and wanted the
police to believe him killed by knife-thrust, and they did indeed stab him
through the heart, then why was the poison even necessary?
The way the story explains it, is that that's the way Emilio Zenjora wanted it.
It was to keep the police guessing. Well, I don't know if it confused the
police, but it certainly confused me. It's a unique pulpish touch, but doesn't
really make much sense.
And the method of poisoning strains my credulity a bit, as well. Supposedly the
envelope contains a stiff correspondence card. The paper has been tapered to an
almost knife-edge keenness. The card is painted with the juice of poisonous
herbs known only to the Jibaro head hunters. And supposedly, anyone touching the
card will receive a slight cut and become instantly poisoned.
Death by paper cut! I always knew paper cuts were annoying, but had no idea they
could be fatal. Is it really possible to taper the edge of a card to such
sharpness that a paper cut is almost guaranteed? Again, my credulity is being
stretched to the breaking point. But I guess that was one thing pulp fiction was
good at. You had to suspend your belief in reading those old stories.
A few other points of interest. We are told in various stories that Moe
Shrevnitz drives a cab that can change its appearance. Different stories
describe different gimmicks, such as rotating license plates or changing colors.
In this story, we are told that:
"The cab, itself, was specially equipped for camouflage. The top was down,
making it an open cab instead of a closed one. One of the two rear lights had
been removed. Conspicuous lettering, of washable paint, had been wiped from the
cab's side; also a row of checkered ornamentation had been obliterated. As a
final and most important touch, the license plates had been changed to show a
In some Shadow stories, our hero uses strange rubber suction cups to climb the
outside of building walls. But not always. When the walls are rough enough, he
can dispose of them and climb the walls without apparatus. That's the way it is
here. Since the outside wall was jagged, The Shadow crept to the fourth floor
like a human fly, using his soft soled shoes to maintain a grip.
Time and time again we've been told that The Shadow is a master linguist. There
doesn't seem to be any language he can't understand and speak. But in this
story, he finally encounters one language that eludes him. The language of the
Jibaro Indians is that special tongue. "It was one of the few dialects with
which The Shadow was not familiar; but he noted a similarity to a head-hunter's
language that he had heard before."
The Shadow is known by various names: Ying Ko, L'Ombre and El Ombre. This is the
only time that I can recall in which two of those names are used in the same
novel: L'Ombre and El Ombre. In any other story, it's just one. Never two. Now,
if author Walter Gibson had only found an excuse to use Ying Ko, that would have
made this story truly unique. But alas, he didn't.
Normally, Walter Gibson would stay away from the more gruesome details in his
stories. That was better left to alternate author Theodore Tinsley. But in this
story, Gibson makes an exception and has The Shadow shooting a blazing stream of
bullets through a dead man's body. It hacks up the corpse, literally chopping it
away, so his bullets can get at the master criminal that the body is shielding.
That's pretty unique for a Gibson story.
In one of the coolest scenes in the story, The Shadow has been captured by the
Jibaro head-hunters. His feet are tied securely to the ground; his arms are tied
to saplings, bent to the ground and held in place by the minions of evil. Then
the command is given: "release the saplings!" You can use your imagination as to
what comes next. This particular scene is the one pictured on the cover of the
pulp, and is an effective choice.
This story ends with a short teaser for the story in the next magazine issue.
That was typical in Street & Smith's Doc Savage pulps, but very rare in their
Shadow pulp magazines. This is one of the few Shadow pulp stories in which the
teaser for the next issue is worked into the actual story itself. That next
story, "City of Crime."
It's a fun story from 1936. Just ignore that "death by paper cut" issue, and
enjoy the rest of the mystery. It's definitely a worthwhile read.
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.