John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #87
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Pooltex Tangle" was originally published in the October 1, 1937 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Two foreign governments have sent agents to America to obtain a strange new war material, Pooltex. The Shadow must foil not only gangsters, but the foreign operatives preparing for war.
This is a fun story that doesn’t seem to take long to read, even though it is above-average length for a 1937 Shadow story. Perhaps that is because this story was written by Theodore Tinsley, the alternate Shadow author that Street & Smith brought in for a six-year period. Tinsley excelled at keeping the action going in frenzied style. His stories were usually tinged with elements slightly more fantastic than those of Walter Gibson. There was usually a touch more gore and a touch more titillation. Tinsley emulated Gibson’s style fairly closely, so often readers didn’t know they were reading a different author’s work. If they noticed anything, perhaps it was that the story seemed just a tad more lurid. That could be why the entire story read faster.
Pooltex, the amazing new invention that the entire story is built around is a special cloth that’s fireproof, acid-proof, and to some extent, bulletproof! The most valuable invention for warfare in fifty years. Pretty impressive for a fabric! Just think of the military implications! Mustard gas and flame-throwers would be powerless against soldiers who wore Pooltex uniforms. Its light metallic threads would slow the rip of a bullet and turn an ordinary casualty into a minor flesh wound.
This story was written in 1937, four years before the United States was to enter World War II, but even then everyone knew that war was coming. This story admits it, as it says: “An agent of an enemy nation had arrived secretly in the United States, engaged in a desperate effort to secure the indispensable cloth for his own country. On the outcome of his efforts might rest victory or defeat in the coming war which every one knew was now inevitable.”
Two enemy nations have sent secret agents seeking the secret of this amazing cloth. Rather than come right out and name the countries, the story refers to their agents as “Mr. West” and “Mr. East.” But it’s pretty easy to read between the lines to see that Mr. West represented England and Mr. East represented Germany. Mr. West has placed an enormous bid on the entire output of the Pooltex factory, to be used in his country’s defense. Mr. East has lost out, at least legally. But nothing will stop him from acquiring the secret of Pooltex, so he hires gangsters to hijack the shipment and divert it to his own ships.
But the crooks go too far. As part of their plan to steal a train carload full of Pooltex cloth, it’s necessary to kill an innocent train brakeman. And it turns out that this particular brakeman is actually young Anthony Cardona, nephew of Acting Inspector Joe Cardona of the New York Police. Big mistake! One that they will regret many times over, because it not only brings down the wrath of Joe Cardona on their heads, it also summons the direct involvement of The Shadow!
Much of this story involves trains and rail lines. There’s plenty of action on the train cars as the locomotive pulls the long train across the countryside to deliver the carload of Pooltex. Theodore Tinsley loved to write about trains, and in this story he got the chance to show off his expertise on the subject. It really enhances the story.
There are many other unique touches that mark this story as one written by Theodore Tinsley. He was fond of masked villains, and this story uses one to good advantage. He liked to use underground caverns in his pulp tales; a hidden elevator takes railcars down to a hidden underground rail-yard where stolen freight cars containing Pooltex are stored. Tinsley loved fire; in this story The Shadow along with Joe Cardona and an insurance investigator are trapped in a huge furnace, and the fire jets are lit. And let’s not forget the bad girl. In this story, it’s Viola Kent, a blond actress who has few scruples about crime and violence. In Gibson’s stories, females were nearly always innocent and good. In Tinsley’s novels, they could sometimes be cold-blooded molls or worse.
Tinsley doesn’t do a perfect imitation of Walter Gibson. There are a few errors that pop up here and there. It’s Harry Vincent, in Tinsley’s version, who is the skilled trailer. Perhaps that’s because he needed a suspect to be surreptitiously followed, and Harry Vincent was conveniently available. Gibson would have correctly used Hawkeye for that task. Also, in several places, Tinsley described the black robe that The Shadow wears. Long-time readers know that it was a cloak, not a robe. But the discrepancies are kept to a minimum and don’t affect the enjoyment of the story.
If the author of a Shadow story wasn’t Walter Gibson, do the things we learn about The Shadow really count? Are they to be taken as canon? That’s always been a concern when I read a Tinsley novel. Some things I obviously discount; The Shadow wears a cloak, not a robe. But when Tinsley writes that The Shadow keeps a luxurious suite on an upper floor of the Cobalt Club, do I believe him? It doesn’t contradict what Walter Gibson had written, so I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt. We’re also told The Shadow owns a garage in east Manhattan under the name of a dummy corporation. Something to be used by his agents in an emergency. Again, it’s not inconsistent with Gibson’s portrayal of The Shadow, so I’ll accept it.
Only a subset of The Shadow’s agents appear in this story. Burbank, ever-dependable contact man, is present. Clyde Burke appears in several different scenes. Harry Vincent appears early on, but is gone by half-way through the story. Hackie Moe Shrevnitz makes a fun appearance, getting in a little gunplay along the way. No sign of Rutledge Mann, Cliff Marsland or Hawkeye, however.
New York Police Acting Inspector Joe Cardona has a large part in this tale, since it all hinges upon his search for vengeance for those who killed his nephew. Commissioner Ralph Weston makes a brief appearance in the beginning of the story, as he sympathizes with Cardona on his loss, and gives him permission to take a leave of absence. No other recurring characters appear.
As for The Shadow himself, he appears as his usual black-cloaked (or black-robed, as Tinsley would have it) self. He also appears as Lamont Cranston. No mention is made of Kent Allard, even though Walter Gibson had explained the Allard origin story two months earlier. Apparently Tinsley wasn’t quite up to speed yet on the Allard angle, so in his story, it seems that The Shadow is actually Lamont Cranston. Luckily, in future stories, Tinsley would acknowledge that The Shadow as really Kent Allard. By the end of the next year, in “Double Death,” Tinsley would be writing Allard into his Shadow tales.
It’s interesting to note that Tinsley makes veiled reference to The Shadow’s interrogation methods. When referring to a captured thug, he writes: “Chip could be depended upon to react as other crooks always reacted to The Shadow’s methods of extracting true underworld information.” This seems to be an implied mention of some type of torture that The Shadow uses. Of course, nothing further in said regarding the matter, but it is consistent with Tinsley’s trend to involve torture.
There’s plenty of action in this story. And not just fist fights and gunplay, either. Bodies are thrown into quicksand. Men are tossed from a train. The Shadow is trapped in a tank about to be filled with acid. Three innocent victims about to be decapitated. Three more about to be roasted alive inside a furnace. Clyde Burke hides a razor blade in his mouth, then engages in knock-down battle in which fists crash against his jaw, rocking his head. Yeewwwww!
And there’s brief sexual allusion when we are told that beautiful young Lily Wallace is being blackmailed: “He framed me with lying photographs - horrible nude pictures that he made by superimposing one picture’s head on the body of another. The fake picture was then rephotographed on a new negative and prints developed from that.” Ah, for the innocent days before Photoshop.
This is a great pre-war adventure of The Shadow, written by The Shadow’s alternate author, Theodore Tinsley. He was really beginning to hit his stride, after three earlier stories. You should read this one if for no other reason than to see how Tinsley interpreted Gibson’s characters. It’s pretty good. It’s a thrilling pulp novel that I know you’ll enjoy.
"Death Turrets" was published in the November 1, 1937 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The turrets are atop the old, sprawling mansion known as Five Towers. Death will strike at the mansion. Not just once, but again and again! And only The Shadow will be able to pierce the mystery surrounding the sinister deaths.
Our story begins as wealthy young Roderick Talroy is lured to Five Towers by a fake telegram. But once there, he meets the residents of the old chateau. Young Lucille Merrith is the first person he meets. She and her aunt Augusta Merrith have been visiting for a week.
He soon meets George Brendaw, the owner of Five Towers. Brendaw inheritied the large estate from a distant relative Lionel Brendaw. Also living in the mansion is inventor Robert Lenley. He’s working on a synthetic motor fuel in his basement laboratory. And then there’s Titus, the calm middle-aged servant.
There are five residents of Five Towers. Roderick Talroy makes six. And soon, a seventh arrives. Rufus Fant, elderly attorney, is also lured to Five Towers by a fake telegram. Just why has some mysterious figure brought these seven people together? For murder!
First to die is Roderick Talroy. An unseen figure in a darkened room attacks young Roderick. There is a gunshot and Roderick Talroy lies dead on the floor of his second-floor room. One is dead; but there will be more!
The sheriff is called. He shows up with Kent Allard, the famous explorer who we know to be the true identity of The Shadow. Yes, The Shadow is on the scene. But even The Shadow can’t stop the upcoming murders. Who is the murderer? What are his or her motives?
It’s a tight little mystery, with few additional characters and few additional suspects. Assisting The Shadow is newspaper man Clyde Burke who is brought into the story at its midpoint. None of The Shadow’s other agents appear in this story, nor do any recurring characters representing the law. No mention of Commissioner Weston, Detective Cardona or even federal agent Vic Marquette. The local sheriff is the only law present.
The Shadow doesn’t appear in any disguise, here. He appears as his true self, Kent Allard. And, of course, he also appears in his black-cloaked garb. But I wouldn’t consider that a disguise. That’s just his “other” self.
Clyde Burke works with Kent Allard in this story, but doesn’t know that he’s The Shadow. He may suspect that Allard is The Shadow, but rather doubts it. He just knows that The Shadow is on the scene, and has directed him to work with Allard. The Shadow’s true identity remains a secret.
I must say I guessed the identity of the mystery killer early on. Not to take anything away from Walter Gibson’s plotting. But I recognized a similar plot from a 1980’s episode of TV’s “Murder She Wrote.” Gibson’s version, of course, predated the television show by fifty years.
But suspecting the identity of the killer in advance, allowed me to see Gibson’s mastery of misdirection. All the clues are there to be seen, if only you can interpret them correctly. My respect for Walter Gibson’s writing abilities grew, after finishing this story.
This is an enjoyable little murder mystery. There are no plots to take over the world. No gangsters and underworld killings. No saboteurs or secret agents. Just seven people in an old mansion being killed off one by one. And a hidden murderer bent on more mayhem.
There are trap doors, secret passages, hidden rooms, sliding panels and death traps! The rain comes down outside as The Shadow prowls the darkness inside. Now that’s pulp!