The Shadow Magazine Vol. 1 No. 58 – Chain of Death (Review)

shadow_magazine_vol_1_58This is a solid middle-ranking Shadow story, so it’s an automatic 8/10. There aren’t many outstanding moments, and there is the inimitably incompetent presence of Harry Vincent (dude, your boss doubled back to rescue you, left you standing over an unconscious enemy with a gun in your hand, and still you manage to get knocked out and let him escape) which I’m petty enough to bump the rating down half a star for.  (Seriously.)

Nevertheless, that’s still eight out of ten. There’s still a grim, fire-eyed avenger in the night, laughing in the teeth of danger and the face of evil, with twin, mammoth automatics in each black-gloved fist; there’s still innocents to rescue and reputations to save; and there’s still sinister, dastardly, malicious and cunning villains to face and defeat, even though The Shadow must uncover, link by link, the hidden chain of death itself! And also (sigh) Harry Vincent.

So. The 80-page saga begins with young Howard Norwyn, a junior investment broker, signing in at the security desk to enter his employer’s office after hours. Unfortunately, by the time he reaches the office, his employer is dead and the actual murderer proceeds–with obvious, and perfect preplanning–to implicate Norwyn for the crime, and disappear. Fortunately, The Shadow arrives before the police do, susses out the scene, and whisks Norwyn away to safety. Norwyn, unlike some of his ilk, proves cooperative and listens quietly to Lamont Cranston, eccentric globe-trotting millionaire, at his offer of help–little knowing, of course, that, the hawkish, masklike face of Lamont Cranston is one of many that The Shadow sometimes wears.

Meanwhile, an old man dies and, as a reward for faithful (hopeful) service by his conniving young secretary, wills him not money but a secret legacy: original stock and a controlling interest in Crime, Incorporated….

You see, Crime, Incorporated (also nee: Aztec Mines), has a unique method of forming, carrying out, and avoiding consequences for, cunning crimes that might draw suspicion. Each shareholder in Crime, Incorporated knows only two others. They communicate by cipher–a cipher designed to confound the most expert cryptographer. They are men with education, means, and competencies. They are geographically widespread. They have nothing in common, save the penchant to acquire other people’s wealth by whatever means are necessary, and this complete disconnect allows them to assist or abet in crimes without bringing suspicion on themselves. And they have not yet been suspected.

Needless to say, Crime, Incorporated gets its board dissolved in a hostile takeover when The Shadow glides into the fray:

 I spoke of a menace, I shall name it. Crime Incorporated has finished its career. The menace that you face will bring destruction.

Again, this book doesn’t have any jawdropping reveals or astounding action beats; the standout scene is when The Shadow materializes on a smuggler’s boat in mid-ocean with an eerie laugh, and proceeds to completely dominate the fight and take over command despite being weaponless at the onset. The small-fry smugglers are so cowed that, The Shadow ashore with the recaptured loot, they nearly wreck their boat trying to get away again.

The bulk of the mystery plot is given to solving the cryptograms by which Crime, Incorporated communicate with each other. Each message from a stockholder is doubled: a trivial one in a code made of circles, and the real one, in a code made of blocks. The circled code can be solved easily with by frequency analyses, but the block code is much more difficult; in conjunction with a simple code, the harder one is meant to make experts think it is a blind. Nevertheless, there are experts…and The Shadow.

Since the villains end up dead and there’s not a huge role to be played by The Shadow’s agents (sigh), there aren’t really any standout characters in this one; Joe Cardona does his thing, as does Burbank, and they stay in the background.

All this seems like damning with faint praise, but it’s really not. It’s a perfectly solid, perfectly-paced, perfectly-scripted, -drawn, and -laid out, compulsively readable pulp-noir novel.

Rated: I am the menace.

8 thoughts on “The Shadow Magazine Vol. 1 No. 58 – Chain of Death (Review)

    1. 🙂
      Largely, Gibson does manage to refrain from doing that! It’s one of the things that really makes The Shadow books stand head and shoulders over everyone elses’ pulp creations IMHO: that his plots aren’t moved solely by people being idiots. Characters generally *try* to do the logical/smart thing….it’s just that they often fail/have the wrong information/trip over a rug/etc, and *therefore* the plot continues.

      Like

  1. Harry Vincent slurps up all the stupidity factor. Without him, the author would be forced to make more competent characters act out of character. So I think we should all stand and give Harry a big round of applause. Never has so much stupidity deserved so much praise!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. See, even Harry isn’t *stupid*, he just has all the weight of the narrative fail factor applied to him at every step and turn. He’s about as smart as your average dogged noir detective who gets played for a sap by everyone up to and including the vicar-running-the-orphanage-which-is-also-a-tax-dodge and who gets slugged on the head every other chapter….but without the bit in the end where he gets to turn the tables and Figure It All Out. The Shadow gets to do that. Harry Vincent just gets the lumps.

      Liked by 1 person

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