The Shadow Magazine #7 – The Silent Seven

shadow_magazine_vol_1_7So, on The Shadow’s seventh outing (published in February of 1932), he confronts and finishes an enemy organization actually revealed in the previous book, The Death Tower.

In The Death Tower, we learn that there is an organization known as the Faithful Fifty, that they are in many places and many positions throughout New York City–one is revealed to be a police detective, who, in the presence of certain symbols or signs, covers up evidence and releases suspects–and that they serve the Silent Seven. Very little more is revealed about them, as The Death Tower deals more with the singular evil of Doctor Palermo and his wicked scheme, whatever it was, something to do with jewels, I think?  He was also kind of a weeb.

Walter Gibson expanded on the idea in this, the following book–although this is not immediately apparent. Aside from the title, I guess.

Anyhow, the story opens with an elderly man returning to his New York home when his servants report of burglary attempts–on one occasion hearing, on the other, actually seeing, an intruder. Nothing seems to be missing, but yet the man (Henry Marchand) seems to be in mortal dread as he returns, a fear that does not lessen as enters his study to check the safety of some secret that is known only to him.

Henry Marchand does not leave that room alive; and while his death by poison needle in the catch of the secret desk drawer is promptly attributed to misadventure (by Inspector Klein, Joe Cardona still being a mere detective and his hunches not having gained their due fame). Marchand’s friend and confidante Dr. Lukens is however convinced that the mysterious scrawled code revealed in that desk drawer has a meaning and a connection. Cardona agrees, but with the cause of death already established, can do little more than have the code analyzed. Meanwhile, Lukens looks after the disposition of his former friend’s estate, helped by his secretary, annoyed by one Rodney Paget, a lounging young clubman who seems to turn up because he has nothing better to do, but then who should surely have better manners than to snoop as obviously as he does; and then startled by the entrance of The Shadow.

The Shadow has deduced that Marchand was murdered, and the death cleverly framed to deflect blame on the absent-minded victim. Further, Marchand was killed for whatever he had hidden in the desk–and the code is not it. In fact, the code is a complete fake, intended to defer suspicion when investigators find an empty drawer. Who the murderer is, The Shadow does not yet know; but he expects Lukens’ help in finding justice. Lukens agrees–with the caveat that he also immediately attempts to sic the police on this eerie visitor–but, before he, or The Shadow can make further discoveries, is abruptly murdered.

Everyone (including The Shadow, who in the obligatory tussle with the flatfoots loses his guns in order that they can be ballistic-tested against the bullet that killed Lukens) has an alibi for this killing, and even the irritating man-about-town Rodney Paget seems to be in the clear, when:

RODNEY PAGET finished breakfast in his usual leisurely fashion. He took a bath and dressed. It was afternoon when he prepared to leave the apartment. Burnham was still sleeping.
Paget handed Kama a ten-dollar bill before he left.
“What time did the clock say when I came in?” he asked.
“Clockee strike halfee past eight,” came the parrotlike reply.
Paget rode along Eighty-first Street in a taxicab. He gazed curiously from the window as he passed the brownstone house where Doctor Lukens had died. He noticed a policeman standing by the front steps.
A faint smile appeared upon Paget’s lips.
Reaching in the watch pocket of his trousers, the clubman drew forth an object and held it in his half-closed hand. It was the scarab ring which Doctor Lukens had worn the night before—the ring which had once belonged to Henry Marchand.
Still smiling, Paget replaced the ring in his pocket. Calmly and leisurely, he opened his cigarette case and removed a cigarette. He put it carefully in the long holder.
Rodney Paget was puffing slowly and contentedly when the cab stopped in front of the Merrimac Club.

A huge part of why any hero is successful is because he has a good villain to play off against; and Paget is the sort of villain who would make a decent hero. He’s intelligent, cool under pressure, cultured and genteel; and he’s an underdog who is playing the game against the big boys, as a newcomer, with missing cards–but who still plays to win. (He doesn’t win.) (But still.)

Another part of why the villainy in this story hits home is because it’s a…surprisingly realistic, shall we say, depiction of a powerful secret society of criminals. It’s not super over the top: there’s fifty-seven people in this conspiracy, rather than hundreds, because….how do you stay secret with hundreds of followers? They’re present enough to be threatening, and they have enough gadgets, secret passages, signs and countersigns, to be all spooky secret society–but none of these run into the “gigantic labyrinth underneath Chinatown that somehow no one knows about even though it’s a tremendous fire hazard,” or, “I thought this place was abandoned, why does it have a massive electric bill?” trap. When they think someone’s spying on one of their assets, they lay a trap for him with a four- or five-man team, not an endless wave of fanatic mooks. The final battle doesn’t include withering fire from massed machine guns, but it’s well-aimed enough that if you step out of cover you get shot. The Seven, revealed, are an equal mix of politicians, gangsters, bankers, and (hah) academics. Their aim is power and money, rather than world domination. They rob banks and blackmail millionaires. Simple, and effective.

But back to Paget: having a demonstrably cool, collected character as an antagonist and showing them at their best–dealing with cops, mooks, and the other villains–is a great way to build up your hero by then turning the page and showing how utterly he freaks people out when they know he’s after them.

“I had a dream that same night—a dream that something was threatening me. I woke up and thought some one was in the room. But I could find no one there. The next night I dreamed again. When I awoke and looked toward the window I could see nothing. It seemed as though some great, black shape was looming in front of me. Then it disappeared and was gone.
“Since then every shadow has worried me -”
Paget’s voice stopped. He stared at the window of the room as though expecting to see some monstrous shape sweep aside the shade.
“If my enemy is real,” said Paget in a tense, hoarse whisper, “I can meet him. But when I have never even seen him -“

As mentioned, the earliest Shadow novels lean into a stage magician-like blend of invisibility (The Shadow either uses very simple disguises and an aura of authority to blend in, or he’s a full-on weird shapeless blot of darkness in the night, etc) that sometimes hits the actually uncanny. One of the inspirations of the character was–believe it or not, Dracula–and there’s a bit near the end of this story that seems to nod to Old Red Eyes’ powers. The Shadow himself plays this up with his dialogue when he speaks to Lukens–or, to the revealed First of the Silent Seven. Interestingly, though, he’s less formal on the phone with Burbank–either because Gibson hadn’t quite developed the communications style (“Report!”), or because he tends to trust and rely more heavily on Burbank than his other agents.

Because much of the novel is told from Pagets’ POV, there’s less of The Shadow’s agents; but (sigh) Harry Vincent and Clyde Burke appear and….are frankly almost totally useless. I mean, it’s not as if either of them had any formal training for this job and if you’re going to have trusted agents shouldn’t they also be highly skilled? Or at least assigned to jobs that they’re suited for, generally? I mean, Rutledge Mann stays in his office the majority of the time, clipping newspapers, and Burbank does his thing with gadgets; what was the idea with just recruiting two random guys off the street and having them tail mobsters–who are used to spotting and dealing with this kind of thing, fatally? Really when you think about it, The Shadow is just setting these guys up for failure.

Naturally the final chapter involves dragging Harry Vincent out of a death trap.

So, anyhow: is very a good, very solid early Shadow story, despite the accurate yet lackluster cover.

Rated: If Number Five is dead, you cannot be Number Five. If you are the man who took the ring from the thief, you must be–

DALL·E 2022-09-29 17.41.29

13 thoughts on “The Shadow Magazine #7 – The Silent Seven

      1. Over on Dix’s blog (The Film Authority), Boba Fett is always the correct answer. so I thought I’d try it here.
        Because I still have no idea what this Dall-E fella has to do with anything.

        Liked by 1 person

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