So. One of the ways that The Shadow’s mysterious ways remained mysterious is by not including his point of view. He is shown, in certain stories, either as a gliding, cloaked-and-hatted shape through the, uh, somewhat dispassionate lens of the omniscient narrator–observing and describing his actions but offering little concrete commentary on his motivations.
Some books don’t even have an alter-ego for The Shadow–only spectral laughter and sinister whispers; some books have him assume an entirely new personality for the length of the story, discarding it and revealing himself only to thwart evil at the climax.
Alternatively, sight of The Shadow is filtered through the eyes of a POV character…who is generally far, far from omniscient. This contributes to the overall mystery (since they are generally baffled and/or completely wrong about their deductions,) or to the plot (because Harry Vincent is going to a) get clobbered and kidnapped, b) screw up his mission. Sigh.)
In this case, the narrative viewpoint largely follows Joe Cardona, currently an Acting Inspector and generally regarded as the ace sleuth of New York City’s police force–largely because of assistance from a certain black-clad force of justice and vengeance that he cannot formally admit exists, especially to his skeptic boss. “Mox” is Jarvis Moxton, a wealthy speculator whose name soon becomes of interest to investigators looking into the death of contracting agent, Schuyler Harlew. (How that happens is admittedly via a long, long shot, but for such deductions is The Shadow famed.) It transpires that Mox–Moxton–has been locating inventors of promising but underfunded projects, luring them to his countryside lair with promises of money and support, and there–at the stroke of midnight–destroying them! The Shadow puts the pieces together just a tad too late to save another unlucky victim, but he vows that no others will so die!
He succeeds, too, in a brief-but-awesome battle that a) saves an innocent life, b) decimates Mox’s henchmen, c) reveals Mox’s true nature to local authorities, and d) forces Mox into flight. Local authorities, in the person of the cool and cantankerous Sheriff Junius Tharbel, soon seem to have cracked open the case–much to the displeasure of the visiting Joe Cardona, who begins a bitter and one-sided rivalry as a result–but the question still remains to be solved as to where–or who–of the suspects Mox truly is. Junius Tharbel has jurisdiction; he also has the scoop. And a material witness. And also a dog….and yet who seemingly has more interest in going off huntin’ with his country hick friends (you know: the short fat one and the tall thin one) than in tracking down Mox.
The dog is a Dalmatian by the way, which are not actually great pets. They have a high prey drive and can be very aggressive. Also, they have a congenital tendency to deafness and need special food because they also have a tendency to kidney disease. Anyway, the dog is also a material witness in the case. But how does Junius Tharbel actually plan to crack this case–and, more importantly, does The Shadow?
I’ve also talked at length before about how Walter B. Gibson never cheapens his work by letting The Shadow’s power level vary strategically with circumstances. It’s never conveniently just one notch above his current adversaries: it’s always at eleven. Sometimes The Shadow mows through opponents easily: if, for instance, he’s up against a handful of disunified, poorly-coordinated mooks in a dimly-lit area, or if he gets into a hand-to-hand fight with someone whose only combat experience is brawling with other thugs. Sometimes, he struggles rather more–giant Mongol henchmen are always a toughie; and gangsters prepared with anti-Shadow ordnances such as machine guns and spotlights, definitely make things very hot indeed. And sometimes he does get flat-out beaten to the punch, such as when he attempted to jump a squad of Japanese jiu-jitsu masters, or accidentally triggered a voice-activated murder robot.
But when The Shadow is on the struggling side, Gibson never cheats on his behalf to even things back up. Mongol warriors don’t suddenly lose their fighting skills or their brains; they get outmaneuvered, or they end up fighting Jericho Druke, or they get shot. Murder robots…actually, I forget how that one got solved, that was kind of weird. Spotlights get shot out. Carloads of crooks get sniped from mobile or covered positions; they don’t all die, but they are scattered and forced to retreat. Ninja masters get the snot scared out of them in a darkened room and The Shadow gets his last laugh. There’s a real-world logic to the winning of these conflicts that lends them–no matter how outlandish the situation–a verisimilitude, a weight and tension, that’s absent from other stories of the kind.
Clyde Burke liaises with Cardona and Tharbel, and The Shadow glides about in the background, communicating via phone calls and whispers so sinister his own agent gets the chills. There’s a spidery henchman who kills on the stroke of midnight, a death-pit, hidden rooms, secret identities, and red herrings galore.
And so it goes.
This is really a superb Shadow story, so much so that it received a follow-up, Crime County, several years later, starring Junius Tharbel and a dog named–Mox.