TLDR: it’s Harry Vincent’s finest hour.
Since the 1942-batch of novels was heavy going, I zigged back to this one. It was published in 1936 and showcases The Shadow and his agents at the top of their game. Cliff Marsland, Rutledge Mann, Hawkeye, and Jericho Druke get some pagetime. Even Burbank gets a chance to get some fresh air, taking up a field operations post in New Jersey and running mission control for Vic Marquette and the G-men.
So I’ve reported at length about the taut pacing and easy to follow, fast-moving plots Walter B. Gibson had pretty much perfected. I’ve also mentioned that his characterization skills benefited, rather than suffered, from brevity. With less leeway for self-indulgence, only the most relevant, vivid, and memorable traits of each character are showcased, and these are shown only in service of moving the plot forward. So Hawkeye is the best trailer and spotter in the business: he finds his man and trails him without anybody any the wiser, uncovering vital clues. Cliff Marsland is a gunman who walks his own trail in the badlands, and is cool as a cat while the bullets are flying. Burbank is a technological wizard with nerves of absolute tungsten and an unflappably methodical manner. Unlike some other pulp novels (by which I mean: Doc Savage), The Shadow isn’t a huge gadgeteer even though he does stay on the cutting edge of aeronautic developments. The most complicated device he or his agents carry normally is a flashlight. This is one of the exceptions, as Harry Vincent is sent off undercover equipped with a miniature radio transmitter which The Shadow and Burbank use their own send/receiving stations to triangulate in on and discover the secret Citadel of the hidden Yellow Door. It’s smart, but feels entirely grounded.
Oh yeah, and then there’s Harry Vincent (sigh). Actually, though, as remarked above, Harry Vincent actually lives up to his moniker as The Shadow’s “most competent agent” in this book, hardly at all making a misstep until the 94% marker, and that barely through any fault of his own, and then also taking on his direct antagonist, and contributing to the big shot villain’s demise by lead injection. Not bad for our boy who usually is the resident punching bag. (There is also another Shadow story wherein Harry Vincent makes a triumphal exit from an underground lair shirtless, waving a gun, with a disheveled damsel clinging to him…but he’s done like 2% of the work in that particular instance, and also I just can’t take that mental image seriously. I mean, it’s Harry Vincent. Come on.) Still! He does good in this book. Let us not forget this.
Okay, so. The other part of why earlier plots feel more grounded and competent is because…they are. Instead of having a so-called detective who be led by the nose from obvious clue to obvious clue (looking at you, Bruce), The Shadow actually investigates. He tails suspects, confirms theories, and, well, he would have interrogated the suspects, too, if they hadn’t ended up eating a bullet in the ensuing gunfight. Ah well. What’s more, since this case is fairly simple and because The Shadow has almost an inside man on the job, the complicating twists are almost entirely supplied by forces which The Shadow cannot reasonably predict: Police Commissioner Weston and his attempts at detectiving.
Our game begins to foot with the entrance of James Dynoth, who has just murdered the wealthy businessman Peter Gildare and returned to his home preparatory to fleeing to the safety of the Citadel. He is given twenty minutes to pack and depart. About fifteen minutes in, he turns around to find an ominous black-clad figure standing behind him. The Shadow was too late to save the dying man, but not too late to hear his dying words. Among these words were “The Yellow Door.” We are about to find out exactly what this means when twenty past eight hits and a) Dynoth’s nerve gives out and he crunches his suicide capsule, b) a machine gun opens up on the house, c) the house explodes. The Shadow escapes with some injury, but does have a lead to follow up on: a man named Ferris Krode, who works in Cleveland and knows about The Yellow Door.
Meanwhile, millionaire businessman Dudley Birklam is confiding in Vic Marquette. Birklam has been approached by a man named Ferris Krode and warned that certain courses of action will lead to trouble for him and his business. He fears that Krode is involved with the prior deaths, of which Gildare’s was typical. Marquette promises government protection to big business, because of course he does.
The Shadow has carried this deduction still further, and has a man on the spot. And it’s Harry Vincent. Now, normally this would result in Harry getting slugged over the head, kidnapped, or shot at, but in this case Harry actually manages not only to bluff Krode into thinking that he’s there for the 11:00 meeting with “Mandon,” he also turns around and manages to convince the real Mandon that he’s Krode, uncovering valuable information the entire time.
The Yellow Door is a secret society of blackmailers, saboteurs, and industrial spies, running a multi-industry racket. It’s also an actual door, in a place called the Citadel, where the big shot is. Krode is the highest ranking man that The Shadow or Harry Vincent are able to discover, but he isn’t the big shot. And if he isn’t, who is…? The Shadow intends to find out, although he is substantially hindered at critical points by the not-so-cunning plans of Commissioner Weston. Like, seriously, Commissioner, stick to the budget and presiding over official breakfasts.
Another great thing is that having a proactive hero makes it easier to showcase that hero’s competence, as well. The Shadow already has a plan in place for the final battle–position the G-Men and have them rush in guns blazing once he, Burbank, and Harry Vincent have collaborated to locate the Citadel–but when he gets the information that the perimeter fence is electrified and the surrounding hillside is mind, The Shadow instantly adjusts his plans and orders his forces accordingly.
Overall, this story seems as though the author enjoyed writing it. There’s an eagerness to the descriptions and plot, and a relish to the action–and even a few witty flourishes, such as his description of Guzzler’s Joint:
The proprietor was leaning on the bar, his fat arms folded, surveying the customers with a pleasant grin. To Guzzler, the middle line of the room was like the bars of a cage; on one side, the monkeys – on the other, visitors to the zoo. In comparing the boastful thugs and the society habitues, Guzzler had never yet decided which were the apes and which the humans. Guzzler was philosophical as well as imaginative.
Rated: I liked this book and reading it made me happy.
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