For anyone else, this would be a mid-tier gangster story. The Continental Op could comfortably swagger up and start either throwing hands or throwing insults at any point in time and fit right in. But, since this is Walter B. Gibson (nee Maxwell Grant…or maybe vice versa), what results is quite a superior little novella that includes disguises, gun battles, corrupt politicians, disgruntled inventors, martial law, capeswishing, and ends with the requisite distant, triumphant, sinister laugh.
So The Shadow dealt with quite a wide range of crime and criminals, from common murderers and bankrobbers, to racketeers, jewelry thieves and organized gangsters; he also investigated and resolved quite a lot of white-collar crime, too. As you can imagine, the intersection between these genres also provided a lot of fun, too. This isn’t even the only “crime has its own HR department” story in The Shadow’s oeuvre: there’s Wizard of Crime (the 1943 one, there are actually two novels with this title, one of which can’t be found for love or money); Crime, Insured; Chain of Death; and probably others I haven’t gotten to, yet, or have forgotten. Of course, we are disregarding in this count any organization which does not include standard business attire for its meetings.
We start a bang. Actually several bangs, as disgraced business magnate Ludwig Meldon attempts to relate his exculpatory story to a notary public. Meldon has been financially ruined by a disastrous business trade, with another company, purchasing solid stock at way below the market value, wins hugely. Except that the supposed benefactor of this scenario also soon undertakes an insane loss, transferring the funds still further, into the eventual control of the cunning criminal we–and The Shadow–soon come to know as Intimidation, Incorporated.
The Shadow arrives too late to prevent the murder, but soon enough to study the evidence that the cover-up crew (who helpfully identify themselves as minions of local mob boss Sack Balban) shortly after manage to disguise with a firebomb. So it’s off to round two, as globe-trotting multimillionaire and investor of random large cash payouts to worthy causes, Lamont Cranston, saunters into town. The Shadow isn’t able to prevent the previous payout from reaching Intimidation, Incorporated, but he is able to study the criminal’s methods in real time. Cranston is privy to the scene when the four men who hold the key to the wealth of the city of Dorchester receive a threat from Intimidation, Incorporated. DA-elect and….rather spineless lawyer Elwood Clewis, radio announcer Ray Bursard, manufacturer Newell Radbourne, and “bewhiskered” Mayor Jonathan Wrightley all fold like wet rags when instructed to accept an inflated bid for an important contract. Intimidation, Incorporated is thorough in his work, carefully threatening all parties involved–the high bidder, who was instructed how much to bid for and will be forced to pay over the excess funds; the low bidder, who was (wait for it) intimidated into dropping out of the race; and the city bigwigs, who are threatened with death by bomb if they don’t accept and pay out city funds to the contractor with the higher bid–and promptly announce the fact publically.
With people like this in charge of the city, you kind of realize how come it’s in the state it is, and why Intimidation, Incorporated has been so successful.
SHAKILY, the committee men arose. Bursard was the first to reach the door. He tried the knob, looked startled when he found that it still failed to turn.
The Shadow, strolling up as a spectator, took hold of the knob and gave it a firm twist.
“It wasn’t locked at all!” ejaculated Radbourne, who saw the action. “The inside knob was merely tightened, so that it would stick.”
“It fooled me,” expressed Clewiss, angrily; then he added to Bursard: “But you fell for it, too.”
“I did,” gritted Bursard, “but I’ll be a fool no longer!”
Striding across the room, Bursard grabbed up the microphone that stood on the corner table. The other committee members gaped when they saw a loose cord follow the instrument.
The microphone was not attached to any circuit!
Clewiss, not to be outdone, made a dive for the rug beneath the table. He yanked it away. Instead of a bomb-filled hole, the viewers saw solid floor. Like the door and the microphone, the bomb threat was a bluff!
Four angry men went into a huddle.
The calm Mr. Cranston is also there when they decide that a) even if the threat wasn’t real, b) the embarrassment would be if we admitted it, so, c) let’s all keep our mouths shut about this. Again the obvious suspect is Sack Balban.
The Shadow therefore pays a visit that evening to Sack Balban–in the disguise of famed gunman and racketeer Link Delvo. Since Sack runs his joint with a veneer of respectability, he has quite the fancy office, with a solid door dividing him from the boys in the back room. Link Delvo is jawing with second-fiddle Nobby (heh) Kilgan until the boss finishes meeting with a front-door visitor–one of the four big-shots of Dorchester–the one who shifted the blame on the Intimidation, Incorporated business to Sack Balban, and is currently demanding a 50-50 split of the racketeers’ gains in the city, and therefore the one who is actually behind it all. Unfortunately, by the time Sack susses this out, he’s been cleverly murdered by Intimidation, Incorporated, who escapes without any of the others knowing his name or identity.
Does The Shadow know?
Either way, as Intimidation, Incorporated maneuvers to steal $200,000 from Newell Radbourne via threatening both the elderly but stalwart Judge Noy and the plaintiff’s as-previously-mentioned spineless lawyer Elwood Clewiss, The Shadow adroitly steps in and freaking steals the money right back. The rest of the book is a cat-and-mouse game as The Shadow sets up, step by step, to trap the audacious and greedy criminal red-handed. Oh, and to also expose all petty crime, graft, and racketeering in the town as well and get that scum off the streets, too. And it’s kind of delightful as the author gleefully points out how Intimidation, Incorporated, must be fuming to have his own tactics used against him, while highlighting the entirely deadpan style in which The Shadow proceeds to issue (and ignore) typewritten threats.
WHEN he reached the hotel room, The Shadow opened his portable typewriter and wrote himself a note, addressed in simple, direct style to Lamont Cranston.
The note specified that he should take the plane that left Dorchester at noon, without the two hundred thousand dollars that he had received from Newell Radbourne.
The instructions added that he was to leave the money in a suitcase in the hotel room, with his other luggage; therefore, he was not to check out of the Dorchester House. He was to leave the door unlocked, so that whoever wished could enter.
The letter threatened death if instructions were not followed. It added that the recipient was to destroy the note. When he had finished the letter, The Shadow signed it in capitals with the name “INTIMIDATION INCORPORATED.”
The Shadow then proceeded to disobey his own instructions.
Today’s tropes and general feeling towards rich bankers, financiers, or factory owners being what they are, I feel the need to point out the interesting fact that quite often The Shadow is protecting wealthy businessmen–generally from other wealthy businessmen, but sometimes from thuggish lowlifes, overeager shareholders, or overeager relatives who are shareholders–without any of today’s nice ideas about redistributionism. Legitimately acquired wealth–up to and including the ornate jewels owned by vacuous dowagers and ditzy socialites–is seen as the legitimate property of its owners, who deserve to keep and quietly enjoy it. (Or display it conspicuously whilst walking down dark alleys, but hey. Free country.) A quaint notion that absolutely would not survive in the current day, where property is for me but not for thee.
Of course, another quaint notion is the noblesse oblige shown by good-coded characters. Honorable business magnates pay their servants well and contribute to charities; they deal honestly and honorably with each other; they avoid underhanded tactics. Newell Radbourne was taken to court by a disgruntled inventor, but having seen proof of the man’s case, he’s willing to settle for a more reasonable sum–entirely voluntarily. Especially notable is the globe-trotting multimillionaire Lamont Cranston, who quietly funds many a philanthropic endeavor, such as personally paying for retired crooks to go to an exclusive Caribbean island…
So is bravery, responsibility, and trust in civic institutions, even while examining how weak men can create (wait for it) bad times. Judge Noy, although shaken by a death threat, steels himself and is prepared to render an entirely fair judgement for the inventor–if only Elwood Clewiss hadn’t absolutely thrown the case. Judge Noy is also instrumental in authorizing the city-wide cleanup that destroys the low-level rackets and petty crime that plagued Dorchester.
This book (#116) falls in the middle of what I originally registered as a decided slump, a joltingly poor run in an until-then triumphant five years’ worth of increasingly good pulp novels. I’m slowly revisiting most of these books and finding them to be pretty damn good (although Washington Crime is just straight-up embarrassing.) This is the point where The Shadow shifted from a terrifying, faceless agent of merciless justice, to a more human, humane, conventionally-understandable superhero. The Shadow is more directly identified as “wealthy globe-trotter Lamont Cranston” and spends more time with his face on-screen and less often seen through the eyes of awed or just plain clueless (i.e., Harry Vincent) agents or proxy heroes. As time wore on, he became ever more humanized and less powerful; here, though, he’s still impassive, keen-eyed and inscrutable, evading mooks with ease, vanishing from death traps with nothing more than a trailing whispered laugh, and materializing out of the darkness to thwart maddened murderers like the specter of Vengeance itself. And highly entertaining it is to read, too.
Rated: Yours very truly,
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