Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, September 20, 2019


The Silent Death by "Maxwell Grant" (Walter B. Gibson), first published in The Shadow Magazine, Volume 5, #3, April 1, 1933

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

The Shadow knows, that's for sure.  Since 1930, the mysterious figure has been the subject of radio programs, a magazine series, books, comic books, comic strips, television, film series, video games, and at lest five feature films.  The Shadow has been one of the most enduring adventure heroes of the last 79 years.

He began in radio. as the narrator of Detective Story Hour, a program designed to boost the sales of Street and Smith's Detective Story Magazine.  When listeners demanded a magazine for the character, the publisher decided to create such a magazine and hired Water B. Gibson to write the twice-monthly novel-length stories.  The Shadow debuted in print on April 1, 1931.  In all, Gibson wrote 282 (out of 325; the others were written by Lester Dent, Theodore Tinsley, Bruce Elliott, and Richard Wormser) Shadow novels for the magazine by the time the magazine ceased publicstion with the Summer 1949 issue.  Decades later, The Shadow appeared in a series of paperback original novels, the first written by Gibson and the others by Dennis Lynds, all under the "Maxwell Grant" by-line.  A few years ago, The Shadow reappeared as a character in two Doc Savage novels written by Will Murray under the "Kenneth Robeson" pseudonym.

The Shadow's real name (in print, anyway) was Kent Allard, a World War I ace who waged war on criminals after the war.  Allard faked his death then adopted a number of identities to conceal his existence.  Perhaps his best-known identity is Lamont Cranston, a real-life man about town whose identity The Shadow assumes whenever the real cranston is abroad.  Other identities include Isaac Twambley, Henry Arnaud (like Cranston, a real-life person in the Shadow universe), and Fritz (a doddring old janitor at police headquarters).  The Shadow has a long list of recurring and revolving people who assist him in various ways.  A much longer list is that of the larger thn life super-villains The Shadow faces.

In The Silent Death, the super-villain is Professor Folcroft Urlich, a man who is obsessed with death.  Under the guise of "research," Ulrich watches his victims die slowly and horribly from the varied murderous ways he has developed, often for a hefty fee.  Aiding Ulrich is Larry Ricardo, a crime boss currently in hiding from the authorities, and Ricardo's gang of thugs and murderers.  One intended victim is businessman Alfred Sartain, whose death will mean millions for Ulrich's current client Thomas Jocelyn.  Ulrich has decided to kill Sartain by "the silent death," with he, Ricardo, and Joselyn watching through binoculars from outside Sartain's apartment.  Sartain's butler Brooks (really Duster Brooks, planted in that position by Ricardo) has arranged for Sartain's study to be a hermetically sealed room with a device that removed oxygen from the air hidden, so that Sartain will linger as his oxygen-starved lungs take his life.  The silent death!  Ricardo's thugs are stationed outside the apartment, just in case...

As the villains watch, Sartain struggles for breath, desperately trying to find a way out of the sealed room.  The man passes out at his desk.  But then, out of sight from Ulrich and the others, something causes a shadow to arise from the other end of the room.   It's The Shadow!  He had broken the skylight to the study, letting fresh air in.  Quickly, Ricardo orders his thugs to strom the apartment and kill whoever is in the study.  Guns blaze, but Ricardo's thugs are just a little too slow and The Shadow's aim is as accurate as the death he deals to the thugs.  One man, Ricardo's lieutenant Slips Harback, manages to escape; the others, including Brooks, are dead.  As the police swarm in, The Shadow vanishes.

How did The Shadow know about Ulrich's plot?  The only people in on the details were Ulrich, Ricardo, Jocelyn, and Slips Harback.  Ulrich realizes that Harback mus have inadvertently disclosed something to one of The Shadow's many informants, most likely at Red Mike's, a bar where Harback and other unsavory types hang out.  With this theory, Ulrich is able to identifiy the informant as Cliff Marsland, a man who had served time in Sing Sing for murder.  Ulrich then uses this information to set a deadly and fool-proof trap for The Shadow.   Ulrich knows The Shadow must be eliminated so that the costumed avenger will not intefere with his future plans.  It's a matter of Ulbrich's criminal genius versus The Shadow's uncanny crime-fighting senses.

The fool-proof trap fails, but Ulrich is not deterred.  He sets an other trap for The Shadow, unaware that police detective Joe Cardona has managed to intercept the proposed plot.  Cardona arrives and inadvertantly sets off the trap, only to be saved by The Shadow at the last second.  Ulrich, still convinced of his superiority, arranges one final deadly trap with Marsland and reporter Clyde Burke as bait.  With Marsland and Burke fated to meet the silent death, The Shadow will come to his own "shocking" death, as will Cardona's officers.

Can The Shadow escape his death and win against the genius madman?  Can he save his two friends from a cruel, torturous fate?  Of course he can.  He's The Shadow, isn't he?

Pure pulp with a vigilante on those yellowed pages whom we cheer for, and whom we'd be horrified by in real life.  It's the satisfaction you get imagining you can just push a button and obliterate that car that just cut you off, knowing that you would never do it if it were possible in real life.  It's a fantasy world where good triumphs over evil, even though evil things are done by the good guys in the name of "justice."

And the prose, purple and clunky:

     "Another night had come.  Denizens of the underworld had begun their assemblage in Red Mike's den.  The propietor of the speakeasy, noncommital as was his wont, cast no more than a casual glance toward those who thronged his dive."

I mean, you mjsut got to love it.

And I do.

1 comment:

  1. Gibson was hired to write quarterly Shadow novels. The magazine was so popular it went monthly, then semi-monthly.

    But which ones did Richard Wormser write?