Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, February 15, 2024


The Case of the Crimson Hand by Kendell Foster Crossen  (first published as "The Green Lama" by "Richard Foster" in Double Detective magazine, April 1940; republished as by Crossen with the author's preferred title in The Green Lama:  The Complete Pulp Adventures, Volume 1, Altus Press, 2011)

The Green Lama was one of the odder heroes in the pulp magazines, and that says a lot.  He w the brainchild of the then-editor of the Munsey Publishing Company's Detective Fiction Weekly, Ken Crossen.  The Munsey executives wanted a character that would compete with Street and Smith's The Shadow, and Crossen was tasked to come up with a character.  At the time, The Shadow radio program was very popular and was ripe for exploitation by Crossen.  For the radio, the Shadow gained his power to "cloud the minds of men," rendering him virtually invisible, through occult knowledge he received while studying in Tibet.  Two real sources used by Shadow writer Walter B. Gibson were the books The Penthouse of the Gods by Theos Casimir Barnard and Magic and Mystery in Tibet by Alexandra David-Neel -- both purporting to be first-hand accounts in the mysterious East.  Crossen mined these books, as well as any others he could find about Tibet, Lamaist Buddhism, and occult mysticism to provide a backdrop for his stories.  The Green Lama saga is heavily footnoted with such references, to the point that many readers followed the series merely to expand their knowledge of the subject, some even believing the Green Lama was a real person.

The Green Lama was not real, of course.  He was the fictional character Jethro Dumont (as name sounding as close to Lamont Cranston as Crossen felt safe to use), a man who had inherited millions and who became interested in Oriental religions while in college, causing him to travel to China and then Tibet, where he joined a lamastery and became a Buddhist priest -- a lama.  He learned many skills, including how to effectvely use a kata, a long scarf that the Green Lama would use as a garotte, his only weapon; the Green Lama was able to use it with such skill (he was taught by a master thugee) that he could control the pressure used by the scarf, rendering someone unconscious, but never killing him.  The Green Lama never killed his enemies.  With the kata and with his natural scientific knowledge and physical training, he had no need of any other weapon -- in fact, the Green Lama did not own a gun, nor had he ever fired one.  His knowledge of anatomy allowed him to paralyze an opponent in any number of ways for a specific period of time, all by applying the slightest pressure on various nerve centers.  His outfit, a dark green robe, allowed him to be almost invisible in the darkness and shadows.  He can often be heard chanting his catchphrase:  Om! Ma-ni pad-mi Hum! (Hail!  The Jewel in the lotus flower!).  Oh.  And he has one other trick.  He's radioactive, and by ingesting radioactive salts, he can also electrify himself.  Neat, huh?

It should be noted that Crossen originally intended his hero to be the Gray Lama, but a green outfit provided a more strikeing (and better-selling) magazine cover.

After studying for a number of years, Jethro Dumont decided to return to America to spread the message of peace that was at the core of his religion.  Almost immediately after arriving in New York, he witnessed a gangland shooting that also killed an innocent woman and three young shildren; one of the children died no more than fifteen feet from where Dumont stood.  Political and police corruption prevented the killers from being brought to justice, although Dumont found at least one policeman who had not been corrupted -- Lieutenant John Caraway, who would become an ally.  With the aid of his manservant Tsarong and reformed criminal Gary Brown, Dumont is determined to bring justice  for those who most need it, often in the disguise of Buddhist cleric the Reverend Doctor Pali and, more often, as the Greem Lama, the scourge of the underworld.  (Dumont mastered the art of makeup under the tutilege of the world's greatest makeup artist.)

All of which brings us to his first recorded adventure, The Case of the Crimson Hand.

 Dr. Harrison Valco has discovered a new ray -- a delta ray -- created by manipulating alpha, beta, and gamma radium rays in a special process.  In its gaseous form the new ray is "immediately lethal"; in its liquid form, a powerful anesthetic.  The ray travels at the speed of light and a small one-inch capsule could hold enough to reach all living organism within the space of a cubic mile.  The mysterious arch criminal known as the Crimson Hand is determined to get the ray and use it to bring the United States, a well as the rest of the world under his power -- starting with Cleveland.  Determined to stop the Crimson Hand is the Green Lama.  The Green Lama arrives too late to stop the Crimson Hand from kidnapping Dr. Valco and lovely young Evangl Stewart, but not too late to be caught in a deadly gunfight that left some of the Hand's thugs dead.  

Because super-villains are cocky, the Hand brags that he is going to Cleveland and the Lama cannot stop him.  A mysterious woman known only as Magga (she is as well acquainted with Buddhist teachings as the Lama; Magga is a word that means the way, or the path) tells him when the attack in Cleveland is scheduled to take place.  [Side note:  Magga is a recurring character; her true identity and motives are never revealed.  She remains an enigma thoughtout the series.]  Dumont takes a commercial flight to Cleveland and his plane is shot down personally by the Crimson Hand; the plane crashes and explodes and only Dumont and a woman who turns out to be Magga survive.  Joined by Gary Brown, the Green Lama arrives in Cleveland just as the Hand's gang of 80 men are looting all of the city banks.  The Lama manages to stop one robbery and learns that the loot from the others is being shipped to upstate New York.  Authorities are notified but do note realize that the gang's hideout has an escape tunnel through which all the bad guys vanished.

There's a lot of back and forth and, in just about every chapter, the Hand is sure that the Lama has been killed, but -- no surprise -- every time he survives.  (In one instance, he emerges after staying under the thick ice on a lake for over an hour.  Those Buddist tricks of controlling one's body come in handy.)  It is a given, of course, that the Green Lama will eventually prevail and that the Crimson Hand will meet a just end.  The identity of the Crimson Hand is patently obvious, although few clues are given (it's that type of story)  Later in the series, both Dr. Valco and Evangl Stewart join the Lama's ever-growing company of assistants.

Crudely written, laden with Buddist lore and terminology and samples of the Pali language, and straining credibility, The Case of the Crimson Hand travels at break-neck speed to a thrilling conclusion.  Literature, it ain't.  Pure pulp, it is.  And a heck of an enjoyable tale, which is all any reader could ask for.

Crossen wrote fourteen Green Lama novels before Double Detective gave up the ghjost and shuttered its doors.  All fourteen are included in the Altus Press volumes, along with a new Green Lama adventure penned by new pulp writer Adam Lance Gar4cia. 

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