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Review: "The Living Shadow" (The Shadow)
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John Olsen
2015-07-24 18:25:55 UTC
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THE LIVING SHADOW was originally published in the April/June 1931 issue
of The Shadow Magazine. Out of the darkness came a being of the night to
give Harry Vincent another chance; a chance to live his life with
enjoyment, danger and excitement; a chance to risk it for an honorable
cause in the service of the mysterious character known only as The Shadow!

This, being the first of the series, is an important story for every
Shadow fan to read. It sets the stage for all the future stories in the
eighteen-year run. And although it's a great story, it does have its
flaws. It rambles a bit, and leaves some loose ends when the story's
finished. But you won't mind. It makes a terrific introduction to the
character and the series.

It was reprinted in the 1934 Street and Smith hardback book. It was
reprinted again in The Shadow 1942 Annual. It was reprinted in paperback
form in 1969 by Bantam, by Pyramid Books in 1974, by New English Library
of London in 1976, and by Jove Books in 1977. Most recently, Sanctum
Books has reprinted it in 2011, making it by far the most reprinted
Shadow story.

Readers get right into the action from the get-go. Harry Vincent is on
the center of a fog-covered bridge, ready to jump. The scene was so
evocative that it was re-worked for use in the 1994 Shadow movie... but
I digress. Harry is about to commit suicide -- no job; no money; no
girl; no friends. He is saved by a mysterious personage who he comes to
call The Shadow, and is put to work as an agent.

His first job: watching a Mr. R. J. Scanlon, a shoe salesman from San
Francisco. As it turns out later, Scanlon is a "mule" enlisted to carry
hot jewels from Manhattan to San Francisco by a Chinese mastermind, Wang
Foo. He carries with him an unusual metal disk with Chinese characters
on it -- the token of Hoang-Ho. This will act as identification to Wang
Foo, since the courier is never the same person. Harry knows nothing of
the Chinese disk... yet. He only knows he is to watch Scanlon.

Scanlon is murdered by Steve Cronin, who would also appear in the second
tale, "Eyes of The Shadow." Cronin wants Scanlon's special symbol, that
strange metal Chinese disk. He plans on using it to identify himself as
the courier, then making off with the box of jewels. Unfortunately,
Scanlon lies dead by Cronin's hand, and Cronin can't find that disk.
Later, Vincent finds it. The Shadow has Vincent pose as the messenger
and take the disk to Chinatown. But Harry is exposed when it turns out
he needs a special key, in addition to the Chinese disk -- a key he
doesn't have. He's captured, and tortured. Only The Shadow can help him
escape the Chinese den of torture!

As we know, from the many stories in the pulp series, The Shadow is a
master of disguise. In helping Harry escape the clutches of Wang Foo, we
get to see him in disguise for the very first time. He appears as a
short, squatty Chinaman. Now that's pretty amazing, since The Shadow is
tall and thin. But somehow, he pulls off the disguise, and tricks a
half-dozen other Chinese into believing him.

We also know, from reading other Shadow stories, that he has an amazing
mastery of languages. Here, he speaks flawless Chinese.

Three days later, after poor Harry has recovered from his near-death
experience in Chinatown, he's sent out to Long Island where an old
millionaire by the name of Geoffrey Laidlow had been killed for his
hidden jewels. Much of the second half of the story revolves around the
search for Laidlow's killer, and the killer's search for the
still-hidden jewels. It all weaves together, because once found, the
jewels will be fenced by the Chinese mastermind, situated deep in the
heart of Chinatown. And everything comes full circle when The Shadow
returns to Chinatown in yet another disguise to unmask the criminal
mastermind known as Wang Foo.

There are nagging questions in the minds of Shadow pulp fans. This story
was the first recorded adventure of The Shadow. But was it the first
case of his career? How long had he been fighting crime before this
story? Was Harry Vincent his first agent? How many agents did he have at
this time? This story doesn't offer any definitive answers, but it does
give us some intriguing hints.

We know Harry Vincent was not the first agent of The Shadow. Claude H.
Fellows ran an insurance brokerage firm from the Grandville Building,
and he was an agent of The Shadow before Vincent. He appears in this
story. His job was to gather information from newspapers and other
sources, and prepare reports for The Shadow. He also acted as contact
man between The Shadow and his agents. This would make one tend to
believe that there must be other agents, in addition to Harry Vincent --
someone that made his job necessary.

When The Shadow originally recruits Harry, he asks him to dedicate his
life to The Shadow: "I shall make it useful. But I shall risk it, too.
Perhaps I shall lose it, for I have lost lives, just as I have saved
them." These other "lost" lives could seemingly refer to other agents
who have died in service to The Shadow. So there is one indication that
The Shadow had other agents, prior to both Harry Vincent and Claude Fellows.

But if there were previous agents, Fellows hadn't run into them. The
story tells us that, "This matter of the Laidlow murder... was the first
case in which he had knowingly come in contact with another of The
Shadow's men." But note that the word "another" assumes that there were
others.

Claude Fellows hadn't been working for The Shadow all that long, at this
juncture. Readers are told that "some months ago" Fellows had been
conscripted by The Shadow during a time he was in financial straits; he
had been saved from ruin by The Shadow. From that we can infer that
Fellows hadn't been working for The Shadow for more than two years. If
we assume that Fellows was the first agent of The Shadow, a reasonable
assumption, then that would put The Shadow's first crime-fighting
adventures around 1928 or 1929.

Burbank, The Shadow's communication man, was first mentioned in the
second pulp novel, "Eyes of The Shadow." He wasn't recruited, like
Harry; he was just there. Was he in the service of The Shadow at the
time of this first story? It is possible. In the last half of this
novel, Harry Vincent uses a radio sending set. No voice message; it was
done with a sending key, clicking out a coded message. Who received that
message? Could it have been Burbank? Perhaps it was The Shadow who
received it directly. But it's more likely that The Shadow had more
important things to do than sit around listening for a radio message
that may or may not come. It seems probable that The Shadow had someone
else for that task, while he was out fighting crime. I'm guessing that
was Burbank.

From this, the most likely scenario is that The Shadow began battling
crime in 1928 or 1929. He may have had an agent or two assisting him at
that time, but they were killed in the line of duty. At the time of this
story, Claude Fellows had been an agent for some months. Burbank,
although not mentioned in the story, was also a recent agent. And Harry
Vincent was the newly added agent. This gives The Shadow a work crew of
three -- a number which would increase in future stories.

Author Walter Gibson was known for his love of codes. So it's only
natural that three should appear in this story. One is the simple
substitution code that isn't described in detail, but is used by The
Shadow and his agents. Another is a "dictionary" code, which is
explained in full, and is used by the millionaire Geoffrey Laidlow to
reveal the location of the hiding place of his jewels. The third is a
verbal code, in which certain spoken words are emphasized slightly in a
sentence. Harry is told to listen for those types of messages, and when
he receives a telephone call, he immediately recognizes the hidden
message. A WNX radio announcer also uses that method to broadcast a
message to Harry Vincent.

Who was the radio announcer mentioned above? Was it another unnamed
agent of The Shadow, working at the station? Or was it The Shadow
himself speaking over the air? Harry "...had listened frequently to this
program, but had never heard this particular announcer before." Mention
is made in this story that The Shadow has a regular Thursday night
broadcast on station WNX. But unless The Shadow was disguising his voice
for the announcement, certainly a real possibility, it would seem he had
an inside man at the broadcast studio.

There are many interesting little tidbits found in this story. Some are
in later Shadow stories, and become commonly seen; others are never
mentioned again and become unique references. For example, in this story
The Shadow carries a cane, something never referred to again. It's not
part of a disguise; it's carried under his cloak. "The point of a cane
swung from the rear seat and tapped twice against the windowpane behind
the chauffeur." In later stories, The Shadow would carry a cane when
disguised as Phineas Twambley. He would also carry a cane when appearing
as Kent Allard. But never did he again carry it when wearing his black
cloak and slouch hat.

One of the items that became standard in the Shadow tales is the coded
messages to his agents written in a vivid blue ink that would disappear
after being exposed to light for a minute or so. It appears here in this
first story. The code, which was described differently in various
stories, is a simple substitution code, as related here. Each message
was numbered, so if one was intercepted by outside forces, its absence
would be obvious to the agent. This was mentioned sporadically in other
tales, as well.

Reports to The Shadow are also written in this disappearing ink. And
they are delivered to the third floor of an old office building on
Twenty-third Street. The envelopes are dropped through the mail-chute in
a dust-covered door with "B. Jonas" on the glass pane. In later stories,
Fellows -- and his successor Rutledge Mann -- delivered those reports in
person. Here, in this first story, it is his stenographer who delivers
them, interestingly enough. Could she have been a semi-agent, herself?
Or merely an innocent courier?

It should be pointed out that at least one of Fellows' reports to The
Shadow and taken to the "B. Jonas" office is done on a typewriter, not
in a pen using the disappearing ink. The reasoning for this is left for
the reader to ponder.

In this very first Shadow story, we get to see The Shadow demonstrate
his skill at disguise. In addition to the Chinese disguise mentioned
earlier -- the one which he uses to rescue Harry Vincent from the grasp
of Wang Foo -- there are seven more disguises in play, here. This is the
first appearance of Fritz, the police headquarters janitor. The Shadow
disguises himself as Fritz in order to listen in on police discussions.
It became a common disguise that occurred in two dozen Shadow stories
over the years. The Shadow also appears as "an old man, gaunt and
weary-looking... leaning heavily upon a stout cane." This is quite
similar to his Twambley disguise that he used ten times between 1932 and
1949. It's likely an early version of that guise, not specifically
identified at this time.

His other disguises include a newsboy -- really too old to be called a
"boy". He's a bearded cripple in one place. He's a lunch-wagon cook in
another. He appears in a different Chinese disguise as Ling Chow,
part-time employee of Wang Foo's tea shop. And his final disguise is an
important part of the surprise ending, so I won't spoil the surprise by
revealing it here. Whew! That's a lot of disguises! I don't think The
Shadow ever appeared in so many disguises in a single story since.

It's interesting to note that The Shadow never calls himself "The
Shadow." He never introduces himself to others by that name. He just
appears and does what needs to be done, namelessly. It's the other
characters in the story who take to calling him The Shadow. After first
encountering him, Harry muses, "He went like a shadow; just like a
shadow. That's a good name for him - The Shadow! I'll remember that."
And even Claude Fellows says, "The Shadow. That is what I call him. I
see the name occurred to you, also."

When The Shadow, in the guise of a gangster, visits with fellow crooks,
he does talk about this mysterious foe of crimedom that he calls The
Shadow. So I guess technically, he does refer to himself as The Shadow.
But when garbed in black, he never introduces himself as such. It's just
a term that others call him. Naturally, that would change in future
stories, when he would hiss, "I am... The Shadow!"

Readers need to be advised that there are some racial slurs in this
story. Many scenes took place in Chinatown, and some of the descriptions
of the residents are not flattering. But keep in mind, the year was 1931
as this was published, and this story is a product of those times.

Poor Harry Vincent. He gets captured and beaten up twice in this story.
First is in Chinatown, captured by Wang Foo. Later he's captured by
Ezekiel Bingham out in a woodland hideout. And both times, he's rescued
by The Shadow. This was a harbinger of things to come. In future Shadow
tales, Harry was routinely the one to be captured and beaten up... his
life imperiled repeatedly. It would be interesting to count the number
of times he was knocked unconscious in the eighteen years that the
stories were published. And they say prizefighters are in jeopardy of
brain damage because of repeated concussions. I think Harry has them beat!

In later Shadow novels, mention would be made of a very unique clock
that sat in The Shadow's sanctum. It was first described in "The Red
Blot" from 1933 and appeared on and off until the 1943 story "The Museum
Murders." Instead of hands, it had concentric circles and moving rings.
However, it should be pointed out that this clock makes no appearance in
this inaugural story. In fact, in its place on the table in the sanctum
is a watch, showing normal hands.

This is a wonderful story that will have you on the edge of your seat.
It sets the tone for the rest of the series. In it, we meet for the
first time Harry Vincent and The Shadow. Detective Joe Cardona is
present, as is Fritz the janitor. Harry Vincent meets insurance broker
Claude Fellows, The Shadow's only other agent mentioned in this story.
The Shadow's sanctum is visited, we see his girasol ring, and hear his
mysterious laugh, all for the first time.

Reading this story is a real treat for any Shadow fan. It's not perfect.
The plot does intend to wander. After becoming an agent of The Shadow,
Harry Vincent follows the salesman Scanlon and gets mixed up in the
Chinatown incident. Then the story completely changes and he's doing
undercover work out on Long Island. But at the end, everything weaves
together properly, and any frustrations the reader felt earlier are put
to rest.

There are some loose ends to the story. In the end, criminal mastermind
Ezekiel Bingham goes free and unpunished. Maybe so he could reappear in
a later story? But he never did. So he and his crew of thugs go
unpunished for the thrashing that Harry Vincent endured, not to mention
his attempted murder. I would have liked to see Walter Gibson tie up
that particular loose end. Steve Cronin, killer of R.J. Scanlon, also
goes unpunished. However, he was brought back in the next issue, and and
several more after that until he was finally brought to justice. So I
guess that doesn't count as a loose end.

But the negatives are few, and minor. And considering the scope and
importance of this story, I think they can be forgiven. This was a key
issue in the magazine series. It's a story that you should definitely
read. And if you already have, and it's been more than five years, you
should read it again!

John
--
"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"
The wonderful old pulp mystery stories are all reviewed at:

http://home.comcast.net/~deshadow/
j***@verizon.net
2015-07-26 02:23:52 UTC
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Post by John Olsen
It was reprinted in the 1934 Street and Smith hardback book. It was
reprinted again in The Shadow 1942 Annual. It was reprinted in paperback
form in 1969 by Bantam, by Pyramid Books in 1974, by New English Library
of London in 1976, and by Jove Books in 1977. Most recently, Sanctum
Books has reprinted it in 2011, making it by far the most reprinted
Shadow story.
I believe every reprint until 2011 was based on the Street and Smith hardback, which had numerous cuts. If I'm right, the Sanctum/Nostalgia edition is the first one since the original to offer the complete text.
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