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Review: "Hands in the Dark" (The Shadow)
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John Olsen
2012-09-07 15:37:18 UTC
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HANDS IN THE DARK was originally published in the May, 1932 issue of The
Shadow Magazine. Clutching, throttling, life-snatching hands, guided by
a master mind, mad for loot! Thrill to The Shadow's adventures as he
battles lone-handed against the tremendous forces of evil to whom even
murder was no obstacle to massive wealth.

As with all the early Shadow stories, this one is a joy to read. But it
does have its weaknesses. The ending of the mystery is all explained,
but in a drab, uninvolved sort of way. It's as though author Walter
Gibson forgot to explain many of the fine points of the mystery, and a
copy editor at Street & Smith hastily listed them, point by point, and
gave them a cursory explanation. That shouldn't take away from a very
good Shadow story... but to some extent it does. With a little more
care, this "very good" Shadow story could have been truly "great."

One of the unique things about this Shadow magazine story is that the
story actually begins on the magazine cover. Chapter one is printed
right on the front cover along with a strange coded message. The reason
for this has to do with how the publishers got paid for their magazines.

The policy was that newsstands could return any unsold magazines for a
refund. And to save on shipping costs, they could simply tear off the
front cover and return it as proof that the magazine was unsold. Some
less-than-scrupulous magazine sellers began to rip the cover off the
magazine and sell it as coverless... then return the cover for a refund.
Quite a scam, at the time, and one that began to become too popular.

To thwart the growing trend, Street & Smith decided to start the story
on the cover. Customers wouldn't buy a coverless issue if the first
chapter was missing, or so they figured. How successful this ploy
actually was is unknown. But the publishers tried it only once, so that
might be some indication.

The entire story revolves around a strange blood-red code that appears
at the beginning of chapter one... and thus was on the cover. It's a
dead man's message of strange characters etched in crimson hue. It's the
secret to Theodore Galvin's wealth. But Theodore Galvin's dead — died
down in Paraguay — and Reynold Barker has broken into his study to
search the secret drawer of the desk for the message. He finds it; he
also finds death. Hands in the dark grasp his throat in a death grip.

Young Bob Galvin returns from South Africa where he's lived for the past
twenty years. He returns to the home of his uncle, Theodore Galvin. But
crooked associates of Theodore Galvin want to get young Bob out of the
way. They kidnap him, and replace him with an impostor. To the world at
large, this is the true Bob Galvin, nephew of Theodore Galvin. But we
know that shenanigans are afoot. We know that the real Bob is held
prisoner while the fake Bob meets with Theodore Galvin's friends in an
effort to uncover the secret of the strange message and old Theodore's
wealth.

These crooks aren't squeamish in the least. They aren't above murder to
get what they want. They just don't kill the real Bob Galvin because
they figure they can use him. But they aren't so gentle to others. Take
Hodgson, the old servant who had attended Theodore Galvin for years. He
knows the real Bob Galvin, and so he must go. They smash his head. Again
and again. He was dead by the fourth blow, but the evil impostor kept on
and on until Hodgson's head was a terrible sight.

And beautiful young Betty Mandell, old Theodore's ward. She suspects Bob
Galvin isn't the true heir, so she's locked in a sealed room that allows
no air to enter. Sealed in the vault of doom. Another obstacle down.

Who's behind it all? Certainly not the impostor Bob Galvin. He's working
for some unknown chief. It must be someone who knew old Theodore Galvin
and was aware of his hidden crooked life. That and his hidden crooked
wealth.

Could it be Hiram Mallory, one of Theodore Galvin's oldest friends? He's
a quiet, kindly-faced old gentleman who still bears himself with
youthful vigor. Maybe a bit too kindly? Or maybe middle-aged architect
Richard Harkness. He's a bachelor living in an obscure house on the
fringe of Greenwich Village. He knows some of the secrets of Galvin's
old house. And there's Thaddeus Westcott, another of Galvin's old
friends who holds part of the secret.

It's up to The Shadow to track down the menace. It's up to The Shadow to
discover the hiding place of the illicit millions. It's up to The Shadow
to unveil the mastermind. It's up to The Shadow to free young Bob Galvin
and bring the evil syndicate to justice.

Assisting The Shadow in this story is Harry Vincent, who flies in from
Asuncion, Paraguay where he is following up leads on old Theodore
Galvin's death. Also assisting is Clyde Burke, now on the staff of the
New York Classic. This is a new job for Clyde, who was previously
running a news clipping bureau. And it remained pretty much his
permanent job for the rest of the magazine's run. Burbank appears in his
usual supporting role, although he is stationed doing stake-out duty and
isn't sequestered in his usual dismal room.

This being an early story in the magazine series' run, there are no
other agents in the story due to the fact that they hadn't been
introduced to the series, yet. Moe Shrevnitz, Cliff Marsland, Hawkeye,
Margo Lane, Miles Crofton... none of those would appear until later
issues. And similarly, there is no sign of Detective Joe Cardona or
Commissioner Ralph Weston. Instead, representing the forces of the law
is a new character, Acting Inspector Herbert Zull and his assistant
Detective Crowell.

As for The Shadow, he briefly appears in several disguises. He is George
Clarendon, a wealthy member of the Cobalt Club. Clarendon had appeared
in "The Death Tower" four issues earlier. This was only his second
appearance, and also his last. The Shadow also appears as a waiter at
the Cobalt Club, as a Mongolian guard in Chinatown and as an unnamed
middle-aged man in a restaurant. Most of the time, he appears in his
black garb without disguise.

As with most of the very early Shadow stories, mention is made of his
weekly radio broadcasts. Reportedly, gangsters and detectives alike have
surreptitiously sought to trace The Shadow through his radio broadcasts.
But all have failed. The Shadow remains a mystery!

What would a Shadow story be without a trip to New York's Chinatown.
This time, it's to the labyrinth of passages leading to the underground
lair of Wing Toy, modernesque Tong leader, under whose regime the
devastating wars of Chinatown had come to an abrupt ending. Toy has
heard of The Shadow, when once, long ago, The Shadow had made trouble
for some Chinese thugs. But nothing is mentioned of the name "Ying Ko"
for which The Shadow was later said to be well known. Keep in mind that
this was only Walter Gibson's tenth Shadow story and that part of the
mythos hadn't been created yet.

It's here that the story lets us down. The Shadow travels here to help
the real Bob Galvin escape, and it made a perfect opportunity for some
terrific scenes. But those opportunities were wasted. There's a
wonderful hidden room with trap doors and poison gas. But rather than
using them to showcase The Shadow's skills, they are very briefly shown.
A lot of potential was wasted on that trip to Chinatown. Had Gibson
filled out the scene properly, it could have gone a long way to elevate
this story into the realm of the great Shadow stories.

Another weakness is in the handling of the damsel in distress. Betty
Mandell has very few scenes, then is kidnapped. She is rescued by The
Shadow and then just disappears for the rest of the story. The hasty
wrap-up of the story does include brief mention that she's glad the real
Bob Galvin is back, but that's all. I found her abbreviated part in the
story very unsatisfying. Gibson could have easily fleshed it out and
improved the story immensely.

It's fairly well known that The Shadow's face was never seen. In the
very early stories, it was seen by others a few times, but was never
clearly described. This is one of those few stories. And the description
we get is one that was never used again... a green face! "A face came
within the glare of the electric torch. It was the face of The Shadow -
a solemn, monkish profile that shone a ghastly green as the light
revealed it!" It sounds cool, but we are told no more. And in future
Shadow magazine stories, the ghastly green of his face was never again
mentioned.

It's also well known that The Shadow carries a pair of .45 automatics.
But in this story, for some unknown reason, he carries a revolver at the
climax. "The Shadow pocketed the dead detective's automatic and laid his
own revolver in its place." I suspect we can attribute that to the fact
that this was still early in the series, and it was not yet considered
canon.

But even with this early story, The Shadow is shown to wear a black cape
with a crimson lining. That began on the magazine cover. The first time
that The Shadow's character was actually shown on the cover was in issue
#5 "Gangdom's Doom." Until then, readers would see "a shadow" on the
cover, but not "The Shadow." The cover of issue #5 showed The Shadow,
and his cloak had a crimson lining. This was actually not something
originally written by Walter Gibson. He had it as a totally black cloak
that helped The Shadow blend into the gloom. But it was an artist's
addition, to make the cover more colorful. And so Gibson was forced to
add that crimson description to his stories as well. This was the third
story in which the crimson lining was mentioned.

I did like this story. Although it doesn't fill the ranks of the top 25
Shadow stories, it's probably secure somewhere in the top 50. It
contains unrealized potential, but even at that, it's a fun Shadow story
to read.

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/
Joy Beeson
2012-09-08 23:37:14 UTC
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Post by John Olsen
He had it as a totally black cloak
that helped The Shadow blend into the gloom. But it was an artist's
addition, to make the cover more colorful. And so Gibson was forced to
add that crimson description to his stories as well. This was the third
story in which the crimson lining was mentioned.
The artist made an excellent choice -- in dim light, red might as well
be black.

Which is one reason that few fire engines are fire-engine red.
--
Joy Beeson
joy beeson at comcast dot net
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