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Review: "Treasures of Death" (The Shadow)
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John Olsen
2014-06-27 07:04:32 UTC
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TREASURES OF DEATH was published in the December 15, 1933 issue of The
Shadow Magazine. The treasures of the title are all of a literary
nature. On his death-bed, Shattuck Barliss cries out that a crime has
been committed. But only The Shadow knows that it is but the beginning
of greater crime. Rare old books and ancient manuscripts worth over a
million dollars have been from their owners. And these treasures lead to
death. Death for their owners!

The Shadow mysteries from the early years of the magazine run have a
reputation for being some of the best ever written. This story,
Treasures of Death, definitely lives up to that reputation. Plenty of
action and suspense. No boring lulls in the action. The Shadow fights,
is severely injured and still fights on. I did notice a couple of loose
ends when the story wrapped up, but those were minor. I didn't notice
any plot inconsistencies or loopholes. It was a lot of fun to read, and
just seemed to zip by at a shade over 43,000 words.

As our story opens, young Terry Barliss has come to New York from
California, summoned by an urgent telegram. His uncle, Shattuck Barliss,
lies dying with not long to live. Old Shattuck tells his nephew of a
secret panel in his study, behind which is a sturdy safe. Terry opens it
and removes a rare old manuscript.

The manuscript is called 'Les Rondeaux de Paris'. It contains five
ballads written in 1455 by Francois Villon, the first and greatest of
the French lyric poets. It is extremely rare because it contains the
only copy of the elusive fifth ballad.

Terry places the manuscript into the feeble hands of his dying uncle. As
Uncle Shattuck flips through the pages, explaining their meaning, he
stops suddenly. Where the fifth ballad should be, is only blank pages.
Some crafty, unknown hand has stolen the true Villon manuscript and
replaced it with a worthless copy!

The shock of the discovery is too much for old Shattuck Barliss. He dies
with the manuscript in his hands. Young Terry Barliss stands there
stunned, left with a worthless inheritance. This is a job for The Shadow!

The Shadow learns of old Barliss' death, and the reputed switch of the
document, through his newspaper contact Clyde Burke. Burke is sent to
cover the story of the lost manuscript and the ensuing death. He reports
it to Burbank and before you can say "The Shadow Knows" the black-garbed
avenger is on the case.

Before long, The Shadow has discovered other unknown thefts. Other
wealthy men discover their highly-cherished valuables have been switched
for worthless imitations, as well. Some master crook has arranged
robberies by means of clever substitutions, hoping that his crimes would
not be discovered until long after the work has been done. The pilfered
books and manuscripts are worth at least a million dollars.

The Shadow discovers the single clue that connects all these crimes.
That clue is an interior decorator named Compton Salwood. It seems that
Salwood had recently done renovations on all the victim's houses. It
seems he was the only person in the position to discover the hiding
places of the valuables, and make the switch. Yes, Compton Salwood must
be the man!

Compton Salwood is only a small cog in a big wheel. Just one link in a
much larger chain. And now that the link has been identified, it puts
the entire chain at risk. Thus, it must be removed. And soon, Compton
Salwood is found dead, a knife thrust through his heart.

With Compton Salwood out of the picture, how can The Shadow track down
the mastermind behind the astounding series of thefts? How can he
uncover the stolen treasure trove? And how can he bring the sinister
hidden chief to justice? It won't be easy, as any possible clues are
eliminated before they can be of any use. But The Shadow can do it! And
you'll enjoy reading just how he does it, in this great early Shadow
pulp novel.

The Shadow appears in several disguises in this story, including that of
millionaire Lamont Cranston, and curio dealer Hawthorne Crayle. This is
the second and final appearance of Hawthorne Crayle. He first appeared
earlier that year in "The Shadow's Shadow." In that story it was
suspected that he might be an agent of The Shadow. The question isn't
answered here, but we do see The Shadow impersonate him after sending
him out of town.

Other familiar characters appearing in this pulp mystery are long-time
aide Harry Vincent, Clyde Burke, contact men Burbank and Rutledge Mann,
chauffeur Stanley and Doctor Rupert Sayre. Inspector Timothy Klein and
Detective Joe Cardona appear on the behalf of the police, and Joe plays
a crucial part at the climax.

Moe Shrevnitz hadn't been introduced to the series yet, and would make
his first appearance in the 11/1/34 story "The Chinese Disks." So The
Shadow must make do with any taxicab that happens to come along. He
typically would just mysteriously appear in the back of a cab, and
whisper a destination. Then before the cab had arrived, he would
disappear from the back seat in equally mysterious fashion. A bank note,
usually a ten-dollar bill, would flutter down to the front seat as
payment. And thus it is in this story.

As we know, he eventually bought his own taxi and installed Moe
Shrevnitz as permanent driver. I guess he got tired of being at the
mercy of random cabs. And those fluttering ten-dollar bills...

In this story we get to make several visits to The Shadow's mysterious
sanctum. We even get to see inside his laboratory, that seldom-seen
second room of the sanctum. There, The Shadow performs some chemical
experiments to prove the death of Shattuck Barliss was not an accident.

One of my favorite things about Walter Gibson's Shadow stories are the
strange names he comes up with for his characters. This story is full of
them: Lycurgus Mercher, Shattuck Barliss, Thibble, Eli Galban and
Compton Salwood to name a few.

Another favorite thing about Gibson's stories are the codes. His
interest in various codes carried over into many Shadow stories. In this
one, there is a code in stamps. Postage stamps. He finds a collector's
sheet of postage stamps, and finds a hidden message within their
arrangement. Pretty clever!

Several other favorite things appear in this story: those rubber suction
cups, the purplish liquid and the "devil's whisper." The Shadow climbs
the sheer outside of a building, his hands and feet equipped with his
famous rubber suction cups. He hovers outside the upstairs window,
listening to the evil plans of the room's occupants.

The Shadow is injured in this story. But where is that vial of purplish
liquid which can revive him and give him added strength? He's left it in
the sanctum! So he has to drag his gunshot form over to Dr. Rupert
Sayre's apartment for emergency care. When he partially recovers several
days later, he makes a beeline for the sanctum, and wafts from that
small bottle. Ah... now that's better! It gives him the strength for the
climax of our story.

The reviving purplish liquid, by the way, is described as having a
pungent odor. Maybe that explains how it could also be used as smelling
salts in other stories. Smells bad, but is good for you.

And The Shadow uses the "devil's whisper" in this story to save one of
our protagonists from peril. Just as he's about to be shot, The Shadow
steps in and saves the day with a snap of his fingers. He's smeared the
two pastes upon his thumb and second finger of his right hand. When he
snaps his fingers, there is an astoundingly loud report accompanied by a
flash of blinding flame. Nasty stuff. And remember, it actually does
exist! You can still occasionally find it for sale on eBay.

At the story's end, the master criminal shoots at The Shadow, but
misses. Our hero shoots back, and his aim is unerring. There's something
strangely satisfying in having the chief baddie meet his demise at the
hands of the master of the night. In later stories in the series, I
always felt a bit cheated when the head villain was only wounded by The
Shadow, and then expired in a hail of bullets from the police. I guess
in later years, it was more politically correct to have the criminal
mastermind dispatched by the police. It gave it more of an air of
legitimacy, I suppose. But not so in this early Shadow tale. To The
Shadow goes the honor of ridding the world of a very, very bad man.

This is one of those Shadow stories that you should read. You won't
regret it.

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
2014-06-27 22:51:16 UTC
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John,

Would it be feasible to note when the novel under discussion has been reprinted, and in what format? (Pyramid, Doubleday, Nostalgia...)
John Olsen
2014-06-29 00:53:58 UTC
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Post by j***@verizon.net
Would it be feasible to note when the novel under discussion has been reprinted, and in what format? (Pyramid, Doubleday, Nostalgia...)
Excellent suggestion. Thanks for mentioning it. And when I don't have
the information necessary, please feel free to chime in and add any
reprints you know of.

I'm not aware of any reprints for this story, but I would imagine
Sanctum Books will reprint it sometime in the future. Keep an eye out
for it!

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/
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