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Review "Satan's Signature" (the banned Shadow novel)
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John Olsen
2014-09-05 18:04:15 UTC
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SATAN'S SIGNATURE was originally published in the November 1941 issue of
Clues magazine, after being rejected by The Shadow Magazine... and
rewritten. Wealthy Andrew Thorpe was dead when Detective Walt Kenny
arrived in answer to his phone call. Heart attack. And then Walt Kenny
found that the dead man’s will had bequeathed a million dollars to an
unknown heir — with Death the executor! And Kenny was on the trail of a
phantom killer.

This is the Shadow mystery that Shadow readers never got to see. It was
submitted in September 1939 under the title "The Phantom Killer." But,
it was banned by the editors of Street & Smith for being too extreme...
a taboo breaker. Never one to waste a pulp story, they had author Ted
Tinsley do a quick rewrite and printed it in the November 1941 issue of
Clues, under the title "Satan's Signature."

So, just what taboo did Tinsley break? If you're like me, that's the
first question that pops into your mind. So here it is. <SPOILER ALERT>
He had the master villain be an old woman... who, when caught, commits
suicide. Yes, that was a deal-breaker for The Shadow magazine. In the
magazine series, women were treated more gently. They were almost always
pure and innocent. Occasionally, author Walter B. Gibson would write in
a moll... a girlfriend of a gangster whose actions are shady. A couple
times Gibson tried to trick readers into thinking that a woman was the
master criminal, but in the end it turned out she was innocent. It was
Theodore Tinsley who pushed the envelope and put women in the role of
the guilty. But never the chief baddie. And certainly never was a woman
allowed to commit suicide. That's where he stepped over the line in this
story.

Theodore Tinsley first started writing for The Shadow in 1936 with
"Partners of Peril". Street & Smith wanted someone who could ease the
pressure on Walter Gibson by writing four Shadow pulp stories per year
(out of the 24 published). Tinsley stayed with Street & Smith until 1943
with "The Golden Doom". In total, he wrote 27 Shadow pulp mysteries that
were published in the magazine... and then there was this one.

Tinsley's writing style was similar to Walter Gibson's in many ways.
Tinsley did a good job of sticking to the series "bible" and keeping the
characters consistent. There were a few minor departures, but the casual
reader probably wouldn't have detected that someone other than Gibson
was writing the story. The thing that makes Tinsley's stories stick out
is that they were a bit edgier... a bit more pulpy... than Gibson's
standard Shadow fare. There was a touch more torture and violence. And a
bit of pretty tame sex was often included... a few slightly titillating
(by 1940 standards) descriptions. Tinsley's plots were a little more
over-the-top. His villains were just a bit more flamboyant. It was all
subtle, but a regular reader might detect that some of the stories were
a little more thrilling. And if so, it usually turned out to be a
Tinsley story.

Satan's Signature, being reviewed here, turned out to be a pretty good
detective yarn. If you didn't know it had originally been a Shadow
story, you probably wouldn't have been able to tell by reading it. The
obvious traces of its ancestry have been removed. This was not a matter
of simply changing the character names and leaving the story alone.
Rather, their entire personalities were rewritten. Scenes were modified.
And what was published a year later in Clues was a fun detective story
with the Tinsley touch.

The story opens as detective Walt Kenny has been called to the estate of
millionaire Andrew Thorpe in the middle of the night. Thorpe, who had
called him, died five minutes earlier from a heart attack.

The people in the house are Ned and Alice Thorpe, identical twins and
orphans living with their uncle, Mrs. Martha Jackson, a widowed elderly
second cousin of the dead man, a burly butler by the name of Chester,
and Doctor Derby who had been attending Mr. Thorpe and his nurse Miss
Cunningham. Also, two maids and a cook.

Earlier that day Thorpe had executed a new will, witnessed by John
Strickland, his lawyer, and by Chester, the butler. Kenny finds it in an
unlocked safe. According to the terms of the will, the twins get a half
million, each. Martha Jackson gets twenty-five thousand. The servants
get a thousand each. There are some small bequests to charities. And...
a mystery man by the name of Herbert Logan gets a full million.

Within the hour, Chester, the butler is stabbed through the heart. That
leaves only one witness to the will: John Strickland, the lawyer. He is
found dead soon after. Now, Walt Kenny must unravel the mystery of the
murders... and the unknown Herbert Logan. And all is finally revealed in
a drawing room confrontation right out of The Thin Man or Charlie Chan.
And, yes, the master criminal turns out to be old Martha Jackson. And in
a pique of fury, she bites down on her fake pearls and swallows the
poison hidden within.

As I read this story, I kept looking for hints of The Shadow. They were
there. Read this passage: "A flashlight glowed suddenly behind the wheel
of the car. The lens of the torch was taped. A beam no broader than a
lead pencil played across Kenny’s face as he bent close toward the
seat." The flashlight lens masked off with tape... how many times have
we read that in The Shadow novels?

In one place, Walt Kenny calls his secretary to get an address for a
phone number. In The Shadow version, this would obviously be the place
where The Shadow called Burbank and had him use his reverse-lookup
directory.

And consider the following scene. Walt Kenny discovers an underground
passage taken by a thug. Far inside, there is a deep pit and a rope
leading down. There is an exciting confrontation between Kenny hanging
from the rope, and the thug, at the top with a knife. I would have loved
to read this scene as it was originally staged with The Shadow. It was
very well done, and would have been a high point of the pulp. And it's
not too hard to imagine.

In Tinsley's Shadow stories, he wrote some pretty cool death traps for
The Shadow to avoid. There's a real corker in this reworked Shadow tale.
Aboard a cabin cruiser, The Shadow... er, I mean Walt Kenny... is
trapped by the master crook in a tiny cabin of the ship with phosgene
gas being pumped in. And the room is booby trapped with lethal
electricity. How he escapes is a real joy to read. It would have been
another thrilling highpoint of the Shadow story, had it been published
as such.

Theodore Tinsley was noted for playing a little fast and loose with
reality, and it shows here in a few spots. In the finale of the story,
Alice explains she was able to successfully impersonate her brother.
"The deception was easy because Ned and I are, as you know, identical
twins.” The problem, there, is that identical twins are always of the
same sex. In the case of Alice and Ned, they would have been fraternal
twins, not identical. And the impersonation ploy wouldn't have worked.

In the climax, Inspector Cardona (OK, he's called Inspector Swanson,
here) is wary of a small glass vial that Martha Jackson claims contains
nitroglycerin. "He knew nitro when he saw it!" And here again, Tinsley
stretches the facts a bit. Since nitroglycerin is a colorless liquid, he
wouldn't know it when he saw it. That glass vial could just have easily
been filled with water or oil, both also colorless. But we must keep in
mind that this was pulp... and as such we can't be too demanding.

After reading this story, I pondered the question, could this story have
been salvaged for The Shadow magazine? Admittedly, the ending did not
fit with Street & Smith's editorial guidelines for The Shadow. There was
really no way to make adjustments, since the whole story was written
around the final finish. Having the villain be a man... even a man
wearing the disguise of an old woman... might have conformed to Street &
Smith's standards, but then would have contradicted some of the basic
clues set up earlier in the story. So I understand the editorial
decision not to use it.

But I still wish I could read the original version, where The Shadow was
the hero. But alas, that version seems to be lost to the ages. I've
never detected even a hint that the original version survived. Instead,
all we are left with is the rewritten version as published in Clues.
It's still worth the time to read, though.

It's a quite enjoyable pulp adventure/mystery that shows off Tinsley's
pulp skills. Most signs of it's Shadowy origins have been erased, so you
shouldn't expect to enjoy it as a Shadow novel. Only a few tantalyzing
hints remain. Instead, enjoy it as a fun pulp romp with Walt Kenny,
private detective. And dream of "what if..."

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/
Chuck
2014-09-05 18:41:46 UTC
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Post by John Olsen
SATAN'S SIGNATURE was originally published in the November 1941 issue of
Clues magazine, after being rejected by The Shadow Magazine... and
rewritten.
Very interesting. Thank you.

Chuck
John Olsen
2014-09-06 04:12:16 UTC
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Post by Chuck
Very interesting. Thank you.
Chuck
You're welcome, Chuck. I've been curious about this story ever since I
first heard about it. So I figured there would probably be some others
just as curious as I was. Hopefully I was able to answer a few
questions that we've all been wondering about.

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/
Chuck
2014-09-06 17:55:49 UTC
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Post by John Olsen
Post by Chuck
Very interesting. Thank you.
Chuck
You're welcome, Chuck. I've been curious about this story ever since I
first heard about it. So I figured there would probably be some others
just as curious as I was. Hopefully I was able to answer a few questions
that we've all been wondering about.
John
I never heard of it before your review. I love the pulps and I am a
completest. I got started with the Doc Savage Bantam reprint #62 The
Pirate's Ghost and haven't quit since. I have all the paperbacks of Doc,
The Shadow (many publishers), The Avenger, The Spider (again more than one
publisher) and am currently collecting (and reading - when I have the time)
the new reprints. Back when you had posted The Shadow as text files, I got
them all. I still have them. I waited until a good reader came along
(Kindle), because I can't read for long sitting at my computer. By then, a
new reprint series came along and I started with those. If the series are
ever finished, I'll start all over again and read them in the original
order.

I've always wanted to ask you a question. Do you only like the Shadow? I
love your reviews and would like to read some about other characters.

Chuck
John Olsen
2014-09-07 01:33:40 UTC
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"Do you only like the Shadow?
I love your reviews and would like to read some about other characters.
Ah, there's so much good pulp out there! I have to narrow my focus to
just The Shadow for now. But once I've finished reading (and reviewing)
them all for the second time, I'll be finished with The Shadow and may
move on to other pulp series.

The Spider is The Shadow on steroids. I've read enough of them to know
that I like them. That might be a good place to start...

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/
Chuck
2014-09-07 11:19:34 UTC
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Post by John Olsen
"Do you only like the Shadow?
I love your reviews and would like to read some about other characters.
Ah, there's so much good pulp out there! I have to narrow my focus to
just The Shadow for now. But once I've finished reading (and reviewing)
them all for the second time, I'll be finished with The Shadow and may
move on to other pulp series.
The Spider is The Shadow on steroids. I've read enough of them to know
that I like them. That might be a good place to start...
John
I'm looking forward to it.

Chuck

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