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Review: "Smugglers of Death" (The Shadow)
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John Olsen
2015-02-20 18:46:44 UTC
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SMUGGLERS OF DEATH was published in the June 1, 1939 issue of The Shadow
Magazine. Millions in jewels slipped through the customs, but they
couldn't slip through the hands of The Shadow!

This one has a lot to offer. Author Walter Gibson was in top form when
he wrote this. It's a lot of fun and the action keeps going. The only
lulls in the action are to let you catch your breath, then it starts up
all over again. There are no major loopholes in the plot, a common
problem in the hastily written pulp magazine stories. I do wish that the
female villain could have received a more definitive end, though. I'd
hate to think she got away with it! But overlooking that minor issue, I
think you'll like this story.

Diamonds! Sapphires and rubies! They're smuggling gems of all sort
brought from overseas. And along with the raw jewels comes death. The
Shadow dips his hands in the pile of wealth and comes up with a murderer.

At the beginning of our story, The Shadow overhears Spike Hegley's phone
conversation with a mysterious master criminal who has ordered henchmen
placed on the speedy cabin cruiser The Flyaway. The Flyaway is a getaway
ship for smugglers, and the unknown villain has plans to thwart the
smugglers' plans and reap the wealth for himself.

Coming in from Europe is the steamship Albania. Aboard is gentlemen
adventurer Michael Waybrock, smuggling in a large amount of illicit
gems. His plan is to bypass customs by jumping ship as it approaches the
coastline. The small yacht The Flyaway will pick him up along with his
treasure, and spirit him into the country to Mariner's Isle off the
shore of Long Island Sound. At least, that's the plan.

But the mysterious mastermind has other plans. His henchmen will take
over the crew of the Flyaway and seize the jewels. Waybrock gets wind of
the plans and tries to find an alternate method of getting the jewels
into the country. He strikes up a shipboard friendship with young Myrna
Elvin in the hopes of convincing her to carry his package through
customs. But things go awry.

Waybrock is killed on the ship before he gets a chance to transfer the
package to Myrna. Frenchy Brenn, a name familiar with The Shadow,
assisted by the evil Leona Dubray, shoves a knife through Waybrock's
heart and leaves him outside innocent young Myrna Elvin's stateroom.

Frenchy Brenn jumps overboard with the cache of gems and makes his way
to the Flyaway. He successfully makes his way into the country with the
illicit gems after a wild battle onboard. Another smuggling job
successfully completed!

The Shadow must track down the hidden brain behind the smuggling racket.
The Shadow must thwart the killers out to get Myrna Elvin. The Shadow
must find who is recutting the stones so that they can't be traced. The
Shadow must stop the traffic in smuggled gems. Yes, he's going to be a
very busy guy!

But The Shadow has plenty of help. Beautiful young Myrna Elvin joins
forces with The Shadow to act as one of his agents. She's a plucky and
determined young lady who does a very competent job. And also assisting
are The Shadow's most trusted agents. Harry Vincent teams up with Myrna
Elvin. Moe Shrevnitz again helps with trailing taxicabs. Hawkeye is on
the job, trailing suspects without any telltale signs. Someone is
driving Cranston's limo, so we assume Stanley is there. And of course
contact man Burbank keeps communication between everyone running smoothly.

Representing the forces of law and order are Police Commissioner Ralph
Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona. Also joining in this mystery is Vic
Marquette, Federal operative. Smuggling valuable gems into the country
is a federal crime, you know.

The Shadow gets not only to appear in his usual garb of black, but also
as celebrated globetrotter Lamont Cranston. And several times he appears
posing as a Bowery bum, as well. He does love his disguises.

We learn some interesting things about The Shadow in this story. His
ability to imitate voices is used several times to convince people over
the phone that he is Commissioner Weston. Cardona falls for the trick
with assuring reliability. He can always be counted on to fall for that
one when needed.

And The Shadow seems to have a steel plate in his head. When shot by a
thug, "the slug slid along his skull like it had hit a chunk of armor
plate!" Could this have been the relic of some old war wound? Or did he
just get lucky... again? (Why am I getting visions of refrigerator
magnets clinging to his forehead?)

We get to see The Shadow's autogiro briefly in this mystery, as it lands
on the steamship Albania. An alleged "shore to sea" test, it is in
reality a way to sneak The Shadow aboard the ship.

In Cranston's limo, there is a short-wave radio. We've seen that several
times before. In this story, it's claimed that The Shadow's voice passes
through a special mixer that makes it "unintelligible to any listener
except the designated receiver." Pretty cool idea, if you ask me!

We are given a bit more insight into the lockpicks used by The Shadow.
In addition to his set of oddly-shaped picks and tweezer-like
instruments, he has a special skeleton key. Ever wonder how he opens
those locks so silently? It's explained that this special skeleton key
delivers drops of oil from its hollow interior, making his lockwork
totally silent.

We also get to see inside the "other" room in The Shadow's sanctum, the
laboratory. There, The Shadow uses a special heat treatment on some
zircons which temporarily clears their color and gives them the lustre
of true diamonds. Enough so to fool even experts, so it is claimed. Does
such a treatment exist, or is this just fiction?

We get to see a rare example of a female villain. Most of the women in
Walter Gibson's Shadow stories were innocent. But occasionally he threw
in an evil woman. Leona Dubray is one such woman. On board the Albania,
she cold-bloodedly shoots a steward in the back, killing him.

You figure she ought to be brought to justice by the end of the story.
But Gibson keeps her fate rather vague. When last seen, she is in police
custody, convincing them she knows nothing of the mastermind. They know
nothing of the murder she committed. So does she get away with it?
Unfortunately, we are never told.

Occasionally in the Shadow stories, Harry Vincent will briefly throw on
the black cloak and slouch hat of The Shadow and impersonate him. I seem
to remember other agents doing the same, although that was rare. In this
story, it's our proxy heroine Myrna Elvin who decides to wear the black
garb. It's interesting to see the results she gets, including a surge of
confidence.

It all makes for a rousing fun Shadow mystery, one which I heartily
enjoyed. Recommended.

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
2015-02-22 13:58:12 UTC
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Post by John Olsen
We get to see a rare example of a female villain. Most of the women in
Walter Gibson's Shadow stories were innocent. But occasionally he threw
in an evil woman. Leona Dubray is one such woman. On board the Albania,
she cold-bloodedly shoots a steward in the back, killing him.
You figure she ought to be brought to justice by the end of the story.
But Gibson keeps her fate rather vague. When last seen, she is in police
custody, convincing them she knows nothing of the mastermind. They know
nothing of the murder she committed. So does she get away with it?
Unfortunately, we are never told.
Is it possible that Gibson was considering another appearance for her down the road? Perhaps he planned a short prison term for her, and then new villainies...
John Olsen
2015-02-22 20:16:07 UTC
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Post by j***@verizon.net
Post by John Olsen
Leona Dubray
Is it possible that Gibson was considering another appearance for her down the road? Perhaps he planned a short prison term for her, and then new villainies...
Interesting possibility. He did bring back some characters... some
Shadow disguises like the Count of Santurnia, who appeared twice... some
temporary aides like Bruce Duncan, who appeared in three stories... and
some small-time criminals, such as Diamond Bert, who showed up four
times! So why not bring back Leona Dubray? I think it could have
happened. But, unfortunately, it didn't.

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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