Review: "The Sledge-Hammer Crimes" (The Shadow)
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John Olsen
2012-03-09 08:05:40 UTC
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THE SLEDGE-HAMMER CRIMES was originally published in the August 1, 1936
issue of The Shadow Magazine. Robbery... murder... mass destruction! All
committed by sledge-hammer. The crimes struck at the heart of New York
City like a gigantic hammer in the fist of a fiend - until The Shadow
struck back with his own weapons.

The year 1936 was a good one for The Shadow Magazine. And this story is
just one of twenty-three other reasons why that is so. It's a fun, fast
moving story of not quite 40,000 words length. It's not the best that
1936 had to offer, but then please consider that there were some really
terrific stories published in that year. The previous issue was "The
Broken Napoleons" in which The Shadow takes on "The Vulture" at sea. The
following issue was "Terror Island" which takes place off the Georgia
coastline in a colonial plantation house. And sandwiched in between the
two was "The Sledge-Hammer Crimes." I suppose the story being reviewed
here did suffer a bit by comparison. But that's to take nothing from the
story itself. It's an excellent Shadow mystery, one which any Shadow fan
should get a real kick out of.

Perhaps the least impressive thing about this story is its title. A
reader might certainly question why he or she would want to read a story
about crimes committed by sledge-hammer. But luckily the title is a bit
misleading. Yes, the crimes are often committed by sledge-hammer, but
they are assisted by a... well, let's just say, a scientific device. So
the title is somewhat weak. The magazine cover tried to make up for it
with a "forceful" image, but even then The Shadow wasn't included in the
artwork... not even his silhouette. So readers might have understandably
passed by on this one, based on what they saw displayed on the
newsstands. But if so, they missed out on a pretty good story.

Our pulp mystery opens at the Mayan Museum in Manhattan. It is robbed
and Lewis Lemand, the curator, killed. Not killed by just any means. But
way of a short, stone-headed hammer; a Mayan relic. And the robbery
wasn't any simple thing, either. A large hole was broken through the
four-foot-thick back wall to the museum, and half a million in pure gold
relics were stolen. Only a sledge-hammer could have broken through that
thick wall of brick and marble.

The Shadow sends out his agents to scour the area, but there are no
clues to be found. Something evil is in the wind, and The Shadow knows
that future crime will shortly appear. And sure enough, it does.

The second of the sledge-hammer crimes occurs at the establishment of
Parker Clayborne, a wholesale dealer in precious stones. Again, thieves
had sledged their way into the jeweler's vault and robbed it of gems
valued at a quarter million dollars. No murder this time; Clayborne
wasn't at the shop during the break-in.

The Shadow discovers that the edges of the holes sledged into the walls
have a strange crumbly appearance. He begins to suspect that more than
just a sledge-hammer was used. Perhaps some new invention is aiding
crime. He suspects an old inventor by the name of Sanbrook Greel might
be involved; he has invented an electro-vibrator device which might be
useful in break-ins such as these. But that's not the only person who's

Tall and sharp-faced Prentiss Petersham, the attorney who represented
the Mayan Museum, shows up at Clayborne's jewelry shop as well. Might he
be involved? And eccentric millionaire Elvin Lettigue has donated funds
to the Mayan Museum. He's also been to the jewelry shop. He certainly
looks suspicious.

And then, the sledge-hammer gang strikes again! This time its the
Channing National Bank. More than a million taken through a yawning
opening in the rear wall of the vault. And another murder! Mr. Moreland,
the bank vice president, is found dead - his skull crushed. Attorney
Prentiss Petersham again just happens to be present. And millionaire
Elvin Lettigue has just cashed a large check. Looking pretty suspicious!

It's up to The Shadow to solve the crimes. It's up to The Shadow to find
the method used to break into the vaults. It's up to The Shadow to
unmask the murderer. And it's up to The Shadow to reveal the hidden
mastermind and thwart his future schemes. Yes, this is a job that only
The Shadow can handle. And so he does, in another wonderful pulp mystery.

Walter Gibson wrote this story under the working title of "The
Disintegrator." But I guess the editors felt the title gave too much of
the plot away (much like I've probably done here), so they changed it to
"The Sledge-hammer Crimes."

The familiar characters in this story include acting inspector Joe
Cardona, Police Commissioner Ralph Weston, detective sergeant Markham,
and agents Clyde Burke, Burbank, Rutledge Mann, Moe Shrevnitz, Cliff
Marsland, Hawkeye, and Harry Vincent. And let's not forget Stanley, the
chauffeur. A new character at police headquarters is introduced. He's
dapper-faced inspector Gurney. He never appeared in any other Shadow
story, and was only used here because Cardona was busy elsewhere when a
police official was needed for a scene.

As far as The Shadows disguises go, he appears as Lamont Cranston and we
also get so see The Shadow in his guise as Fritz, the janitor at police
headquarters. He also appears at Pennsylvania Station wearing a new
disguise. "He had the height of Lamont Cranston; but his features were
sharper and his manner more brisk. No one would have identified him with
his former personality." Still the master of disguise!

Usually, Clyde Burke's job at the New York Classic is only vaguely
described. In this story, we meet Donney, the assistant city editor. And
we actually see Burke write a newspaper story!

And speaking of jobs, this story reminds reades that Burbank and
Rutledge Mann do much the same work, but in different ways. Both were
contact agents. Burbank mainly used the telephone; Mann relied on
written messages and visits to his office. Generally speaking, Burbank
served at night while Mann served by day. Reader probably took all this
for gratned, but it's nice to see it spelled out occasionally, like it
is here.

It will be remembered that Commissioner Weston left the magazine series
for a while, and Commissioner Wainwright Barth replaced him. The reason,
according to writer Walter Gibson, was that he wanted the police
commissioner to continue to disbelieve in The Shadow. Weston had seen
The Shadow just too many times, often being saved by him, and could no
longer realistically claim there was no such character as The Shadow. So
Barth was brought in. But by the time of this story, Barth had made his
last appearance. Weston was back for good, and now he no longer claims
that the black-cloaked figure could be more than one man. At the end of
the story, The Shadow appears in his presence, and he seems to take it
for granted, now, that The Shadow is a single character.

Another rare glimpse is seen inside the office of B. JONAS. Usually, it
is simply a place where he receives messages from certain agents. But in
this story, it's pointed out that The Shadow uses it sometimes as an
emergency sanctum. In this story, he visits the office, receives some
messages, does a little paperwork, and then leaves by a secret exit. A
tantalizing peek at the office with the web-covered door that we'd like
to learn more about.

There is no mention of The Shadow's famed rubber suction cups in this
story. He still climbs the outside of a building to a second-floor
window, but didn't need those rubber discs. "The Shadow was an expert at
acquiring toeholds. Soft-tipped shoes were silent aids." Perhaps the
sqidgy sound of those suction cups were a disadvantage.

So don't be put off by the anemic title of this Shadow mystery. I think
if you give it a try, you'll find it to be a very satisfactory Shadow
pulp adventure.

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

2012-03-21 05:19:49 UTC
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Thanks for the excellent review and superb site!