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Review: "City of Fear" (The Shadow)
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John Olsen
2014-06-13 18:25:38 UTC
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CITY OF FEAR was published in the October 15, 1940 issue of The Shadow
Magazine. Men of society committed heinous crimes, yet they were
innocent. In this carnival of crime and mystery, it was The Shadow who
played the role of barker!

This is a fun whirlwind of action and adventure written by alternate
Shadow author Theodore Tinsley. But as with so many of Tinsley's
efforts, it has its flaws. If you are swept up in the thrill ride, you
may overlook these weaknesses. But if you stop to examine the tale too
closely, you will notice plot holes and inconsistencies. So just enjoy
the ride and don't think back over the plot and ask too many questions.
If you can do that, you'll really enjoy this mile-a-minute Shadow adventure.

In the midwest city called, appropriately enough, Western City, there is
a fear created by crime, and the men who are being framed for them.
Martin Black swears he didn't kill Howard Nixon, president of the
Prairie Savings Bank. But someone crushed Nixon's skull with a bar of
steel. And that someone looked mighty like Martin Black. And Black's
alibi turns out to be false. So what is the law to think?

Alice Gunther, the pretty niece of the accused Martin Black is convinced
he's innocent. "If only The Shadow were here," she moans. Determined to
seek the aid of The Shadow, she has a newspaper friend print a story
seeking his help.

The Shadow sends Clyde Burke to Western city to cover the developments
of the case. He meets in New York with Martin Black's friend, Roger
Dodd. Dodd is Western City's wealthiest contractor. Dodd's behavior is
suspicious enough to send The Shadow to Western City himself.

Once in Western City, The Shadow must sift the clues to determine who's
behind the crimes. And more crimes occur, right under The Shadow's nose!
Including the impersonation of The Shadow himself. The mastermind behind
the entire scheme is a master of disguise. He can appear as anyone, even
The Shadow.

As The Shadow, the villain trades tips with Joe Cardona. Again disguised
as The Shadow, the evil criminal identifies himself to agent Harry
Vincent using a duplicate ring containing a fire opal. Harry is
captured. Then the fake Shadow apparently rescues Harry from the
clutches of the "other" Shadow, all in an effort to worm secrets from him.

Will the sinister hidden mastermind be successful? Can The Shadow rip
away the various masks and reveal the true identity of the criminal
genius? It seems impossible, but luckily that's what our hero
accomplishes. And you'll enjoy reading how.

Assisting The Shadow in this story are contact-man Burbank, long-time
agent Harry Vincent, newspaper-reported Clyde Burke, hackie Moe
Shrevnitz, investment broker Rutledge Mann and pilot Miles Crofton.
Inspector Joe Cardona of the New York Police Department appears early in
the story. No other familiar forces of the law appear after that, however.

The Shadow appears in disguise Richard Belton, an advance agent for a
traveling dance orchestra, in this story. And most often, he appears as
Lamont Cranston. But it's a wimpy Cranston who pleads for mercy in a
terrified voice, who utters a high-pitched scream, who trembles when
revived, and who claims the crime is a subject on which he knows
absolutely nothing. Most unlike the amateur criminologist Cranston who
appeared before and after this story. Certainly not the nerves-of-steel
Cranston who is a big-game hunter.

It makes one think that this story might not have been written by Walter
Gibson. And when you read the devilish murder of a helpless woman, you
just KNOW it couldn't be Gibson doing the writing. He never killed
women, helpless or not. It's no surprise, then, that Theodore Tinsley
was the author of this story. And it should be no surprise when you read
the torture scene where Harry Vincent's flesh is seared by a glowing poker.

This was the fifteenth of Theodore Tinsley's twenty-seven Shadow novels.
It's pretty obvious, when reading his brutal depiction of death: "the
slug tunneled downward through the thug's chest and ripped out near the
base of the spine. It left a hole the size of a man's palm." This more
lurid style was definitely Tinsley, not Gibson.

Tinsley was inordinately fond of railroads and often worked trains into
his stories. In this tale, several chapters take place on a train, and
there is a climactic scene where the a trestle is blown up and the train
plunges to its doom. It's a sign of Tinsley.

Some of Tinsley's other trademarks are missing from this story. No
underground tunnels or caverns. No women villains. No titillation. It
seems Tinsley was a bit more restrained this time. But it's still easy
to identify as a Tinsley story, nonetheless.

A few more Tinsley touches: The Shadow doesn't simply tie up a captured
thug; he cleverly loops the bonds so that if the gorilla stuggles he
will strangle to death. When Harry Vincent is framed for murder, The
Shadow removes the incriminating bullet from the victim in a gruesome
operation with a knife.

One thing that Tinsley consistently got right, was The Shadow's black
gloves. Gibson often overlooked them when describing The Shadow.
Tinsley, on the other hand, always remembered that the black gloves
completed the shielding of The Shadow in darkness.

In this story, we see another of The Shadow's inventions. This looks
like a portable typewriter in a traveling case. But inside, it's an
efficient, battery-operated listening device. Some type of amplifier
with headphones for hearing conversations in another room.

Oh, and Clyde Burke smokes. I don't think that was established in any
other Shadow story, although the fact that Lamont Cranston smokes was
mentioned occasionally. But here, we are told that Clyde also smokes his
cigarettes. Interesting.

One thing did catch my attention. In this story, The Shadow uses the
girasol stone from his ring to cut through a glass window pane. This is
something that Tinsley used in a few of his other Shadow stories,
including "Partners of Peril" and "Foxhound." In real life, that
wouldn't work as easily as it does when a diamond cuts glass. A diamond
is much harder than glass. A girasol, however, is only slightly harder.
It would almost be like trying to cut through a stick of butter with
another stick of butter... maybe a slightly refrigerated stick.
Possible, but not easily done.

There were some things that annoyed me in the story. In this pulp
mystery, the master criminal has somehow identified Lamont Cranston as
being The Shadow. But we aren't told how. He knows a lot of things about
The Shadow that he really shouldn't be able to know, and this is never
explained. He knows that Clyde Burke and Harry Vincent are agents of The
Shadow. And he knows that The Shadow identifies himself to his agents
with his girasol ring. Did he prepare himself in advance by doing some
research on The Shadow? Doubtful, because he was in a midwest city far
from New York, and had no reason to suspect that The Shadow would show
up. So one weakness of this story is that the master criminal's unique
knowledge of The Shadow is never explained.

Early in the story, Martin Black's alibi fails, when officials can't
find the farmhouse and the man he claims to have visited. Much is made
of this. It isn't just a passing comment. It's a major plot point. But
then it is later completely forgotten and we never find out how the
farmhouse was made to disappear. It's a nagging plot thread that needed
to be explained.

Another unexplained occurrence is that the train robbers steal the gold
from the freight car, then replace the seals. There's absolutely no
reason to do this. Once the gold is gone, there's no need to try to hide
it or fool anyone into believing it's still there. Yet Tinsley makes it
seem important that the seals on the doors are replaced with counterfeit
seals. It's brought up several times, so is seemingly important. But
nothing is ever explained about why it's important.

One of the things that annoys me the most is when the master villain's
carefully laid out scheme depends upon a totally random and unexpected
event. If that event hadn't happened, the whole scheme would have
failed. Roger Dodd is impersonated and then a thug who survived the
train wreck trails him back to his hotel room and he kills the real
Dodd. This is exactly what the master criminal wanted to happen. But how
did he know that there would be a survivor? And how did he know the
survivor would see the fake Roger Dodd and track him back to his hotel
room? Somehow, these carefully laid plans don't look so carefully laid,
when you go back and examine them. That's a frequent weakness in
Tinsley's stories. But usually the stories move at such a breakneck pace
that the reader doesn't have a chance to keep track of these things.

Even with these weaknesses, I really did like this story. Watch The
Shadow battle a wizard at disguise; a criminal with a marvelous ability
to assume the identity of any person he chooses. The story is a touch
more lurid and "pulpish" than the usual Walter Gibson fare. But if
you're a pulp fan, I think you'll enjoy this story of an unknown
supercriminal who turns the ordinary peaceful locality of Western City
into a swamp of suspicion and terror.

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
2014-06-13 23:26:47 UTC
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Post by John Olsen
There were some things that annoyed me in the story. In this pulp
mystery, the master criminal has somehow identified Lamont Cranston as
being The Shadow. But we aren't told how. He knows a lot of things about
The Shadow that he really shouldn't be able to know, and this is never
explained. He knows that Clyde Burke and Harry Vincent are agents of The
Shadow. And he knows that The Shadow identifies himself to his agents
with his girasol ring. Did he prepare himself in advance by doing some
research on The Shadow? Doubtful, because he was in a midwest city far
from New York, and had no reason to suspect that The Shadow would show
up. So one weakness of this story is that the master criminal's unique
knowledge of The Shadow is never explained.
He read about him in the magazine! <g>

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