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Review: "The North Woods Mystery" (The Shadow)
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John Olsen
2012-04-20 14:47:05 UTC
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THE NORTH WOODS MYSTERY was originally published in the February 15,
1936 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Through the towering pines of the
Northland moved The Shadow; from lake to lake softly glided his canoe on
the trail of the North Woods Mystery.

This story is an absolute joy to read. Although the title is a bit
uninspiring, the story itself is one of the best Walter Gibson ever
wrote. This would not be a good story to read as an introduction to The
Shadow, because it's quite a bit different from the norm. But if you've
read a few Shadow stories, and you know a bit about the character, then
you're ready for a real treat with this great pulp tale.

One of the last things I expected, based just upon the title alone, was
a visit to Chinatown. But, yup, that's how we start out. It seems that
Chinatown is being flooded with counterfeit money by the evil Kai Luan.
Phony mazuma, brought in by Mongols who are being smuggled into the
country from China via Canada.

Kow Loon, the curio dealer, has been murdered. His body has been
discovered by The Shadow's good friend, Dr. Roy Tam. Little realizing
that the killer, a giant Mongol, is still hidden in the curio shop, Dr.
Tam is attacked by the murderer. The sudden attack can only be stopped
by one person: The Shadow! And sure enough, The Shadow arrives in the
nick of time to save a friend. For of those in Chinatown who owe
allegiance to The Shadow, none is more loyal than Dr. Roy Tam.

As the dying murderer lies on the floor of the curio shop, The Shadow
speaks to him in his own tongue - Mongolian Chinese. Yes, add another
language to the long list of languages that The Shadow has mastered. The
dying man speaks the name of his master: Kai Luan. This strange Kai Luan
is a mystery person of whom Dr. Roy Tam has heard only rumors. He is a
friend of the evil. He sends money to those who would harbor his Mongol
fanatics who would do murder.

In the dead man's pockets, The Shadow finds a roll of crisp counterfeit
bills. With this clue, The Shadow will follow the trail far from
Manhattan, off to a pristine wilderness in rough, unsettled country. He
will track far into the North Woods of Canada and seek out the source of
the smuggling and counterfeiting ring.

Assisting The Shadow in this outdoor adventure are Harry Vincent and
G-Man Vic Marquette. Also appearing, while the story is centered in
Manhattan, is Moe Shrevnitz, cab driver deluxe. Brief appearances by
Rutledge Mann and Burbank round out the cast. There is no mention of The
Shadow's other agents, or of the law's Weston or Cardona. This is
basically a Harry Vincent story, with Harry being our proxy-hero. The
Shadow just shows up as is needed, while Harry carries most of the action.

It's nice to see The Shadow in different surroundings. And it's assuring
to see him as the master of the outdoors as well as master of the night.
He's an accomplished woodsman who can paddle a canoe silently and stalk
through the underbrush without sound. And again, we see The Shadow's
mastery over animals, as he has strange control over the forest
creatures. Before, we've seen his mastery of dogs. In this story, he has
a strange familiarity with animals of the forest. It seems he really
does speak their language, although to go into more detail and explain
more would be to spoil the ending. But when you read the story for
yourself, you'll know what I mean.

Walter Gibson submitted this story to his editors at Street and Smith
with the rather uninspired title "The Shadow in Canada." I'm glad they
chose to change it to "The North Woods Mystery." A story this terrific
deserves a better title.

This story, being a product of its times, carries the usual racial slurs
about the Chinese appearing in the tale. It's done casually, and was
apparently just taken for granted back in 1936. While jarring today,
it's part of the historical context of the story.

There are a lot of people running around in disguise in this story. But
in the end, all is sorted out. It surprised me how many things had to be
explained at the end. The entire last chapter is devoted to explaining
who did what, under what disguise, while other things happened
elsewhere. I would have been happy stopping reading the pulp mystery at
the end of chapter nineteen. I had forgotten about a lot of the loose
ends in all the excitement of reading the story. And in some pulp
stories, the reader's poor memory would have been assumed, and the final
wrap-up would have been disregarded.

But I'm glad author Walter Gibson included chapter twenty, and explained
how everything fit together. It helped me realize how many things really
did need explaining, and how perfectly they all fit together. Gibson did
a superb job writing this convoluted story and of keeping everything
straight.

If I have one flaw to pick at, it would be part of the characterization
of the person who turns out to be The Shadow in disguise. I won't reveal
what disguise The Shadow uses, here, because I don't want to spoil the
surprise ending. But long before the reader is aware that this character
is actually The Shadow, that character is described in ways that don't
make sense, once we realize who he really is. It's a case of being in
two places at once. Although we know The Shadow has just arrived in
Canada, his disguised character is described as doing certain things
that he could not possibly have done. He was in New York, garbed in
black and fighting Mongols at the time. But I guess if that's the worst
flaw I can find with this story, then we're on solid footing, here. It
certainly doesn't distract from the story.

And one last thing. That strange clock in The Shadow's sanctum is once
again briefly mentioned in passing. This is the fourth time it was
mentioned, albeit fleetingly. For a better description of the clock and
it's strange concentric moving wheels, you are referred to the 1933
story "The Red Blot." It's the first time the clock was mentioned, and
it gave a pretty complete description of how it worked without hands.
Here in this story, however, we are only reminded that is sits in the
sanctum on the table. Just a tantalizing glimpse.

I'd rank this story probably in the top ten Shadow pulp mysteries, if
not that, then certainly in the top twenty-five. There's plenty of
action, a mystery that has a very satisfying resolution and a chance to
see The Shadow at his most powerful. The Chinese refer to him as "Ying
Ko." The French-Canadians refer to him as "L'Ombre." But whether spoken
in Chinese, French or English, The Shadow is the name of mystery and
adventure.

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://www.spaceports.com/~deshadow/



get a usable email address.
J
2012-04-21 14:09:26 UTC
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Post by John Olsen
I'd rank this story probably in the top ten Shadow pulp mysteries, if
not that, then certainly in the top twenty-five. There's plenty of
action, a mystery that has a very satisfying resolution and a chance to
see The Shadow at his most powerful.
Do you list your Top Ten anywhere, John?
John Olsen
2012-04-21 17:20:01 UTC
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My top ten? Well, at one time, this was my top 25:

04/01/31 The Living Shadow
12/01/32 The Romanoff Jewels
08/01/33 The Black Hush
09/01/33 The Grove of Doom
07/01/34 Charg, Monster
07/01/35 The Fate Joss
07/15/35 Atoms of Death
03/01/36 The Voodoo Master
04/01/36 The Salamanders
05/01/36 The Gray Ghost
05/15/36 City of Doom
06/01/36 The Crime Oracle
11/15/36 The Strange Disappearance of Joe Cardona
08/01/37 The Shadow Unmasks
11/15/37 Teeth of the Dragon
06/01/38 Voodoo Trail
07/15/38 The Golden Vulture
09/15/39 The Golden Master
12/01/39 Shiwan Khan Returns
03/01/40 The Invincible Shiwan Khan
04/15/40 The Prince of Evil
05/15/40 Masters of Death
07/01/40 Murder Genius
09/15/40 The Man Who Died Twice
11/15/40 The Devil's Paymaster

But the contents of my top 25 are always changing as I read stories for
a second time and re-evaluate them. But this is certainly a good start
for someone looking for great Shadow stories to read...

John
Post by J
Post by John Olsen
I'd rank this story probably in the top ten Shadow pulp mysteries, if
not that, then certainly in the top twenty-five. There's plenty of
action, a mystery that has a very satisfying resolution and a chance to
see The Shadow at his most powerful.
Do you list your Top Ten anywhere, 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://www.spaceports.com/~deshadow/
J
2012-04-22 13:00:28 UTC
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Thanks. Some of those, of course, I read during the old paperback
series reprintings, and some I must have in the newest editions. I
know I have the Golden Master stories in the Mysterious Press
hardback. Nice that so muxch of this stuff is readily available agian!
Dave
2012-06-06 12:03:31 UTC
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Haven't read all the SHADOWs, but from what I have read and heard,
this is a good a top 25 as any, though given the topic, I was
surprised not to see NORTHWOODS on her

Dave

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