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Review: "Jabberwocky Thrust" (The Shadow)
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John Olsen
2013-02-08 08:14:27 UTC
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JABBERWOCKY THRUST was originally published in the October-November 1947
issue of The Shadow Magazine. Never in all Lamont Cranston's varied
experience did he find a murder which was as baffling or in which the
motive was as obscure, as in this one which opened at a Lewis Carroll
masquerade. Murder in double talk... Malice in Wonderland,
Kill-through-the-Looking-Glass, all were headlines, but the actual name
of this case is the Jabberwocky Thrust!

To describe this story in a single word: bad. Terrible. Travesty. Train
wreck! (OK, that's two words.) This is a Shadow pulp story in name only.
And of course that means that it was written by Bruce Elliott, not
creator and master storyteller Walter Gibson. Elliott's Shadow stories
are famous... make that infamous... for being so far outside the norm of
a Shadow pulp tale that they would be better off if they could be
banished from existence. But alas, they can't.

The plot is all about a murder at a masquerade ball. All the characters
at the ball are dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland. And it's
up to Lamont Cranston, criminologist, to solve the crime. That's right,
Lamont Cranston, not The Shadow. It's a pretty pale story in which The
Shadow never truly appears. But that's a Bruce Elliott story for you...

It all begins at the twenty-first annual masquerade of the Dodgson cult.
Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym for Dodgson, a mathematics professor.
Lamont Cranston is there, looking oddly incongruous staring out of the
fat costume of Tweedledee. His twin, Tweedledum, is in reality ace
homicide man, Joe Cardona. The two of them are there at the ball to keep
an eye on the host, dressed as the White Knight, Bruce Ten Eyk. There
have been four attempts on his life, and Cranston and Cardona are there
to watch for a fifth attempt.

Another attempt on Ten Eyk's life is made, but the knife blade breaks
off on the armor of his White Knight costume. Shortly thereafter,
another attempt is made; one that succeeds. The upstairs maid finds his
body sitting in the library, his head lying separately on the floor. As
the Queen of Hearts would say, "Off with his head!"

It's up to Lamont Cranston and Joe Cardona to sort through the other
guests at the costume ball, and sift through the myriad of clues to find
the motivation for the murder and the identity of the killer himself. Or
herself. As usual, Joe Cardona comes up with a logical solution to the
crime... one that turns out to be wrong... but it takes Lamont Cranston
to reveal the true answer to the mystery. Lamont Cranston solves the
crime. And The Shadow? Well, he's made reference to, but never actually
shows up. That happens in some of Bruce Elliott's stories...

Bruce Elliott took over writing for The Shadow Magazine in 1946 when
Walter Gibson left in a contract dispute. He wrote fifteen of the
shortened stories until Gibson returned in 1948. Elliott's Shadow
stories are well-known for two main things: they were the worst of the
Shadow stories, and they were the shortest. This one is under 19,000
words; a far cry from Gibson's usual 45,000 word novels.

This was Elliott's eleventh Shadow story. And it breaks most of the
rules that Walter Gibson spent fifteen years creating. All those things
we know about The Shadow from years of reading the pulp magazine are now
changed and conflict with Elliott's version of The Shadow. For one
thing, The Shadow never actually appears in this story. There is one
fight scene in a darkened room in which Lamont Cranston is referred to
as The Shadow. But he's not in his black cloak and slouch hat, so it
doesn't really count. He never appears to anyone as The Shadow.

Moe Shrevnitz appears briefly as Cranston's cab driver, and refers to
Cranston as "boss." But here, he's only identified as "Shrevvie."
Burbank also appears briefly, speaking eagerly to his "boss." This isn't
the calm-voiced Burbank that we know so well from Gibson's stories.
Instead of the traditional monotoned voice answering with "Burbank," we
get an eager voice saying, "Hello?" Those are the only two familiar
agents who show up here. And they aren't the same as we knew them. Not
even close...

Lamont Cranston isn't the multi-millionaire socialite and clubman we
knew from Gibson's stories. Here, he is a common-class working man, a
criminologist of renown who has been written up in magazine articles.
And he's tired. At night, he gets sleepy and nods off. This isn't the
tireless master of the night that we've come to know and admire. This
isn't the super crimefighter whose element is the night. No, this is
just a man who gets tired at night and falls asleep. Elliott describes a
pale imitation of the master of darkness that was created by Walter Gibson.

Some of the things described in this story are just so implausible that
it makes me scratch my head in confusion. For example, if two men of the
law were guarding a man whose murder had been attempted four times
previously, would we find them drinking alcohol? When this story opens,
both Cranston and Cardona are "drinking deeply" from treacle (a
combination of stout and champagne). And these are professionals? Yikes!

The thing that probably strained my credibility the most was the
solution to the mystery. I have no qualms about revealing it here, and
spoiling the ending. This story richly deserves to be spoiled. Cranston
figures out that the murderer stood behind the victim, and chopped off
his head. And while this is taking place, the poor victim looks at the
open page of a book, and happens to notice four words in a five word
sentence. The first letter of each of those four words spells out the
killer's name. So he places his finger over the fifth irrelevant words,
assuming that someone will figure out the clue of the first letters.
What? We are really supposed to believe in his final moments that he
notices the first letters of four words? And he chooses this way to
point to his killer? And in the ensuing struggle, his finger never moves
from the page where it covers the fifth word? Did he somehow magically
glue his finger to that word as he died? The explanation is so ludicrous
that I can't believe anyone would write it this way. But that was Bruce
Elliott for you.

I'm glad the story was short. Mercifully short. It's not one you would
want to read, if you were seeking an introduction to The Shadow. It's
one you might want to read, if only to see just how far The Shadow had
fallen under the hand of a different author. If that's your cup of tea...

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
2013-02-09 21:26:09 UTC
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Post by John Olsen
I'm glad the story was short. Mercifully short. It's not one you would
want to read, if you were seeking an introduction to The Shadow. It's
one you might want to read, if only to see just how far The Shadow had
fallen under the hand of a different author. If that's your cup of tea...
But apart from *that*, how did you like the play, Mrs Lincoln? <g>
John Olsen
2013-02-10 07:17:12 UTC
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Post by John Olsen
I'm glad the story was short. Mercifully short. It's not one you would
want to read, if you were seeking an introduction to The Shadow. It's
one you might want to read, if only to see just how far The Shadow had
fallen under the hand of a different author. If that's your cup of tea...
But apart from *that*, how did you like the play, Mrs Lincoln?<g>
I make no attempt to conceal my contempt for the Shadow stories written
by Elliott Bruce. And those of you who have read one... yes, even just
one... will inevitably agree.

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
2013-02-10 19:01:41 UTC
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 >>
 >> I'm glad the story was short. Mercifully short. It's not one you would
 >> want to read, if you were seeking an introduction to The Shadow. It's
 >> one you might want to read, if only to see just how far The Shadow had
 >> fallen under the hand of a different author. If that's your cup of tea...
 >
 >
 > But apart from *that*, how did you like the play, Mrs Lincoln? <g>
I make no attempt to conceal my contempt for the Shadow stories written
by Elliott Bruce.  And those of you who have read one... yes, even just
one... will inevitably agree.
I think one of the new Sanctum volumes has three Shadow stories, one
by each of the "major" Maxwell Grants. I will have to sit down with it
some time, and compare. I just got volume 60, which includes the first
two stories to feature Margo Lane ("the only person who knows to whom
the voice of the mysterious Shadow really belongs...").
Joe Pfeiffer
2013-02-11 02:45:17 UTC
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Post by John Olsen
Post by John Olsen
I'm glad the story was short. Mercifully short. It's not one you would
want to read, if you were seeking an introduction to The Shadow. It's
one you might want to read, if only to see just how far The Shadow had
fallen under the hand of a different author. If that's your cup of
tea...
But apart from *that*, how did you like the play, Mrs Lincoln?<g>
I make no attempt to conceal my contempt for the Shadow stories
written by Elliott Bruce. And those of you who have read one... yes,
even just one... will inevitably agree.
The Elliott stories remind me a postwar Saint book I read a few years
ago, in which Simon Templar was reporting to some sort of shadowy CIA
spymaster. I had the same sense that this was not only not a Saint
book, but it had been (ghost-)written by somebody who had never even
*read* a Saint book.
J
2013-02-13 22:57:32 UTC
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Post by Joe Pfeiffer
The Elliott stories remind me a postwar Saint book I read a few years
ago, in which Simon Templar was reporting to some sort of shadowy CIA
spymaster.  I had the same sense that this was not only not a Saint
book, but it had been (ghost-)written by somebody who had never even
*read* a Saint book.
You may or may not know this, but THE SAINT SEES IT THROUGH
(Doubleday, New York 1946) was apparently the last full-length Saint
novel actually written by Leslie Charteris. Everything after that was
ghosted to a greater or lesser degree.
Joe Pfeiffer
2013-02-14 04:07:55 UTC
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Post by J
Post by Joe Pfeiffer
The Elliott stories remind me a postwar Saint book I read a few years
ago, in which Simon Templar was reporting to some sort of shadowy CIA
spymaster.  I had the same sense that this was not only not a Saint
book, but it had been (ghost-)written by somebody who had never even
*read* a Saint book.
You may or may not know this, but THE SAINT SEES IT THROUGH
(Doubleday, New York 1946) was apparently the last full-length Saint
novel actually written by Leslie Charteris. Everything after that was
ghosted to a greater or lesser degree.
Good God -- I just looked up the title and based on the wikipedia entry
I think it may be the book I'm thinking of! No wonder Charteris turned
the series over to ghostwriters (including Harry Harrison!): he'd
forgotten what made his own character tick.
Dave
2013-02-20 13:05:36 UTC
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The amazing thing is the overall quality of the Gibson SHADOW stories. At two a month, you're going to have plenty of real losers, but as a percentage, he does pretty well. Compare the Gibson SHADOWs to Perry Mason or Mike Shayne or the Saint, and I don't think the percentage of stinkers is much different.

Having said which, the Bruce Elliot stories that I've come across are simeply unreadable by any standard..
dave

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