Review: The Shadow: The Ghost Makers by Maxwell Grant (Walter B. Gibson)


Spirits that carry daggers!  The Ghost Makers is all about a criminal ring set up around the country, posing as mediums, scamming people out of money with phony seances.  Only the Shadow knows!  With the aid of Detective Joe Cardona, the Shadow begins tracking the villains, following the clues back to the leaders of the criminal ring.   The crooks stop at nothing- not even murder!

The Shadow: The Ghost Makers by Maxwell Grant (aka Walter B. Gibson).  Number 16 of the pulp series.  Originally published as The Shadow Magazine October 15, 1932 by Street & Smith Publications.   My copy of the story is the reprint Bantam paperback from 1970, 120 pages.

Original cover from 1932

This was a very early on Shadow story.  Back at the start of the series, Walter  wanted to keep the Shadow as much a mystery to us as to the other characters of the story.  To do this, he used a plot device called proxy characters.  Basically,  Walter kept the Shadow more in the background, having him lead other main characters (his agents, or as in this story, Joe Cardona) through the story.   The Shadow is there, but you get more of a  substitute authorized to act for the Shadow.  Eventually, a few years in to the series, Walter dropped the proxy character plot device and just had the story progress through the Shadow and or his more famous aliases, Lamont Cranston or Kent Allard.

I am not a big fan of the proxy character style.  I get that the author wanted the Shadow to be more enigmatic, leaving you wanting more.  But I want to see the Shadow.  I want to know what the Shadow thinks and does,  I don’t want to see him only skulking around in the shadows and not doing anything but giving a sinister laugh.  He is such a kick ass character, I want to see MORE of him, not LESS!  Don’t get me wrong, early Shadow stories are not bad stories.  They are actually very entertaining.  I just would prefer the Shadow being the main character, instead of one of his agents or the detective getting more focus.

Something unique about this novel, is that the Shadow actually travels outside of New York City.   Normally, when the Shadow travels,  he just goes over to New Jersey or New York state.  But in this story, he actually travels to places like Chicago, St. Louis, and Philly.

While not my favorite Shadow novel I’ve ever read, The Ghost Makers was pretty entertaining.  It had a unique crime element, instead of just your average gangster robbing a bank, or something like that.  There were a few unexpected twists that left you saying “NO WAY!!! :O ”   It was a very quick read, with plenty of action.

A little bit of back history with this story…  Walter B. Gibson was a fantastic  writer.  But his first love was magic.  He was actually a very talented magician and hung out with some of the great magicians of the time.  He was friends with Houdini and I think he even ghost wrote Houdini’s biography.  Now back in the day, mediums and seances were a pretty big deal.  It went mainstream in the late 1800s, reaching the masses, and ended up becoming a huge hobby and social event to go to in the early 1900s.  Many, many people went to mediums and seances.  It was basically their version of going out to the movies with friends and family.  Now, around the 1920s,  Houdini turned a lot of attention to the spiritualists.  Because of his training in stage magic, he was easily able to see how phony psychics and mediums were pulling tricks and convincing people that it was real.  Houdini even had an infamous feud with his BFF, Sir Author Conan Doyle, who was a hardcore believer in the supernatural.  Houdini debunked seances and Doyle was positive that it was legit.  It is pretty interesting stuff and Houdini actually wrote a book about his debunking exploits titled A Magician Among the Spirits.  Houdini was the first magician who publicly challenged things such as seances and mediums, and many magicians have followed in his footsteps over the decades, even up to present day magicians such as Penn and Teller.  Considering Walter was friends with Houdini in the 20s, and Walter was a magician himself, I would assume he knew a thing or two about debunking a seance.  Knowing all this made The Ghost Makers story feel like you were getting a taste of that era.  It was something topical from the 30s and it was a part of the authors real life.  To me, that just made the story even cooler.


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