Silencer series reading order

People occasionally wonder about the reading order of the Silencer series.

Now the stories are numbered as follows at every store that allows you to number series (not all of them do):

  1. Countdown to Death
  2. Flying Bombs
  3. The Spiked Death
  4. Elevator of Doom

This numbering largely corresponds to the order in which the stories were written and published. Though there are two unfinished and unpublished Silencer stories that definitely take place before Countdown to Death.

The first of these, The Scarlet Executioner, would have detailed the first meeting between Richard and Constance. And indeed, the titular villain is mentioned in several of the other Silencer adventures. Countdown to Death even has a one paragraph summary of the plot:

O’Grady was certain that she had been privy to Blakemore’s secret. Not that he had ever been able to prove anything. But Constance Allen had had dealings with the Silencer, he knew that much. The vigilante had brought her father’s killer, the fiend known as the Scarlet Executioner, to justice. And saved Constance Allen from the villain’s guillotine. She had started dating Richard Blakemore at around the same time. Coincidence? Certainly not.

So if The Scarlet Executioner is chronologically the first of the Silencer adventures, then why did I never finish it? The reason is that it was supposed to be novel length, i.e. much longer than the other Silencer stories. I initially began writing it, because I was enormously impressed by the work ethic and enormous output of pulp writers like Walter B. Gibson or Lester Dent. I wanted to do what they did every month or so, write a full novel in a very short time. I also wanted to write something stylistically similar, so I came up with the Silencer, hard-working pulp writer by day and masked avenger by night.

Alas, the market for 1930s set retro pulp thrillers isn’t great today and it was almost non-existent back in 2001, when I created the Silencer. Basically, I was writing a novel for which there was no market. However, there was a market for pulp-style short fiction in a few small press magazines. So I wrote Countdown to Death as an introduction to the Silencer and his supporting cast instead.

I may eventually finish The Scarlet Executioner, now that indie publishing has made even niche genres viable. Ditto for A Traitor’s Daughter, which tells the story of how Richard and Constance finally got together after going their separate ways at the end of The Scarlet Executioner.

But for now, Countdown to Death is the introduction to the Silencer, especially since it was written that way. Which doesn’t mean that people would be hopelessly lost, if they were to read the other stories first. And indeed, many people do read the other stories first, since Flying Bombs and The Spiked Death both outsell Countdown to Death for some reason.

Because the truth about the reading order of the Silencer series is that there isn’t one, not really. I’d recommend starting with Countdown to Death and reading them in publication order. But since all adventures are self-contained, they can be read in any order. Of course, there are references to previous adventures in all of the stories, but readers are not missing anything vital.

Two of the novelettes published to date actually do have defined dates. Flying Bombs is set in February 1935, just before the crash that claimed that USS Macon. And Elevator of Doom is set sometime in 1936. But in general, there is no big story arc to the Silencer adventures nor a defined chronology apart from the fact that they are all set in the 1930s. I always intended the Silencer’s crimefighting career to last up to the US entry into WWII, because you just know that Richard would enlist to fight the Axis powers, even though he would have been too old for the draft by that time. Which would certainly lead to more exciting adventures, though I have zero interest in writing them, because I don’t do WWII set stories. And once WWII ended, Richard would have be too old for crimefighting (he’s a century baby, born in 1900, which would make him 45 by the end of WWII) and would hopefully enjoy his well deserved retirement from crimefighting together with Constance.

The fact that there is no big story arc running through the Silencer adventures is actually in keeping with the real pulp tales of the period. For while arc plots are a big deal these days, there was very little continuity in the hero pulp series of the 1930s and 1940s. Hence, the Spider would lose his trusty chauffeur Jackson in The Pain Emperor only for the character to come back to life with very little explanation three months later, while the Spider’s faithful Great Dane Apollo continues to appear after his on page death without any explanation at all. The true identity of the Shadow changes several times throughout the run of the magazine and radio show before finally settling on WWII aviator Kent Allard in the pulps, while the Shadow is playboy Lamont Cranston on radio and in the 1994 movie starring Alec Baldwin. The Shadow’s confidante and potential lover Margo Lane just appears in the pulps one day, after having been a main cast member of the radio show for several years, and the story pretends that she has always been there. On the radio, she knows that the Shadow is Lamont Cranston, in the pulps she merely suspects (probably because the Shadow is really Kent Allard). And Robert E. Howard wrote his Conan stories out of order.

The messy continuity in many of the mayor pulp series is largely due to the fact that those series were often written by multiple writers and across multiple media. And because of the superfast publication mode, mistakes happened. Besides, in the days before the internet, instant downloads and obsessive fan messageboards, continuity was simply not as important as it is today. Pretty much any type of popular media well into the 1980s either has an extremely messy continuity or no continuity at all.

And while I take care not to contradict myself within the context of the Silencer stories, there is no continuous plot arc either. All adventures are self-contained and can be read in any order.

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