I promised you more new release announcements in the run up to the holidays and here is number 2. This one is for St. Nicholas of Hell’s Kitchen, a Silencer Christmas novella.
Now I’ve always been fond of the Silencer series of pulp-style adventures set in Depression era New York City. However, the series has never sold all that well, since the audience for retro thrillers in the style of the old hero pulps is limited and many of them are perfectly satisfied with an endless supply of actual vintage pulp fiction. Never mind that the Thrillers –> Pulp subcategory at Amazon is cluttered with all sorts of bog-standard thrillers that have zero connection with actual pulp fiction.
As a result, I don’t actively write more Silencer stories, unless a good idea presents itself. However, one thing I’ve always wanted to do was write a Silencer Christmas story. All that was missing was the right idea.
That idea eventually showed up sometime in October, when I thought it would be fun to have the Silencer make his escape down a chimney and get mistaken for Santa Claus (which is exactly what happens in the opening chapter). My first idea was simply to have Lucy rattle off her wishes to the Silencer and Richard doing his best to fulfil them. However, that wasn’t a particularly satisfying story, so I added in some more conflict, namely that Lucy and what was originally her family were at risk of eviction from their apartment.
The apartment quickly changed into an orphanage. After all, it’s a Christmas story and the Silencer helping nuns and orphans has more impact. So once I had the orphanage, I also had the three remarkable (and absolutely not villainous for once, because the evil nun/priest trope annoys me to no end) nuns Sister Mary Margaret, Sister Agnes and Sister Bernadette. Coincidentally, St. Nicholas of Hell’s Kitchen also effortlessly passes the Bechdel test, since it has plenty of named women (the three nuns, Constance, Leah Levonsky, Dorothy Berwick, Melody Rumpus) talking among themselves about all sorts of things, including on occasion men.
Once the three nuns had laid out their plight, the information naturally led Richard (and me, since I’m very much a discovery writer) to Father O’Leary and the church of St. Nicholas of Hell’s Kitchen (which is entirely fictional BTW) which also gave the novella its title. As for why I chose to set the story in Hell’s Kitchen, I picked that particular neighbourhood, because it was an immigrant neighbourhood and crime-ridden well into the 1980s. The name of the street gang the Silencer is tangling with at the start is a reference to another well known heroic resident of Hell’s Kitchen. Plus, the religious connotations of the name were too good to pass up. Coincidentally, the Heaven & Hell Cabaret and particularly the scene where Richard stumbled into a dressing room full of chorus girls in angel and devil costumes also came about because of the theme.
Initially, I had planned for slumlord Paul Krays to be the main villain of the story. However, then the US presidential elections happened and my plans changed in that I made Krays merely a henchman of an even bigger villainous mastermind. And yes, any resemblances between Reginald Rumpus and a certain US real estate mogul turned reality TV star turned president are totally not coincidental at all.
Though you’ll also notice that the physical descriptions of Reginald and Melody Rumpus don’t quite match their real world counterparts. Instead, they were based on Wallace Beery and Jean Harlow playing a crass noveau rich couple living in a very white Art Deco apartment (so white that the cinematographer had problems filming it) in the 1933 movie Dinner at Eight. Here is a trailer for the movie BTW, which made me realise that though I’ve seen the film (I’m a big fan of Jean Harlow), I remember absolutely nothing about it except Jean Harlow and her spectacular gowns, Wallace Beery and that very white apartment. So in short, Reginald and Melody Rumpus are Donald and Melania Trump as portrayed by Jean Harlow and Wallace Berry.
I think I’ve mentioned before that the Silencer stories are among the most research intensive of my stories. Only the Alfred and Bertha stories require even more research, but the necessary info for those stories is usually much easier to find. The big problem with the Silencer stories is that the 1930s are still close enough to our time that many things are similar, i.e. there are guns, cars, airplanes, radios, movies, typewriters, etc…, but nonetheless far enough away that plenty of things we take for granted today didn’t yet exist. And yes, I admit that I occasionally cheat a little. For example, night vision devices were still highly experimental in the mid 1930s and only gradually came into wider use during WWII. And while acrylic glass was certainly around and Lucite was trademarked in 1936, there likely weren’t shoes with Lucite heels yet.
What is more, New York City has changed a lot since the 1930s, though thankfully the city or at least parts of it are well enough documented that it’s easy enough to find out what things look like today, whether they looked like that in the 1930s, when particular buildings were built, etc… That’s for example why the scene of Constance and Leah Levonsky walking along Fifth Avenue never mentions Tiffany’s, since Tiffany’s didn’t move to its current location until 1940. And indeed, all the buildings, hotels, stores and sights mentioned in the Fifth Avenue scene actually existed with the exception of Reginald Rumpus’ dark tower, which was based on some actual Art Deco skyscrapers with a bit of gothic flair added. The Bonwit Teller department store BTW was torn down by none other than Donald Trump to make room for the Trump Tower. And by the way, I’d like to make a shout-out to the Sherry-Netherland Hotel whose website has plenty of photos of its beautiful restored interior, which were exactly the sort of information I needed for this story. I’m not actually in the market for 400 USD per night hotel rooms in Manhattan, but if I were, this is the hotel I’d choose.
But even though there are plenty of photos of Manhattan in the 1930s around, photos of Christmas decorations in 1930s Manhattan are far more difficult to find. Hence, while it was easy enough to figure out that the Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center has been around since 1931 (with a gap in 1932), though actual photos of what it looked like at the time were a lot more difficult to find. This page has some, though. The ice skating rink, meanwhile, only opened in 1936, i.e. it would have been brand new at the time the story was set.
Photos of 1930s Christmas decorations on Fifth Avenue were even more difficult to find. I could find a few interior shots of various department stores, but hardly any photos of street decorations, at least not in New York City. So the descriptions of display windows and decorations are largely much made up.
Regarding the F.A.O. Schwarz scenes, now I’ve actually been inside the Fifth Avenue flagship store of F.A.O. Schwarz. However, the building I visited was clearly built after WWII. Luckily, it was not just easy enough to find out where F.A.O. Schwarz would have been in 1936 (practically next door, it turned out), but I also came across this 1940 article from Fortune magazine which decribes exactly what the store looked like, how it was set up, etc… There’s also a photo gallery which includes plenty of shots of Christmas decorations from the 1930s and 1940s. The various toys described are all real toys from the 1930s BTW. I didn’t even have to research those, since I used to collect toys (still do, though I refrain from buying additions for space reasons).
The Paradise Lounge is obviously a proto Tiki Bar. Now Tiki Bars are mainly associated with the 1950s and 1960s, but the beginnings of the trend lie in the 1930s. Don, the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s (still named Hinky Dink) both opened in the 1930s in California. Actress Dorothy Lamour also first donned her famous sarong (which has very little to do with an actual sarong) in the 1936 movie Jungle Princess.
But it wasn’t just settings and technology that required research. For example, I come from a Lutheran Protestant majority region and have never been Catholic, so I had no idea how confessions really work beyond what you see in movies in occasion, what the priest says, etc… Luckily, there are plenty of religious websites which have the relevant information. In the end, I enjoyed writing the confession scene a whole lot, especially as this is where some hints at Richard’s none too savoury past come out.
The Hanukkah dinner at the Levonskys’ home (which I wanted to include just to show how diverse 1930s New York would have been) posed a similar problem. For though I know what Hanukkah is and what is being celebrated, I didn’t know what middle class Jewish families would have eaten. Once again, the web came to my rescue and to own surprise I found that most of the food was familiar to me, though I know it by different names.
Coincidentally, while the wife and daughter of pulp publisher Jake Levonsky have been mentioned in the Silencer series before (in Countdown to Death and The Great Fraud, to be exact), this is the first time we actually meet them on the page. I really enjoyed writing the bubbly Leah Levonsky BTW and I’m sure she’ll show up again.
Of the other Silencer regulars, Justin O’Grady shows up briefly towards the end (and reveals that he knows exactly who the Silencer is, even if he cannot prove anything). Constance has a more substantial role, though she is not actively involved in the action this time around. And Edgar, the kitten Richard rescued in Elevator of Doom, shows up as well. Plus, there is the possibility of a new addition to the family towards the end.
Talking of Elevator of Doom, that story has a gorgeous new cover, by the way, which also matches the Silencer series branding much better than the old cover did. And indeed, finding suitable covers for the Silencer series is another massive challenge, since illustrated or CGI retro stock art is extremely rare (and 1930s style imagery is even more difficult to find – Victorian, Edwardian, 1920s and 1950s are far more plentiful). Though I’m happy both with the new cover of Elevator of Doom as well as with the vintage Christmas tree on the cover of St. Nicholas of Hell’s Kitchen.
In short, St. Nicholas of Hell’s Kitchen takes us on a seasonal tour through the wintery New York City of 1936 and really has it all: action, thrills, romance, toy stores, tiki bars, burlesque theatres, orphans, nuns, chorus girls, villains and even a time-displaced Donald Trump analogue.
So what are you waiting for? Get your copy today!
St. Nicholas of Hell’s Kitchen
Christmas time in 1930s New York. After escaping through the chimney of an orphanage in Hell’s Kitchen, Richard Blakemore a.k.a. the masked crimefighter known only as the Silencer is mistaken for Santa Claus by one of the children and learns that the orphanage is under siege by both a gang of brutal racketeers and an unscrupulous landlord.
Richard vows to help the children and their guardians. However, it turns out that the attacks on the orphanage are only part of a much larger plot, when Richard’s quest for justice leads him into the upper echelons of Manhattan’s high society.
Soon, the Silencer finds himself face to face with one of the most powerful men in the city, while Richard and Constance struggle to save the orphanage and give the children of Hell’s Kitchen an unforgettable Christmas.
Length: 29000 words
List price: 2.99 USD, EUR or GBP
Buy it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Netherlands, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iTunes, Scribd, Smashwords, Inktera, txtr, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Buecher.de, DriveThruFiction, OmniLit/AllRomance e-books, Casa del Libro, e-Sentral, 24symbols and XinXii.
Don’t forget that you can buy a bundle of all eight Silencer novelettes at DriveThruFiction at a reduced price.