The Great Fraud

The Great Fraud by Cora Buhlert Charles William Finchley made his fortune selling novelty products of questionable value via ads in the backpages of pulp magazines.

Finchley is well on his way to becoming a millionaire, until his unscrupulous business practices put him in the crosshairs of the Silencer, a pulp hero come to life to fight crime in the streets of Depression era New York.

And the Silencer is not at all pleased that Finchley uses the crimefighter’s good name to peddle worthless junk…

 

Read an excerpt.

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Some background information:

  • The Great Fraud is a short story of 6000 words. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
  • The story was inspired by an interior illustration from an old pulp magazine (either The Shadow or The Spider) of a sinister pulp hero menacing a businessman in his office. I wondered why on Earth would a pulp hero menace a businessman. My first few guesses were the obvious ones and then I remembered those ads for X-ray specs or sea monkeys not to mention Charles Atlas‘ bodybuilding program from the comic books I’d read in my teens and twenties. It was always obvious to me that there had to be some kind of catch with those ads, that the X-ray specs had to be a fake and that Charles Atlas’ secret was probably steroids. Turns out Atlas’ program really was a bodybuilding program and did not involve steroids, though I still question whether it really works in seven days as advertised. As for the X-ray specs and the sea monkeys, here is a great article on the man who marketed those and other products. Whenever I saw those ads in comic books – and they were practically ubiquitous – I wondered why the comic book publishers carried ads for products that obviously couldn’t work and whether they weren’t worried about their reputation. And then I asked myself what would a real life pulp or comic book hero think about those ads and how his name was used to market problematic products. He obviously wouldn’t be pleased. And so I created Charles William Finchley, mail order seller of fraudulent products, and sicced the Silencer on him.
  • The Great Fraud is something of a departure for the Silencer series. Not only is it the most low-key adventure to date – even Paul the thieving doorman from Elevator of Doom is more of a threat than Charles William Finchley – but it’s also the only Silencer story without a single POV scene for Richard Blakemore a.k.a. the Silencer.
  • The Silencer’s usual supporting cast, Constance Allen, Justin O’Grady, Neal Cassidy, Randall Whitman, etc…, is conspicuously absent as well, though Constance and Justin are briefly and obliquely mentioned. Indeed, the only regular character aside from the Silencer himself is pulp publisher Jake Levonsky.
  • As a result, The Great Fraud gives us a different view of the Silencer, since we see him only through the eyes of one of the targets of his wrath, while Jake Levonsky offers the perspective of someone who has had contact with the Silencer, but continues to be skeptical. Viewed through Finchley’s and to a lesser degree Levonsky’s eyes, the Silencer is suddenly not so much a heroic but a sinister figure.
  • Turns out that Jake Levonsky, publisher of the Silencer pulp magazine, is actually terrified of the Silencer and considers him bad news all around. Plus, he has his suspicions regarding the true identity of the Silencer, though Countdown to Death threw both Levonsky and everybody else of the obvious scent. This was actually something of a surprise to me, since Levonsky had usually struck me as rather obtuse, whenever he appeared in previous Silencer tales. But you don’t get to be a pioneering pulp publisher without being rather shrewd, I guess.
  • I initially hadn’t intended to include the scene between Finchley and Jake Levonsky at all, but while writing the story I realised that it made sense for these two to know each other and be on relatively friendly terms, because both characters have a lot in common apart from the fact that Finchley advertises in Levonsky’s magazines. For both Jake Levonsky and Charles William Finchley are first generation Russian immigrants (escaping the persecution in Czarist Russia and the early Soviet Union, it is implied) and both are self-made men who made their fortune in a field (pulp publishing for Levonsky and the novelty mail order business for Finchley) considered rather disreputable at the time.
  • The earlier Silencer adventures Countdown to Death, Flying Bombs, The Spiked Death and Elevator of Doom are all referenced in The Great Fraud. Indeed, the magazine editions of both The Spiked Death and Elevator of Doom appear in the story (the Silencer specifically objects to one of Finchley’s ads in The Spiked Death, while the magazine edition of Elevator of Doom is shown hanging on the wall in Levonsky’s office). The events in Countdown to Death, which bring Jake Levonsky face to face with the Silencer, are explicitly mentioned, while Flying Bombs is implicitly alluded to.
  • The cover image is digital art by PhilCold via Dreamstime. The image is supposed to depict a writer working in 1950s New York, but I still found it fitting, even though the character doesn’t resemble either Richard or Charles William Finchley, at least not the way I envision them.
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