All Constance Allen wanted was to dance with her fiancé at the annual charity ball for police widows and orphans. But when your fiancé is Richard Blakemore, the man hiding behind the steel mask of the mysterious vigilante only known as the Silencer, even such simple wishes are often thwarted. And so Constance finds herself stood up at the ball, while Richard is out hunting Baron Tormento, a villain who terrorizes the city and blackmails powerful men – by torturing young girls to death.
At first, it’s just another case for the Silencer, albeit a particularly grisly one. But it quickly gets personal, when Richard’s friend police captain Justin O’Grady is kidnapped. And before the night is over, Constance finds herself facing Baron Tormento’s spikes of death…
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Some background information:
- The Spiked Death is 14700 words long and was first published in Man’s Story 2 No. 8.
- This is the third novelette featuring the Silencer, my masked vigilante hero in the tradition of the pulp magazines of the 1930s. The first two stories in the series are Countdown to Death and Flying Bombs.
- As The Spiked Death was originally written for and published in a magazine for pulp erotica, the story is quite a bit more lurid with regards to violence, including sexualized violence, than the other Silencer stories. In many ways, The Spiked Death was inspired by the Spicy line of pulp magazines (Spicy Western, Spicy Mystery, Spicy Adventure, etc…) which combined regular pulp action and violence with some fairly mild (by modern standards) eroticism that usually limited itself to euphemism laden descriptions of the female form. Even the cover of The Spiked Death invokes the Spicy covers (warning: some of the Spicy covers are quite racist by today’s standards).
- Police captain Justin O’Grady really can’t catch a break. First, he sends an innocent man to death row in Countdown to Death, then he is knocked out and almost blown up in Flying Bombs and now he is gassed, chained to a wall, threatened with torture and knocked out once again in The Spiked Death. No wonder he drinks too much.
- When I started writing the Silencer stories, Justin O’Grady was intended to be a sort of Commissioner Gordon (of Batman fame) character, that is a police insider with relevant information who was sympathetic to the Silencer and his cause. Alas, somewhere along the way, the constellation turned into a tortured romantic triangle (Did I mention that I seem to write those?) between Richard, Justin and Constance. Indeed, Constance is very obviously aware that O’Grady has feelings for her. So, I suspect, is Richard. Meanwhile, poor Justin O’Grady feels bad for lusting after the fiancé of his best friend who also happens to top his most wanted list. Like I said, the poor guy really can’t catch a break.
- The annual charity ball for police widows and orphans truly seems to be doomed, for Justin O’Grady is called away from that same ball in Flying Bombs as well.
- The bag of ground pepper Constance keeps in her handbag and uses to fight off the thugs is an actual trick used by my grandmother as a defense against potential rapists and muggers. Basically, this was the 1930s and 1940s equivalent of today’s pepper spray.
- Richard has switched cars in this story. In Flying Bombs he drives a Studebaker, while in The Spiked Death he is driving a Maybach Zeppelin. Of course, he is a wealthy man, so he probably has multiple cars.
- Monsieur Gilbert, designer to the stars and hater of bras, who designed Constance’s evening gown, is loosely based on Gilbert Adrian, head designer at MGM in the 1930s who outfitted stars such as Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer and helped to create the quintessential Hollywood glamour look of the period. I have no idea whether the real Gilbert Adrian hated bras, but if you look at some Adrian designs of the period, there is really no earthly way to fit a bra (or any other undergarment for that matter) under that.
- There’s a hint in this story that Richard and Constance do have sex, even though they are not married. They both prefer to keep quiet about it, so don’t expect any hot Richard/Constance scenes anytime soon.
- The cover image is a turn of the century painting named Inquisition by Romanian artist Victor Schivert (the German surname suggests that he likely was a member of the German minority in Romania). It was the closest equivalent to a Spicy pulp cover I could find, since it has all the requisite ingredients of menace and nudity, besides the girl looks almost exactly like I pictured Angelica Varnese, one of the kidnapping victims. Placing the title to cover up all nude bits that might bother the more prudish of e-retailers was quite a chore, by the way.