Stillness like that of the cold tombs had descended upon America’s greatest city, and in that cheerless, ringing void, no man dared raise his voice above a whisper. For the Silencer was at work, his giant ear strained to catch the innermost secrets of every citizen, turning upon them a blackmail scourge such as the world had never seen, as he drove those helpless multitudes to wholesale suicide! Never before had Richard Wentworth been called upon to battle a crime-emperor so powerful. As he donned the Spider’s eerie armor, to take up the Silencer’s trail of faceless corpses—it meant war to the death with a monster whose reign extended clear into the sky, itself, and whose victims died whispering, in hell!
“Satan’s Switchboard” is the 51st Spider novel and was originally published in December 1937. This is Wayne Rogers’ third contribution as he alternates with Norvell Page. In his last outing, “The City that Dared Not Eat,” we saw a good Spider story. In his debut Spider novel, “Slaves of the Black Monarch,” we saw a rather poor mediocre Spider tale.
The bad guy is the Silencer. His symbol appears throughout the magazine is of a man whose mouth is covered with someone else’s hand, apparently to silence him. However, the Silencer silences permanently, killing men and women and then removing the skin from the lower portions of their faces, using the acid glove that Rogers created in his first Spider novel.
The Silencer steals an invention that allows the more efficient telephone tapping. Initially, he uses the information to blackmail rich people. Along the way, though, a more sinister criminal usurps the results of the invention, expanding illegal activities to include murder for those not doing the bidding of the criminal and kidnapping of loved ones to keep men from bulking or going after him, including the wife of the mayor or NYC.
Overall, a decent tale. Not one of the best Spider tales and certainly different from Page’s Spider.
There are many similarities between Page’s Spider and that of Rogers. Both write with strong fast-paced emotionalisms. Rogers seems to have studied Page’s Spider and seems to me to more consistent with Page than Tepperman. (Note: When Page disappeared at the end of 1936, Tepperman might have been brought to the magazine to change some of its directions, accounting for some of the differences between Page and Tepperman.)
While there are other differences (such as dialogue, the competitive/supportive nature of Nita, etc.), the biggest difference between Page and Rogers for me resides in the very nature of Wentworth/Spider. Page’s Wentworth/Spider might be summed up in one of his earlier titles: “The Man Who Ruled in Hell.” Page’s Wentworth leads a mentally agonizing life because he feels that he is the only one who can push back the mega criminal attacking society. He “rules” the hellish existence of these miscreants and their misdeeds, but in so doing so, he must also reside in hell. For Rogers, Wentworth is a dedicated criminologist but is not tormented as much from his role. Rogers brings his own emotionalisms to the magazine, perhaps from his terror/horror background or other writings as Sampson and others have observed; the emotionalism surrounds Wentworth/Spider, but does not enter within him. For me, Page’s Wentworth makes the novels much more engaging as we share in Wentworth’s struggles. Frankly, sometimes, I care much less about Rogers’ Wentworth… which means that the plot and other characters must do more work to make a good novel. (On the downside of Page’s writing, I find myself at times becoming overwhelmed by Wentworth’s personal traumas such that I need a longer break between readings in order to refresh myself to be ready for Wentworth’s next bout in hell.)