How does a fiendish master criminal eliminate his enemies? Guns? Bombs? Too pedestrian. Here’s a list of fictional methods of assassination taken from actual pulp novels. Add any of these to your pulp villain’s arsenal.
Note: I’ve identified the source of most of these, so there may be spoilers for some books that went out-of-print well before you were born.
Two darts made of frozen snake venom, that will kill nearly instantly. Fired from a blowgun disguised as a common cigarette. Leaves two small wounds on the victim, which to the non-expert appears to be a snake bite.
from The Three Just Men (1925) by Edgar Wallace
An ordinary-looking vinyl record, with a recorded message from a criminal mastermind. The surface of the record has been treated with both a deadly poison and a protective coating. The record is harmless until it is played. When the needle of the record player heats up the coating, the poison is slowly emitted as a gas. As the record plays, enough poison gas is released to kill everyone in a medium-sized room.
from Scarlet Ace (1933) by Theodore A. Tinsley, originally published in All-Detective Magazine, February 1933
A small seed from an genetically engineered Australian thorn bush. When a victim is induced to inhale it, it takes root in the poor devil’s brain. After an hour, the victim suffers intense headaches. After two hours, the victim collapses, dies, and a small thorny tree bursts forth from their skull.
from Doctor Satan (1935) by Paul Ernst, originally published in Weird Tales, August 1935
Red Snow – A mysterious radium-derived chemical contained in a grenade. The explosion creates a red cloud that crystallizes into flakes that rain down from above. The flakes change the molecular structure of matter, stopping all molecular motion. Anything the flakes touch appears to be frozen. As soon as the frozen victims are touched, they crumble to dust.
from Red Snow (1935) by Lester Dent
The Zayat Kiss – A letter is placed in an envelope perfumed with the scent of a rare orchid and sent to the victim. The scent clings to whomever opens the envelope. A venomous red centipede is released in the vicinity of the victim. The creature is drawn to the scent of the orchid on the victim, and will almost certainly bite him. The bite is almost always fatal.
from The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu (1913) by Sax Rohmer
The wallpaper of the victim’s house is treated with arsenic. The water heater is modified to break down the water and release hydrogen gas. The hydrogen reacts with the arsenic-laced wallpaper to produce arseniuretted hydrogen, which will slowly poison anyone in the room.
from The Exploits of Elaine (1915) by Arthur B. Reeve
Smoke of Eternity – An air pistol fires a canister filled with grayish vapor that crackles with electric flashes. Even a small amount of the vapor will disintegrate anything on an atomic level – human bodies, bank vaults, etc. It can only be contained with a rare and mysterious metal.
from The Land of Terror (1933) by Lester Dent
A mysterious ray that can produce wild extremes of emotion in its victims, starting with wild laughter and ending in extreme panic, which often leads to accidents and death. It also causes anything made of bronze to glow an eerie green.
from Slaves of the Laughing Death (1940) by Grant Stockbridge
The Frosted Death – A mold that grows on living flesh. It will grow into the victim’s pores and lungs, suffocating them to death. It gets its name by leaving a powdery sugar-like coating on the victim’s corpse, that appears similar to frost.
from The Frosted Death (1940) by Paul Ernst
Two strange mechanisms on tripods are activated. A shimmering curtain of atomic energy appears between them. Any living being within or entering the curtain of death will soon die.
from Python Men Of Lost City (1938) by Chester Hawks