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  • Kirsten Bell

Four reasons why I probably should not have named my book 'Silent but Deadly'

In case my frequent references and links to it have somehow escaped your attention, I recently published a popular anthropology book titled Silent but Deadly: The Underlying Cultural Patterns of Everyday Behaviour, which is also, not coincidentally, the name of this newsletter. The title is taken from the first essay in the book on the anthropology of farting, an abbreviated version of which was published on the Popanth blog in 2014 (now defunct). As the original blog post received a fair amount of media attention, I fully admit that I chose it based on the assumption that it would increase interest in the book.1 The title did create some media buzz at the outset, although not on quite the terms I had hoped. However, I soon realised that I hadn’t considered one crucial factor: how common the name is.

It probably won’t surprise you to know that there are a plethora of books (and films) named Silent but Deadly. This is inevitable to some degree; after all, there are only so many titles to go around. Sometimes this works in the author’s favour. For example, the Canadian writer Emily Schultz, author of Joyland, suddenly found her e-book sales increase dramatically when Stephen King’s Joyland came out seven years later; she actually set up her own Tumblr titled ‘Spending the Stephen King money’ chronicling her experiences. Sadly, that did not happen here. Here are four reasons why I probably should not have named my book Silent but Deadly.

1. Ninja Farts: Silent But Deadly

This book is the bane of my life. If you do a search of ‘Silent but Deadly’ on Amazon, the chances are that it will show up first, despite it only being the book’s subtitle. I’m certainly not stupid enough to think that I can compete with ninja farts, but that is the situation in which I now find myself. That’s right, folks: my primary competition is a #1 bestseller2 aimed at 7-9 year olds.

Ninja Farts is part of ‘The Disgusting Adventures of Milo Snotrocket’ series and clearly lives up to the name. To quote the book’s summary:

‘Milo Snotrocket was just an ordinary, fart-loving boy, until he got wind of the school bully, Bobby Buttzcratcher’s, evil scheme: to use deadly stinky farts, for evil! Now Milo must become the Fart Ninja to stop bad Buttzcratcher. The laughs come as fast as ninja stars as Milo swallows up bad kids with a powerful fart dragon, braves the deadly Flatulator, and flies on his magic fart cloud,3 dropping stink bombs galore!’

Interestingly, none of the other books in the series (including the next volume, Caveman Farts) has managed to reach its dizzying heights – Ninja Farts currently has over 4,000 reviews on Amazon and a 4.3 star rating, which goes to show you that the title can make (or break, as it were) a book.

Based on the categories I identified in my post about what snot sub-genres tell us about children’s books, Ninja Farts seems to fall squarely into the ‘aesthetic appreciations’ category – at least, based the number of complaints by reviewers about all the unrepentant flatulence it contains.4 Still, if my own tome is to be ignored in favour of a kids’ book about farts, there is probably some karmic payback involved, given the sheer volume of students I have subjected to lectures on bodily effluvia over the years.

2. Silent But Deadly: More Homemade Silencers from Hayduke the Master

Oddly, when one thinks about books named Silent but Deadly, silencers do not immediately spring to mind, despite the fact that I can’t think of a more literally accurate name for a book on this topic. But this book does exactly what it says on the packet: it’s an instruction guide on how to make homemade silencers for your guns.5 According to the summary,

‘Despite what the Brady bunch might say, silencers serve some very civilized functions and contribute to a saner, quieter way of life, which is why a lot of folks like them. After reading The Hayduke Silencer Book, many readers shared their own ideas for simple designs you can build at home, legally. Here is the cream of the crop.’

The reviews range from the lukewarm to the glowing. ‘Dennis Farris’ (a pseudonym, one presumes, although I googled ‘Dennis Farris murder charge’ to be sure), was not impressed. ‘This is such a generic instruction manual it is almost worthless’, he complains; ‘This book is pretty weak on instruction’. But ‘Ricardo’, on the other hand, is clearly a fan, enthusiastically opining in all caps, ‘NOTE THE WARNINGS IN THIS BOOK ON HOW TO BECOME LEGAL IN MAKING THESE ITEMS. I TAKE IT SERIOUSLY. IT SEEMS THAT MOSTLY COMMON ITEMS SUCH AS A CAN OR DRINK BOTTLE ARE USED’ (sheesh, Ricardo, ever heard of spoiler alerts?).

Interestingly, George Hayduke appears to be the nom de plume of an anonymous author of prank books, so full props to him for being brave enough to charge $20 for a book that appears to provide no concrete instructions on how to actually build a silencer, without anyone realising that he’s taking the piss (but watch out for Dennis Farris, George!). To add insult to injury, it has double the number of reviews of my own book. And a slightly higher rating.

3. Silent Bud Deadly

Okay, the title of this book isn’t technically ‘Silent but Deadly’, but it still shows up when you do an Amazon search on the name – either because it has over 2,000 reviews or Amazon’s search algorithms assume readers are morons who can’t spell (probably both). This is part of a series called ‘English cottage garden mysteries’ by H.Y. Hanna, all of which have punny titles like Doom and Bloom, Trowel and Error and, my personal favourite, Too Mulch to Handle.

In case it’s not clear from the titles, these books fall into what the journalist Devon Ivie calls the ‘How the hell do people keep getting brutally slain in picturesque villages?’ genre, otherwise known as the ‘English Murder Village’ genre. As Maureen Johnson notes in her helpful guide to not getting killed in one, these are the villages where fêtes are death traps (‘If you enter a town while the fête is happening, you are already dead’), where the village shop sells ‘cheese, stamps, tea, and death’, and where the secret to successful gardening is human remains (‘their roses are perfect because of all the people under them’).

But while the English Murder Village is a staple of detective fiction, Hanna has figured out a winning addition to this classic genre: adorable cats! So successful is the combination of cute cats + homicidal Brits6 that Hanna has now graduated onto the Oxford Tearoom mysteries, which follow the exact same formula, except gardening puns have been swapped for those involving afternoon tea (e.g., Four Puddings and a Funeral).

4. Silent but Deadly: The B-grade horror comedies

When choosing a title for my book, little did I know that there’s a whole sub-genre of horror movies bearing the name. Although these aren’t technically books, they still show up on Amazon searches, so I figure they count.

If you’re making a B-grade horror comedy, this is clearly your go-to title, especially if the movie is about a strong, silent type who goes on a killing spree, a mime who goes on a killing spree, or someone who goes on a killing spree in a retirement home (they’re ‘old farts’ – get it?). Basically, once you have the title, the movie effectively writes itself, which is why the next movie in this sub-genre will presumably be about a ninja who goes on a killing spree.

All you need to add are some gratuitous sex scenes – ideally involving lesbian prostitutes (everyone knows that’s an automatic pass on the Bechdel Test7), ‘humorous’ local eccentrics – like a dwarf sheriff, or a Rambo-style gun nut, or a loquacious scholar who fortuitously arrives at a crucial moment to exposit key plot points, and, of course, multiple bloody murders, the more improbable the better.



1 I mean, I do attempt to provide an anthropological justification for the name in the book and the overview of this newsletter, but even I don’t think it’s particularly convincing.

2 Although the impressiveness of the claim is matched by its imprecision. I don’t want to sound churlish, because over 4,000 verified reviews is nothing to snivel at, but by what measure is it a bestseller? For instance, my own book is a bestseller in the category of ‘anthropology books named Silent but Deadly’; it is also a bestseller in the category of books ‘written by the anthropologist Kirsten Bell’. Anyone can make a grandiose-sounding but meaningless claim. For multiple illustrations, just check out UK university websites after the latest league tables come out, where you’ll see all sorts of statements like ‘We are the number one campus-based London university for a combined degree in social and biological anthropology’.

3 I can’t help feel that O’Neil has been influenced by Monkey – an early 80s kids’ TV show made in Japan, about a Chinese Buddhist legend, dubbed into hokey English, and a massive hit in Australia when I was a kid. Aside from the fart references, this is basically the plot of every Monkey show ever, down to his magic cloud.

4 According to one ‘R Mallock’, ‘this book is gross so never buy it.. It discusts me out and its a waste of money.* The author shall be ashamed of creating this book!!!’ I kind of feel that if you purchase a book in a series called ‘The Disgusting Adventures of Milo Snotrocket’, about a ‘fart-loving boy’ who ‘drops stink bombs galore’, you don’t really have credible grounds for complaint.

*In fairness, other critical reviewers complain about the book being a waste of money on account of the absence of a discernible plot and poor formatting. To quote one ‘Mr A Kay’, ‘this was so bad it made me want to die. to me this book is pointless and stupid. it is a waste of time thw worst’. At this point, he gets so annoyed that the review trails off into what appears to be Portuguese but translates as ‘ball on guide life see Brazil in others’ so is possibly gibberish. Still, I can’t help feel that not all the 5-star reviews are genuine, such as this one, ostensibly written by ‘Lily, aged 8’: ‘Really good. If you have it enjoy, if not, you HAVE to buy it!! Ignore any bad reviews and buy it. Funny book about a 12 year old boy who becomes a fart ninja to protect his school from Bobby, the school bully’.

5 Yes, those plurals are intentional. If you’re buying this book, you own at least five guns.

6 I’m pretty sure her primary readers are crazy cat ladies* who enjoy Agatha Christie novels, which is apparently a larger market than I had assumed.

*Said with love; I’m one myself.

7 A movie passes the Bechdel Test if it has at least two women in it who who talk to each other about something besides a man.

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