Friday, September 6, 2013

Forgotten Books: An Orchid for a Killer - EXPOSED!


If you dropped in for last week's links to Forgotten Books, you probably saw this fine-looking book cover. And you may have noted my invitation for YOU to decide whether or not it was a lost Nero Wolfe novel. If not, you'll find that stuff HERE.

Well, I'm here to tell you this is not a lost Wolfe novel. I know - because thirty-one years after the fact, I'm ready to admit this book does not exist. It was a hoax. It happened like this:

Back in 1982, while reading John McAleer's biography of Rex Stout, I happened to acquire the June 1944 issue of Private Detective Stories. The title "An Orchid for a Killer" and the image of the well-dressed fat guy seemed ready-made for a Nero Wolfe novel, and a plan was hatched to pull the collective legs of the members of DAPA-EM.

I did a cover mash-up using an issue of Hollywood Detective (also recently acquired), found a picture of a kookaburra in a dictionary, and invented the imprint Kookaburra Books. This sort of work was pretty primitive back in '82, and I had to make do with Xerox copies, scissors, glue and press-on type.

Rather than just spring the book on the DAPA-EM crowd full-blown, I invented a passel of earlier pulp stories by "Tod Hunter" (Todhunter, of course, was Rex Stout's middle name). In describing each story I used names, events and locales gleaned from the Stout bio. I can't remember a single one of those details now, but I'm sure a rereading of McAleer's book would turn up references to the names Joe Two Trees, Shawnee Belle, Marvin Kane, Aaron Egmont, Franklin Day, Pete Truett and others. And there are no doubt mentions of Stout's connection with Noblesville, Indiana, Mind Chasms, the Mayflower, Warp and Woof, Mr. Brilliance and ballet. And so on.

At the time, I thought salting the piece with tidbits of Stout's life was clever as hell, and hoped someone else would recognize the connections, providing further corroboration for An Orchid for a Killer. But as far as I know, no one ever did. Luckily, I dumped in a few clues no one could miss, like the titles "Wolf Trap" and "Too Many Clues," and the bloody inscription "Rex Killed Me."

I think the synopsis of An Orchid for a Killer, about a Japanese restaurateur/orchid enthusiast who appeals to "Titus Lyon" for help, was made up out of whole cloth, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that it, too, contains a hint or two of Stoutiana. Reading the plot last week on the blog, it didn't sound too bad. Maybe one of these days I'll get around to writing the book.

As for that photo of "Tod Hunter," it was actually Robert Reeves, creator of Cellini Smith, from the dust jacket of his second novel, No Love Lost.

One element of my article was true: My parents did take a trip to Australia. Everything else was a bald-faced lie. But I did give readers warning. My DAPA-EM fanzine was called DEFUNCT (a tribute to Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective), but for this one issue, the seventh, I changed it to FAST ONE. I figured that was fair play. (The FAST ONE logo, by the way, was lifted from the first edition of the book by Paul Cain.)

Several members of DAPA-EM, savvy sleuths that they are/were, questioned whether it was a hoax. I don't recall ever admitting it was, but I never denied it, either. When Guy Townsend reprinted the piece in The Mystery Fancier, it was titled "The Tod Hunter Question" (I think that was Guy's idea), by "David E. Funct," which I reckon was mine. It was the first and last article ever to appear under Mr. Funct's byline.

When I found my original fanzine pages in a filing cabinet and decided to run them on the blog, the black and white paste-up for An Orchid for a Killer was missing. This gave me an excuse to recreate the whole thing in color. The color version is pretty close, but the photo of the bird is different, as are the fonts used for the author's name and the price of the book. The original version, as it appeared in FAST ONE, is at right.

In posting this thing as a Forgotten Book, I had no intention of continuing the hoax - I was just retelling an old joke. With the resources available now, I figured someone would quickly realize the pulp stories I cited were phonies. In the comments to last week's post, you'll see that one reader, Bryan Fo, has already ferreted out the issue of Private Detective I used for the cover. As yet, no one has officially called bullshit on me, but I know it's just a matter of time. So I'm doing it myself.

An Orchid for a Killer was my first hoax rodeo, but not my last. For proof of that I direct your attention HERE.

And for this week's list of Forgotten Books (most of them genuine, I presume), I encourage you to visit pattinase.

9 comments:

Bill Crider said...

Glad to see that link to the previous hoax. It's my favorite.

lifeisswedeblog.com said...

A mystery about a mystery... it doesn't get better than that!!

K. A. Laity said...

Fun!

Cap'n Bob said...

I feel so used.

Anonymous said...

Well done, then & now. Ranks right up there with the "lost" John Dickson Carr hoax by Bill Pronzini in Collecting Paperbacks?

Art Scott

Evan Lewis said...

Dang, I don't remember that one. Time to dig out my issues of CP?.

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Kelly Robinson said...

Just brilliant! I admire anyone willing to go that far for a literary joke.

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