Friday, February 14, 2014

The Topless Tulip Case, Lawrence Block


With the fourth, and final, Chip Harrison novel, The Topless Tulip Caper (1975) Lawrence Block pulls off a very entertaining Nero Wolfe pastiche. Chip Harrison makes a very satisfactory Archie Goodwin and Block provides a satisfactory Nero Wolfe in Leo Haig.

In an interview with Ethan Iverson on Do the Math, Block explains:
The first two [Chip Harrison books], of course, are sort of young man coming of age novels, and the only way they could be a series was if he changed somewhat, because you couldn’t have the same person coming of age forever. So, I put him to work for a Nero Wolfe wannabe and that was fun. But again, it was essentially a one trick pony, and two books and a couple of short stories was plenty.
David Vineyard, in "Fifty Funny Felonies + Fifty More" on Mystery*File says, The Topless Tulip Caper "is also cheerfully dirty minded without a smirk or a snicker -- a rarity in any American fiction."

Set for the most part in a strip club called the Treasure Chest, one would think that that would be sex enough for any reader but as Block writes in his memoir, Afterthoughts:
Joe Elder, whom I'd known back in the Scott Meredith days, was Chip's editor. At some point after he'd agreed to publish Make Out With Murder, I went in to meet Joe, who hadn't know who was lurking behind Chip Harrison's name.

He agreed that a fourth book would work out all right, and I went home to write it. I'd already made Haig an avid aquarist, with tropical fish serving him as orchids served Nero Wolfe. And, happily enough, I knew something about tropical fish.

When I delivered the book, Joe had a complaint I'd rarely heard in many years in the world of paperback fiction.

"There's not enough sex," he said.

In response, I went through the book page by page until I could find a place where I could wedge in a sex scene. And Chip, after recounting it in some detail, apologizes for it as having not much to do with the book; he explains that his editor, Joe Elder, insisted he augment the book's sexual content. So, although the incident really did take place, Chip thinks it's gratituous, and rather hopes Mr. Elder will change his mind and take it out again.
Four daggers out of four.

1 comment:

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