Book People | August 2023 | Nate Pedersen

Lost Rex Stout Novel Published by Hard Case Crime

Image courtesy of Charles Ardai

Hard Case Crime will be published a lost novel by Rex Stout, "Seed on the Wind," in November. Hard Case Crime founder and editor, Charles Ardai, recently spoke with us over email about the upcoming publication:

In November, Hard Case Crime will be publishing Rex Stout's Seed on the Wind, a lost novel for 93 years.  Please introduce our readers to Rex Stout and why this discovery is significant:

Image courtesy of Charles Ardai

Cover of Seed on the Wind.

Rex Stout was during his lifetime, and perhaps more surprisingly nearly half a century after his death remains, one of the most popular mystery writers of all time. His greatest creation, the sedentary genius Nero Wolfe, starred in 33 novels and numerous story collections, as well as in films, TV adaptations, and stage productions. The Wolfe books have been in print continuously since their original publication and have been discovered and re-discovered and loved by generations of readers.

But Stout wrote other novels before creating Nero Wolfe. In addition to some serials penned for pulp magazines when he was in his 20s, Stout wrote four ambitious, provocative literary novels, winning praise from critics but precious little in the way of sales. It was these books’ modest performance that drove him to explore the more commercial field of mystery writing as an alternative, and that alternative path was to occupy him professionally for the rest of his life.

Of those four early novels, only one ever even got reprinted in paperback, and none have been available in any form for many decades. The most obscure, SEED ON THE WIND, has been unavailable for 93 years – and it very much doesn’t deserve it. This is a truly outstanding book, and we are thrilled to have the chance to unearth it after so long.

 Why has the novel been unavailable for 93 years?

There are a number of reasons. The main character is an independent-minded young woman who takes charge of her own destiny, in particular her reproductive destiny, and who doesn’t care what proper society might think of her choices. Readers in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s might have been scandalized by Lora Winter. But the very traits that shocked Stout’s contemporaries make Lora seem strikingly modern to a reader who meets her in the 21st century. Another challenge may have been the way the story is told – it’s an intricately woven plot that assembles facts like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, revealing Lora’s past in a reverse chronology that might have seemed dauntingly experimental back in 1931 but will make perfect sense to any fan of the movie MEMENTO. Reading the book today, you just marvel at how far ahead of his time Rex Stout really was.

 What can readers expect in the story?  What can you tell us about the plot?

Lora Winter has had four children with four different men: a lawyer, a jeweler, an art critic, and an oil company man. One day, one of the four fathers shows up at Lora’s door with a fifth man in tow – and Lora runs and hides. But why? Stout takes us back into Lora’s past, man by man, until finally revealing the shocking reasons behind the unconventional choices Lora has made. Along the way, Lora has to grapple with kidnapping, blackmail, and possibly even murder. It’s gripping, emotionally powerful, sometimes disturbing, and deeply satisfying.

 How did you re-discover Seed on the Wind?  How did you secure rights for publication?

My wife and mother-in-law are huge Nero Wolfe fans (as are several Hard Case Crime authors, such as Lawrence Block!), and at some point, after admiring the four big stacks of Wolfe volumes on our bookshelves for the thousandth time, it occurred to me to wonder what else Stout might have written. Some online searching turned up references to his early novels, and correspondence with rare book dealers eventually made it possible for me to procure copies (though some only at prices more commonly reserved for rare vintage wines). The two earliest titles absolutely knocked my socks off. So I began the next step in the research process, trying to find information about the author’s heirs. With invaluable help from mystery scholar Joseph Goodrich, I reached out to Stout’s daughter and grandchildren, and following a months-long process, we finally reached an agreement to put out new editions of the two books that had impressed me so much.

Are there other Stout novels that are also awaiting rediscovery?

Yes! Next summer we’ll be bringing out the first new edition in 50 years of HOW LIKE A GOD, another novel that’s experimental in technique (even by modern standards) and absolutely compelling. Stout’s other two early novels would be of less interest to mystery readers, I think – one has no crime element at all and the other has some but its focus is elsewhere. So we wouldn’t be the right publisher for those. But perhaps a non-crime publisher might someday bring one or both back.

 What's next for Hard Case Crime?

It’ll be our 20th anniversary in 2024! So we’ll be celebrating – not only with the second lost Stout novel but also an unfinished final novel by REAR WINDOW author Cornell Woolrich, completed by Lawrence Block; two novels that are about to become major new movies; a novel Quentin Tarantino chose as his favorite novel of the past year; the return of Max Allan Collins’ most popular character, the ruthless hitman Quarry; and a special 20th-anniversary collection of my own short stories. Lots of great reads to make our anniversary year special. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if our two Stout discoveries wind up being the highlight of the year for a lot of die-hard fans.