I’ve just finished reading a truly bizarre book, one that is almost legendary. It’s The Stuffed Men by Anthony Rud. Other than this strange byway of hard-boiled detective fiction, Rud’s only other claim to fame is that his short story Ooze, about a monstrous killer amoeba, was the cover story of the first ever edition of Weird Tales back in 1923. The Stuffed Men was published in 1935 and also features a malevolent micro-organism, a fungus (which Rud also confusingly refers to as a plant). The novel boasts an extraordinary plot involving a Chinese Tong organisation busy smashing up priceless pieces of Ming pottery and murdering anyone who gets in their way. Their favoured form of execution is to expose their victims to a fungal spore which rapidly grows inside the body, suffocating them and leaving behind grotesquely ‘stuffed’ corpses.
A few of the chapter titles will give you some idea of both the high strangeness and the pulp style: ‘The Mystery of the Burial Urns’, ‘The Saffron Horror’, ‘The Fungus Vat’, ‘The Noseless Horrors’, ‘The Red-Hot Rat’ and ‘Prisoner of the Wart’. Alas, the writing is pretty awful, an uncomfortable mix of pulp bashing-it-out and wannabe literary stylings. Worse still, it’s stuffed with casual racism, with numerous references to ‘Chinks’ or ‘Chinkies’ as well as ‘Japs’ and even one ‘probably part nigger’.
Despite these unpleasant elements, The Stuffed Men eventually won me over for its sheer bravura and extraordinary imagination. To be fair, even if the science is poor, the plot does all make sense by the end. It was certainly a reading experience well out of the ordinary and a box ticked – I’ve always wanted to read this book ever since I first heard mention of it. It’s long been out of print and I shouldn’t think it sold many at the time, so I was chuffed to pick up a copy for just £6 (although admittedly without the stylish dust-jacket illustrated here).