Endorsements that helped earn rich fee for first-time novelist are disavowed

April 14, 1991|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- On Wednesday, Simon & Schuster announced it had bought a novel for $920,000, one of the largest amounts ever paid for a first novel, in part on the strength of endorsements from writers John le Carre and Joseph Wambaugh.

On Friday, Mr. le Carre and Mr. Wambaugh denied they had ever seen or heard of the book, "Just Killing Time."

"It's straight fraud," Mr. le Carre said of his purported endorsement. "It's like bringing a painting into a gallery with phony authentications from Bernard Berenson."

The deception involved is the kind one might expect in Mr. le Carre's spy novels. It included a spurious telegram from Mr. le Carre, as well as two letters bearing Mr. Wambaugh's letterhead -- but with an address in San Diego nowhere near his California home.

"It sounds like the guy has gone to elaborate lengths," Mr. Wambaugh said, adding that he was both angry and bemused that his name has been attached to the scheme.

Simon & Schuster said it had not decided whether to publish "Just Killing Time," about a serial killer and a secret U.S. government agency.

"We are studying the situation and are taking it under


Charles E. Hayward, president of Simon & Schuster's trade division, said Friday. "We will meet with the author early next week."

Since Simon & Schuster did have the manuscript, at least part of its enchantment with the work came from the book itself, not the blurbs from Mr. le Carre and Mr. Wambaugh.

"Just Killing Time" was auctioned under the author's pseudonym, Derek Van Arman. The author was described to publishers as a Washington-based communications specialist and national security investigator who had worked for numerous federal agencies. He is, in fact, Derek V. Goodwin, a free-lance writer who lives in Phoenix.

Mr. Goodwin maintained Friday that he also was a longtime investigator for various federal agencies and often worked out of Washington, where, he said, he was born and reared.

Mr. Goodwin, 40, denied he had perpetrated the fraud, adding, "I was completely blindsided, completely duped" -- apparently, he said, by someone with a personal grudge or by a former CIA employee whom he knew only slightly.

"It would take someone who is severely brain-dead to submit quotes like that to publishers who know all these famous writers," Mr. Goodwin said. "What would be the purpose of that?"

He said he could not explain why someone would undertake such a plot, which, if it succeeded, could only help make Mr. Goodwin rich.

In fact, the endorsements thought to be from Mr. le Carre, formerly a British intelligence officer, and Mr. Wambaugh, formerly a Los Angeles Police Department officer, substantially enhanced the book's value in the eyes of at least some of the eight publishers who bid for it.

So did the endorsement by Clive Cussler, another best-selling author. He said Friday he had actually read the book and praised it highly.

On Wednesday, Peter Lampack, the literary agent who conducted the auction, said, "The quality of those endorsements lent the tone that led to the $920,000."

But Friday, after learning of Mr. le Carre's denial, Mr. Lampack -- who also is Mr. Cussler's agent -- sounded in shock.

"I know that I proceeded in good faith, the publisher proceeded in good faith and I believe that Derek proceeded in good faith," Mr. Lampack said.

"If it's a hoax, he is probably as much a victim as we all are," he added, referring to Mr. Goodwin. Mr. Lampack said that he could not explain why anyone would choose Mr. Goodwin as the victim of such a hoax.

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