Thursday, January 24, 2008


My favorite regular character created by Edward D. Hoch was the professional thief Nick Velvet, whom I think would have made a great character for a TV series. (Hey, it worked for Alexander Mundy!)

And I'm not alone in that opinion, I think. Here's what Hoch's obituary in the New York Times had to say about Nick Velvet:

Perhaps Mr. Hoch’s most popular sleuth was Nick Velvet, a professional thief engaged to steal a bewildering array of things for his clients. These included an ashtray, a cobweb, a canceled stamp, a dead houseplant, a used tea bag, a sliver of soap, a ball of twine, a bingo card, an empty paint can, a Thanksgiving turkey, a blue-ribbon pie, a bathroom scale, a bald man’s comb, an ostrich, a skunk, a major-league baseball team and — in perhaps the most blatantly criminal act of all — an overdue library book.

And here's the Wikipedia entry about Nick:

Nick Velvet is a professional thief for hire, with a peculiar specialty: For a flat fee, he steals only objects of negligible apparent value. Since his first appearance in EQMM in September 1966, he has stolen such things as an old spiderweb (which he was then obliged to replace), a day-old newspaper, and a used teabag. His original fee for a theft was $20,000. In 1980 he raised it to $25,000 at the urging of his long-time girlfriend Gloria (who met Nick in 1965 when he was burgling her New York apartment); in the 21st century his fee has risen to $50,000. Unlike many fictional thieves, Nick usually works alone on his thefts—in fact, until 1979 Gloria believed that Nick worked for the U.S. government.

The Nick Velvet caper stories generally combine a near-impossible theft with the mystery of why someone would pay $20,000 to have an apparently valueless item stolen. Although Nick often appears as devoid of curiosity as his targets are of value, circumstances usually force him to identify his clients' true motives, making him as much of a detective as Hoch's more conventional characters. Most of the Nick Velvet stories have a light and humorous tone reminiscent of Leslie Charteris' early stories of the Saint. The fundamental immorality of Nick's chosen profession is frequently offset by the larger justice resulting from his detective work.

A Nick Velvet story, "The Theft of the Circus Poster" in May 1973, began Hoch's unbroken string of monthly appearances in EQMM. Another story, "The Theft of the Rusty Bookmark" in January 1998 featured the real-life Mysterious Bookshop of New York City, and its real-life owner (and Edgar-winning publisher and editor), Otto Penzler. "The Theft of Gloria's Greatcoat" (May 1998), which describes the first meeting of Nick and Gloria, is unusual in that it is told in the first person by Gloria; all of the other Nick Velvet stories (and indeed the majority of Hoch's stories) are third-person narratives.

I'm not sure whom I'd cast to play Nick and Gloria, but the stories are timeless and could be set in the modern day, so you wouldn't have to worry about hiring an actor who could play a certain time period (a tricky skill!).

It would be sad if it took Hoch's death to bring Nick Velvet to the attention of some TV producer as a possible TV project, but if that's what it takes......

BCnU and May God Bless.....
Toby OB

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