NEW YORK — Through no intent or grand design of its own, Viking seems to find itself making a specialty of publishing books that embarrass British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government. Last July, there was "Spycatcher," by Peter Wright with Paul Greengrass, a real-life thriller so upsetting to the Tory government that it was banned in Britain on grounds it compromised the island's national security. Nevertheless, the book was an enormous success, with clandestine copies sold outside the Houses of Parliament, or ordered from U.S. booksellers who were entirely eager to make overseas sales. Here in the rebel Colonies, the book hit the New York Times best-seller list on Aug. 2 and has remained there ever since, chalking up about 800,000 copies in sales. Viking, of course, was thrilled, if more than a little surprised by the enthusiasm with which the book was received. "I don't think anybody knew there was that kind of an audience," Viking publicity director Victoria Meyer said. Now, here comes "The Stalker Affair," Viking's newest blot on Britain's governmental psyche. English police administrator John Stalker claims that his 1982 investigation of the shooting of two unarmed civilians in Northern Ireland was thwarted by the Thatcher regime. The book is a current best seller in both Ireland and Great Britain, having sold 60,000 copies in just two weeks. With the book due for May 2 publication in this country, Viking's Meyer says demurely, "Publishing books that the British government would like to suppress seems to have become something of a specialty of ours." As they say in Great Britain, quite.
REGAL INHERITANCE: Columbia University is the recipient of 25,000 manuscripts, drafts and correspondence from the collection of Ellery Queen. The famous detective-author was actually two people, Brooklyn-born cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, who entered a mystery novel contest in 1928 that required the use of a pseudonym. Lee died in 1971; Dannay, in 1982.
ADVANCE WORD: Literary agent Carol Mann remembers how she was both embarrassed and relieved to find a publisher for Paul Auster's "The New York Trilogy." Mann was ecstatic when tiny Sun and Moon Press of Los Angeles agreed to publish the first volume, but less than eager to tell her client about the meager, $100-advance the book had garnered. On the other hand, Mann remembered sadly, "No New York house was interested." Since then, Auster has earned critical acclaim, and has moved to Viking. Last week, Mann reported jubilantly that Viking agreed to a six-figure advance for Auster's next novel.
SIX EVENINGS: The University of California Press has scheduled a series of lectures, slide shows and discussions with some of its most prominent authors, editors and illustrators. "Meet the Press," as the series is known, runs through March 4 at UCLA's Dodd Hall. (Information: (213) 825-1911.) The effort follows on such recent innovations and successes by UC Press, the country's largest university press, as the launching of a "public publishing" drive encouraging bibliophiles to build a $1-million endowment; forthcoming publication of the papers of Martin Luther King Jr.; and the acquisition of the Lannan grant for a series in contemporary art criticism.
PUBLIC ACCESS, and lack thereof: In a new report, "Less Access to Less Information by and About the U.S. Government: IX," covering the period June to December, 1987, the American Library Assn. charges increased administration efforts to "restrict and privatize" government information, resulting in "significantly limited access to public documents and statistics." Since 1982, the report states, one of every four of the government's 16,000 publications has been eliminated, and citizen access to government information has been reduced.
SMALL PRESS' BIG GATHERING: Dan Poynter, head of Para Publishing in Santa Barbara, will be among the featured speakers at this year's Small Press and Magazine Expo. The conference/convention will be held March 28-30 at the New York Penta Hotel here in the Big Apple.
TOLSTOY FOR TOTS: "The Lion and the Puppy," a collection of 25 children's stories by Leo Tolstoy, will be published in April by Seaver Books, an imprint of Henry Holt. At least a third of the stories have never been published in English.
ALSO REAPPEARING: "Missing," the Tom Hauser book that served as the inspiration for the movie of the same name, will return to print as a trade paperback from Simon & Schuster's Touchstone imprint. The book was taken out of print in 1983 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and Avon after the book became the target of an ultimately unsuccessful libel suit. Hauser won the rights to his book back last autumn; his own suit against the original publishers, seeking damages and lost income, is still pending.