NOAH ADAMS, host:

From NPR News it's DAY TO DAY. The television hit show, Lost, airs its season finale tonight. Those obsessed with decoding Lost have been reading books featured on the show. Classics like Watership Down and Turn of the Screw and then there's The Third Policeman. That Flann O'Brien book briefly appeared on Lost early in the season. It gave the forgotten 40-year-old novel a new life. Jim Ruland has the report.

Mr. JIM RULAND (Writer, Los Angeles): The Third Policeman is a very unusual book. It begins as a conventional murder mystery set in rural Ireland, but then the story gets weird. The plot is populated with bizarre characters, embroiled in absurd situations, and the rules that govern the universe as we know it, don't apply. In many ways the story is a lot like the television show, Lost, in which The Third Policeman made an unlikely appearance earlier this season.

(Soundbite of television show Lost)

Unidentified Man: What are you doing? Are you leaving?

Mr. RULAND: The book's cover was briefly flashed on the screen for a little more than a second, as one of the characters fled from a mysterious underground chamber, but that was long enough. Since its television debut, The Third Policeman has sold an extraordinary 17,000 copies. That's eight times what the novel typically sells in a year.

Mr. DOUG DUTTON(ph) (Owner, Dutton's Books): Perhaps this is a case of lost and found.

Mr. RULAND: That's Los Angeles bookstore owner, Doug Dutton, of Dutton's Books. And he maintains the novel merits its newfound celebrity.

Mr. DUTTON: Here is a triumph of quality over, you know, this story of the moment. Even though Lost really is of the moment, but it doesn't matter. The book has its own excellence and by god, people are reading it. Hooray.

Mr. RULAND: This resurgence of The Third Policeman delights his publisher, The Dalkey Archive, a small press based in Normal, Illinois committed to keeping little known works of literature in print. John O'Brien, no relation, is Dalkey's publisher. And he says the story of how The Third Policeman ended up on Lost involves an odd coincidence that fans of the show would appreciate.

Mr. JOHN O'BRIEN (Dalkey Publisher): Two of our younger staff were standing around talking about the episode of the night before. They're passionate fans of it. And as they were talking about it the phone rang, and it was somebody from Lost calling to ask about using the book on the show.

Mr. RULAND: All this attention The Third Policeman is getting would've stunned its author. He finished the book in 1940 at the dawn of World War II. Bad timing for a comic novel.

Mr. O'BRIEN: He seemed to be acutely aware that the book, from the start, had almost no chance of getting published, because it, kind of, contained the two worst of things at that time. It's grim in many ways, at the same time it's hilarious. Now put those two together and you're losing almost every possible reader.

Mr. RULAND: But O'Brien was so embarrassed by his failure to publish The Third Policeman that he made up stories about the manuscript's demise. He told one friend that he left it in a crowded pub, and another, that he put it in the backseat of his car and the pages were scattered to the winds. In other words, the book was lost.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RULAND: The Third Policeman was finally published in 1967, a year after Flann O'Brien drank himself to death. After Lost fades from our TV screens, is The Third Policeman destined to be forgotten again? Doug Dutton doesn't think so.

Mr. DUTTON: It's such a wonderful book, it'll live long beyond careers of half the actors on Lost. Its cleverness and charm will preserve it for a good while.

Mr. RULAND: Whether The Third Policeman contains real clues to Lost's many mysteries, or is simply an elaborate red herring remains to be seen. But it's giving readers a chance to get lost in a good book.

ADAMS: Jim Ruland is a Los Angeles writer. DAY TO DAY returns in a moment.

(Soundbite of music)

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