Scandalous literary jokes that are unpublishable when they're written are likely to become incomprehensible when they become publishable--and if you understand that sentence, you may understand portions of The Death of the King's Canary, a barrage of character assassinations, parodies within parodies, puns, and anagrams cast in the form of the country-house murder mystery. One of the jokes is that the murder doesn't occur until the last page, not until we've met the 51 houseguests of just-anointed Poet Laureate Hilary (""dirty little beast"") Byrd. They talk, they dine on mice and Heinz's Tomato, they talk (""He told me that Shirley Temple frightened him more than Max Ernst did""), they orgy, they talk (""What is your opinion of Knut Hamsun?"" "" 'E's a bloody shit""), they careen through a midsummer night's fair, and they talk (""Did you ever see that Easter Island sculpture of the woman with the. . . ?""). Much of the writing is as tight and imagistic as you might expect of Thomas, and some of the surrealistic leaps (""Leave the tortoise alone, Mrs. Porter. He's not dead. He's thinking"") provide isolated hilarity. But the swarming caricatures (hermaphrodites, nudists, midgets, poets) and the dozen full-length parodies--on which graduate students can test their Auden-Eliot-SpenderEmpson-Connolly-surrealist associations--engender a roman a clef requiring a keyring that few of us carry.