Murder by the Book (Nero Wolfe #19) ★★★★✬

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Title: Murder by the Book
Series: Nero Wolfe #19
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 189
Words: 69K

From Wikipedia:

Inspector Cramer takes the unprecedented step of approaching Nero Wolfe for his help on a stalled murder investigation. Leonard Dykes, a clerk for a law partnership, was found dead in the East River. The police found in Dykes’ apartment a list of men’s names and Cramer wishes to have Wolfe’s opinion on it. But other than suggesting Dykes may have been trying to invent an alias, Wolfe can’t help.

A month later Wolfe, is approached by the father of Joan Wellman, a reader for a fiction publisher, who was killed in a hit-and-run incident, late at night in Van Cortlandt Park. After reading a recent letter that Joan had written to her parents, Wolfe realises that the name ‘Baird Archer’, an author whose novel Joan was reading for her employer, had also appeared on the list found in Leonard Dykes’ apartment.

Wolfe orders Archie Goodwin to explore the link between Archer’s novel and the two murder victims. To that end, Archie arrives at the office of Rachel Abrams, a stenographer, mere minutes after she has been thrown out of a window to her death. In the moments before the police arrive Archie confirms that Baird Archer was one of her clients. Wolfe decides to begin the investigation with Dykes, and Archie arranges a meeting with the female employees of Corrigan, Phelps, Kustin and Briggs, the law partnership Dykes worked for. During the meeting, tempers flare and in a resulting argument the former senior partner of the firm, Conroy O’Malley, is mentioned. O’Malley was disbarred for bribing a jury foreman to fix a case, and while Dykes was blamed for exposing him to the Bar Association it becomes clear that all four of the partners have motives to betray him.

Soon after, the four lawyers—James Corrigan, Emmet Phelps, Louis Kustin and Frederick Briggs—approach Wolfe, keen to avoid further scandal. The men agree to send Wolfe all correspondence relating to Dykes, including a resignation letter he submitted. When they receive the letter, Wolfe and Archie discover an odd notation, apparently in Corrigan’s handwriting, which corresponds a verse in the Book of Psalms. The same verse – “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help” – was used for the title of Baird Archer’s novel, which confirms to Wolfe that Archer was a pen name of Dykes and his novel a Roman à clef based on O’Malley’s downfall.

Archie is dispatched to Los Angeles to persuade Dykes’s sister Peggy to help them trap her brother’s murderer. Archie writes a letter to the law firm purportedly from Peggy asking for advice over the legal rights of her brother’s novel, and hires a local private detective to pose as a literary agent. Soon after, James Corrigan unsuccessfully tries to acquire the manuscript, resorting to violence and attempted theft in order to do so. Archie begins to tail Corrigan, but soon after his return to New York Wolfe receives a rambling phone call, apparently from James Corrigan, which is abruptly ended with the sound of a gunshot. The police discover that Corrigan has apparently committed suicide, and the next day Wolfe receives a suicide note written by Corrigan confessing to having exposed O’Malley and committed all three murders to keep his secret.

Although the authorities are willing to rule Corrigan the murderer and his death a suicide, Wolfe has a breakthrough and summons the major witnesses to his office. There, he reveals that the supposed suicide note was flawed in one crucial respect; it claimed that Corrigan was aware of the contents of Dykes’ novel, when in fact Corrigan’s actions in Los Angeles clearly demonstrated that he had never seen the manuscript before. In fact, Corrigan was murdered by Conroy O’Malley, who had staged his death as a suicide. O’Malley had discovered that Corrigan had betrayed him via Dykes’s manuscript and had committed the other murders both to frame Corrigan and cover up his actions. After holes in his alibi are discovered, O’Malley is charged and convicted of murder.

Ahhhhhhhh yeaaaaahhh. When Rex Stout wants to write, boy howdy can he write! This was like sinking back into the most comfortable couch imaginable with a big fluffy blanket and a mug of the most delicious hot chocolate ever. Nothing like the grime, grit and dirt from 87th Precinct.

I loved every second of this. And what’s more, being about a book just put the cherry on top. Sure, several people die. Very nice people I’m sure. But I didn’t know them, their deaths weren’t described in gruesome detail and beyond a name and a clue placeholder, they didn’t force me into the nasty murder box. Comfortable crime, that’s what I’d call it.

It was also really nice to get back to a full length novel instead of 3 novellas. I know I harp on that a lot, but it makes a big difference to me. I realize also that Stout pretty much wrote on commission to earn a living so novellas would do that easier than full length novels. But by gum, full novels are where its at as far as pure enjoyment goes. * slams fist * And that’s final!


10 thoughts on “Murder by the Book (Nero Wolfe #19) ★★★★✬

    1. You only find it that way because you’ve been seduced by the devil’s music and it’s telling you to be a cheapo! See, it IS dangerous.

      It is a book. Not as deadly as the King in Yellow, but several people do get bumped off for it.

      Liked by 1 person

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