Triple Jeopardy (Nero Wolfe #20) ★★★★☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress & Blogspot by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Triple Jeopardy
Series: Nero Wolfe #20
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 184
Words: 67K

From Wikipedia:

3 novellas comprising:

“Home to Roost”

Benjamin and Pauline Rackell engage Wolfe to investigate the death of their nephew Arthur, paying him a $3,000 retainer. Arthur had begun to show increasing support for the Communist Party, but confided to Pauline that he had been recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the group’s New York organization. At a dinner party, he had brought out a pillbox from his pocket, set it on the table, and taken one of the vitamin capsules inside, only to die a few minutes later from cyanide poisoning. The other capsules in the box were found to be genuine and harmless. Pauline insists that one of the other five dinner guests must have learned the truth about Arthur and slipped the poisoned capsule into the box while he was not paying attention.

Archie visits both the local FBI office and Manhattan Homicide but is unable to get any useful information; at Wolfe’s request, he arranges a meeting with the Rackells and the dinner guests at Wolfe’s office. Of these latter five – Ormond Leddegard, Fifi Goheen, Della Devlin, Henry Jameson Heath, Carol Berk – only Heath is known to have ties to the Communist Party. Wolfe questions the group about the dinner party and the pillbox, not mentioning Arthur’s FBI status in order to avoid tipping them off, and inadvertently sparks a confrontation between Della and Fifi over Heath’s affections. Fifi says that Arthur told her he lied to Pauline about working for the FBI, a claim Pauline adamantly denies.

The next day, Archie engages Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin, and Orrie Cather to keep Heath under constant surveillance and arranges for the Rackells to see Wolfe again. Wolfe tells them that he is convinced there was an eyewitness to Arthur’s murder, and offers to find that person and get the truth for a fee of $20,000. Benjamin is unconvinced, but Pauline is eager to accept the offer, and Wolfe sends Archie to visit Della and Carol in their shared apartment that night. Della says that Carol has gone to a show, but Archie finds her hiding in a closet and listening in. After she leaves, he offers Della $10,000 to tell the police that she had seen Fifi switch the capsules; she does not immediately say yes or no, and he leaves to update Wolfe and Saul.

The next morning, both Inspector Cramer and FBI Agent Wengert visit the office to confront Wolfe. They have learned of Archie’s offer to Della and are furious, but Wolfe points out that their best course of action is to let him proceed, neither supporting nor opposing his plans. Archie gets updates on Heath’s movements throughout the day, culminating in a meeting with a woman in Central Park at which Saul is eavesdropping. Arriving at the location, Archie finds that the woman is Pauline and brings both of them to the office. With Saul’s corroboration, Wolfe determines that Heath arranged the meeting in order to persuade Pauline not to pay for Wolfe’s scheme to get Fifi convicted.

Wolfe reveals that his offer to the Rackells was meant to draw out the murderer, as he had no concrete evidence or witnesses. He accuses Pauline of Arthur’s murder, having become suspicious of her after she accepted his offer so quickly. She had seen it as a way to frame someone else for her crime and keep her own Communist leanings from becoming public. Wolfe pressures Heath into agreeing to tell him how much Pauline has contributed to the party, in order to keep himself from being associated with her criminal trial.

The next day, while Cramer and Wengert are going over the details of the case with Wolfe, Archie reveals that he knows who had been the real infiltrator sent by the FBI. It was Carol, who would have learned about the $10,000 offer from Della and was the only person who could have informed Wengert of it so quickly. Now that the case is over, she accepts Archie’s offer of a drink.

“The Cop-Killer”

Returning to the brownstone from his morning errands, Archie finds two surprise visitors waiting for him on the stoop: Carl and Tina Vardas, both of whom work at the barbershop that Wolfe and Archie frequent. Jacob Wallen, a police detective, had visited the shop earlier in the day in order to question the employees as to their whereabouts on the previous night. After he had questioned Carl and Tina separately, they fled the shop for fear of being deported back to their native Russia, from which they had illegally made their way to New York City three years earlier. Archie puts them in the front room, tells Wolfe of their arrival, and goes to the shop.

Several police officers, including Sergeant Purley Stebbins, are already there when he arrives, and Inspector Cramer arrives soon afterward. Wallen has been found dead in a manicurist’s cubicle, stabbed in the back with a pair of scissors. While waiting for a shave, Archie learns that Wallen had been investigating a hit-and-run accident the previous night in which two women were struck and killed by a stolen car, and he had carried that evening’s newspaper with him. He had used the cubicle for his questioning, and his body was found there some minutes after talking to the last of the employees. Since Carl and Tina fled the shop, suspicion falls on them first. Janet Stahl, a manicurist, claims in overly dramatic fashion that she killed Wallen, but Archie does not believe her.

Once his shave is finished, Archie returns to the brownstone and finds Wolfe eating lunch with Carl and Tina. Further questioning of the couple reveals that neither of them knows how to drive a car, which is enough in Archie’s mind to clear them of any guilt in the hit-and-run. They remember that Wallen had carried his newspaper flat as if it had just come off the newsstand, rather than rolled or folded up in his coat pocket, and had set it down that way on the table in the cubicle. Surprised by the arrival of Cramer, Archie moves them into the front room in order to keep him from finding them. Cramer is unconvinced that Archie’s visit for a shave was only a coincidence, especially since has never gone to the shop for only a shave, but cannot see how any of the employees could afford Wolfe’s fees. During the visit, Cramer learns from a phone call that Janet has been injured.

Returning to the shop, Archie finds Janet recovering from a blow to the head and willing to talk only to him. She again over-dramatizes the incident, claiming that Stebbins assaulted her, but Archie uses her theatrics to question her further about the timeline of the morning’s events. He calls in with an update for Wolfe, who soon surprises everyone by showing up for a haircut and asking for his usual barber, Jimmie Kirk. As Jimmie begins to work, Wolfe addresses the group with a list of assumptions he has made concerning the hit-and-run and Wallen’s death:

That Wallen found some object in the car to lead him to the shop

That he carried it with him when he entered the shop

That it was inside his newspaper

That the murderer found and either moved or hid it

That neither Carl nor Tina was the murderer

That the object is still inside the shop

That no proper search for it has yet been made

With prompting from Wolfe, including a suggestion to check the shop for Wallen’s fingerprints, Cramer realizes that the object in question must have been one of the magazines in the waiting area, which are labeled with the shop’s name and address. Janet remembers seeing Jimmie carrying one wrapped in a hot towel, as if he had been steaming it, and Jimmie dives for the magazines only to be tackled and arrested. He had jumped bail in West Virginia on an assortment of charges, including auto theft; while working at the shop, he had developed a habit of stealing its magazines, one of which he left in the car after abandoning it. Wolfe grumbles over the inconvenience of losing his barber to a murder charge.

In the final chapter, Archie suggests that Wolfe call in a few favors with Washington officials so that Carl and Tina can legally remain in the United States. Wolfe comments that he has been a naturalized citizen for 24 years.

“The Squirt and the Monkey”

Archie Goodwin takes an unusual assignment to help cartoonist Harry Koven recover a gun that has been stolen from a desk drawer in his home office. Harry, creator of the popular Dazzle Dan comic strip, intends to have Archie place his own gun—the same model as the stolen one—in the drawer, then open the drawer in the presence of the five people he suspects of the theft and watch their reactions. These five are Harry’s wife Marcelle, his friend Adrian Getz (nicknamed “Squirt” by Harry), his agent/manager Patricia Lowell, and strip artists Pete Jordan and Byram Hildebrand.

Arriving at the Kovens’ house, Archie is escorted to a room with a blazing fireplace; the heat is for the benefit of Rookaloo, a pet monkey kept in a cage in this room. After Archie puts his own (unloaded) gun in Harry’s desk drawer, Harry becomes indecisive about his plan and asks for time to gather his courage, during which Archie meets the other five and learns of various tensions between them. Several hours later, once Harry is ready to proceed, he and Archie re-check the drawer only to find that Archie’s gun has been switched for Harry’s. Archie subsequently finds Getz lying dead in Rookaloo’s room, shot in the head, and Rookaloo is holding Archie’s gun (now loaded) and shivering in a draft from a now-open window.

When the police arrive, Archie makes a full statement and is then arrested by Inspector Cramer for violating the Sullivan Act, since he had been carrying Harry’s gun at the time and did not have a permit for it. Cramer’s decision is based on Harry’s untruthful account of the day’s events, in which he claims that he only invited Archie to discuss the idea of introducing a detective storyline into Dazzle Dan. Wolfe’s detective license is suspended; he secures Archie’s release on bail the next day—for both the weapons charge and a material witness warrant that has been sworn out against him—and files a $1 million slander lawsuit against Harry for damaging his reputation.

Wolfe has the past three years’ worth of Gazette issues delivered to the office, and Lon Cohen briefs Archie on various grudges that Harry and the others have against Getz, who turns out to be the owner of the Kovens’ house. Later that day, Wolfe and Archie have a hidden tape recorder installed in the office, with controls in the kitchen. Wolfe searches through the Dazzle Dan strips in the Gazette and takes interest in two characters, Aggie Ghool and Haggie Krool, who have a severely lopsided business relationship that favors Aggie. When Patricia stops by the office, Wolfe questions her about portrayals of a monkey in the strip—first depicted maliciously, then suddenly made to appear sympathetic. Patricia admits that Jordan and Hildebrand have very different opinions about Rookaloo, explaining the shift, and also says that she gave it to Getz, who in turn left it in Marcelle’s care without asking her. Patricia denies Wolfe’s statement of a rumor that the idea for Dazzle Dan originally came from Getz.

That night, Wolfe gathers the principals in his office and allows Cramer to attend as well, on the condition that he remain silent and observe through the office peephole for the first half-hour of the meeting. Wolfe secretly records a portion of the conversation, then plays it back in order to leverage information out of the group. The Aggie/Haggie characters represent the uneven split between Getz and Harry, as indicated by their initials (A.G. and H.K.); Getz, the strip’s actual creator, took a 90% share of the strip’s revenues and allowed Harry only 10%. Marcelle reveals that she had tried to persuade Harry to stand up to Getz and denounces him for never having the courage to do so. She tries to blame Harry for the murder, but Wolfe points out that her disdain for Rookaloo led her to open the window in the hope that the draft would kill it—a mistake that proves her guilt. Cramer places Marcelle under arrest, with Wolfe’s admonishment that he would have been able to close the case much sooner if he had believed Archie’s statement.

I really enjoyed these 3 novellas. I don’t know if I actually enjoyed these more than previous Wolfe novella collections or if I’ve just accepted that a good story can still be had in 60 pages. Whatever the reason, I had zero hangups this time around. For which I am thankful.

I absolutely love Archie and Wolfe’s interaction with the police. It is almost always adversarial yet they still all acknowledge the professionalism of the other. Of course, even here we can see how power wants to accumulate more power to itself. The cops are constantly pushing for more power, to deal with the bad guys better, but at some point if they got their wish they’d become 3rd world thugs. Also Archie and Wolfe both fully know their rights and the limits and protections of those rights. How many citizens today in America can factually layout why they can do what they think they can (or why they legally can’t)? Sadly, not nearly enough.

This was one of the times that I was tempted to read another Wolfe book right after this and bedamned to my reading schedule. I just wanted MORE. But not giving in to my literary cravings is what keeps me loving these Wolfe books. If I gave in, I’d get tired and burned out (unless I was Fraggle and read the whole series 3 times in a row in like a year or something totally cray-cray). While my reading rotation is highly personalized, it is that way because it works. I haven’t had a reading slump in years and I want to keep it that way. So with regret but determined, I put Wolfe away for another month or so.


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

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress & Blogspot by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

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!


Curtains for Three (Nero Wolfe #18) ★★★★☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress & Blogspot by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Curtains for Three
Series: Nero Wolfe #18
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars Appended to 4
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 149
Words: 70K

This is another collection of 3 novellas and consists of:
The Gun with Wings
Bullet for One
Disguise for Murder

While I enjoyed this collection, part of that was because I was determined to overlook the novella aspect and simply enjoy the stories for what they were instead of what I wanted them to be, ie full novels. So I dinged a half-star right out of the gate. Then the final story, Disguise for Murder, had appeared in a previous collection and while it was still a good story, I dinged a good star and a half off for wasting my precious time on old material when I wanted new stuff.

So still happy with this read but not as happy as I could have been if it was all new stuff. Of course, now I’ll actually pay attention to the names of the novellas as I suspect this will happen again. Can’t trust publishers not to make an easy buck by gypping their customers. Bunch of lowlifes. If I was Archie Goodwin I would bust their chops for doing such a thing to me.

Ahhh, the life of a book reader/reviewer isn’t for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. Thankfully, since I’m doing all the drama, you don’t have to. But feel free to chime in. So, if any of your “father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommates” had any drama too, let me know. I’m all about those family drama stories after all.

★★★☆☆ Appended to ★★★★☆

It turns out that I had read the story “Disguise for Murder” as “The Affair of the Twisted Scarf” in the Alfred Hitchcock Collection “I Want My Mummy” back in June of 22.  Because I didn’t pay enough attention to figure out what I had read when, I am un-penalizing this collection because it’s my own fault. Thanks to Fraggle for setting me straight on this.

Three Doors to Death (Nero Wolfe #16) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress & Blogspot by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Three Doors to Death
Series: Nero Wolfe #16
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 151
Words: 65K

A collection of three novellas. I am finding that I do not enjoy these collections nearly as much as the full novels. There is nothing wrong with the novellas collected together but it is like getting one serving of eggnog (1/2cup, misers!) when I want to simply chug about 3cups worth of the stuff.

Plus, in one of the stories not only does Wolfe leave his house, but he goes blundering about in the dark, in the snow, through a stream, to break into a house. I found it too unbelievable. It would have been like me recommending the Tripitakas to all of you. Inconceivable!

I am tempted to skip all of the books with “Three” in the title so I don’t have to deal with this, but the fact is that I still do enjoy these and skipping them would make me sad. So it’s time to pull up my big boy pants and just read the books. All of them. The Great and Powerful Bookstooge will never be accused of not manning up.


In the Best Families (Nero Wolfe #17) ★★★★✬

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress & Blogspot by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: In the Best Families
Series: Nero Wolfe #17
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 194
Words: 73.5K

In an earlier Nero Wolfe book I had wondered what a story only about Archie or only about Wolfe would be like. Well, I get a boatload of Archie Goodwin here. This is the third and final book dealing with the criminal mastermind Arnold Zeck. Once again Wolfe takes on a case that interferes with something Zeck is doing and Zeck gives Wolfe a final warning to stay out of his way. Wolfe disappears and Archie goes into business for himself. In the end, Wolfe had lost about 200lbs, gone undercover and infiltrated Zeck’s organization and eventually kills Zeck and destroys his organization.

I have to admit, when Archie was on his own, he was a boring bore. He wasn’t entertaining, he didn’t come across as tough but more as a bully. But that is exactly what I wanted to see. He and Wolfe need each other as literary characters and it was nice to have it confirmed that a story needed both of them for them to be at their best.

I am also very glad that Zeck is dealt with, and in such a manner that is 100% Bookstodge Approved. There is no rehabilitation for someone like him, so death is the only sentence that is justified. And there was no hesitation about carrying out the sentence either. Both Wolfe and Archie knew it and they didn’t wring their hands and cry and weep like women.

Somehow I messed up the series numbering on my kindle and so I skipped #16. I don’t think it will make much of a difference, storywise, as these are standalone stories, but it offends my personal sense of order. I just wanted to note this egregious lapse so that my future self wouldn’t be confused about why I made such a blunder in reading these out of order. If this lapse has confused you or thrown you into a maelstrom of chaos, allow this lowly one to apologize to you as well. I have brought dishonor upon myself. I have brought dishonor upon my family. I have brought dishonor upon my cow. Please allow me the honor of expiating such dishonor in the only honorable way.


The Second Confession (Nero Wolfe #15) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress & Blogspot by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Second Confession
Series: Nero Wolfe #15
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 199
Words: 73K


Trouble in Triplicate (Nero Wolfe #14) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress & Blogspot by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Trouble in Triplicate
Series: Nero Wolfe #14
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 159
Words: 71K


From Wikipedia


The meat shortage of 1946[1] has drastically affected the menu at Wolfe’s dining room table and left him in a foul mood. A notorious gangster, Dazy Perrit, arrives at the brownstone to enlist Wolfe’s help and, over Archie’s protests, Wolfe invites him inside. Archie fears that Perrit will tell Wolfe something that Wolfe would prefer not to know, but Wolfe wants meat and thinks that Perrit’s black market connections might enable him to get it.

Perrit gives Archie a phone number to call for a possible supply of meat, and then tells Wolfe his problem. He has a daughter, whose existence and identity he has kept secret in order to protect her from his enemies. One of them, Thumbs Meeker, has recently let Perrit know that his daughter’s existence is no longer a secret; however, he does not know her name or location. Perrit has found a grifter named Angelina Murphy who is on the run from authorities in Utah, and has installed her as his daughter in his Fifth Avenue penthouse in an attempt to draw attention away from his real daughter. Angelina has begun to blackmail Perrit, demanding large sums of money in exchange for keeping his secret, and Perrit wants to hire Wolfe to make her stop.

Wolfe dispatches Archie to make contact with Perrit’s real daughter, Beulah Page. Archie learns that Beulah is engaged to marry a law student named Morton Schane and invites them both to dinner at Wolfe’s house. Wolfe uses the occasion to acquaint himself with the couple’s plans and concerns. Later that night, after Beulah and Schane have left, Angelina arrives for an appointment with Wolfe. He threatens to reveal her whereabouts to the Utah authorities unless she gives him 90% of any further money she extorts from Perrit. Angelina responds by threatening to disclose that she is not Perrit’s daughter, but Wolfe rebuffs her, saying that the information will be of no personal worry to him.

As Archie escorts Angelina home, she is killed in a drive-by shooting outside her apartment building. Archie is taken into custody, questioned, and released; when he reaches the brownstone, Perrit and one of his thugs are waiting to talk to him. These two men are killed in a second drive-by. Later that day, Perrit’s lawyer, L.A. Schwartz, pays a visit to Wolfe with news that he has been named executor of Perrit’s estate and entrusted with documents that prove Beulah’s parentage. Wolfe accepts the responsibility — and the $50,000 fee that goes with it — and schedules an appointment with Beulah, Schane, and Schwartz.

The meeting is further joined by Saul Panzer, Meeker, and an associate of Perrit’s named Fabian. Wolfe reveals Schane as the murderer, having become suspicious at the dinner after Schane made a nonsense comment about a simple point of law. Schane had been in league with Angelina in Utah, but decided to focus on Beulah instead after coming to New York, and Perrit had figured out what he was doing. The fingerprints he left on his wineglass at dinner confirm his identity and criminal background. Schane shoots at the group but misses, and Saul, Fabian, and Meeker return fire, with Saul’s bullet killing Schane.

Six days later, the meat shortage ends. Archie comments to Wolfe on the way in which Wolfe orchestrated the meeting to bring about Schane’s death without leading to criminal charges being filed against anyone else present, then leaves for a date with Beulah.


Publisher Ben Jensen pays a visit to Wolfe’s office, intent on buying protection for himself after receiving a death threat in the mail. [1] Wolfe declines the offer, giving Jensen some advice on how to look out for his own safety, and Archie provides him with the name of an agency that does bodyguard work. Jensen had been involved in one of Wolfe’s earlier cases,[2] in which an Army captain named Peter Root had offered to sell him classified information. Root was brought before a court martial and sentenced to three years in prison.

The following morning’s newspaper carries a report that both Jensen and the bodyguard he hired have been shot and killed; Wolfe denies to Inspector Cramer that he is taking any interest in the case. That day’s mail brings a death threat addressed to Wolfe, identical to the one Jensen received. Since the Root case is all that Wolfe and Jensen had in common, Wolfe and Archie track down current information on everyone connected to it, including Root’s family and fiancée, Jane Geer. Archie hurries to fill his end of the order before he must leave for a meeting in Washington, D.C. with his superiors in Army Intelligence. He locates Jane and brings her to the brownstone, but they are both surprised to find Jensen’s son Emil—an Army major—waiting at the door. Wolfe does not come down to meet them, but instead orders Archie over the in-house telephone to send them away.

While in Washington, Archie notices a help-wanted advertisement in a New York paper, calling for male applicants who are the same height and weight as Wolfe. Sneaking out of his meeting and hurrying back to Manhattan, Archie is surprised to see someone other than Wolfe in the detective’s custom-built chair. Wolfe introduces the man as H.H. Hackett, who has responded to the ad and is being paid $100 per day to impersonate him at home and in public. He is using Hackett as a decoy to draw the fire of would-be killers so that he can determine who might want him dead.

Wolfe has determined, from information provided by Army Intelligence, that Root and his parents had no apparent involvement in the murders. He asks Archie to bring Jane in for an interview, with Hackett doubling for him while he observes from the peephole in the office wall. Archie now understands why Wolfe sent her away earlier; he did not want her to see him in person so that she would be fooled by Hackett as a stand-in. Jane and Emil arrive for the appointment together, having developed a close relationship since Archie last saw them. He puts them in the front room and goes to consult with Wolfe about Emil’s unexpected presence, but the sound of a gunshot startles everyone.

Rushing into the office, Archie finds that a bullet has been fired through Wolfe’s chair and into the wall behind it, apparently from the front room, and that Hackett’s ear is nicked. Archie finds an old, recently fired revolver hidden in the front room, and Wolfe reveals himself to the visitors and takes charge. He calls Cramer to inform him about the weapon, which turns out to be the one that killed Jensen and the bodyguard, and pits Jane and Emil against each other in an effort to draw out the killer. However, the case turns in a new direction when he notices a cushion missing from the front room’s couch. It is soon found in the bottom drawer of Wolfe’s desk; this discovery, along with the fact that one of the guns in Archie’s desk has been recently fired, allows him to solve the case and turn the culprit over to Cramer.

The murderer is Hackett, actually Root’s father Thomas, bent on revenge against everyone he blames for his son’s imprisonment. After killing Jensen and the bodyguard, and sending the death threat to Wolfe, he responded to Wolfe’s ad and smuggled the murder weapon inside. During a time when he was alone in the office, he took a cushion from the couch, wrapped it around the gun to muffle the report, and fired a shot through the chair and into the wall. He hid the cushion in the desk and the gun in the front room, and made sure to sit in the chair so that his head would cover the bullet hole. While Jane and Emil were waiting in the front room, he took a gun from Archie’s desk, fired into the cushion, and used a pocketknife to cut a gash in his ear before returning the gun. Given one more day, Hackett/Thomas would have been able to kill Wolfe and focus suspicion on Jane and Emil.


Eugene R. Poor, co-owner of a novelty products company, and his wife, Martha, bring an unusual problem to Wolfe. Poor believes that his business partner, Conroy Blaney, is going to kill him and take full control of the company; he wants Wolfe to ensure that justice is done on Blaney when it happens. Martha has tried to persuade Poor to sell his share of the company to Blaney, without success, but Poor is determined to see his own murderer punished. Wolfe accepts a $5,000 fee, agreeing only to inform the police of what Poor has told him if Poor dies within one year.

Helen Vardis had arrived just after the police got there. She said she had come to see Poor on a confidential matter.

That evening, Inspector Cramer calls Wolfe with news that Poor is dead, his head blown apart by an exploding cigar in his own apartment. Visiting the scene, Archie learns from Martha that she and Poor had started off to visit Blaney at his estate in White Plains for a business discussion, but Poor had decided during the trip not to go. She left him at a tavern along the way, went to the meeting alone, and picked him up on the return trip. Once back in the apartment, he had opened a fresh box of cigars and lit one, but it exploded with great force and killed him. Archie also meets Joe Groll, the foreman at the company’s factory, and Helen Vardis, an employee. Blaney also arrives at the scene and is shocked to see Poor’s remains.

The next day, Cramer brings news to Wolfe that every cigar in that box had been rigged with a small but powerful explosive capsule, manufactured for military use by a different company, and that two of Martha’s hairs were found inside. Wolfe considers this to be evidence against her involvement, since a person involved in such painstaking work would be careful not to leave any traces. Blaney visits the brownstone as well to argue for his own innocence, but his annoying manner soon drives Wolfe to send him away. Wolfe calls Saul Panzer in to investigate, having taken an interest in finding photographs of Poor when he was alive, and Archie catches up to Groll for a talk and realizes that Helen has been following them. The three search the company offices and find several hiding places, one of which contains four explosive capsules.

At the brownstone, Wolfe tests one of the capsules by placing it in a coffee percolator and lighting its fuse; it explodes violently enough to damage the percolator and hurl its lid across the office, barely missing him. Wolfe dispatches Archie to take two of the others to Cramer, who threatens to get a warrant for the last one. Wolfe takes a sudden interest in a newspaper article about a man found dead in White Plains with his head crushed, and calls the local district attorney to confirm his identity as Arthur Howell, an employee of the company that had manufactured the capsules. Once the body has been identified, Wolfe sends Archie to see Martha with a photograph of Poor (obtained by Saul) that has the last capsule taped to it. Archie warns Martha that he has orders to deliver her to either Wolfe or the police, but she instead kills herself by putting the capsule in her mouth and setting it off.

A furious Cramer confronts Wolfe at the brownstone, but Wolfe maintains that he has broken no laws in prodding Martha to suicide. He had realized that the man who came to see him was an impostor, since Poor was an experienced cigar smoker and the man had barely been able to light one properly. Martha chose Howell for her plot to kill her husband because he bore a strong resemblance to Poor, and she persuaded him to give her some of the capsules so she could spike Poor’s cigars. During her supposed meeting with Blaney in White Plains, she met with Howell and killed him, running over his head with her car. The photograph that Saul obtained was actually of Howell, but Archie mistook it as one of Poor because he did not know of Howell’s existence at the time.

Cramer points out that it was Martha who paid Wolfe the $5,000, but Wolfe counters by saying that Poor got his money’s worth even if he did not directly pay the fee.

My Thoughts:

For whatever reason, the novels about Wolfe that are actually 3 novellas just never work quite as well for me as a full novel.

I didn’t catch on, until I was writing this post and copied the info from Wikipedia, that each story was about a person impersonating someone else. I think part of that is that I don’t try to solve the mystery ahead of time in books like this. I don’t care who did it or why. Just tell me and give me some interesting character interactions along the way.

And dang, the way everybody carries pistols around in their pockets? Sign me up for some of that please. None of this “concealed carry” license nonsense. Not that my state has that nonsense anymore, but there’s enough floating around the rest of the country to make up for it, le sigh.

Part of me wonders how Archie and Wolfe have gotten on so well together for so long. I would have shot Wolfe by now or at least put dog poop in one of his favorite dishes, thus prompting him to shoot me. The friendship and the tension are not something I have first hand experience with, as anyone who bothered me as much as Wolfe bothers Archie, I would have simply walked away from without another word. But that tension, as I’ve written before, is what makes these books. The murders themselves are usually pretty ho-hum and pedestrian but how everyone interacts is what is the peas day resistance. And Freedom Fries. Take that, french language!

Once again, I am pleased with another Nero Wolfe book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

And Be A Villain (Nero Wolfe #13) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress & Blogspot by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: And Be A Villain
Series: Nero Wolfe #13
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 207
Words: 65K


From Wikipedia

Cyril Orchard, the publisher of the weekly horse racing sheet Track Almanac, is poisoned with cyanide during a live soft drink commercial on a popular radio talk show. A media sensation, the case attracts the attention of Nero Wolfe, who is facing a crippling income tax bill, and Archie Goodwin is dispatched to convince the producers and sponsors to hire Wolfe to investigate the crime. The police have identified several suspects, including the show’s host Madeline Fraser; her business manager, friend and former sister-in-law Deborah Koppel; her on-air side-kick Bill Meadows; Tully Strong and Nathan Straub, representatives of the show’s sponsors; script-writer Elinor Vance; Nancylee Shepherd, the head of Fraser’s fan-club; and F.O. Savarese, an assistant professor of mathematics and the show’s other guest.

Although his initial investigations seem unpromising, Wolfe eventually learns that a separate bottle of the beverage being advertised was provided for Fraser, identified with tape around the neck. When pressed, the producers admit that Fraser is unable to drink the beverage she was advertising because it gives her indigestion, and instead drinks iced coffee from the bottle instead. As the marked bottle was the one containing the poison, this suggests that Fraser was the intended victim instead of Orchard.

Wolfe passes this information on to Inspector Cramer, seeing this as an opportunity to claim his fee without further work. When the press — prompted by Archie — criticises him for his lack of effort, however, he is stung into further action but, to Archie’s surprise, begins investigating a different murder. Beula Poole, the publisher of an independent political and economics journal, has been shot dead in her offices days before. Although there is no apparent connection between the crimes, Wolfe is skeptical that two independent publishers would be murdered within weeks of each other without any link. His investigations reveal that the magazines were in fact the front for a sophisticated blackmail operation which targeted its victims using the threat of slander to compel them to purchase subscriptions for a year. This, in turn, brings Wolfe into contact with Arnold Zeck, the shadowy and powerful criminal mastermind behind the operation, who warns Wolfe not to interfere in his affairs.

After the blackmail story is published Walter Anderson, the president of the soft drink company, tries to end Wolfe’s investigations by paying him off and announcing that his company is withdrawing sponsorship from Fraser’s show. With no further leads, Wolfe sends Archie to Fraser and her entourage with a fake letter implicating Elinor Vance in order to try and shake a response out of the suspects. During the meeting, Deborah Koppel dies after eating a piece of candy laced with cyanide. Discovering the letter on Archie, the police threaten to charge him with obstructing justice, but they are interrupted by a phone call from a rival radio station. Wolfe has announced that he knows the identity of the murderer and threatens to reveal it on-air that night.

To avoid humiliation, the charges against Archie are dismissed and Wolfe is permitted to reveal the identity of the murderer in his office. Once the suspects have arrived, Wolfe presses Anderson to reveal the reason he tried to terminate his contract with Wolfe and Fraser’s show. Anderson had discovered that Madeline Fraser had received blackmail letters, and it is revealed that Fraser was being accused of murdering her husband years before. However, while the blackmail syndicate had previously created false claims about their victims to slander them, in this case they had unwittingly stumbled upon the truth – Fraser had in fact murdered her husband. Fraser murdered Orchard and Poole to conceal her secret, and Koppel when she began to suspect the truth. Fraser is arrested and charged with murder. The novel ends with Wolfe receiving a phone call from Zeck, congratulating him on solving the case — and warning him not to interfere in the crime lord’s affairs.

My Thoughts:

The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight,
but the wicked falls by his own wickedness.
~Proverbs 11:5 (English Standard Version)

This Bible verse is the first thing that sprang to my mind when thinking about reviewing this book. The second part of the verse anyway. Fake blackmailers stumble upon a real crime and pay the consequences and the criminal gets hers as well. Evil devouring itself.

This was a book of several crimes that appeared unconnected but ended up all being part of one big crime. It reminded me very much of Dan Willis and his urban fantasy series The Arcane Casebook featuring Alex Lockerby. In fact, thinking about it, I suspect that Willis has read enough of Rex Stout to be influenced in his own writing. That’s really neither here nor there, but it was something else that popped into my brain while reading this story.

There was also a LOT of negative interaction between Archie and Wolfe this time around. Mainly because Archie deals with the bills and Wolfe is just lazy. I am now curious what a book about each of them on their own would be like. I am being careful about that wish though, because that very interaction, whether positive or negative, is what drives my interest a lot of the time.

Overall, another good entry in the Nero Wolfe series and I’m happy with what I read.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Too Many Women (Nero Wolfe #12) ★★★☆☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress & Blogspot by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Too Many Women
Series: Nero Wolfe #12
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 213
Words: 73.5K


From Wikipedia

When a major engineering corporation conducts a survey into high employee turnover, a report is returned claiming that Waldo Moore, an employee recently killed in what was believed to be a hit-and-run accident, was murdered. The company president, Jasper Pine, approaches Nero Wolfe and hires him to find out whether this claim is true. Archie Goodwin is sent undercover as an outside consultant and assigned to investigate the stock department, where Moore worked, and is amazed to discover 500 beautiful women employed as secretaries and assistants.

Archie discovers that Moore was notorious among the employees as a lothario but had become engaged to Hester Livsey, a stenographer. He quickly identifies numerous possible suspects for Moore’s murder — in addition to Livsey, these include Rosa Bendini, who had enjoyed a dalliance with Moore; Bendini’s jealous estranged husband Harold Anthony; Gwynne Ferris, who had tried to seduce Moore but was rebuffed; Benjamin Frenkel, a supervisor who had developed feelings for Ferris and had been rebuffed; and Sumner Hoff, a hot-headed technical advisor who had gotten into a physical fight with Moore, which was believed to be over Livsey. As gossip begins to spread among the employees about Archie’s true mission, he begins to clash with Kerr Naylor, the eccentric and unpleasant department supervisor who lodged the initial report claiming that Moore was murdered.

During one confrontation, Naylor reveals that he knows Archie’s true identity, and that Moore had been given his job due to the intervention of Naylor’s sister Cecily, who is also married to Jasper Pine. Naylor and Cecily are the children of one of the founders of the company, and Naylor resents Pine being promoted over him. Naylor also claims that he knows the identity of Moore’s murderer, but when Archie reveals this in a report to the company directors he changes his story and claims Archie was lying. Cecily Pine meets with Wolfe, asking him to drop the investigation.

When an article about Wolfe’s investigation appears in the newspapers, Inspector Cramer confronts Wolfe in his office about what he knows. The increasingly heated and childish argument is interrupted by a phone call for Cramer; Kerr Naylor has been found dead, killed in a seeming hit-and-run accident in exactly the same manner and location that Waldo Moore had been found. The similarity of the deaths and the location remove any doubt that both men have been the victim of homicide. Wolfe had previously assigned Saul Panzer to shadow Naylor and, while Saul had lost the tail before Naylor’s murder, Saul managed to witness Naylor arguing with Hester Livsey hours before his death, with Sumner Hoff also present at the scene.

The company directors hire Wolfe to solve the murder of Kerr Naylor in addition to Waldo Moore. Archie hints to Livsey that he is aware of her meeting with Naylor prior to his death, and her suspicious reaction convinces him that she knows even more of the matter than she has let on. Archie persuades her to come to Wolfe’s office for an interview, but Sumner Hoff tags along, suspicious and confrontational towards both Archie and Wolfe. When Wolfe challenges them regarding her meeting with Naylor, both claim that they were with each other at the time, concocting an overly detailed story as corroboration. While the lie is obvious, it is also sufficiently unbreakable to completely stall the investigation.

Insulted by the transparency of Livsey’s lie, Wolfe concocts a plan to expose the truth. Archie stages a meeting with Livsey which, with Archie’s prodding, quickly results in the rumour spreading that Livsey knows the identity of the murderer. Livsey eventually cracks under the pressure and insists that she will reveal the truth to anyone other than Jasper Pine. Archie convinces her to accompany him to the brownstone for her protection, where Wolfe summons Cecily Pine by informing her that he knows who the murderer is.

When she arrives, Cecily Pine confirms Wolfe’s suspicions—the murderer was her husband, Jasper Pine. Pine and Livsey had begun a clandestine affair, but Pine had become increasingly obsessed with her. Although unbothered by the actual affair, Cecily had begun to worry that her husband’s obsession was threatening their comfortable lifestyle, and so persuaded Moore to seduce Livsey away from her husband. When Moore and Livsey ended up falling in love, Pine was driven to a jealous rage and murdered Moore. Cecily confided in her brother, and Naylor used the information to try and force Pine out of the company presidency and seize it for himself, but Pine murdered him.

Before the authorities can be notified, Wolfe receives news that Jasper Pine has committed suicide. Wolfe and Archie realise that Cecily contacted her husband before meeting Wolfe, and manipulated him into taking his own life. The investigation is closed, and Archie ends the novel by arranging a simultaneous date with Hester Livsey, Rosa Bendini and Gwynne Ferris.

My Thoughts:

I did not enjoy this as much as some of the other Nero Wolfe books I’ve read. A big part of it is that Archie gets involved with 3 different women and one of them is married and he knows it and it doesn’t change his attitude or behavior. The other part is that Wolfe is just crabby the whole time because of all the women and he’s not very brilliant at all in my opinion. Plus, the guy who kicks the whole thing off, Kerr Naylor, is the worst sort of jackass. I wanted to reach into the book and punch him until he pooped his teeth out. Thankfully, he’s killed, so I felt some satisfaction, even if it wasn’t me doing the killing.

Overall, this felt mediocre and neither Wolfe or Archie came across as interesting as they have previously. If this had been my first Nero Wolfe book I’d probably not pick up another. Thankfully, with this being #12 in the series, there’s a lot of good will built up by all the great books that came before to tide me over.

Definitely NOT the place to start your exploration of Rex Stout. He’s written much better Nero Wolfe adventures, so I’d recommend starting at the beginning. I’m just chalking this up to Stout having a mediocre writing day.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Silent Speaker ★★★★☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: The Silent Speaker
Series: Nero Wolfe #11
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 222
Words: 74K


From Wikipedia

Cheney Boone, the Director of the Bureau of Price Regulation (BPR)[3] is beaten to death with a monkey wrench shortly before a speech he is to deliver at a gathering of the National Industrial Association (NIA), a prominent conglomeration of big business interests. Considerable antagonism exists between the two parties,[4] and the public begins to hold the NIA responsible for Boone’s murder. This attracts the attention of Nero Wolfe, who is facing financial ruin, and with the help of Archie Goodwin he launches a scheme to manipulate the NIA into hiring his services to find the killer.

Wolfe arranges a meeting between the principal witnesses to the case—Boone’s widow and niece, acting BPR director Solomon Dexter and researcher Alger Kates, the NIA executive committee, and select members of law-enforcement including Inspector Cramer and Sgt. Purley Stebbins. The meeting soon degenerates into chaos and bickering, but Wolfe is intrigued by the absence of Phoebe Gunther, Boone’s private secretary and the last person to see him alive, and orders Archie to bring her to him for questioning. Archie finds Phoebe at an apartment owned and occupied by Alger Kates and, after a flirtatious battle of wits, persuades her to meet Wolfe. Phoebe claims that she was given a leather case full of confidential dictation cylinders shortly before Boone’s death, but has misplaced them.

The next day, Wolfe receives a telegram informing him that surveillance of Don O’Neill, the chairman of the NIA’s dinner committee, will have to be suspended—surveillance that neither he nor Archie ordered. Archie therefore follows O’Neill to Grand Central Station, where O’Neill retrieves the leather case from the parcel room, and intercepts him. Faced with the choice of going to the police or to Wolfe, O’Neill is forced to surrender the case, which contains ten dictation cylinders. It becomes clear when listening to them that none of them are the real confidential cylinders, however. When Wolfe calls another meeting of the principal witnesses, Phoebe once again fails to appear—but this time, her body is discovered by the front step of Wolfe’s home, brutally bludgeoned with a length of rusty pipe.

It is clear that Phoebe’s murderer is one of the principal witnesses, and that this person is likely to have also murdered Boone. After nine of the ten cylinders are discovered in Phoebe’s apartment, both Wolfe and Inspector Cramer become convinced that the missing cylinder is key to the murder, but political pressure forces Cramer’s superiors to replace him with Inspector Ash. Ash issues a warrant for Wolfe and Archie and tries to bully information out of Wolfe, leading to a violent confrontation in the police commissioner’s office. Although Wolfe stubbornly refuses to assist Ash, once the warrants are vacated he reveals why the cylinder is so important—on it, Boone identifies his own murderer. Phoebe, a passionate BPR supporter, intended to reveal it once the NIA had been damaged as much as possible by the controversy over Boone’s death, but managed to alert the murderer that she was aware of his identity and was killed for her silence.

After a meeting with Boone’s widow, where she confirms that Phoebe did indeed possess the cylinders, Wolfe takes the unprecedented step of terminating his contract with the NIA and returning the group’s $30,000 fee. As this removes the protection he has received through the status of his clients and will begin a barrage of police and media interest in him, he fakes a mental breakdown in order to hold the police off and buy time until the cylinder is found. Before the police can expose his deception, Wolfe realises that the only place Phoebe could have hidden the cylinder and known it was safe was Wolfe’s own office. He thus has Archie, Fritz and Theodore search the room for the cylinder, where it is found concealed in a bookcase. When played, both Wolfe and Cramer are vindicated; the murderer is revealed to be Alger Kates, who was bribed by Don O’Neill to pass on confidential BPR information and was exposed on the cylinder as a traitor. Having heard the cylinder, Phoebe discovered his guilt but revealed her knowledge to Kates when after pressuring him to return numerous items, possessing sentimental value to Boone’s widow, that were stolen from the corpse to fake a theft.

The novel ends with Archie confronting Wolfe, having realized that Wolfe staged the cylinder’s discovery and in fact knew it was in his office the whole time. He is simply unsure of whether Wolfe waited so long for “art’s sake,” or simply to ensure that he could collect a $100,000 reward offered by the NIA instead of the $30,000 fee. Wolfe does not disagree with either hypothesis, but suggests another motivation: having come to respect Phoebe Gunther’s intelligence and determination, Wolfe decided to continue as far as possible her objective of causing damage to the NIA. In gratitude for saving his career, Inspector Cramer timidly gives Wolfe an orchid for a gift.

My Thoughts:

I took a small break from Rex Stout. It is good to be back with Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, really good.

Rating: 4 out of 5.