In Might as Well Be Dead, Wolfe is hired by a Nebraska businessman to find his son, Paul Herald. The older Herald had exiled his son eleven years earlier on the belief his son had stolen $11,000 from the business but had since learned that someone else committed the theft. He turns to Wolfe as a last result after having contacted the police and submitting a classified ad to get his son’s attention.
Because Herald had monogramed luggage that he took with him, Wolfe supposed the that Paul retained the same initials and so ordered a display ad taken out, address to PH and written in a way that Wolfe felt would be more likely to gain a response as he promises to help PH clear his name of the crime he was falsely accused of without forcing him to renewing any bonds he’d renounced.
Wolfe gets a response all right because a P.H. is on trial for murder and several people think Wolfe is going to intervene in the Peter Hayes murder trial. Looking at the newspaper picture, both Wolfe and Archie dismiss the possibility of Peter Hayes being Paul Herald, but after Hayes’ attorney pays the brownstone a visit, Archie believes an in-person examination is in order. When Archie sees Hayes’ expression when found guilty, he’s almost certain that Hayes and Herald are one and the same.
With the help of Herald’s lawyer, Archie gets an in-person interview that cinches it, but Herald begs Archie not to reveal his true identity for fear of the pain it would cause his mother and sisters.
Wolfe faces a dilemma and decides not to tell his client but to press ahead, find the truth, clear Paul Herald of the crime and then report to his client once he’s cleared his son.
What follows is an amazing series of twists and surprises, of mysteries inside mysteries that represent the series at its best. Every recurring character is in top form, particularly Wolfe. Wolfe has no relapses to speak of, though he does reach a point where he believes that he’s found enough information so the police can wrap it up, but Cramer lets him know after a few days that’s not the case.
The story takes on an added human element with the murder of a detective working for Wolfe, Johnny Keems. Might as Well Be Dead showcases Wolfe’s humanity and sense of justice is on full display (as much as it ever is) right up and to Wolfe’s magnanimous gesture at the end of the book.
If this had been a third season of Nero Wolfe, this would have been a worthy project to adapt. Though, they would probably have to work with the scene where Archie and Saul Panzer find the final clue due to the grittiness of the scene, but it could be done. This book was adapted for the William Conrad Nero Wolfe series in the 1980s.
Might as Well Be Dead is also interesting for the number of times that a prior Wolfe novel is mentioned. Archie brings up an incident from Fer-de-Lance to a couple different witnesses. Stebens mentions one from, The Red Box. And Archie tells us that the kids in the neighborhood have viewed Wolfe’s house with suspicion since, in The Golden Spiders, twelve year old Pete Drosos obtained a meeting with Wolfe and was then murdered.
These references were a reminder that 23 books into the Wolfe canon, the series was clearly becoming an American Cliassic, and Might As Well Be Dead is a crowning achievement.
Rating: Very Satisfactory
You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.
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