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21Dec/130

Book Review: The Doorbell Rang

In The Doorbell Rang, Nero Wolfe is hired by a wealthy woman to get the FBI to stop annoying her. She apparently gained the attention of the FBI after purchasing and distributing 10,000 copies of Fred Cook’s expose of the FBI called, “The FBI Nobody Knows.”

Wolfe is reluctant to take on the case, and Archie is too. But Wolfe’s pride won’t allow him to refuse to take on a case for fear of the FBI. Wolfe’s decision leads to them coming under surveillance, and Archie learns from their nemesis Inspector Cramer that the FBI is trying to get their licenses lifted. However, Cramer resents the attempt and actually saves their licenses and tips Archie off to a murder where the FBI may be covering up.

Archie and Wolfe seek to solve convuluted murder and find how the FBI is involved.

The book is pretty solid and includes one of Wolfe’s greatest schemes and one of the most memorable moments when Wolfe refuses to speak to the unnamed but implied visitor at the door at the end of the book.

The Doorbell Rang  does drag a bit in the middle, with all of Wolfe and Archie’s efforts to dodge potential FBI surveillance of the house by not speaking or speaking in certain ways despite. The problem is that while I could understand how the FBI could tap their phones, I have no clue how they could get in the Brownstone to actually bug anything. For me, their paranoia goes quickly from being slightly humorous to somewhat tedious.

This does further the book’s propaganda ends with a clear message: Our (mostly) law abiding pals Wolfe and Archie shouldn’t have to live like they’re in a police state and neither should any other American as many did thanks to the FBI. It works as far as it goes, but I think the degree to which Stout played this hurt the narrative a bit.

Still, I give this a:

Rating: Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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2Nov/130

Book Review: The Golden Spiders

The Golden Spiders finds Wolfe and Archie in ill-temper. Archie decides to admit a neighborhood boy who comes to Wolfe because of Wolfe’s antipathy to police and the fact that he saw a woman in a car apparently in trouble. Wolfe handles the boy well and agrees to help by tracing the plate of the car.

However, the boy is murdered the next day and the case goes to another level. The boy’s mother asks Wolfe to find out why he was killed and offers her son’s savings which amounts to $4.30 to find the killer. They begin the process by placing an ad, and get a response that’s followed by another murder.

This sets Archie and the teers on an investigation that leads them to the high and low end of society and on to the trail of an extortion ring that’s the key to the whole plot.

This is really a mixed bag in terms of quality. It has more action than any other Wolfe story, including a torture scene that’s somewhat uncomfortable. To be fair about that, the bad guys started it by torturing Orrie Cather before Archie and friends turned the tables on them.

There’s also a very strong scene with Inspector Cramer that’s probably his best scene as a detective in any of the books he’s featured in. There are some good bits between Wolfe and Archie, and a pretty good final denouement.

The book’s weak point comes with Wolfe proposing a ruse for Archie that’s so transparent, it doesn’t fool anyone. It’s really pathetic and beneath the standard of fun ruses that characterize the Wolfe books.

The Golden Spiders was the basis of the pilot movie for A Nero Wolfe Mystery, and I have to say this is one case where the movie beat the book. And the biggest difference was emotional impact. The book deals with the death of a child, but it doesn't seem to impact the characters correctly. Stout could do this and often did with tragic adult deaths which Archie or Wolfe inadvertently played a role in books like in Prisoner’s Base, but just doesn't seem to deliver here. It’s worth noting that Pete Drossos is the only child to play a major role in any of the Wolfe stories, so writing children may not have been Stout’s forte.

There’s enough good stuff to keep this interesting, but overall I can only give the book a:

Rating: Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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5Oct/130

Book Review: Champagne for One

In Champagne for One, while attending a dinner party held for unwed mother at the home of a prominent socialite, Archie witnesses the death of one of the mother's attending the party, one who had been known to be carrying vile of poison. Archie had been made aware of this and was watching the girl and swore she didn't put anything in her glass, making it a murder.

Wolfe ends up hired by one of the attendees to protect him from exposure as the father of the dead woman's child by exposing the murderer first. The mystery itself actually quite satisfied. There are plenty of secrets to be uncovered and a lot of layers to make this mystery.

Socially, it's interesting because it was written on the cusp of the sexual revolution. Archie is at one point scandalized by a woman who has had two children out of wedlock and at another things a 31-year old man who expects to marry a virgin an old fogey before his time.

Overall, this a good solid story, not one of my favorites but still easily merits a rating of:

Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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7Sep/130

Book Review: Prisoner’s Base

In Prisoner's Base, a missing heiress shows up at Wolfe's house asking for help while giving no details including her name. She wants Wolfe to hide her, but Wolfe isn't in to taking boarders except for an extravagant $10,000 a month fee. He has Archie throw the woman out and gives her a head start before Wolfe accepts a commission from her attorney to locate her. The heiress leaves and the next day, news of her murder hits.

Archie leaves the Brownstone takes a leave of absence and sets out to solve the case himself as he feels responsible for the woman's death. He quickly finds himself in hot water with the police. While initially remains disinterested, when Lt. Rowcliff hamhandedly drags Wolfe down to headquarters, Wolfe delivers one of his most blistering speeches and declares that he's working for Archie. With no fee in sight and plenty of suspects, Wolfe and Archie have a job on their hands.

If Over My Dead Body represents Wolfe at his most human than certainly Prisoner's Base does the same for Archie. Archie has some great moments in the story as he has to navigate a world of corporate jealousies in order to uncover the truth and bring the killer to justice. Archie deals with the death of not only the heiress, but another woman who died because he followed his advice. The story also gives keen insight into the Archie-Wolfe relationship with Wolfe at his most paternal and wise.

Add in a decent mystery plot and Prisoner's Base is a true classic and one of the best of the Wolfe series.

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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4Aug/130

Book Review: Over My Dead Body

In Over My Dead Body, Wolfe's a young Yugoslav woman claiming to be Wolfe's long lost adopted daughter shows up at the Brownstone door needing help with a small matter of being accused of stealing some jewels at a fencing academy where she works. However, the case quickly escalates when a murder happens at the academy and key evidence ends up planted on Archie. Also, the book was published in 1940, and the shadow of the European War looms large with plenty of International intrigue.

The mystery is above average and the final twists took me by surprise, but what makes this book a worthwhile read is the insights it provides into Nero Wolfe's character. Most of Wolfe's life prior to coming to America remains shrouded in mystery and is rarely addressed in the rest of the corpus. How does a man of action and passion, as Wolfe once was, become a very large detective who toils with life's intellectual puzzles and avoids as much rigor and action as possible. Over My Dead Body provides more clues on this question than any book in the corpus. While it doesn't provide explicit answers, we do get a picture of Wolfe's world-weariness and his dread of the new European War which would later give way to enthusiastic anti-Nazi sentiment that would have Wolfe trying to get into the US Army to fight in, "Not Quite Dead Enough."

Also in contrast to, The Doorbell Rings, we're treated to an earlier more cooperative encounter with the FBI as representative of the American people that's both informative and amusing, with the G-man mostly played for comic relief. In this story, Archie much more of a by-stander and witness, but Wolfe puts on a good show, and Over My Dead Body is a solid entry in the series.

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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6Jul/130

Book Review: Death Times Thee

This posthumous collection of Wolfe novellas featured one story that rewrote a Tecumseh Fox novel as a Nero Wolfe novella and two alternate version of Wolfe stories that are part of the corpus.

Bitter End:

This was a reworking of Bad for Business, a novel for Rex Stout's other Detective Tecumseh Fox. necessitated by Stout's desire to make money to support him while he waged his battle against Hitler. I read the original novel but that's hardly necessary. The reworking here is seemless. The plot begins when Wolfe gets a spiked candy from Tingley's Tidbits. While the poison's not deadly, it's bitter and this is enough to get Wolfe on the warpath and make him more than willing to help the niece of the hated CEO of Tingley's. Of course, the case takes on a whole new complexity when the CEO is murdered and the niece finds herself unconscious at the scence of the crime. The story is one of the best in the corpus and Archie really shines.
Rating: Very Satisfactory

Frame Up for Murder:
An expansion of the story, "Murder Is No Joke." Differences are kind of subtle and to be honest, listening to the audiobook, I didn't notice any major changes. "Murder is No Joke" is a solid Wolfe story, so it wouldn't hurt any fan to enjoy this second telling of this story which has Wolfe and Archie seeming to be ear witnesses to murder.

Rating: Satisfactory

Assault on a Brownstone:

This was an early draft of, "Counterfeit for Murder" and may be a case for great writers to destroy early drafts of their works. However, for fans of Wolfe, it's interesting to see how Stout took the story of counterfeitting and murder. In both versions, Hattie Annis comes to Archie after finding counterfeit money in her home due to her hatred of police. In this version, rather than a tennant whose an undercover t-woman being murderered, Hattie Annis herself is. I definitely prefer the published version as Annis was one of Stout's most memorable characters and the T-woman who survived was one of those stock Nero Wolfe story women. That's not to say the story didn't have features. In this version, Archie butts heads with the Treasury Department and the results are hilarious. Still, the ending was bizarrely atypical. However, it's hard to lay too much criticism on the story. It was never met to be published, rather it gave us a look at how Stout originally thought of doing the story. Thankfully he thought better of it.
Rating: Satisfactory

Outside of "Bitter End," the book would be for Wolfe completists only as there's not a lot new if you've read the over novella collections. However, "Bitter End" makes the book worth picking up from the library at the very least.

Rating: Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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2Jun/130

Book Review: Trio for Blunt Instruments

Trio for Blunt Instruments was the last Nero Wolfe novella collection published during Stout's lifetime and contained three stories.

"Kill Now-Pay Later" Originally published in 1961 sees Wolfe's bootlack dead and suspected of murder. The police theory was that he committed suicide because he found his daughter had been sleeping around. His daughter doesn't buy it and neither does Wolfe. Begrudgingly fears for the daughter's safety and takes her in the brownstone.

He commits himself to solving the case. and he believes that the person who impugned the dead man's daughter's honor is no doubt the one behind it. His solution is to get his client to sue her co-workers and Inspector Cramer for spreading the rumor. Some great reactions from Cramer in this one.

Rating: Satisfactory

"Murder is Corny" was first published in the Novella collection and was the last novella Stout wrote.

When a mutual acquaintence of Archie's and a murdered man tells police that she and Archie were scheduled to meet in the alley where the murdered man is found dead, Archie finds himself  in a pickle.  Wolfe at first declares himself uninterested but when Archie going to jail becomes a real possibility, he digs in.

This one could have been better, but still has the mark of a master detective story with Wolfe insisting that a bad delivery of corn to Wolfe's house is a vital clue, one that Cramer ignores.

Rating: Satisfactory

In 1963's "Blood Will Tell," Archie receives a bloody tie in the mail and a mysterious phone call. When he inspires  into the case, he finds a body and a house full of people with soap operatic lives. However, unlike in the other two stories, Wolfe finds a client and has to unravel this mystery with a good bit of detective work.

Rating: Satisfactory

Overall, there were no great stories, but all of them good and solid Wolfe entries that delivered solid detection, and well-told plots with some great moments, particularly with Inspector Cramer.

Rating: Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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13Apr/130

Book Review: Three Witnesses

This Nero Wofe novella collection published in 1956 contained Nero Wolfe stories originally published in 1954 and 1955.

"The Next Witness" finds Wolfe called as a witness to a peripheral matter in a murder trial. While being out and watching the trial, he becomes convinced that the prosecution's case is wrong and leaves the courtroom with Archie, with going on the run from the law while Wolfe tries to find the truth.

"The Next Witness" is truly a top notch story and it shows Wolfe at his wiliest and most resourceful as he's forced to stay in a strange house, travel around in a car, and question witnesses in strange places. The payoff scene in the courtroom is a brilliant strategem.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

"When a Man Murders"-

This is Nero Wolfe's Enoch Arden case as a millionaire husband returns from after being declared Killed in Action in the Army. However, the wife has a new husband and needs Wolfe's help in trying to reason with the old one. When the old husband's found murdered and suspicion falls on the couple that benefits most, Wolfe is hired to investigate. The Enoch Arden plot has been done quite a bit in mystery fiction. This one is fairly well thought out.

Rating: Satisfactory

"Die Like a Dog"

A man accidentally takes Archie's coat rather than his own. Archie goes to switch coats and finds homicide crawling detectives  all over the scene and given his history, he leaves. However, a dog follows him home.  Wolfe bends over backwards to try and keep the dog while making Archie the one to blame for it. However, Inspector Cramer throws a monkey wrench it when its revealed the dog belongs to the man murdered at the apartment.

This one is good for the characterization as  Wolfe's interplay with the dog is definitely a humanizing factor. The solution seems pretty simple in retrospect but if you read the whole story with everyone walking around it, it seems clever by the time you reach it.

Rating: Satisfactory

The last two stories are above average but the Next Witness is enough to carry the collection to:

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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26Jan/131

Book Review: Archie Meets Nero Wolfe

When Rex Stout took paper to pen to write the first Nero Wolfe story, the house hold at the old Brownstone was all ready mostly established. On the heels of the Maltese Falcon prequel Spade and Archer, Robert Goldsborough, author of seven Nero Wolfe books from the 1980s and 90s sets down the account of the first meeting between Wolfe and Goodwin guided by clues Stout left in his novels.

Goldsborough anchors the story in the 1920s which is a departure as Wolfe stories have always been set in the "present" but a story of a beginning requires a certain timeframe.  The book begins when Archie arrives in New York, gets a night watchman's job and has no choice but to shoot two thugs. Even though, his decision was appropriate, he was fired by upper management concerned about trigger-happy guards. However, Archie finds his ideal career when he snags a job at the Bascom detective agency.

Bascom is brought on a kidnapping case along with some other operatives including the ever-familiar Orrie Cather, Fred Durkin, and Saul Panzer. The initial goal is to merely ensure the safe return of the boy, who is the son of a wealthy New Yorker. But having done that, Wolfe is determined to catch the kidnappers. To facilitate this, Archie goes to undercover as the boy's bodyguard in hopes of uncovering some information that Wolfe can use to solve the case.

The book's strong point is its overall narrative that tells of the beginning of Archie Goodwin's legendary career and his first encounters with some of his best known associates and foils include Cramer, Stebbins, and the the detectives who worked with Wolfe and Goodwin the most including the teers as well as the less used Bill Gore and Del Bascom. We get to see them a bit more than we would in a typical Wolfe yarn.  While the mystery is not earth-shattering, it's fair and the resolution is handled well in typical Wolfe fashion.

The weak point in the story is that Nero Wolfe doesn't sound quite sound like himself and Archie sounds nothing like himself. Usually, Goldsborough's portrayal of Wolfe was close enough usually but a few times sounded dissonant. Perhaps, the most jarring section was when Wolfe made the statement that prohibition laws were wrong because they were attempting to "legislate morality." However, you feel about "legislating morality," it's become a modern cliche and Nero Wolfe certainly never spoke in cliches.   In addition, one Amazon review points out that Wolfe used "infer" as a synonym for "imply," something that Wolfe would never do.

It's even worse with Archie Goodwin. It would be unreasonable to expect a 19 year old fresh out of Ohio to sound the veteran New York Private eye Rex Stout wrote about for 40 years. However, there wasn't even a hint. This Archie Goodwin is a completely serious and respectful young man who helps to teach the father of the kidnapped the importance of spending time with this boy. To imagine this character developing into a wise cracking lady's man seems almost beyond belief. Whatever can be said of the corrupting influence of a big city or a big city changing someone, the change necessary in Goodwin is too incredible.

Overall, the story lacked the fun of the Stout Wolfe books. However, it answers a lot of questions fans have had about the characters particularly the lesser known ones and provides some satisfaction and Nero Wolfe is still mostly himself. Overall, this could have been a great book if Goldsborough had done a better job of capturing the essence of Stout's characters particularly young Archie Goodwin. As it was, it was only a fair-to-good one.

Rating: Barely Satisfactory

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1Dec/120

Book Review: Three Men Out

It's time to review another Nero Wolfe novella collection. "Three Men's Out" was published in 1954 and contains three novellas published originally in 1952 an 1953.

"Invitation to Murder" -A man hires Wolfe to have Archie investigate the women who may be the next wife of his brother-in-law who was married to his deceased sister. He suspects one of them of foul play. In the middle of Archie's investigation, he finds the client murdered and connives to get Wolfe himself to come and investigate. A decent enough story, though certainly not one of the bests with Wolfe leaving the house and an "okay" solution. Rating: Satisfactory

"The Zero Clue"-Wolfe declines a case from a man who puts himself out as being able to predict anything with mathamatics, though Archie goes to see him any way to see if he can get information to interest Wolfe. However,Archie ends up leaving without seeing the man. That night, Cramer arrives with news that the math whiz has been murdered and that he left a clue involving carefully arranged pencils and erasers that seems to point right towards Wolfe as having key information. Wolfe has a different take on the clue and will prove it if Cramer brings all the suspects to the Brownstone to be questioned.

This is perhaps the most problematic Nero Wolfe story I've read. Cramer agrees to the idea on the first night of the investigation which is something that seems unlikely the case had drug on for days and perhaps not for a week or more. Plus, the whole clue that was left behind was so improbable as to understand it required the use of Hindu mathematics  To add to that, the revelation of the murderer was unsatisfying and Archie's personality is mostly absent. So I've got to give this one a resounding: Rating: Pfui.

"This Won't Kill You"-Becaue a guest insisted on it, Wolfe is dragged to a decisive World Series game along with his guest. In the course of this, a murder happens and Wolfe investigates for the New York Giants Owner, a friend. The set up is (to be kind) somewhat hard to swallow particularly as this guest seems to disappear after conveniently having put Wolfe at the crime scene to investigate. The story is ultimately saved by some solid supporting characters in the form of an insane drugist and his niece plus a nice wind up that makes this story a: Rating: Satisfactory.

Unlike And Four to Gothe other Wolfe collection that contained a real stinker, there's not one great story, let alone two great stories to save the volume. However, I'm loathe to give a thumbs down to a Nero Wolfe collection. And in this case, I feel that the other two are solid stories with "This Won't Kill You" perhaps being more than average. So, rather than a Pfui, I'll give the overall collection a:

Rating: Barely Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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