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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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You Ought to be on DVD: Nero Wolfe

Previous: Vintage Detective Movie Serials, I Heard it on Radio

If one great fictional detective has been slighted in terms of DVD and Home video releases, it is Nero Wolfe. The fine A&E Television series is available on DVD, but everything else isn't. The following are missing:

Two 1930s Movies
1959 TV Pilot with Kurt Kasner and William Shatner as Archie Goodwin
The 1979 TV movie with David Thayer
The 1981 TV Series with William Conrad

It has been a challenge to adapt Wolfe stories into popular visual media, so many of these efforts have not worked.

However, it won't do to say that poor quality should keep these adaptations off of DVD. After all, some fans may be right when they think William Conrad's Nero Wolfe is off-base. However, the rest of us should be able to decide the question for ourselves. Even Galactica 1980 has been given a DVD release.

Perhaps, the one film that looks dreadful based on clips and ratings is 1937's League of Frightened Men with a miscast Lionel Stander as Archie Goodwin and an equally poorly cast Walter Connolly as Nero Wolfe. The movie is only rated a 5.0 on IMDB which is the same as Henry Silva's unthrilling 1965 thriller The Return of Mr. Moto. (Which by the way did it make its way to DVD.)

Beyond this, those fans that have seen 1936's Meet Nero Wolfe (6.7), Thayer's Nero Wolfe TV Movie based on The League of Frightened Men (7.0) and Conrad's Nero Wolfe Series (7.3) have enjoyed them. And no doubt, a wider audience would enjoy them as well. They may not all perfectly match the tone of the books but even the A&E series doesn't do that.

Another great opportunity would be to put the foreign Nero Wolfe programs on Region 1 DVD. Nero Wolfe movies have been made in Russian, Italian, and Germany. My particular interest would be in the 1960s Italian Series. A few clips have shown up on Youtube and the show looks very well done in classic black and white. Personally, I'd love to watch these films with subtitles to enjoy the cadence of the original actors while still knowing what's going on. The best of that particular series is that of the ten stories they did, eight were not done by A&E, so it would make interesting viewing as would all of the unreleased Nero Wolfe material included the Kasner-Shatner pilot which hasn't been seen in more than fifty years.

There's a lot of Nero Wolfe that should be released and it's about time for Hollywood to get started.

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Book Review: Homicide Trinity.

Homicide Trinity contained three Nero Wolfe Novellas originally published in magazine form in 1961 and 1962. Below, we take a look at each story.

"Eeny Meeny Murder Mo"

Bertha Aaron, the secretary to the Senior partner in a lawfirm comes to Wolfe's office because she suspects one of the other partners of colluding with an opposing client against the interests of the firm. Because the opposing client is involved in a divorce case, Archie knows he'll have a time convincing Wolfe to take the case.

Wolfe doesn't want the case but finds himself involved when he and Archie return to the office to find Aaron murderered with Wolfe's discarded necktie. Because it's Wolfe's necktie, the onus is on him to beat the police to the solution.

In some ways, this seems a variation on Disguise for Murder with Archie leaving a woman in the office and returning from the plantroom to find her murdered. They were so similar that A&E linked the two episodes for European syndication. Unfortunately, while this story has features, it's just not as good.  Still I'll give it a 

Rating: Satisfactory

"Death of a Demon"

Lucy Hazen shows up at Wolfe's office and offers him $100 for an hour of his time. She wants to tell Wolfe that she wants to murder her husband and to secure Wolfe's promise to report it to the police. Wolfe takes her upstairs to show her the orchids and while they're upstairs, Archie hears on the radio that her husband was shot.

Lucy ends up being arrested and hiring Wolfe to find out who did it. As is the case in the best Wolfe stories, Stout creates a memorable cast of suspects in the case of the murder of the blackmailing husband and Archie finds them all at the scene of the crime looking for the box of blackmail materials.

The characters are solid, particularly for a novella, and Wolfe solves the case in true master detective fashion.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

"Counterfeit for Murder"

A woman named Hattie Anniscomes to Wolfe's door looking quite disheveled and unlike the high value clients that Wolfe usually pays for and Archie's not inclined to let her in. However, Archie's willing to let her see the big guy because Wolfe is under the impression that he's a sucker for a certain type of woman and Archie thinks it'll be fun to show Wolfe up.  

Hattie has a stack of money that she found in her boarding house which shelters showbiz people whether they can pay their $5 a week rent or not. When Wolfe sends Archie to the boarding house to investigate, they find an undercover female Treasury Agent dead.

The cop-hating Hattie Annis is without a doubt Wolfe's most interesting client so far. Her speech and personality (she calls Wolfe "Falstaff") make the story one of the most enjoyable to read.

The mystery isn't half bad either. Throw in some T-men and the NYPD in a turf war and there are Few Wolfe stories of any length that can beat this one for pure entertainment value.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

The last two stories are simply superb and as good as the vast majority of Wolfe novels. The first one is solid as well and so I'll give this one a:

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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Book Review: Triple Jeopardy

Triple Jeopardy contains three Nero Wolfe novellas originally published in 1951 and 1952. Without any further adieu, let's take a look at them: 

Home to Roost: 

A young man suspected of being a Communist but who had told his Aunt he was really an undercover FBI agent was murdered and his Aunt and Uncle believe Communist agents did it and want Wolfe to find out the truth. A less engaging story that still manages to pack a punch with a surprising ending.

Rating: Satisfactory

Cop Killer:

A classic Wolfe story that finds two refugees from the Soviet Union who are in the country illegally suspected of murder after fleeing the crime scene which is the shop of Wolfe and Archie's barber.  They take refuge in Wolfe's home without Wolfe fully understanding the police want them. Wolfe's sense of hospitality won't allow him to turn them over to the police and Wolfe and Archie have to find out who the real killers are.

This is a story with a lot of fascinating features with us seeing their Barber shop. Some great interactions, including the police entreating Archie for a help with a difficult manicurist and Wolfe and Archie snowing Inspector Cramer by telling him that the suspects were there but in such a way he wouldn't believe them. Archie explained to the frightened migrants, "They (Hitler and Stalin) tell barefaced lies to have them taken for the truth, and we told the barefaced truth to have it taken for a lie."

Rating: Very Satisfactory

The Squirt and the Monkey:

This one begins with some strained credibility. For once, Wolfe is willing to take a job and Archie doesn't want him to. A big shot on the Comic Strip, Dazzle Dan wants to use Archie's gun to help recover his own stolen gun. He's willing to pay Archie $500 for the use of his gun. Despite Archie pointing out that the most Wolfe could clear after taxes and expenses was $45, he's off to the strange house that produces Dazzle Dan complete with monkey and an unusual cast of characters.

Through a complex series of events, a man is murdered with Archie's gun, the client lies about why he'd hired Wolfe, and Cramer informs Wolfe that his license will be suspended. Once again you have to suspend disbelief as we've seen Wolfe insist on getting in writing what he's being hired for multiple times.

However, this is when the story gets interesting. Wolfe goes to work in earnest and has his lawyer file a lawsuit against the client for a million dollars and begins an earnest study of the Dazzle Dan comic to unravel the mystery of what goes in the house that created him. 

Overall, there is much about this story that makes it unique. Unfortunately, Stout, has a lot in here that's hard to buy, so I can only rate it:

Rating: Satisfactory

The stories vary in quality but solidly clever solutions and some great settings in the last two stories make this a solid read.

Collection 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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