Category: Nero Wolfe

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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