Thursday, May 19, 2011
Vintage Mysteries Reading Challenge: TOO MANY WOMEN (1947) by Rex Stout
Lately it sure seems like All Nero Wolfe - All the Time around here. What can I tell you except that I'm on a Wolfe Binge, having a great old time re-reading my favorites by Rex Stout. And since many of the books were written before 1960, they qualify for the Vintage Mysteries Reading Challenge currently on-going with Bev of MY READER'S BLOCK at the helm. Check her blog to see who else is participating and what great vintage books they're reading.
TOO MANY WOMEN finds Wolfe and Archie confounded by one of the more difficult cases of their careers - primarily because there are just no clues to be had and most of their time is spent doing nothing. Well, except for Wolfe being grouchy and Archie going out dancing (which he loves to do and is expert at) with a variety of eager, young secretaries. All the dancing is a result of Archie having gone to work 'undercover' as a personnel expert at the corporate headquarters of an engineering supply company. Naylor-Kerr is their current client, in the person of Jasper Pine, President. Wolfe and Archie have been retained to find out if one of their employees, Waldo Wilmot Moore, has been murdered. Moore was the victim of an alleged hit and run and the crime is already a few months old. While it is a homicide, the police do not think it was premeditated murder.
When the spectre of intentional murder is raised by Jasper Pine's brother-in-law, a seriously weird sort of guy who wants to replace Pine as president of the corporation, the board of directors decide to hire someone to investigate. Nero Wolfe is that someone.
After a second murder occurs, another hit and run, and still no clues are forthcoming and the cops breathing hard with Cramer wanting to know how Wolfe knew that Moore had been murdered to begin with, there seems no alternative but to pull a fast one. Which Wolfe and Archie do.
What TOO MANY WOMEN lacks in excitement, it makes up for by author Rex Stout obviously having a ton of fun with Archie in the wide open workspace of Naylor-Kerr where Archie is turned loose - like a kid in a candy store.
One good glance and I liked the job. The girls. All right there, all being paid to stay right there, and me being paid to move freely about and converse with anyone whomever, which was down in black and white. Probably after I had been there a couple of years I would find that close-ups revealed inferior individual specimens. Grade B or lower in age, contours, skin quality, voice or level of intellect, but from where I stood at nine-fifty-two Wednesday morning it was enough to take your breath away. At least half a thousand of them, and the general and overwhelming impression was of - clean, young, healthy, friendly, spirited, beautiful and ready. I stood and filled my eyes, trying to look detached. It was an ocean of opportunity.
Feeling just the teensiest bit guilty when, in the course of the case, Archie is called upon to date, dine and dance with a bevy of beauties - with the corporation footing the bill - Archie debates the ethics of the thing, but figures all is fair when on the hunt for a killer. The interaction between Archie and the various women is so much fun to read as he works his charm to try and find a clue. But there are no clues to be had.
There are several strong women characters in TOO MANY WOMEN made memorable by Rex Stout's tongue in cheek attitude as he has Archie (and occasionally Wolfe) interact with an older, married woman with an eye for younger men (she almost immediately offers Archie season tickets to the Giants and the Yankees), a secretary with a heavy-duty secret she refuses to reveal no matter how much charm Archie pours on, a good time gal with a love of gossip and an inability to spell, and an enthusiastically affectionate young married (estranged) whose husband refuses to take no for an answer - he and Archie are forced to duke it out in the street in front of the brownstone.
By the time, near the end, when out of desperation, Wolfe pulls a fast one, it not only flushes out a murderer but Archie is forced to leave Naylor-Kerr and an entire floor full of women, forever.
Oh, and he also returns the baseball season tickets with a pithy little note.