Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book: MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD (1956)by Rex Stout

Not really forgotten, of course, not by Nero Wolfe aficionados like you and me, but I've just finished reading it for the umpteenth time and thought this would be a good time to mention it. Don't think I have before, except in passing.

It's Forgotten Book Friday once again, a weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, PATTINASE, so don't forget to check in and see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Being that this book was published in 1956, it qualifies as well for the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge hosted by Bev, at her blog, MY READER'S BLOCK.

MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD features several nasty murders, one of which hits very close to home for gargantuan detective Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's right hand, confidant, secretary, bookkeeper, bodyguard and all around, general purpose henchman. This, of course, makes them even more determined to catch a crazed killer who has already allowed an innocent man to be tried, convicted and sentenced to death.

A prospective client, James R. Herrold, arrives from Omaha, Nebraska especially to hire Wolfe to find his long lost son, Paul. There had been a falling out and the son has severed all contact (after being kicked out of the family home) except for yearly holiday cards mailed to his mother and sisters from New York City. That's all Paul Herrold knows, but he is adamant about finding the boy who had been accused - years before - of stealing money from the family firm but has since been found to have been innocent.

This is one of Rex Stout's more inventive plots - it begins one way then takes a surprising detour almost immediately. The son, when he is found, has - once more - been wrongfully accused of a crime. (This guy just cannot catch a break.) But Paul Herrold aka Philip Hays has refused to help in his own defense despite his lawyer's entreaties. He tells Archie Goodwin that he 'might as well be dead' for all the good anyone can do for him. He refuses to admit who he is and refuses as well, to see anyone, including any family.

Inspector Cramer of the NYPD is not happy that a case he thought solved and over with has been re-opened by Nero Wolfe. And within a couple of days, when the murderer strikes again, then again, he is forced to admit that they may have arrested the wrong man. This sort of thing makes Cramer even grumpier than usual.

Though no one can out-grump Wolfe when he's forced, by circumstance, to work. As Archie is fond of saying: "When a hippopotamus is peevish, it's a lot of peeve."

As bodies pile up, Archie and the gang work to find the glimmer of light which will lead Wolfe to the truth.

As in many of Rex Stout's stories, some of the motivation is a little iffy, but I overlook that since I do especially like the way the plot of MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD comes together bit by bit, an angle here, an angle there, until it all begins to make sense, even if it is melodramatic sense. Plus there's a great love story at the heart of it. I did mention melodrama.


  1. I've read a good many of the Wolfe books, but have missed this one. It may well be on the shelf, but I'm to overwhelmed with the TBR to even go pull it out if it is. Thanks, though for the review.

  2. "A lot of peeve" is such a great Archive Goodwin line!

    I've not actually read this one - there's only about half a dozen of Stout's Wolfe books left for me but I am increasingly having to accept that salting away books for a rainy day is just something I should give up on - there will always be more books and movies and plays and operas and symphonies than i will ever be able to cram into my little life - thanks for the reminder (as it were).

    All the best,

  3. A dandy! And long overdue for a re-read. Much too long. Thanks.

  4. I really like this one too, Yvette. I like the way Wolfe is practically dragged into the case - bringing him to the wonderful line, “Not only must I pay my bills, I must also sustain my self-esteem.” And my favorite line in the book comes when Wolfe asks Cramer if the circumstances of one of the deaths "eliminate fortuity." Cramer responds: “So it doesn’t look like fortuity. I must remember to use that in a report.” I love it...

  5. This sounds like a good one, which I'll put on my TBR list.

    I just finished Murder by the Book, and am reading Plot It Yourself.

    Might As Well Be Dead appears to have many of those Wolfisms, which make any story worth reading.

    "Peeve" and "fortuity" -- key words, which I must find in this book.

    My only problem is that the problem doesn't have most of these books, and I must order them as used copies. Plot It Yourself must be in 4-point type. I can barely read it. It will take an electronic microscope to read this, but I'm trying a little at a time.

    I wonder if publishers are now realizing that most mystery readers are middle-aged and over and cannot read minuscule font sizes. I protest.

  6. Oh Richard, take this down from your shelf and indulge yourself. It's SUCH a good one. Do what I do: read it only during lunch or breakfast or dinner or all three. :)

  7. No salting away from here on in, Sergio. Life's too short. READ, my friend. Read everything you've put away for a rainy day. Take this advice from an old lady who is reading and re-reading as fast as she can. :)

    This is too good a book to put away - anyway.

  8. C.W. Yes, this one deserves a yearly re-read. I find myself doing that with my favorite Wolfe books. I really do enjoy reading them at meals. Maybe it's that gourmand thing. Ha!

  9. Les, I really do love the way Stout throws in these hundred dollar words and makes them both something to be laughed AT and WITH. It's a gift.

    I really do love these books - almost with a passion....yeah, what the heck, with a passion.

  10. Kathy, do your best. I am lucky enough to have bought a cache of Wolfe paperbacks years ago when a local bookstore closed up shop. Try Better World Books - free shipping, no minimum.

    If I see any on sale anywhere, I'll let you know.

  11. To Kathy d - The entire line of Nero Wolfe books were reprinted by Bantam in the late 1990s. They all have similar covers and introductions by contemporary mystery writers. Those should be available at dirt cheap prices from online used booksellers and have been typeset at a less torturous font size and are easily readable.

    Look for them at amazon, get the ISBN number and then search using the ISBN at either or That way you'll get the right edition and I'm positive you can buy any of them online for $3 or less. also ALWAYS has free shipping.

  12. Good advice, John. The Bantams are the ones I mostly have. Though here and there I find an older copy on my shelves.

    Meant to mention The Book Depository, too. Another good resource.

  13. I did buy Murder by the Book and Plot it Yourself from Better World Books. I also mentioned BWB at a few blogs.

    I'll look for the Bantams.

    There are some larger font books now available, often two stories are in one volume. New they're around $15, am trying to avoid paying.

  14. Looks like I'm the odd one out again. I have never read Rex Stout though I have read enough about him on blogs. A grumpy and gargantuan detective? he does sound interesting. I'm going to try and read at least a couple of books by Stout before year-end.

  15. Wolfe is also an avid orchid tender, who spends several hours a day (without fail) in his greenhouse taking care of his thousands of orchids.

    He is also a gourmet/gourmand who has a live-in-chef, and allows nothing, not even murder, to interfere with his meals.

    He's also stubborn and egotistical, but a bit realistic. He tells Archie, "I am a genius, not a god."

    Also agoraphobic, Wolfe has suspects -- and cops, including the brass -- come to his house to discuss the case. He interrogates potential suspects and fills in cops at his own schedule in his house, very rarely leaving.

    Wolfe is an eccentric character in every sense of the word. I'd not call him "lovable," but fascinating, interesting, knowledgeable, and the solver of all of the murders: Yes, he is all of those things.

    P.S. I'm going to need a cryptologist soon to unscramble these word identifiers. Getting harder and harder for this woman of a certain age. I'll need a magnifying glass very soon.

  16. I need to get back to reading the Nero Wolfe mysteries. I haven't this one and it sounds like a lot of fun!


Your comment will appear after I take a look.