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.


  1. It's been a while since I read this one. If you keep adding Wolfe mysteries to your challenge list, you may get me started on a binge of re-reads. :-)

  2. Bev: I remain unrepentant. Ha!

  3. This sounds like a hoot! I don't think my library has it, so it goes on my Abe Books wish list.

    My friend who is reading "The Doorbell Rang," is enjoying it. Maybe she and I can co-order and share the used books. It's a project, but I plan on reading about Archie, etc., over the summer, along with Camilleris, Sjowall/Wahloos and perhaps rereading some Donna Leons -- although there is so much to read.

  4. The library doesn't have this one. It's costly used at Abe Books, and costly at amazon. What is the bookseller you use for Stout's books?

    And where do you have your good list of these: I know The Doorbell Rang (read it), Fer-de-Lance, Murder by the Book, Plot it Yourself, Too Many Clients and Too Many Women.

    I'll see what I can do. It's an investment for me and friends for many binges.

  5. Kathy: It is a hoot. You should also try Better World Books - they have access to 'used' books and there's no shipping charges.

    I don't buy Rex Stout books, don't have to. I bought them years ago so I have a whole stack of paperbacks to draw from. I do have one hardcover anthology with 7 (!) stories in it that I got from Seattle Mystery Bookstore a couple of years or so ago. If you can find the anthologies, it's the way to go.

    Can't remember where I posted the list. But here's some good ones off the top of my head besides the one you've listed:


    If you go to and type in Rex Stout, you'll get a list of ALL the Nero Wolfe books.

    You're going to have a fun summer. :)

  6. I too am tempted to do some re-reading of these.

  7. One of these days I'll pick the right Nero Wolfe and suddenly it will all hit me like a meteor impacting Earth: "Rex Stout is great! Where was I all these years?" But I still struggle. Only managed to get through two in all my years of mystery addiction. I have a copy of this I found in a Cincinnati bookstore only last month and should stick it in the TBR mountain range. (I was going to sell it, but it's in such poor condition no one wanted it. ...sigh...) But there is no dobut about one thing - the Rex Stout Farrar & Rinehart 1st editions had PHENOMENAL DJ art! Love 'em!

    P.S. The Nero Wolfe books remain in print in paperback editions and are very easily found in any Barnes & Noble or Borders. I don't think it would be hard to find a cheap copy of this title - even in the used book market. It's the non-Wolfe mystery books that are nearly impossible to find these days. Bantam allowed them to go out of print and have no intention of re-issuing any of them.

  8. Uh... just realized that this is a later Stout and that the publisher is Viking. But this is a good cover, too. I was talking about the F&R DJs with the brilliant orchids and vibrantly colored illustrations.

  9. Richard: Then you absolutely should. :)

  10. John: This will not do. I must convert you. That is now my lifetime's mission. HA!


  11. Partners and Crime has a lot of these titles, they just emailed me. But they don't have this one. It's expensive where I've looked, but I'll keep trying.

  12. The summer: Reading the shortlist of the CWA Dagger Award, more for the Global Book Challenge (I'm behind on this), reading books I purchased recently, catching up on Nero Wolfe, trying Kaminsky, Christopher Fowler, more Anne Perry, Sjowall/Wahloo, Camilleri, new books by Donna Leon, S.J. Rozan and more. (I've lost track of what's on hold at the library, except for The Lock Artist.) And more and more.

    I wish I could just read all summer. Two points: One is that since I don't spend money on real vacations, I can spend a bit on books for my virtual vacations, which are beneficial because: no passport hassles, no long airport lines or hassles with airlines, few expenses. Point two: One can be nearly anywhere in the world within five minutes. And reading vacations can be for an afternoon or days -- at home or in a cafe with iced tea or iced coffee, however long one has.

  13. I'm a lifetime Nero Wolfe Fan. I fell in love with Archie when I was about 16 or so, and that was in 1965. I've read many of them several times, and usually enjoyed them even more with each re-reading. About a year ago, I resolved to read them all, and discovered that reading them in order is even better. (And reading them with a dictionary nearby is even better.) The story starts in 1934, right about the time of the repeal of prohibition, and ends in 1975, with the Nixon Watergate scandal. Although the stories always manage to retain a lighthearted tinge, when combined as a saga of the mid-20th Century, they have a profound effect. Anyway, this whole obsession has culminated in my selling complete sets on Ebay. The current set, with custom dust jackets, is $170. That's about $3.62 per book, including shipping. The dust jackets are removable, and numbered according to approximate publication date.

    My collection isn't the cheapest, and it isn't the most expensive, either. But you might want to check it out because I do have a list of all 47 Nero Wolfe paperbacks written by Stout. Also Google the Nero Wolfe Society, which sponsored the re-printing of his works. And there is a reasonably priced copy of "Too Many Women" at Gyan Books Pvt. Ltd. through Abe Books. I am hoping that it is a small paperback so that I can use it in my collections. Evidently there is a shortage of this title. This is a demand print edition, it costs a little over $10.

  14. Thanks for publishing my comments, Yvette. The links don't work. A better link to my page is


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