Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Vintage Mystery Challenge: Four Nero Wolfe Short Story Collections

I re-read these stories over the last couple of weeks during lunch and/or dinner. Nero Wolfe makes for great meal time companionship if you enjoy reading at meals.  I do. Since mine are paperbacks, the books are easy enough to hold and maneuver - unless you're eating finger food, in which case oh well, try and prop the book up someway or other. Nero Wolfe is worth the trouble.

Though I've already finished my challenge requisites for the Vintage Mystery Challenge hosted by Bev at MY READER'S BLOCK (and was very nicely awarded a Dorothy Sayers book by Bev, for my trouble), I'm still reading and rereading vintage when and where the time is right. Suffice to say, the time is usually never wrong. Though Bev, John and Les usually put me in the shade when it comes to reading vintage. Still, I muddle through. HA!

Don't forget to check out Bev's blog to see what the other Challenge participants have been up to.

Four Short Story Collections:

NOT QUITE DEAD ENOUGH (1944) - two novellas.

TROUBLE IN TRIPLICATE (1949) - three short stories

CURTAINS FOR THREE (1950) - three short stories

AND FOUR TO GO (1958) - four short stories

Stout wrote other story collections of course, but these are the four most recently re-read by yours truly.



Christmas Party
Easter Parade
Fourth of July Picnic
Murder Is No Joke

Four mysteries, three set during three separate holidays. Most appropriate this time out was Fourth of July Picnic in which Wolfe is actually persuaded to go to a labor organization picnic and give a speech. Of course murder follows Wolfe and Archie wherever they go and this time it's no different.

This collection also has the classic story, Christmas Party, in which Wolfe disguises himself as Santa to spy on Archie when he suspects Archie may be about to get married.(!?). In truth, the whole Santa idea is rather appalling, but Stout makes it work. Hilariously. Think of it as a satirical swipe at his own creation.



The Gun With Wings
Bullet For One
Disguise For Murder

One of the stories, Disguise For Murder concerns a strangler in disguise, this time most emphatically NOT Nero Wolfe. Though the killer does manage to pull the wool over Archie's and our eyes. Wolfe, though, is onto the killer's identity, improbably as it may seem, almost from the very beginning. Well, that's what a genius is for.

This is one of two stories (there may be a third fled from memory) in which I can remember a murder occurring in Wolfe's office. Oh, the ignominy! This time during an ill-advised garden party tour of the orchids on the roof.

Another story in this collection, Bullet For One, also concerns a disguise. This time a disguise and a horse and murder on a canter in Central Park. Oh, and a chase near the end involving NYC's finest mounted police and Archie on foot.



Before I Die
Help Wanted, Male
Instead of Evidence

Wolfe and Archie are at odds (wouldn't be the first time) in Before I Die and Wolfe, most likely to spite Archie, but with Wolfe, one never knows - invites Dazy Perrit, criminal kingpin into the brownstone and actually takes on a case for him. After the end of WWII, meat shortages have rendered Wolfe grumpier than ever and black market meat may be the actual raison d'etre behind Wolfe's intent. Archie, rightly perturbed, suspects this is the case that may get them both killed and dumped in the river.

Help Wanted, Male is only the second story I remember in which Wolfe hires a man to impersonate him. The other more famous example is in THE DOORBELL RANG (1965) one of Stout's most brilliant books. In that novel, the impostor has to fool the FBI, but in this short story, the imposter's job is to hang around the office and wait to get killed.



Not Quite Dead Enough
Booby Trap

Both these novellas take place during WWII. Archie has, of course, enlisted, but to his chagrin, is being kept state-side to work the intelligence angle and help manage Nero Wolfe when Wolfe is called to work for Army Intelligence. In this first story, Archie is actually sent back to the brownstone to request Wolfe's help on an urgent Army matter. Once Archie enters the old brownstone, his home and place of employment for many years, he gets the shock of his life.

In their own inimitable and totally preposterous fashion, Wolfe and Fritz are preparing themselves to go fight the Germans.

I was thinking that if you're not that familiar with Wolfe and Archie and I know there are several of you out there, then these short stories might get you into the fold - might be a good way to introduce the few stragglers who haven't yet made Wolfe's acquaintance. No time like the present.

For a complete list of all the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout, please check the best website for this sort of thing,

10 Interesting Things About Rex Stout - link here  He really did have a very intriguing life.


  1. I so need to some of these books. I'm so swamped with review books though I'm having to put joy reading on hold for a day or two.

  2. Ryan: Juggling all these books is definitely hard work. :)

    That's one of the reasons I don't go out of my way to get review copies. No review copies, no pressure. Except what I put on myself.

    I want this blog to continue to be fun for me. (And for my readers, of course.)

  3. Yvette,

    Don't worry! This blog is fun for readers; it's a joy to read it, then to comment and read the replies.

    Not only fun but educational! New book and movie ideas, beautiful art, quotes, good dialogue.

    And just fantastic reviews; some are classics. The Woman in White Parts 1 and 2: Need I say more?

    I am waiting to get my iced coffee and sit down and read the Nero Wolfe story reviews, and add to my TBR mountainous list.

  4. Kathy: Thanks so much, you're comments made my day. :) It's always great to be appreciated.

    I'm glad you're enjoying my posts and I make you laugh, then even better.

    I'm not usually a reader of short stories, but for Nero Wolfe i bend the rules.

  5. More than once I have seen the happy sight of a teenager on transit reading Rex Stout. I resist the urge to give them a hug.

  6. Caftan Woman: Oh, for sure. I'd have a hard time resisting too. I say, read Rex Stout early, Read him often. :)

  7. I read Rex Stout when I was a teen-ager, then I moved on to college and "literature," and stayed there until a few years ago when I focussed on mysteries.

    But then this blog renews my interest in Archie and the gang. Once I started reading these books, I did not want to stop.

    I actually had to put the books away which I bought so I could virtually go to other countries (including 12th-century England with Adelia Aguilar, which I'm glad I did), or I'd be stuck in my own city for the summer.

    So, I'll read them interspersed with other books if I can maintain my own regimen here. (HA!)

  8. Yvette, your wonderful post about Rex Stout's NERO WOLFE short story collections have reminded me how much I love Wolfe and Archie and everything else about the stories -- and how little time I seem to have for just reading for the fun of it, as opposed to reading for work or my writers' workshop (which I love, don't get me wrong!). Not to put the whammy on it, but there's nothing wrong with my life that more free time AND a great big hunk of tax-free money wouldn't cure! :-)

  9. Just an fyi: Archie Goodwin and the gang will help with everything -- distraction, entertainment, stress relief, laughter (which is a cure for lots of things, reversal of bad moods, putting the world in perspective.

    It's worth making time even if on a train or bus or at lunchtime, that time before bed.

    It's really a panacea.

    The only problem is once you start, you cannot stop and yearn for the gang, even while you're reading something else.

  10. Yvette

    I second what Kathy has written. This blog is great fun.

    I haven't read any Rex Stout but now I am determined to find a book by him.

  11. Kathy: The most difficult thing about reading, I think, is to manage all the books that come into and out of our lives - finding the right time to read one or the other. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

    I haven't found the right way to do it yet. :)

  12. Dorian: Reading for fun is an absolute requisite. It can't all be 'have to' reading, even if you are enjoying that. Play hooky once in a while. :)

    Yeah, enough money and enough time would be nice. Ha!

  13. neer: Thank you! :)

    I hope you can find a book or two by Rex Stout. He is considered a master of the genre for a reason.

  14. Yvette, Kathy, you've convinced me to put aside more time for reading for the pure fun of it! Maybe I should start small, like with those wonderful Nero Wolfe short stories! :-) Thanks for your encouragement, gals!

  15. I SO love Archie and Wolfe. I love their banter, the repetition in the books of the same details - the amount of steps, etc., I love the way Archie walks and eats. And the way Wolfe only does the latter. I am ever so happy in their world.

  16. Yes, exactly, Nan. That was Stout's gift: to have created these characters that make us so happy to be in their world. I think there is sheer brilliance in that gift.

  17. Dorian: You're most welcome! We LOVE to encourage reading for fun. :)

    The short stories are as good a way to begin your acquaintance with Wolfe and Archie, as any.

  18. Rex Stout is a favorite of mine, Yvette. Like you, I reread them all every few years, because the joy of being with Wolfe and Archie does not rely on the simple "whodunnit" of the plot - they're fun people to be with and I enjoy their company. May I also recommend another site - the Wolfe Pack's site, where you can find all kinds of Wolfean information.

  19. I know he is, Les. You went to that great Wolfe dinner at Bouchercon. (I was so jealous.) See? I remember.

    I need to check in with the Wolfe Pack site more often. Absolutely.
    Thanks for the reminder. :)

  20. The thing about reading is that it is all about entertainment and enjoyment -- and learning, if one is looking for that. It's art, to be appreciated and enjoyed.

    And if one is reading for oneself, and not for school or a job, it should be all about enjoyment.

    If one doesn't like a book, put it aside and begin another one. There are no rules, except that books should be enjoyable to the reader.

    Although I must say, I can be obnoxious about good books, including the Wolfes, as I quote them and everyone I encounter who reads has to hear the humorous quotes.

    But as busy as everyone is, there is always time to read, even if it's while cooking, eating, vacuuming (or, my favorite, in lieu of vacuuming), waiting for something or someone, sitting.

  21. Kathy: Reading is definitely what you make it.

    You can always listen to a book while doing chores if you can't actually hold the book in your hands. It's a perfect way to pass the time.

    I love quoting a book and getting a good response. But more likely no one will know to what I'm referring. Ha!

  22. It took me a while, but I finally got these updated on the progress site. It's always good to go back to Rex Stout.


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