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.