Friday, May 11, 2018
Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: PLOT IT YOURSELF (1959) by Rex Stout
Not really forgotten except maybe by a few poor unfortunates who are not familiar with the wonderfulness of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books. But I felt like talking about PLOT IT YOURSELF and here we are. Besides, visiting with Wolfe and Archie is always a treat.
I am a Rex Stout fan-girl and proud of it. For reasons that are probably too bizarre to be looked into too closely, I fell in love with Nero Wolfe when I was a teenager and just never fell out. I guess I've always found brains to be a kind of aphrodisiac.
Despite the dead bodies littered here and there, Rex Stout managed to infuse his books with a special sense of comfort. The only other author who came close was Arthur Conan Doyle. It's a welcome knack. I like to think that in some corner of my imagination, Nero Wolfe lives on with Archie Goodwin by his side. The brownstone on West 35th St. remains occupied and clients still arrive in need of Wolfe's help. Fritz Brenner still house-keeps and cooks the best omelettes in the world, the orchids still bloom in the large glass greenhouse on the roof and Theodore Horstmann, the grumpy orchid man is still puttering around up there.
The rest of the gang shows up when needed and Saul Panzer is still the best freelance detective in New York. Inspector Cramer remains head of Homicide Division and Rowcliff is still a horse's ass.
I reread my favorite Wolfe books continuously, slipping them in between whatever else I'm reading at the moment. I do the same with Agatha Christie and a few other writers whose work I love. They've become old friends and I can't just walk away from them. It's a way of life for me.
Okay, let's talk about today's book:
PLOT IT YOURSELF has a serious plot fault which is only discovered near the end even as Wolfe himself mentions it in passing. (You may spot it a bit sooner.) Despite that, it's premise is brilliant and far as I'm concerned, this come close to being a perfect crime set-up. (So perfect that I'm amazed someone hasn't tried it in real life.)
The case begins when Wolfe is hired to dig up who is at the bottom of an on-going and extremely clever plagiarism scam. Within the past four years there have been five major charges of plagiarism against five best selling authors. The latest one hasn't been paid off - yet. The approach is always the same as is the set-up. No connection has been found by investigators between the various would-be writers making the accusations. One case even went to trial, but the author lost and was forced to pay thousands to the accuser. Juries are inclined to believe that successful authors might easily steal ideas from those less successful.
The latest plagiarism charge is the fifth - exact same pattern as before. Enough is enough, The National Association of Authors and Dramatists and the Book Publishers of America wants Nero Wolfe to put a stop to it.
"...You said you know nothing about plagiarism, but I assume you know what it is. Of course a charge of plagiarism against a book or play is dealt with by the author and publisher, or the playwright and producer, but a situation has developed that needs something more than defending individual cases. That's why the NAAD and the BPA have set up this joint committee..."
One of the people at the meeting, Amy Wynn, is a first time best selling author who has just received a letter accusing her of plagiarism. The straw that has apparently broken the camel's back.
I won't elaborate on the ruse used in this oh-so-successful - dare I say - brilliant, ploy. It is revealed soon enough once you begin reading, but it's just such an incredibly clever bit of business that my admiration colors my judgement. Maybe you won't be as impressed as I always am.
However, just when you think that Wolfe has figured out a way to solve the thing, the murders begin. The first brought about by a fatal mistake; Wolfe and his clients unaware at the time that they are dealing with a desperate and ruthless individual. Well, I mean, who would know? This is the world of publishing and authors and books and hardly a world where cut throat antics are commonplace. Oh, wait - let me rephrase that.
Never mind, you all get the gist, I think. The case is such that Dol Bonner (the only female owner of a private detective agency in New York) and her associate are called in by Wolfe. It's all hands on deck as Archie keeps stumbling over corpses and the case gets uglier and uglier.
"...I walked to his address and rang the bell and got no answer. Happening to have keys and rubber gloves with me, and thinking I might find something interesting, I went in and up to h is apartment. For three or four days he had been lying on a couch with a knife in his chest, and is still there. So is the knife. He was probably fed a dose in a drink before - "
I stopped because he [Wolfe] was having a fit. He had closed his right hand to make a fist and was hitting the desk with it, and he was bellowing. He was roaring something in a language that was probably the one he had used as a boy in Montenegro...Fritz, entering with beer, stopped and looked at me reproachfully. Wolfe quit bellowing as abruptly as he started, glared at Fritz, and said coldly, "Take that back, I don't want it."
"But it will do-"
"Take it back. I shall drink no beer until I get my fingers around the creature's throat. And I shall eat no meat."
"But impossible! The squabs are marinating!"
"Throw them out."
"Wait a minute, " I objected. "What about Fritz and Theodore and me? Okay, Fritz. We've had a shock. I shall eat no boiled cucumbers."
Fritz opened his mouth, closed it again, turned, and went. Wolfe, his fists on the desk, commanded me, "Report."
After several trips back and forth to upstate New York and various inquiries involving Archie, the gang, and the police of a couple of counties - he will keep discovering bodies - Wolfe finally figures out what's what. In a way, the whole thing is simple enough, but not so simple that it doesn't get more and more complicated. All because something which might have been done at the beginning wasn't done. Though, truth to tell, it would have been difficult to do the thing at the beginning because no one, not even Nero Wolfe, is prescient. Yeah, I know, I'm driving you nuts. Read the book, you'll find out what I mean.
PLOT IT YOURSELF is on my list of Top Ten Nero Wolfe books, so you're in for a treat if you've never read it and if you, like me, like a plot with multiple corpses. By the way, the Wolfe books do not have to be read in succession except for one caveat: do NOT read A FAMILY AFFAIR until after you've read ALL the other books - in fact, don't read it at all, you'll suffer less angst.
Okay, it's Friday once again, so don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.
Link to my Nero Wolfe Pinterest board.