The Final Deduction by Rex Stout

The Final Deduction cover

The Final Deduction by Rex Stout was first published in 1961. Althea Vail is a rich woman, married to a much younger man and when she turns up at Nero Wolfe’s door saying that her husband has been kidnapped it seemed to me that this was going to be an obvious plot to figure out, in fact I nearly rolled my eyes.

However there are plenty of twists and turns and I just love being in the company of Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe, not forgetting Fritz the chef, I wish he could come and cook for me!

I hadn’t realised until I read this one that in US-ian the word kidnapped is spelled with only one ‘p’ (apparently) unless they got it wrong all the way through my copy of the book. I found it very difficult to NOT read it kidnayped – you live and learn.

The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout

The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout was first published in 1966 and is really quite a remarkable book considering its subject matter and the times in which it was published.

J. Edgar Hoover was the first Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and he stayed in that office until his death in 1972 at the age of 77. He had a terrific amount of power and people were terrified of him for good reason as he could easily ruin careers and lives – and he did so – often.

Anyway, that’s the background to the time the book was written in. In The Doorbell Rang a very rich widow, Rachel Bruner has bought 10,000 copies of a book called The FBI Nobody Knows in which the FBI is said to be overstepping their remit and getting involved in illegal actions, she has sent the books to influential people and anybody whom she thinks should read it. As you can imagine this has not gone down well within the FBI and Rachel Bruner believes that she is being tailed and her phones are being tapped, also her friends are being hauled in for questioning. She wants to hire Nero Wolfe to prove that the FBI are harrassing her and her friends and for him to put a stop to it.

Unsurprisingly Nero Wolfe isn’t at all keen to take on the case because he doesn’t want to be targeted by the FBI too, but eventually he gives in when an enormous cheque is given to him. It means that he won’t have to take on any more cases for a good while and he can concentrate on reading, and of course his beloved orchids.

With Archie Goodwin and not forgetting Fritz the chef who provides them with wonderful meals, this is my favourit Rex Stout so far. I feel that it was the author’s way of getting a lot off his chest about the FBI. Hoover was a distinctly weird and dangerous character and he did have Rex Stout in his sights.

Sadly history is repeating itself – as it usually does, with any ‘whistleblowers’ nowadays being hounded and vilified, just for telling the truth about what the powers that be are getting up to.

Anyway, I’ve meandered from the book as usual, if you haven’t read The Doorbell Rang, you should.

The Broken Vase by Rex Stout

I think I’ve only read three books by Rex Stout before I bought The Broken Vase, and I just assumed that it was going to be a Nero Wolfe book, but it isn’t. Rex Stout books are not thick on the ground in Scotland, or England for that matter but I came across this one in a junk/bric a brac shop just over the border in England. They only had about 20 books so it was a stroke of luck they had this one, an old Crime Club hardback from 1947. My only gripe is that there’s a paucity of likeable characters but there is humour, which is always a plus.

The detective is Tecumseh Fox (is that a native American name? – for update see last paragraph) and Stout wrote only three books with Tec Fox as the detective, presumably he wasn’t as happy with him as a character. The Broken Vase was first published in 1942.

Jan Tusar is a young and successful classical violinist and Tecumseh Fox is one of five people who have contributed to a fund to purchase a Stradivarius for him. Tec is amongst the audience to hear Jan playing the violin for the first time in public, but the concert is a disaster, the violin sounds terrible and the audience is baffled, the evening ends in tragedy.

I enjoyed this vintage mystery, maybe not as much as a Nero /Archie book but still well worth reading.

Jack has just told me Tecumseh was US Civil War General Sherman’s middle name – after the Shawnee chief who fought against the US with the British in 1812 – and he pointed me in this direction. It’s great having your own encyclopaedia at home.

The Hand in the Glove by Rex Stout

I’ve only read a few of Stout’s Nero Wolfe books before and liked them but I enjoyed this one just as much, it was first published in 1937. The Hand in the Glove has a lot in common with what we tend to think of as traditional British murder mysteries, involving a big country house party, and lots of murder suspects, in fact the whole thing was quite similar to Wentworth’s The Chinese Shawl which I read just before this one.

The story begins in Manhattan, where Theodolinda Bonner, Dol to her friends, is a partner in a detective agency, but the action swiftly moves to a large New England house. The house belongs to P.L. Storrs, a financier who is in control of the orphaned Dol’s money, until she comes of age – in 6 months time.

The fact that Storrs disapproves of Dol’s involvment in a detective agency doesn’t stop him from secretly hiring her to dig up some dirt on one of the other guests. George Ranth is a sort of religious guru, and Mrs Storrs has fallen under his spell, it looks like Ranth is after the Storrs’ money. When there’s a murder Dol becomes a suspect along with all the other guests and the detectives of the New York Bureau of Homicide don’t want any help from a fiesty young ‘she-dick’ – but they get it anyway.

It’s a good mystery with humour too, what more can you want on a cold dark winter night!

Til Death Do Us Part by John Dickson Carr

This vintage crime book was first published in 1944 and it’s another ‘locked room’ mystery.

The successful thriller writer and playwright Dick Markham has just become engaged to Lesley Grant, a new inhabitant to the village, much to the disgust of many of the villagers who had expected him to marry their favourite, the local girl, Cynthia Drew, whom he’d been friendly with for some time.

The action begins at a village bazaar with the usual entertainments like a shooting-range, cricket match and fortune-teller’s tent. When Lesley shoots the fortune teller in an accident it isn’t long before rumours start to circulate that she isn’t who she claims to be and Dick doesn’t know what to believe.

The detective Dr Gideon Fell arrives to investigate the dastardly goings on in the village and things become even more perplexing before he manages to crack the case. I was kept guessing right to the end, what more can you ask for!

This book is part of the Black Dagger Crime series which is a joint effort between BBC audiobooks and the Crime Writers’ Association.

If you want to learn more about Dr Fell have a look here.

He reminds me a bit of Rex Stout, they both have a huge girth, find it difficult to get about and have more than a fondness for beer but I can’t help wondering why Dickson Carr gave him the name of Dr Fell. It’s a name which was first used in 1680 when it appears in a nursery rhyme, you can read about it here. But that article doesn’t even mention the Dickson Carr use of the name, although several other people seem to have used it.

There’s also a song by Juliet Turner which goes like this-

Fer de Lance by Rex Stout

This is the first book in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series which was handy for me as I haven’t read any of his books before. Fer de Lance was first published in 1934 and is set in New York. Given the time and place I thought it would be all prohibition, gangsters and speak-easies, which would have suited me fine but it was nothing like I expected it to be.

Luckily I did still enjoy it, the book is narrated by Archie Goodwin who is the private detective Nero Wolfe’s right hand man. Archie is a likeable character, he does all the running around town because Nero Wolfe rarely leaves his home. His vast bulk stops him from getting around much and puzzling over a mystery often takes a back seat when his love of good food and beer takes precedence. Fritz the Swiss chef is a very important member of the staff. Wolfe is always trying to limit himself to five quarts of beer a day, with no success.

Although this is the first in the series, you wouldn’t guess it because Archie is always mentioning things which happened in the past, old cases and people they helped out of trouble so you get the feeling of a long standing relationship, there’s a shared history.

The amount of booze consumed was a surprise to me, I think prohibition must have just made people more determined to get a hold of it.

In this story a golfer falls down dead on the course, supposedly it was a heart attack but Nero Wolfe knows differently and proves it. That’s as much as I’m saying about that!

However – I haven’t seen any dramatisations of Nero Wolfe, I suppose some must exist but we’re steeped in Poirot and Marple here and I don’t remember anything American apart from Ellery Queen way back in the year dot. I did wonder though if the person who wrote the 1960s/70s Ironside with Raymond Burr had based the whole thing as an updated version of Nero Wolfe. There are lots of similarities I think. Ironside didn’t get about much because he was confined to a wheelchair and he relied on his staff to do the leg work for him. As I recall, Ironside was rather fond of his food too, I seem to remember they were often all gathered around a dining table. Ironside didn’t have a penchant for orchids though, which is Wolfe’s other passion apart from food and beer.

I haven’t read much in the way of vintage American mystery/crime. Does anyone have any suggestions as to who else I should give a go?

More Books!

We had a long weekend due to the fact that Thursday and Friday were school holidays in Fife, it was half-term. So I didn’t get around to making bread as I had planned to do but we did have a trip to Perth and paid a visit to the Oxfam bookshop there. I don’t often get out of that shop without purchasing something and this time it was two vintage books.

Amberwell by D.E. Stevenson – which is set in a country estate on the west coast of Scotland. The setting seems perfect to me anyway. It’s one of those 1950s editions issued by The Book Club but it’s in good condition.

My other purchase is a Two Mysteries in One Volume paperback by Rex Stout: Fer-de-Lance and The League of Frightened Men. I haven’t read anything by Rex Stout before but as they were written in the 1930s I have high hopes of them. They’re both Nero Wolfe mysteries.

Otherwise I’ve been painting a high ceiling with the aid of a paint roller and an extending pole but I still managed to get a sore neck, however it’s better than balancing on various ladders which is what I was doing at the beginning of last week when I was painting the cornicing with a two inch brush. It can put you right off everything Victorian!