Trouble in Triplicate (1949) collected three of Rex Stout's novellas featuring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. This book is my submission for Past Offences' monthly Crimes of the Century.
Although some readers find the novellas lacking compared to the full-length novels, I thought all three of these novellas were strong in plot and full of interesting characters. Each has some relationship to World War II, although only one of them takes place before the war ends. They were first published in The American Magazine: "Help Wanted, Male" in the August 1945 issue; "Instead of Evidence" in the May 1946 issue, as "Murder on Tuesday"; and "Before I Die" was published in the April 1947 issue.
"Help Wanted, Male" is set in 1944; Archie is a Major in the Army but is in Military Intelligence, working with Wolfe, out of uniform. This is a sequel of sorts to an earlier novella, "Booby Trap," in which industrial secrets are being stolen. A participant in the earlier story, Ben Jensen, has received a threatening note and wants to hire Wolfe's brains, not his brawn, to protect him. I enjoyed this story, but overall the plot is implausible. Still it has so many bits I love, including Archie going to Washington to try to talk a general into sending him overseas to get directly involved in the war.
"Before I Die" deals obliquely with the meat shortage in the US after the war. At this point, with the war over, Wolfe is getting very fed up with the lack of meat. He is so desperate he agrees to do a job for a gangster who has links to the black market. The gangster has a daughter he wants to protect from his enemies, and has hired another woman to pretend to be his daughter. The fake daughter is blackmailing him for huge sums. The plot is complicated but the characters are (mostly) charming.
Of the three novellas, "Instead of Evidence" is my least favorite. The story involves a couple who visit Wolfe. The husband, Eugene Poor, is sure that his business partner, Conroy Blaney, is going to murder him and gives Wolfe $5000 to prove that Blaney is guilty when Poor dies. The wife protests, and Wolfe agrees that it is a silly proposition. Naturally the man does die and Wolfe has to work to earn the money.
Rex Stout wrote 33 novels and 41 novellas about the private detective Nero Wolfe and his assistant, Archie Goodwin. The novellas are published in 14 books; each book has two, three or four novellas. Trouble in Triplicate was the third book to collect novellas. Many of the books that had collected novellas had three novellas and "three" in the title, e.g., Three Doors to Death and Curtains for Three.
Publisher: Bantam, 1993 (first published January 1, 1949).
Length: 223 pages
Series: Nero Wolfe
Setting: New York City