The first Nero Wolfe novel was published by Rex Stout in 1934. Between that time and 1940, he published seven more Nero Wolfe novels. At the same time he was also writing and publishing mystery novels featuring other protagonists.
Between 1937 and 1941 Rex Stout published three mysteries featuring Tecumseh Fox, and one each about Alphabet Hicks, Theodolinda "Dol" Bonner, and Inspector Cramer. In addition there was The Mountain Cat Murders, which does feature the investigation of a murder, but doesn't really star any detective, and The President Vanishes, which is a political thriller. I have read all of these, but for most of them it was a good while ago.
The first Tecumseh Fox mystery was Double for Death, published in 1939. Fox is a detective who is wealthy enough to own an estate in Westchester County and provide food and lodging to many odd, non-paying guests. I reviewed that book in 2014. My take on that book:
Tecumseh Fox series
I would not rate this mystery anywhere near the quality of the Nero Wolfe stories, but I still found it entertaining. There were clues to the identity of the murder, but they were hidden enough to fool me. Stout considered the plot of Double for Death to be one of his best. Comparing it to other Golden Age mysteries, I think it holds up well. Stout's characters are often eccentric or wacky, but that is not unusual for mysteries of that time.This first novel in the brief series was followed by Bad for Business in 1940 and The Broken Vase in 1941.
Alphabet Hicks or The Sound of Murder
Hicks lives quite differently from Tecumseh Fox. He supports himself as a cabbie and occasionally as a detective, when he is interested in the case or really in need of money. He is hired by Judith Dundee, whose husband has accused her of stealing secrets from his business and providing them to a competitor. With the $200 he gets from his new client to begin working on her case, Hicks buys a new suit of clothes, a pocketknife, a box of chocolates, some photographs of movie stars, and donates $100 to British War Relief.
An excerpt from the book:
At seven o'clock that evening Hicks was eating spaghetti and arguing about Mussolini at the family table in an Italian restaurant on East 29th Street. At nine o'clock the table was cleared and a pinochle game was started. At midnight Hicks went upstairs to the furnished room for which he paid six dollars a week.
In yellow pajamas piped in brown, he sat on the edge of the bed and opened the box of chocolates and smelled it with a long deep inhalation.
“I'll earn it and then I'll eat it,” he muttered. If he had known how much of a chore the earning was to be, he might have added, “If I'm still alive.”The plot is fairly complex; the proof of Judith Dundee's deception is a voice recording of her conversation with the competitor; it is on an indestructible disc used in a hidden listening device. Hicks follows a lead to Dundee's lab in Westchester County, a murder occurs shortly after he arrives, and the investigation gets much more serious.
I prefer Alphabet Hicks as a detective over Tecumseh Fox; neither, of course, come anywhere close to matching Nero Wolfe or Archie. Hicks solves the crime due to a lot of luck and coincidences, but that is in keeping with a lot of Golden Age mysteries, and I don't have a problem with that as long as the writing entertains.
See these two reviews:
Yvette's review at In So Many Words
John's review at Pretty Sinister Books
The Mountain Cat Murders
Delia Brand is a young woman living in Cody, Wyoming. There has been a lot of tragedy in her life; her father, who managed the prospectors for a grubstaking business, was killed two years ago and just recently, her mother committed suicide. She has decided that she will kill a man, and she announces this in a sporting goods store when she buys some cartridges for her gun. Very shortly, Dan Jackson turns up dead. Delia is discovered standing by his dead body holding her gun. Jackson is the man running the company her father worked for, he had just fired her sister from her job at the company, and Delia had an argument with him earlier in the day. However, she says she did not murder him and he was not the man she wanted to murder in the first place.
I liked this story for its strong (yet misguided) heroine. There were other strong female characters who were taking charge of their own lives. Complicating things are the tangle of family relationships and friends and business relationships. The local and state government corruption add some interest.
Overall, it seems like the non-Wolfe novels of Rex Stout are less entertaining because the story is not told in first person and the lack of the witty dialogue that we see in the Wolfe series. However, they do benefit from being the type of mystery where the reader knows just about as much as the investigator. In the Wolfe novels, some facts are often withheld from the reader.
An interesting tidbit: Rex Stout really likes yellow pajamas. Among Rex Stout fans, Wolfe is famous for his yellow silk pajamas. Note the extract above from Alphabet Hicks; he wears "yellow pajamas piped in brown." And there are two women wearing yellow pajamas in The Mountain Cat Murders.
Of all the people involved and active in the affair one way or another—relatives, friends, associates, officials, photographers, politicians, reporters—the only one who was in a state of indifference at ten o'clock Wednesday morning was the girl herself. She was sound asleep on a cot in a cell of the county jail, lying on a clean white sheet, with no cover, clad in soft, clean, yellow pajamas which her sister Clara had brought to the jail, along with other accessories, shortly after dawn. Seated on a chair in the corridor outside the cell door was Daisy Welch, wife of the deputy warden, slowly fanning herself with a palm leaf and from time to time sighing heavily. It was a self-imposed vigil.and Wynne Cowles, the "Mountain Cat":
Under an awning on the tiled veranda at Broken Circle Ranch, Wynne Cowles, in yellow silk lounging pajamas, reclined on a portable chaise lounge with chromium frame and pneumatic tires.
The two covers I have for The Mountain Cat Murders are similar. The Dell 5849 cover is by Victor Kalin. The Dell D252 cover is by Chicago illustrator Al Brule, also well known for his pin-up art.