Thursday, January 11, 2018

Where There's a Will: Rex Stout

Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe's secretary and leg man, often takes it upon himself to badger Wolfe into taking a case because the bank account is getting low. Wolfe's hobbies and lifestyle are very expensive. In this case, he is convinced to take on an unappealing case, that of dealing with the problems of a disputed will.

Noel Hawthorne has died in a shooting accident at his country home, and he has left most of his huge estate to his mistress, Naomi Karn. His wife, Daisy, whose face was disfigured due to an accident, is bitter and plans to contest the will. Noel's sisters are all famous for their diverse talents: June is a writer who is now married to John Dunn, the Secretary of State of the United States; May is a scientist and president of a college; April is an actress on the stage. They are also shocked at being written out of the will, but their main aim is to avoid a scandal. They show up at Wolfe's office requesting his help in persuading the mistress to take less money to appease the wife.

Shortly after Wolfe gets involved in the case, it turns out that Noel Hawthorne was murdered and the police consider the family members to be the most likely suspects.

As usual, I will point out that Rex Stout is my favorite author and I am very fond of all the books in the Nero Wolfe series. This one is not at the top level, it is not one of my top 10 books in the series. Yet, even so, it has few flaws.

The plot is very complicated and there are a lot of characters, more than usual. But the story still moves at a good pace, and all the twists and turns make sense. Many of the characters are eccentric, but they are depicted in a convincing way.

But most of all, I like visiting with Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin, and their extended family. Archie is Wolfe's employee, but they look out for each other and form a good partnership.   Fritz, the cook, and Theodore Horstmann, the orchid expert, also live in Wolfe's brownstone, and there is a regular group of private investigators who help out when needed.

This was the last novel that Stout published before the US entered World War II. There are hints relating to the time period, but they are not explicit or prominent, and you could easily miss them. If I remember correctly he only wrote a few novellas during the war, and only two of those actually mention the war.

I would also like to emphasize that the Introduction to the Bantam Crime Line paperback edition by Dean R. Koontz is very, very good. He is complimentary of Rex Stout's writing, but he also has interesting things to say about writers in general and reading.

Noah at Noah's Archives goes into even more detail on the plot, his opinions of the book, and various editions (which I am always interested in) in his review.

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Publisher:  Bantam, 1992. Orig. pub. 1940.
Length:     236 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Nero Wolfe, #8
Setting:     New York
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copies.



15 comments:

  1. I'll have to try and get to Stout and Wolf this year. I've been putting it off long enough.

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    1. Even though Stout's work is not the type you usually go for, Col, I do think you will enjoy trying at least one. The characters are the main draw.

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  2. Glad you enjoyed this one, Tracy. I agree 100% with you about the Nero Wolfe 'inner circle.' They're great characters. In my opinion, the series is worth checking out just on that basis.

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    1. I am sure the characters in this series are the reason many people reread the books, Margot.

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  3. I am very slapdash in my Wolfe reading - no attempt to do them in order - but I always enjoy them when I do. this sounds like a goody, I always enjoy a family at odds and a disputed will...

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    1. This is one weird family, Moira, and of course very wealthy and privileged, but it is a good read too. I read the books in the Nero Wolfe series very randomly when I first started reading the series, and never noticed any problem with that. Even reading the three Zeck books out of order did not bother me. Somewhere in my thirties or forties I decided to read them all in order and filled in the books that I was missing at that time.

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  4. Thanks for the review. I've read quite a few Nero Wolfe stories over the years. But not this one.

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    1. I would love to have some unread Nero Wolfe stories to read now, Elgin. Now I just revisit the stories, and often I forget who the murderer was. Not this one though; this story had stuck in my memory.

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  5. By coincidence I'm talking about Nero Wolfe today as well on my blog. Great minds. :) I like this particular book a lot though it is not one of my top faves. The woman with the veil is just too much for me to take. :)

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    1. Not one of my top Nero Wolfe stories, either, Yvette, but I did enjoy it more this time than previously.

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  6. I'm read and enjoyed lots of these - but not this one. It's going on my TBR list.

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    1. Great, Christine. I am sure you will enjoy it. It is a bit different from his normal fare.

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  7. hola! un placer compartir sus lecturas! saludosbuhos desde argentina!

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  8. You and Yvette! As she was top of the list today I read hers first, and promptly downloaded all three books in the Zeck series. Looks as if I'm turning into a Wolfe hound too! I'll check Where There's a Will at a later time. (I don't have anything in particular against ladies in veils, btw)

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    1. The Zeck series would be in my list of top books in the Wolfe series too, Mathew. Especially #1 and #3 in the trilogy. Where There's a Will is fun and worth reading but not at the same level as the Zeck books.

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