Saturday, August 8, 2020

Triple Zeck, Books 2 and 3

Between 1948 and 1950, Rex Stout published three novels featuring Arnold Zeck, a powerful crime boss in New York and Nero Wolfe's archenemy. The novels have been published in an omnibus titled Triple Zeck. I reviewed the first book in the trilogy, And Be a Villain, in November 2018. 

I put off rereading the second and third parts of the Zeck trilogy for a good while because I thought that I would not enjoy them. I have always had reservations about The Second Confession, and I thought I knew the story for In the Best Families backwards and forwards. But I was wrong. I enjoyed both of them.

In The Second Confession, a rich industrialist, James Sperling, hires Wolfe to prove that his daughter's boyfriend is a member of the Communist Party. Wolfe takes the case, and Archie is scheduled to spend a weekend at the Sperling's country place near Chappaqua, New York, to get a look at both the daughter, Gwenn, and the boyfriend, Louis Rony. Soon Archie discovers that Rony could be  connected to Arnold Zeck, but Wolfe declines to drop the case because of that.

From that point the case gets very complicated. There is a murder, Archie is a suspect, and Zeck wreaks havoc on Wolfe's household. One of the high points is the investigation of the death by the police in Westchester County, where Archie and Wolfe have made enemies.

I have always been uncomfortable with the use of membership in the Communist Party as a major plot point in The Second Confession. But these feelings come from my perspective looking back at that issue many years later, and also I don't think Stout himself was clearly pro or con on the subject. 

This book is similar to other Nero Wolfe stories, and includes many characters I enjoy: Wolfe's freelance private investigators (Saul, Fred, and Orrie plus a new one, Ruth Brady); Lon Cohen, the newspaperman who sometimes helps out; and Lt. Con Noonan of the State Police, Archie's special enemy.

In the Best Families brings the Zeck / Wolfe rivalry to a close. Mrs. Barry Rackham hires Wolfe to find out where her husband is getting money to support his lavish lifestyle. It isn't normally Wolfe's kind of case, but he needs the money. In order to meet her husband, Archie is invited to Calvin Leed's home to investigate a dog poisoning. Leeds is Mrs. Rackham's cousin and his home is on the grounds of her estate. There is a death, and Archie again must deal with the Westchester officials. 

This book has the biggest changes of any of the series from the standard formula, and I don't want to get specific about what happens past this point. If the reader is new to the book, it is much better not to know further plot points. I liked the book because it was different and it was a good story. But one huge plus is that Lily Rowan has a significant role, and I always enjoy a book that includes Lily.

The trilogy is best read in publication order, although it is doubtful that I read them in order when I first read them. I would have been gettting most of my books from the library back then, reading from what was available on the shelves, and did not have easy access to lists of all the books in a series. 

Also see:

Yvette's post on Triple Zeck at In So Many Words

Moira's post on Rex Stout and Politics at Clothes in Books


Margot Kinberg said...

The Arnold Zeck stories are a little different to the other Nero Wolfe stories, aren't they, Tracy? I'm not surprised that you thought you wouldn't care for these. I'm glad you did, though, and I think you raise a really well-taken point about the way Stout handles the whole Communist Party issue.

TracyK said...

Margot, it has been a while since I read those two books together and reading them that way had more of an impact.

Rick Robinson said...

I have that omnibus, though my copy is a bit more dog-eared than the one you show, and I've read these several times each. I like them a lot.

TracyK said...

Rick, I did read the novels from that omnibus this time, although I have paperback copies. Just easier to read the type for one thing. I will be holding on to the omnibus and I am sure I will read the three novels again.

Clothes in Books said...

I read these years ago, and then more recently. They were published in the UK in an omnibus edition - but in the wrong order! I still can't believe that that happened, and this was Penguin, such a respectable publisher. When I re-read them I knew to read them in the correct order, though that was awkward to do. I am still, all these years later, shaking my head over this.
I liked the books!

TracyK said...

They are very good books, Moira. Now I remember the post where you talked about that. It is shocking that a publisher would do that although nowadays blurbs on books seem to bear no resemblance to the book.

col2910 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
col2910 said...

I really must try something by Stout. I wonder how many years I've been saying that?

TracyK said...

That is a good question, Col. I would encourage you more but I don't know if you would enjoy Stout or not. Maybe one of the later ones, like The Doorbell Rang (1965), which is many people's favorite Nero Wolfe book. I was just reading the description of the the next to last book, Please Pass the Guilt, and I don't remember that one at all, so I should read that one soon. You don't want to read the very last one, A Family Affair, because that one refers back to earlier cases too much.