Sunday, April 18, 2021

#1936Club: The Rubber Band

For my fourth and last book for the 1936 Club, I am reviewing The Rubber Band by Rex Stout. It is the third book in the Nero Wolfe series. Rex Stout is my favorite author, so bear in mind that my opinion of his books is biased. 

Nero Wolfe is a genius, a lover of orchids and fine food, who supports himself (and his household) as a private detective. Archie Goodwin, the narrator of the stories, is both his assistant and a private investigator, and he does most of the legwork. Archie does secretarial work for Wolfe when they are not working on a case. (He also is the narrator for every book in the series.) They live in a New York brownstone and share the house with Theodore, the plant expert, and Felix, Wolfe's cook. 


On a Monday in October, Archie has scheduled two appointments for Wolfe in the afternoon.

   The first one, down for 3:30 in the afternoon, was with a guy named Anthony D. Perry. He was a tycoon, a director of the Metropolitan Trust Company, the bank we did business with, and president of the Seaboard Products Corporation—one of those vague firms occupying six floors of a big skyscraper and selling annually a billion dollars’ worth of something nobody ever actually saw, like soy beans or powdered coconut shells or dried llama’s hoofs. As I say. Perry was a tycoon; he presided at meetings and was appointed on Mayor’s Committees and that kind of hooey. Wolfe had handled a couple of investigations for him in previous years—nothing of any importance. We didn’t know what was on his mind this time; he had telephoned for an appointment.

The second appointment is more vague...

   The second appointment was for 6 P.M. It was a funny one, but we often had funny ones. Saturday morning, October 5, a female voice had phoned that she wanted to see Nero Wolfe. I said okay. She said, yes, but she wanted to bring someone with her who would not arrive in New York until Monday morning, and she would be busy all day, so could they come at 5:30. I said, no, but they could come at six, picking up a pencil to put down her name. But she wasn’t divulging it; she said she would bring her name along with her, and they would arrive at six sharp, and it was very important. It wasn’t much of a date, but I put it on the memo pad and hoped she would turn up, for she had the kind of voice that makes you want to observe it in the flesh.


Anthony D. Perry wants to hire Wolfe to investigate the theft of thirty thousand dollars from his company. One of the high level executives in the company insists that a woman employed by the company, Clara Fox, is guilty of the theft. Perry does not think that is true, and wants Wolfe to find the truth.

Clara Fox turns out to be the woman who made the second appointment, and she wants to hire Wolfe to negotiate a settlement of a debt for herself and several other people. Her father and several other men helped a man escape a charge of murder in the old West, in Nevada in 1895, and he had promised to give them a share of his wealth when he came into his inheritance. The man escaping from the law has been identified as the Marquis of Clivers, an English diplomat, who is currently visiting New York on official government business. Clara's father died in World War I, but she has gathered up the other men who engineered the escape, plus the daughter of one of them who was too old to travel.

The situation is complex to begin with, and it becomes even more complex when one of the men in Clara's group is killed.

I don't usually include such detailed descriptions of the plot, although I think the excerpts from the book help to give the tone of Rex Stout's writing, and clues to Archie's character. And the part of the plot I have included so far is just the tip of the iceberg.

What I love about these stories is primarily (1) Archie's telling of the story and (2) the relationship that Archie and Wolfe have developed over time.  Like many fans of this series, I have reread all the books multiple times, and in most cases when I read them now, I know who the perpetrator is.  Thus I am not reading the books for the resolution of a crime but to enjoy the time with my favorite characters. These are not light mysteries, but there is a good amount of humor. There are recurring characters in most of the books. Inspector Cramer, in charge of the New York City homicide department, shows up in this one, along with Lieutenant Rowcliff. Also Fred Durkin, Saul Panzer, and Orrie Cather, the team of freelance operatives that Wolfe hires when needed.


In this book, I especially like that Clara Fox is a strong female character. She know what she wants and she won't be intimidated. Wolfe could be described as a woman hater, although really he just doesn't want to deal with a woman in his daily life. Which makes it doubly interesting when he harbors Clara in his house to keep her from being questioned by the police. Rex Stout often includes strong, intelligent female characters in his books, which balances out the negative comments about women.


See also these reviews:

At Crossexaminingcrime, where Kate notes comparisons to the Sherlock Holmes series.

At In So Many Words, because Yvette loves the Nero Wolfe series as much as I do and rereads them.


The Pocket Book edition shown above was published in 1943, and notes that the book can be sent "to a boy in the armed forces anywhere for only 3 cents postage." 


Thanks to Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings for hosting the 1936 Club this week.



 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Bantam, 1992. Orig. pub. 1936.
Length:     267 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Nero Wolfe, #3
Setting:     New York
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copies.


24 comments:

Rick Robinson said...

You are reading up a storm! The '36 Club has you reading a lot of cool things, Christie, Stout, etc. Good job.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Rick. It has been a busy week reading and reviewing. There were so many good books, especially mysteries, published in 1936.

Cath said...

You've done really well with this challenge, Tracy. I was thinking about doing it too but was off colour for a lot of last week. Although I read a lot the effort to review would've been too much.

TracyK said...

Cath, the push I put into reviewing all these books in a week was a bit much for me. It hasn't ever worked well for me to do posts in advance. But I enjoyed all the books and was glad I did it.

Sorry to hear that you were not feeling so well. But good that you were able read.

Rick Robinson said...

I really do want to reread this one, but have to check to even see if it's on the shelf (there were some...adjustments way back when moving...) and meantime I finished the 3rd Bryant & May novel and am reading a 1941 Manly Wade Wellman SF novel just now, with two anthologies waiting, one of them over 700 pages!

Rick Robinson said...

What was your search criteria for finding 1936 mystery novels?

pattinase (abbott) said...

I don't remember this one at all. Will have to look for it.

TracyK said...

Rick, did you like the 3rd Bryant & May novel as well as the others? Manly Wade Wellman is not an author I recognize. I hope you review the book. And a 700 page anthology! I have a few of those but they intimidate me sometimes.

TracyK said...

Rick, regarding my search for 1936 novels, all I had to do was check my book cataloging system. I have a lot of books published in that year, mostly mysteries of course, and a good number of them I had not read. Of course I had to check the actual year of publication because that isn't always right in my cataloging system. I was thinking it was strange that no science fiction showed up, but I guess I don't have that much vintage science fiction.

But this was an unusual year. Usually I google "novels published in 1948" to see if there is something I am willing to find a copy of. And Wikipedia sometimes has decent lists for year of publication.

TracyK said...

Patti, I had forgotten the main plot, but with Nero Wolfe books I often remember small parts of the books that I enjoyed. Like there was a romance between Clara Fox and the Marquis of Clivers' nephew, and how Wolfe hid Clara from the police when they searched the building. So it was a fun reread.

Margot Kinberg said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one, Tracy. I like this series, too, and you pointed out what I think I like best about it: the relationship between Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe. It adds so much to the series, and it lets you see how the characters develop over time. I do like the other denizens of the brownstone, too.

TracyK said...

I always enjoy any Nero Wolfe story, Margot, but this was more fun than I remembered. I would like to read more of the earlier books again. Of course, I have read the first book in the series, Fer-de-Lance, many, many times. But it has been a good while since I read The Red Box, the fourth book in the series.

Rick Robinson said...

No, the premise of the 3rd B&M novel was a stretch, which put me off a bit, but I do love the setting and characters. I have the next one ready after I've read some other books clamoring to be read.

TracyK said...

I have had similar experiences with some of the Bryant & May books, Rick, parts of them might disappoint me. But the characters are always good, so they are worth reading. So I should find out which is the next to read and get to it soonish.

Katrina said...

I haven't read this one but I so agree with you about enjoying being with the characters.

Sam Sattler said...

I love the Nero and Archie characters. I read this one a long time ago, but your review brought back some of the plot I'd forgotten. I have a stack of old Rex Stout novels put away somewhere in the back of a closet; it may just be time to pull them out of there and see exactly what's survived.

Rick Robinson said...

I found Rubber Band on the shelf and have moved it to the TBR. A step in the right direction.

TracyK said...

Rick, Glad to hear that you found your copy.

TracyK said...

Katrina, I hope you get to read this one some day. Wolfe and Archie are a great pair and so many interesting characters get involved in their cases. I love how Wolfe and Inspector Cramer have a love / hate relationship over time.

TracyK said...

Sam, that would be fun, pulling out Nero Wolfe mysteries. Some of my Rex Stout mysteries are buried in boxes in the garage, and I need to get that more organized.

CLM said...

I have never read Rex Stout but you make me think I should. I seem to recall there is a Rex Stout club in NYC that my friend Mary belongs too. We used to tease her that she would have to choose between the Wolfe Pack, as I think it is called, and the Betsy-Tacys. She said she could love two very different things, which of course is true. I assume I should start at very beginning? I have about two pages to write in my final paper of the semester, and I will be so relieved to attack my big pile of library books.

TracyK said...

Constance, that Nero Wolfe group is called the Wolfe Pack, and it sounds like a great group, especially for someone who lives in the area.

I don't know that you have to read the Nero Wolfe series in order, but it is probably just as well to start that way. Fer-de-Lance is a very good introduction to the series, in my opinion, but many people do not like that book. I do hope you try one, and that you enjoy it.

col2910 said...

I still need to try something from Stout. I wonder if I will still be saying that next year?

TracyK said...

Yes, Col, probably. I wish I could suggest a good Stout book that I think you really would enjoy. I haven't yet. But you never know until you try one.