Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: "Disguise for Murder" by Rex Stout


Rex Stout's "Disguise for Murder" is an 80-page story in the Nero Wolfe series. It is one of three stories in Curtains for Three, published in 1950. 

The introduction to the book describes the contents as three novelettes, although I think 80 pages is more like a novella. No matter, it is an entertaining story. It was first published in The American Magazine, September 1950, as "The Twisted Scarf". 

As usual, Archie Goodwin narrates the story. Some semi-regular characters are included: Saul Panzer, a free lance detective; Fritz, the cook; and Inspector Cramer of the NYC police.

As the story begins, the Manhattan Flower Club has been allowed to visit Nero Wolfe's greenhouse at the top of his brownstone, to view his orchid collection. Saul and Fritz are vetting all the attendees and Archie is mingling and otherwise keeping an eye on the crowd. 

While mingling he notices an attractive young woman. Later in the afternoon she meets with Archie in Wolfe's office, and tells him that she can identify the murderer in a case that has plagued the police department for months. She seeks an audience with Wolfe, but before that happens she is found dead in Wolfe's office, after most of the guests have departed. 

After the police are done examining the scene and interviewing witnesses, Inspector Cramer refuses to allow Wolfe access to his office for an extended period of time. This infuriates Wolfe, and he decides to solve the case himself rather than collaborate with the police. He has spotted a clue that Cramer obviously missed in the witness statements. He proposes that Archie take on a dangerous assignment to unmask the killer. Saul Panzer is Archie's back up but the plan goes awry, and in the end it is all up to Archie.  This one has a little more action than usual and less humor.

I did have a quibble with the last part of the story (and it bothers me every time I read it), but I still consider this one of the most memorable of the novellas. 

The other two novellas in Curtains for Three are "The Gun with Wings" and "Bullet for One".


pattinase (abbott) said...

Always fun to read.

Margot Kinberg said...

This was actually the first New Wolfe story I ever read, Tracy. It's good to be reminded of it. People may not know that Stout wrote novellas, short stories, and other things as well as novels, and it's good to see this one. He was so prolific!

George said...

I have friends who have read ALL of the Nero Wolfe books 50 TIMES! I read them all once. Sometimes, the shorter mysteries are better than the Wolfe mystery novels!

TracyK said...

I agree, Patti. Any of the Nero Wolfe stories, short or long, are fun to read, and I get a kick out of them every time I read them.

TracyK said...

Margot, that is so interesting that this was the first Nero Wolfe story you read. I wish I could remember which was my first. So long ago.

TracyK said...

George, I don't know anyone else who reads Nero Wolfe books (outside of other bloggers), but I have read about people who reread all the books (or maybe just the novels?) every year. That amazes me. Not that I would not enjoy that but still... I would guess that I have read all of them 4-5 times, and some more than that.