from Three Men Out, collection of novellas published 1954
also contains The Zero Clue and This Won’t Kill You
Another door swung open, this time the one by which Lewent and I had entered from the hall, and another female was with us. On a guess she was somewhat younger than Dorothy Riff, but it was hard to tell with her nurse’s uniform setting off her big dark eyes and dark brown hair. Stopping for no questions, she crossed to a cabinet, got out a glass, a thermos carafe, and a bottle of Solway’s twenty-year liqueur striped-label scotch, put on ounce from the bottle and two ounces from the carafe into the glass, no ice, and went and handed it to Huck and got thanked. She asked him in a low, cooing voice, “Everything under control?”
“Your two-thirty exercise?”
She left us, having given me just one swift glance.
commentary: I’m always on the alert for which Rex Stout book to read next, so when John at Pretty Sinister Books wrote about this one I downloaded it straightaway. It comprises three very different novellas, and in fact John and I differed as to which one we liked best.
They have varied settings – a rich man’s household, the office of another investigator, and a baseball game – but all are straightforwardly looking at a number of people and saying ‘which of you did it?’ We are listening in as Wolfe and Archie talk to everyone and use the answers to determine the truth. By the way, Wolfe leaves the brownstone in two of these three stories – quite a high hitrate.
I tried to work out why I liked this one: John does such great analyses, he can explain that kind of thing really well, but this time I’m just all ‘I dunno, I enjoyed it.’
The setup is this: Wolfe’s client Herman Lewent is concerned about his recently-widowed brother-in-law, Huck, who inherited a lot of money from the dead sister. He fears the b-in-l is falling in love with one of the women of his household – and there may be other concerns too.
Lewent’s thinking is a delight:
“I need to know as soon as possible which one of those women is landing my brother-in-law…. I merely want to engage her sympathetic interest. I want to secure her friendship. I want to make absolutely certain that she will be permanently well disposed toward me after she lands Huck. That will take me three weeks if it is Miss Marcy or Miss Riff, four if it is Mrs. O’Shea.”The women are a nurse, a housekeeper and a secretary, so Archie heads off to take a look at the household – and is let in by
a female viking who could have carried Herman [Lewent] around in her apron…The viqueen took our hats…I never really established who this character was, but I did love the idea of a viqueen.
As ever in a novella (and as in all the tales in this collection) there isn’t really space for you to distinguish much among the various suspects, but the story rattled along, and I enjoyed it, though rather put-off by a giant red herring in the area of food preparation – I don’t quite get the point of that.
The Zero Clue was clever, but I thought (again) had too many characters. Baseball, in This Won’t Kill You (didn’t understand the name) is always beyond me, but I was impressed by the deduction that Wolfe made as to who must have been guilty – simple and convincing. And I learned that glomming has two possible meanings – to steal something or (as in this case) ‘to become attached to’. Archie gloms onto a girl…
The nurse above is from a poster at the Imperial War Museum.
There are quite a few more Rex Stout entries all over the blog – click on the label below.