The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


Nero Wolfe

Nero Wolfe by Rex Stout

Over My Dead Body

Every mystery needs a twist to make it extra interesting and in this one, that twist is Nero Wolfe’s daughter. Her existence comes as a surprise to everyone except (presumably) Wolfe and it adds an extra twist to the story. Wolfe isn’t working to support his orchids, but to keep his daughter out of jail. The mystery itself is solid, but not fantastic.

Where There’s a Will by Rex Stout

This is one of the better Nero Wolfe mysteries. The novel opens with Wolfe accepting a case that I couldn’t figure out how he could possibly resolve. His clients want him to convince a woman—the mistress of their dead brother—not to accept the huge bequest he left her in his will. I mean—who turns down a 7 million dollar bequest? But Wolfe takes the case and gets to work just in time to learn that the dead brother is a murder victim, not an accident victim, and then things really get moving. With a murder to solve, Wolfe is back in his element and the investigation gets even intense. I thought I had this one solved—and was wrong. It’s a good one.

10 Not Quite Dead Enough by Rex Stout

Even if there wasn’t two good mysteries, this book would be worth reading just to see Nero Wolfe not being Nero Wolfe. Archie is in the army and Wolfe had decided he wants to enlist as a common soldier so he can kill German so he’s given up beer and fine dining to—brace yourself—exercise. Yet the army wants Wolfe solving national security problems for them and Archie has to figure out how to get Wolfe back to being Wolfe. This one’s a lot of fun.

15 The Second Confession by Rex Stout

Nero Wolfe is at it again in this excellent mystery and it’s a pleasure to watch him maneuver with clients, lawmen, and criminals alike. Hired essentially to discredit the suiter of a millionaire’s daughter, things get complicated when a criminal mastermind threatens Wolfe off the case by machinegunning Wolfe’s prized plant rooms. This gets Wolfe out of his beloved house to try and resolve matters, only to have the unwanted suiter murdered with Wolfe’s car. The client wants to know who the killer is, but then changes his mind making Wolfe pursue the investigation without him.

It's a great mystery and I enjoyed every page. The eventual solution was ingenious. But make no mistake Rex Stout is not writing Ellery Queen mysteries. The reader knows there is a piece of evidence that Wolfe is keeping to himself, but we don’t get to see it in time to solve this crime ourselves. But then, it’s watching Wolfe draw out the criminal that is the ultimate pleasure in these stories, and this one was simply great.

20 Prisoner’s Base by Rex Stout

A successful novel has to catch a reader’s attention right away and in Prisoner’s Base Rex Stout does this admirably by having an apparently wealthy young woman arrive on Wolfe’s doorstep asking to move in for a week. Wolfe is not fond of women or changes to his routine so this seemingly innocent request is an unthinkable intrusion for him. He ultimately rejects the woman’s request, she leaves, and is murdered a few hours later. Why she was killed (and of course who did it) is the focus of the rest of the novel and it’s a fascinating quest complicated by two more related killings. It’s a good tale and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, but I feel that once again Stout plays unfair with the reader. Wolfe gets information we don’t have and it lets him solve the mystery. Admittedly, I failed to form the hypothesis that Wolfe formed that led him to send Saul Panzer after the secret info, but it still feels unfair.

21 Triple Jeopardy by Rex Stout

Rex Stout always provides a good mystery, but sometimes he leaves out the clues that let the reader solve the crime. In these cases, the fun comes from watching Nero Wolfe play a gambit to trick the murderer into exposing himself. Triple Jeopardy offers both styles of story.

In Home to Roost I had no idea who had committed the crime, but once Wolfe’s trick ran its course, I kicked myself for not even suspecting the culprit.

In Cop Killer, Stout gets Wolfe to both work for free and leave his home. The mystery is only okay, but the drama is first rate.

Finally, in The Squirt and the Monkey, Stout provided a plethora of clues and I missed every one of them.

Really, you’d think that Inspector Cramer would finally figure out that he just let Wolfe solve the crimes.

25 Before Midnight by Rex Stout

From page one this mystery pulled me right in. Nero Wolfe is hired to find out which of five finalists in a contest stole the answers worth half a million dollars (and incidentally murdered a man when the answers disappeared). The personalities are classic Stout—individual and interesting. And the challenge is just the sort of impossible task Wolfe thrives on. This one is great right up until the moment when we find out who the murderer was. I don’t disagree with the murderer’s identity, but the solution wasn’t as satisfying as I’ve come to expect from Stout.

30 And Four To Go by Rex Stout

This collection of four short stories featuring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin is great if you’re looking for a quick mystery. Because of the length there are fewer loose ends to keep track of, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will figure out the villain because Stout doesn’t always play fair. It’s not uncommon for Nero Wolfe to have a piece of information that isn’t shared with the reader, such as the contents of the photograph Archie takes in Easter Parade. It’s also not uncommon for him to trap people into exposing themselves instead of using old fashioned detective work. That didn’t really dampen my enjoyment of the stories, however, because the heart of every Nero Wolfe mystery is the at times tense relationship between Wolfe and Archie. Stout’s created an archetypal detective pairing here that has recurred in many other stories. Wolfe never leaves his mansion and sends Archie out to do all of his footwork. Archie’s more than competent in his own right, but Wolfe is a genius and watching him pull the strings of the various players in the mystery is always a delight. While Glen Cook, in his Garrett Files, and now Dan Wickline, in his Lucius Fogg series, do it well, no one surpasses the master, Rex Stout.

36 Homicide Trinity by Rex Stout

I think Nero Wolfe adventures work best in the novella format. The shorter mysteries offer a better chance at solving the crime and figuring out how Wolfe will bring the villain to justice. Homicide Trinity offers three such tales and I thoroughly enjoyed each of them. Perhaps that’s because each crime felt so distinctive.

In the first mystery, Eeny, Meeny, Murder, Mo, the victim is strangled with Wolfe’s own necktie and the personal insult Wolfe feels from this drives him to ferret out the murderer to protect his own self-esteem and reputation. In the second mystery, Death of a Demon, Wolfe and Archie have to figure out which victim of blackmail murdered their tormentor. In the final story, Counterfeit for Murder, the key to the killer is in identifying which of them was also a counterfeiter.

Stout doesn’t always play straight in his mysteries, but at least in the first and the third of these he dropped enough clues that I could identify a prime suspect waiting only for the evidence to be dragged out to confirm my suspicions—and isn’t that the way Wolfe often solves his cases?

42 Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout

This is one of the best Rex Stout novels I’ve ever read. Nero Wolfe’s longtime assistant, Orrie Cather, has been accused of murder and Wolfe decides that as a matter of honor he has to prove him innocent. The case is very complex. The woman was blackmailing Cather after finding out he planned to marry another woman, and to complicate things, she was the kept woman of yet another man. Her sister is embarrassed by her “profession” and well you can see that there is no end to suspects. This one will keep you guessing as Wolfe not only has to find out who really committed the crime but a way to make some money out of it.

41 The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout

This wasn’t your typical Nero Wolfe mystery. He’s hired literally to get the FBI off the back of millionaire and he takes the job because he’s greedy, but it was by no means clear how he could possibly pull off this feat. The solution wasn’t completely satisfying to me but getting there was a lot of fun.