About the author: Rex Stout (1886 – 1975) was an American writer noted for his detective fiction. His best-known characters are the detective Nero Wolfe and his assistant Archie Goodwin, who were featured in 33 novels and 39 novellas between 1934 and 1975. (wikipedia). (bibliography)
- Althea Vail, wealthy client
- Jimmy Vail, her husband, a kidnap victim
- Ralph Purcell, her brother
- Margot Tedder, her daughter
- Noel Tedder, her son
- Andrew Frost, her attorney
- Dinah Utley, her secretary
- "Mr. Knapp", alias of the kidnapper
- Nero Wolfe, private detective
- Archie Goodwin, private detective
Locale: New York City
Synopsis: Wealthy Althea Vail approaches private detective Nero Wolfe to take on a case. Her husband, Jimmy Vale, has been kidnapped. She has received a ransom note from "Mr. Knapp" demanding $500,000. She is willing to pay the ransom, but hires Wolfe to ensure the safe return of Jimmy.
Wolfe places a prominent ad in the newspapers to the kidnapper, advising that he is on the case. Althea pays the ransom as directed on a deserted back road, and the next morning Jimmy returns home safely. All looks resolved until the body of her secretary, Dinah Utley, is found in a ditch at the same back road. It appears she was in on the scheme, and she was killed as she wanted too big a cut of the ransom.
Right away, Archie suspects that this was all theatre, and that Jimmy "kidnapped himself" in order to get a pile of Althea's money. The ransom note was typed by Dinah Utley on her own typewriter, so it quickly becomes an inside job. Althea's son, Noel Tedder, approaches Wolfe and wants to make a deal. If he knows where the money is, and Wolfe helps him retrieve it, he will give Wolfe $100,000 of it. Then Althea's daughter, Margot Tedder, shows up and makes Wolfe a similar offer.
Wolfe accepts Noel's offer, but before he can take any action, Jimmy Vale is found dead in his library, killed by a fallen life-size bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin. It is unclear if it is accidental or murder.
Review: This is a good tight Wolfe, with a small cast of characters. Once Wolfe is convinced it is all an inside job, it is fascinating as he interviews the family members and deduces who is the killer.
The killer was a surprise to me - Stout had me fooled. I had picked a different person.
When the real motive for the kidnapping/theft is revealed, it seems quite a stretch to me that someone would do that for the possible benefit realized.
One little annoyance: much is written about surmises, deductions, inferences, and assumptions; and which clue is which. However, with all the argument about that, they are never defined for the reader.
Also see this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.