Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Trio for Blunt Instruments by Rex Stout (1964)

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)

This title consists of three novellas.

Kill Now - Pay Later

Wolfe has a friend, Pete Vassos, a bootblack who has a route shining shoes - and enjoys literary conversations with him as he shines Wolfe's and Archie's shoes weekly. He has several clients, including Dennis Ashby, in an office just before he comes to Wolfe's home. This time Vassos arrives, upset. He had gone to Ashby's tenth-floor office to find he had just jumped (or was pushed?) out the window. He hints that he saw someone else in Ashby's office. Next Vassos himself is found dead, having jumped (or was pushed?) off a cliff. Wolfe immediately figures Vassos' daughter, Elma, may be next on the killer's list as her father may have mentioned the identity of the other person to her; and takes steps to protect her. For a fee of $1.

Murder is Corny

Nero Wolfe has a weekly corn delivery from an upstate farm, delivered by farm worker Kenneth Faber. One day the corn doesn't show up, but Inspector Cramer does, with the corn box under his arm. Seems Faber was found dead at the previous stop, Rusterman's Restaurant, bashed by a length of pipe. He was sweet on the farmer's daughter, Sue McLeod, an expensive model, and a previous girlfriend of Archie Goodwin. Faber wanted her for himself, so he cooked up a great idea: tell all her suitors that she was pregnant and he did it. The problem is: Sue tells the police Archie was on the scene of the murder.

Blood Will Tell

Archie receives a necktie with a spot of blood on it in the mail, along with a note (allegedly) from wealthy James Neville Vance. Archie goes to see Vance to find that it is indeed his tie, but he didn't mail it. While they are discussing this little puzzle, the police arrive on a welfare check call on the downstairs apartment. Vance (the landlord) and Archie accompany the police to the apartment to find Mrs. Bonny Kirk dead on the floor, hit with a liquor bottle. Did someone mail the tie in order frame Vance? If so, why to Archie and not the police?


The Nero Wolfe novellas are just right for a one-hour self-contained bedtime read! Kill Now - Pay Later is the best of the three, although I did groan a little when Stout trotted out the old trope where the victim dips his finger in his own blood to write the name of the murderer just before he expires (didn't that go out in the 1930's)? Murder is Corny comes in second, the only downside being the obvious signs pointing to the killer. Blood Will Tell was a bit confusing, with a big shell game played with nine identical neckties; and I admit I gave up on following the ties around and just went along for the ride.

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