In "Plot It Yourself," by Rex Stout, Nero Wolfe is hired by a group of authors and publishers to discover the identity of a plagarist and blackmailer: over a period of five years, a number of authors and playwrights have published novels and plays to good response, only to have someone claim that they were the original authors of the storyline, idea, characters, etc., in short story form. When those short stories are found in various offices and other places where the targeted author could have seen the manuscript, most of the authors and publishers have paid the ostensibly wronged party to go away; but finally, they decide that they need to fight this situation and Wolfe is chosen as the best detective to figure it out. He almost immediately realizes that the author of the suspicious short stories is one person and that this one person is not any of the claimants but someone else entirely; as soon as he realizes that, though, the blackmailer turns to murder and the claimants start dropping like flies.... This was a fun read in the long-running Nero Wolfe series, one I enjoyed quite a bit, although Archie tells the reader a few times that we, the reader, must have figured out the culprit by now because we have all the clues - and I hadn't figured it out! Not 'til nearly the very end, anyway. Recommended, as always.
on May 2, 2003
Nero Wolfe has few peers when it comes to figuring out whodunnit. He is without equal in concocting Byzantine plots designed to trick the badguy into a trap. In this book, however, he is as dumb as a doorpost when it comes to foreseeing the mayhem resulting from his activities. As a result, three people die.
Wolfe's self-esteem is so battered, he swears off beer and meat until he lays the killer by the heels. There are zero clues to the killer's identity, and the best efforts of Inspector Cramer, Purley Stebbins, and a host of NYPD officers cannot unravel the mystery. Unable to solve the murders by direct means, Wolfe decides that solving the case he was originally hired to investigate (a serial plagiarism case) will bring the killer to justice.
Wolfe and Goodwin explore the world of authorship and publishing (a world well-known to Stout), both failing to see the obvious key to cracking the case. When Wolfe discovers the key, he sets a plan in motion designed to unfailingly identify the killer. When the plan miscarries, Archie is crestfallen, but Wolfe starts making plans to order a steak. And then . . .
"Plot it Yourself" presents one of Stout's more labyrinthine plots, and some loose ends are still dangling as the curtain falls, but he still serves up a satisfying solution.
Plot it Yourself features Rex Stout writing at the top of his game. He knew the publishing world and he knew authors; moreover he knew how to put together a taut and atmospheric mystery. One of the many things that makes Stout's books so great is his ability to draw minor characters to compete with the oversized Wolfe and Archie. When I return to the novels I am continually struck by his gifts in this regard; ostensibly based on Archie's powers of observation. Watch the pathetic gallery of small time writers caught up in the plagerism scam; their fear, avarice and resentment. Sharply rendered scenes and snappy dialogue lurk in every Wolfe novel; they are timeless and will always be worth your attention.
on April 20, 2003
This is later Nero Wolfe, written in the 50s, filled with references to the Eisenhower administration. And this is noteworthy because I've always found the later Wolfe adventures lacking in charm and energy. Not this one. Archie finds himself in the publishing world, helping Wolfe sort out scandals, plagarism and murder. The setting is unique, the plot is engaging, Wolfe is his familiar old idiosyncratic self, and Archie is as witty a narrator as you could ask for. I was pleasantly surprised and delighted by this work.
on November 6, 2003
With an intriguing plot, summarized elsewhere, this is perhaps the best Nero Wolfe I've read. The characters are wonderful, Archie and Wolfe are in very fine form, and the mystery is superb. You'll be surprised at the killer, and Wolfe actually shows respect for the murderer. You almost think that Wolfe would rather not convict him/her.
Bottom line: Excellent, perhaps the best Stout, with a wonderful killer you almost feel sorry for.