Three Men Out (Nero Wolfe), by Rex Stout

My Copy: 0553245473 (image found on kobo.com, link cover is updated version)

I have been a huge fan of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin for half my life. I just love the world of the brownstone on West 35th Street, New York, and the quirks, familiarity, and attitudes of our characters.

And yes, I liked them even more when I saw the (sadly short-lived) A&E t.v. series Nero Wolfe with Timothy Hutton as Archie and Maury Chaykin as Wolfe. Those are fun to watch.

I can’t help it, I love the style of the 1940s & 50s the show had.

I’ve read about half the books by Rex Stout, and am re-reading them to review sporadically in the next few years. This is the first time I’ve touched Three Men Out, though.

There are about 50 novels and short case collections out on the market. Sad to say, this is not one I’d recommend, unless you want to give it a whirl for the hell of it. The third case is worth reading, just borrow it at the library or something (at least, that’s how I feel about it).

Therefore, I think if you decided to read this one, maybe try a few other Nero Wolfe books first, then you’ll see what I mean (or can put your finger on what’s bugging me and let me know–hee hee)

The book contains three stories:

“Invitation to Murder”

I’d put this down as probably the worst case I’ve read, namely because the setup felt like too much of a stretch, a bit too ridiculous compared to what I can generally expect from Mr. Stout with these characters.

A client who is a lifelong mooch has been taking an allowance, first from his father, then his sister…but she’s been dead a year and her wheelchair-bound widower now doles out the allowance. However, the client says there’re three women very close to the widower who work at the house and one of them might be trying to land him, which could interfere with his inheritance if they get their hooks into the widower and marry him. So, Archie’s sent to interview who is most likely to end up marrying the widower, but it’s not nearly that easy.

This one could’ve been hit or miss, but the pacing was all over the map. It felt like it took too long to get started, then when we get to the body, it took even longer before rushing to Wolfe and the reveal. Not my cup of tea, but there’re oodles of stories left to read (and re-read) that I love. Too Soft.

“The Zero Clue”

This one was a little better, but my feelings were quite the reverse from ITM.

A Math whiz who created a business out of making predictions and creating formulas for clients to act on rubbed Wolfe the wrong way, so Archie goes to see what the man wants to consult him for. But he’s found dead, an odd arrangement of pencils on his desk that could be a clue, and a few people in the waiting room outside the office who could’ve killed him.

It seems like the most interesting things were at the beginning, the body is found, the suspects are interviewed, and then the reveal felt abrupt. Either I was drinking or Stout was (and I’ve been out of alcohol a while), but the pace just feels off. I wonder if there was a deadline coming up and that’s why it just didn’t seem to work like I’m used to. Too Hard.

“This Won’t Kill You”

Just about right, as Goldilocks almost said. it’s a day at the ball park, the Giants are at the world series (and so is Wolfe, which ticks him off), but players on the field aren’t doing well at all. Turns out several were drugged and Wolfe and Archie are asked by the club owner to find out who did it and how.

The pacing was much better in this one, and our duo has their mojo and attitude right. I’m not a big baseball person, but even if you’re not, you can follow along as Archie describes what he sees. That’s what I love most about Stout’s creations: Archie’s a smart cookie, and it’s not too hard to get everything from him…but he doesn’t quite put the pieces together, and that’s why Wolfe is the man. They have to work together.

Overall

Like I said, don’t make this book your first foray into the world of Nero Wolfe if you’ve never been there. Try his first published story, Fer-De-Lance, instead. I’ll be reviewing that one as my next Nero Wolfe book in a few months. The beauty of Nero Wolfe is you generally don’t have to read them “in order”–just grab a book, turn to page 1, and you’re there.

I just wish Three Men Out had that ability, but it just felt like something was missing.

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