Tuesday, October 9, 2012

If Death Ever Slept, by Rex Stout


A clash of wills between Wolfe and Archie (compounded by mutual fits of stubbornness) results in Archie masquerading as a secretary in the home of millionaire Otis Jarrell-- a situation that neither Wolfe nor Archie relishes overmuch. Officially, Jarrell hired them to prove that his daughter-in-law stole (and sold) business secrets. But when Jarrell's gun turns up missing and his previous secretary winds up with a hole in the back of his head, the case rapidly escalates into a full-fledged murder investigation. But who done it? And with a house full of suspects with ample motive, means, and opportunity, how will Wolfe ever find the culprit?

This entertaining entry in the Nero Wolfe series boasts several strong and/or complex female characters. First, there's Trella Jarrell, second wife to client Otis Jarrell, who likes men to spend money on her and who has a habit of saying things she doesn't mean, but who also provides Archie with several noteworthy bits of information. Then there's Lois, Jarrell's unmarried daughter, who looks great in a tennis dress and dances like a dream, even if she did once write a poem about a squirrel (from which poem the title of this book was taken). Nora Kent, Jarrell's secretary, is cool and competent and definitely knows more than she lets on. And Susan Jarrell, the aforementioned daughter-in-law, seems to be fairly run-of-the-mill, but somehow possesses the ability to attract men like moths to flame. And fan favorite Lily Rowan even makes an appearance of sorts, as her antics are the source of Archie and Wolfe's initial quarrel.

Not that it's all women. Jarrell himself figures prominently in the story, as do his son, Wyman, and brother-in-law, Roger--to say nothing of ex-secretary Jim Eber and business competitor Cory Brigham. But, with the exception of the horse-mad racing junkie Roger, the women are far more interesting.

The mystery itself is nothing spectacular, but Archie gets to demonstrate his wit, charm, and humor, which makes the story worth reading. Probably not the best book to start with, but if you're already a fan, then you should definitely add this one to your list.

A note on the audiobook edition: I think I'm starting to warm to Michael Prichard's narration. It's still not spectacular, by any means, but I'm not actively distracted by it. His Wolfe is better than his Archie, but then Archie is always the toughest character to portray well.

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