Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Might as Well Be Dead, by Rex Stout


James R. Harold is looking for his long-lost son. The Missing Persons Bureau thinks it's a hopeless case, but that doesn't stop them from referring Harold to Wolfe (mostly so they can watch Wolfe stub his toe on it). And it certainly seems like a fairly impossible task. Paul Harold is a veritable needle in the haystack that is New York City. But as it turns out, finding him is easy. Overturning his recent conviction for first-degree murder, on the other hand--that will be a challenge. But Wolfe is determined to do just that. Convinced that Paul (now known as Peter) was framed, Wolfe sets out to find the real murderer. However, his job is complicated by the fact that Paul/Peter won't lift a finger to help himself. Meanwhile, every time Wolfe unearths a hint, he runs headlong into yet another murder--and one of Wolfe's own employees winds up a victim! (Don't worry, it's not Saul. Or Fred.) Which is great news for Paul/Peter, since he's been in prison this whole time and can't very well have done it. But who is the real killer? And will Wolfe find him before he commits yet another murder?

Another fun Nero Wolfe mystery. This time, the lady of greatest interest to Archie is the lovely Selma Molloy, the wronged wife of the murder victim, for whom Paul/Peter has the hots (which hots are indubitably reciprocated). However, we also meet the deceased's flighty secretary Delia Brandt, as well as his friends Rita Arkoff (a knockout, but, Archie laments, an order-giver) and Fanny Irwin (a one-way-hand-holdee). And their respective husbands/fiancés, of course. There are also appearances by the obligatory recurring characters: Inspector Cramer, Sergeant Stebbins, newshound Lon Cohen, Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin, Orrie Cather, and Johnny Keems (in his swansong).

The story is decent enough, but as with the best Wolfe stories, it's the character interactions that really sell it. Archie's clear attraction to and respect for Mrs. Molloy (and his steadfast commitment not to act on that attraction, because it wouldn't be fair to Paul/Peter, who is stuck behind bars) lends a sincerity to the story that is only enhanced by our heroes desire to avenge the murder of one of their own (the admittedly annoying Johnny Keems). And it's certainly new for Wolfe to investigate a murder after the District Attorney has obtained a conviction. All in all, it's a great way to kill a few hours.  And Michael Prichard's narration, though far from brilliant, makes for a perfectly serviceable alternative for those looking to take in a book while driving/walking/working out/etc.

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