Thursday, November 8, 2012

Homicide Trinity, by Rex Stout


A collection of three novellas, at least two of which will seem oddly familiar to Wolfe fans. In each case, the motive is established right from the get-go, and Wolfe faces a discrete collection of 4-5 murder suspects. The mysteries aren't terribly complex (these are short stories, after all), but Wolfe gets there ahead of the police every time.

In 'Eeny Meeny Murder Mo', a woman comes to Archie for help. Archie naturally consults Wolfe--up in the plant rooms with the orchids, obviously--and when he returns to the office he finds nothing but a corpse. The woman has been strangled. If this reminds you of 'Disguise for Murder' in Curtains for Three, you're not alone. However, this story adds the humiliating fact that the victim was strangled using Wolfe's own soup-stained tie, which he left on his desk. Obviously, the killer must pay. The mystery itself centers around a law firm--specifically, a member of the firm that the dead woman saw meeting with an opposing client. But which member? Wolfe is determined to find out and uncover the murderer before the police. After all, no one strangles a woman with his tie in his office and gets away with it!

In 'Death of a Demon', pretty young Lucy Hazen shows up in Wolfe's office with a gun. It is, she insists, the gun she is not going to shoot her husband with. She wants to, but she won't, and telling Wolfe is insurance to keep her from doing so. When her husband winds up dead, shot in the back with a gun of the same caliber as the gun Lucy turned over to Wolfe, things get complicated. Before long, Wolfe discovers that the dead man was no saint--he was, in fact, a blackmailer with a rather sick sense of humor, and any and all of his victims had good reason to want him dead. But who done it? And can Wolfe find the murderer before Inspector Cramer locks Lucy up for good?

In 'Counterfeit for Murder', Wolfe and Archie find themselves in possession of some counterfeit money. Their client, one Hattie Annis, who found the money in her home and trusted Archie with it, doesn't like cops, and refuses to allow the detectives to turn it over to the authorities. Instead, they must find out which of her boarders is the counterfeiter--and, it turns out, a murderer to boot.

This last story is the published version of 'Assault on a Brownstone' (published posthumously in Death Times Three)--and Stout picked the right version to publish all right. In 'Assault on a Brownstone', the eccentric Hattie Annis is the murder victim, and Archie meets and cooperates with T-woman (that is, Treasury agent) Tammy Baxter to catch the killer. Here, Ms. Annis survives the hit-and-run attempt, and Ms. Baxter winds up dead. This is a much better state of affairs, as Ms. Baxter is rather dull and annoying (and, as an attractive young woman, a rather run-of-the-mill object of interest for Archie). Ms. Annis, on the other hand, is visually unappealing and a total nutball, and Archie can't help liking her. She hates cops so much that she refuses to tell them a single thing, even when a murder is committed in her house. Instead, she barricades herself in her room and the cops have to bust down the door and carry her out. She is constantly telling Archie he's no good, and instructing him alternately to either call her Hattie or not to call her Hattie. Their interaction, and Archie's clear enjoyment of her eccentricity, makes for an entertaining read.

All three stories are long on character, if a bit short on actual mystery, and Michael Prichard's narration of the audiobook version continues to be competent if not brilliant. This is definitely one that fans should check out, even if it's not the brightest start in the Wolfe universe.

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