Monday, November 26, 2012

Not Quite Dead Enough, by Rex Stout


Another two-in-one book, like Black Orchids before it. This time, the unifying thread is not Wolfe's rare flora, but his work for the United States Army during World War II. In 'Not Quite Dead Enough', Archie, now a major and working in domestic counter-intelligence, is sent to recruit Wolfe's help with various military intelligence issues. To Archie's surprise, Wolfe is neither reading in his office nor up playing with his orchids, but is in fact 'training' to join the Army as a soldier so he can kill some Germans. Archie is flabbergasted, and must figure out a way to convince Wolfe that he is far more useful to the Army as a brain than as a soldier. The trouble is, any argument would require Wolfe to use his brain, and it appears that he simply will not do so. So Archie sets out to use the only hook left--Wolfe's ego. Before long, Archie himself is a murder suspect, and Wolfe is faced with the ignominy of having his former assistant tried for murder ... unless Wolfe can figure out whodunit.

As for the second story, well, with a title like 'Booby Trap', you probably already have a pretty good idea of what happens. Wolfe is now working for the Army in an investigative capacity. There have been accusations that some of the technologies and inventions and whatnot that have been temporarily turned over to the Army to aid in the war ware in fact being stolen and sold to private competitors. So far, one officer investigating these allegations has died by falling--or jumping, or being pushed--out a window. When another officer is blown to bits by a grenade that detonates in his office, Wolfe must determine whether it was an accident, suicide, or murder. And of course, it wouldn't hurt to figure out who the murderer is, either ...

The first story here is much stronger than the second. In addition to the entertaining sight of Wolfe 'exercising'--to say nothing of his new diet and habit of using the orchid rooms as his own private sauna--we get to see Archie in uniform, a likable damsel in distress, and Lily Rowan throwing a nasty temper tantrum. The picture we get of Miss Rowan's temperament and her relationship with Archie across the various books is absolutely fascinating. They are both extremely independent, competent, and quite intelligent, and, most of the time, they know exactly what the relationship is and what it isn't. It's true that Lily here is the jealous party, but the fact remains that Archie is clearly attached enough to her to keep her around despite her idiosyncrasies, so there's clearly some strong attraction on his part.

Also, there are racing pigeons, two crazy old ladies, and a rather surprising murder. It's fun, is what I'm saying.

The second story certainly raises an interesting wartime problem that really has nothing to do with the politics of the war. And presumably, it's still a wartime problem. I imagine the U.S. government still asks private companies to loan the use of various technologies and innovations, and those companies who accommodate such requests must face the risk that their confidential corporate secrets will be leaked to their competitors. Still, aside from this admittedly interesting idea, the story itself is a bit of a dud, and Wolfe's big 'trap' seems ... less than impressive. There is some sparkle in Archie's interactions with Sergeant Dorothy Bruce, but beyond that, the cast is pretty dull--including the murderer.

Definitely worth reading, if only for the first story. Prichard does a decent job with the narration, so the audiobook is a legitimate alternative to the paperback if you're into that sort of thing.

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