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Mystery Monday – The Rubber Band

The Rubber Band by Rex Stout


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


The Rubber Band aka To Kill Again

First serialized in six issues of the weekly Saturday Evening Post in 1936, The Rubber Band is the third novel featuring the heavy agoraphobic detective Nero Wolfe and his active wise guy of a personal assistant Archie Goodwin.

The story begins with a highly successful businessman trying to persuade the lazy Wolfe to investigate the apparent theft of $30,000 from his office suite. Coincidentally enough, the woman that his colleagues are convinced is guilty of the theft, aptly named Clara Fox, visits Wolfe’s office. She tries to persuade Wolfe to take up the case of collecting an old, undocumented debt.

Given the debt, the theft, and the inevitable murder, the plot becomes complex. Count on Stout to keep the balls in the air, play fair, and end with a surprising reveal. On top of the story, though, is the attraction of being the fly on the walls of Wolfe’s brownstone on West 35th Street. As J. Kenneth Van Dover wrote in At Wolfe’s Door, “It is the center from which moral order emanates, and the details of its layout and its operations are signs of its stability.”

Though populated by four males, nothing brings to the mind the locker room as the place is spotlessly clean and gourmet meals are served on a rigid schedule. The place becomes a madhouse, however, because Wolfe allows Clara Fox to hide from the cops in the brownstone. Misogynist Wolfe falls for her a bit, while Archie looks askance and ribs him about reading her Hungarian poetry.

With such a safe domestic interior as the brownstone, I can’t see the Wolfe novels as hard-boiled. Archie is tough and ready with weapons, but he’s too funny and nice a guy to be compared with Sam Spade or Lew Archer. Sensing Goodwin’s genial soul, in the early Sixties a cousin of mine – a reader down to her shoes – named her basset hound Archie in his honor.

Plus, Stout hit on something with character of Wolfe. Wolfe is the thinking device, the heir of Sherlock Holmes, but his conceits and pompousness are a hoot . “Confound it, Archie. I have you to thank for this acarpous entanglement.” Stout, a lover of big words, reverses the roles when he has Archie complain about Wolfe’s eccentric ways: “I exploded, ‘If this keeps up another ten minutes I’ll get Weltschmerz!’”

The League of Frightened Men and Fer de lance were the first two Wolfe novels. Both were too long, nearly painfully so. The Rubber Band is long also but it never feels long. I think I would recommend The Rubber Band to a reader new to Wolfe, but tell them an even better place to start would be with the post-WWII outings such as The Silent Speaker. Then read Black Orchids and Some Buried Caesar. The novellas, which number about 50, are, in a word, perfect.




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