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Mystery Monday – Trouble in Triplicate

Trouble in Triplicate by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This is a collection of three novellas that were first published in a weekly called The American Magazine: Before I Die (April 1947), Help Wanted, Male (August 1945) and Instead of Evidence (May 1946). I’ve thought for a long time that many of the novellas starring investigators Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin were perfect in their wit and force. The plot unfolds briskly with just the right amount of characterization, cutting but lively conversations, and Manhattan atmosphere.

The first one Before I Die is set during WWII. Because of food rationing, Wolfe is yearning for more animal protein in the form of meat so he cuts a deal with a black marketer. The gangster asks Wolfe to clear up family problems that border on absurdly implausible until we remember our own families probably look chaotic to outsiders. Not once but twice is Archie almost snuffed. A violent, funny story that alternates between making us readers tense and making us laugh.

At about 25,000 words the second one Help Wanted, Male is the longest of the trio here. It is also set during WWII. Archie is petitioning a general to assign him to combat service because he feels he is missing out on the signal event of his generation. Wolfe perceives a threat to his life so serious that he hires a double to distract a would-be killer. The upshot of that decision is hilarious. Sure, the plot is wildly implausible in this one, but it’s so much fun, who cares?

Instead of Evidence also starts with a victim trying to hire Wolfe to prevent more victimization. A successful manufacturer of novelties suspects his weird partner of plotting to kill him to take over the business. A murder in fact is committed: an exploding cigar takes out the victim in funny gruesome scene. A fine story, so giving more details would detract from the pleasure a reader would get on her own.

Stout valued clear thinking, justice, courageousness, and humor. He has Wolfe Wolfe crack wise about lawyers: “They are inveterate hedgers. They think everything has two sides, which is nonsense.” This is typical of Wolfe’s inflexible ethics which we simultaneously admire and know is nonsense. Hey, it’s only a story.

 

 

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