Red Threads (Stout)

  • By Rex Stout
  • First published: US: Farrar, 1939; UK: Collins, 1941

Not a Nero Wolfe, so Stout can’t spin the wheels while the fat old orchid fancier eats large meals, drinks beer, fulminates about the dictionary, and ignores Archie Goodwin’s wisecracking efforts to get him to actually earn a fee.  This one has, for a change, something resembling a narrative.  Starts like an S.S. Van Dine, with millionare tomahawked in his late Indian wife’s tomb.  Stout can’t plot a mystery, though; the murderer is revealed two-thirds through, and the plot keeps going regardless.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 19th July 1941):


Further evidence is provided by Mr. Rex Stout of the new fashion in Red Indians.  His hero, like many Americans in real life, boasts of a strain of native blood.  His heroine boasts of a strain of native yarn in the cloth she is wearing.  The story, like another recently brought over from the United States, ingeniously uses Red Indian relics as “properties”.  The threads that give the book its title excite a lively hue and cry, complicated by a curious case of robbery by force which keeps us guessing not only to the last page but for hours or days after.  No one need be unduly puzzled over the murder, but even Mr. Stout himself must feel perplexed when he tries to understand the murderer’s motive for such a very curious and alarming robbery.

New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 16th August 1941):

A Rex Stout without Nero Wolfe is always a pleasure and a relief, because he seems to write better without the obligation to wisecrack in every sentence.  Red Threads, however, is hardly detection.  An eccentric millionaire is murdered in the mausoleum he has erected to his Cherokee Indian wife, and a Cherokee Indian grunts his way through the book, but the plot is just high-spirited, romantic nonsense that anyone can enjoy, barring the Indian love lyrics.

A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989):

An example of non-Wolfe work, but with Insp. Cramer rather Wolfishly in charge.  It is far better than The Hand in the Glove and not nearly so good as Bad for Business, while sharing important elements with each—e.g., a straining for the fantastic and the wildly feminine and a marked ability for handling crowds, institutions, and businesses.  But the killing and detecting against a background of hand-weaving and American Indian attitudes are negligible.