- By Rex Stout
- First published: US: Viking, 1949; UK: Collins, 1949
Stout writes well, with a vitality, good humour and eye for the telling phrase that recalls Wodehouse (who loved Stout’s books). The stories are the right length—not short enough to be mere sketches or anecdotes, and not so long that they bore. There’s plenty of invention in situation (Wolfe’s involvement with gangsters or hiring a double to avoid assassination), and the plots are very clever (even if, as in “Help Wanted, Male”, contrived). There’s also an “Of course!” clue in two of the three—“Shame”, and an unfamiliarity with cigars.
The Saturday Review (19 February 1949): Nero Wolfe and his ineffable henchman Archie perform through three “novellas” of crime and caustic conversation. First appearance in book form of tales that have even more pungency and punch than recent book-length adventures of precious Manhattan duo. Very good.
A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989): A particularly good bunch of early shorts: Before I Die / Help Wanted, Male / Instead of Evidence. All three start with victims or potential victims—of murder chiefly, but also of blackmail. The plots and their unravelling by Wolfe and Archie are superior examples of art, with plenty of drama, humour, and exact reasoning.