Three Witnessess (Nero Wolfe, Book 26)
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Leagu The League of Frightened Men. Rubbe The Rubber Band. Red B The Red Box.
Too M Too Many Cooks. Some Some Buried Caesar. Over Over My Dead Body. Where Where There's a Will. Black Black Orchids. Silen The Silent Speaker. Too M Too Many Women. And B And Be a Villain. Secon The Second Confession. Troub Trouble in Triplicate. In th In the Best Families. Three Three Doors to Death. Curta Curtains for Three.
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Murde Murder by the Book. Tripl Triple Jeopardy. Priso Prisoner's Base. Golde The Golden Spiders.
Three Three Men Out. Black The Black Mountain. Befor Before Midnight. Three Three Witnesses.
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Three Three for the Chair. Champ Champagne for One. This ritual has associations with ancient fertility rites such as the Dionysius cult. For example, Some Buried Caesar opens with the bull Caesar about to undergo the equivalent of being ritually sacrificed, and eaten. In "Help Wanted, Male", Nero Wolfe himself is to be assassinated, and he hires a double, no less, to stand in for him, as the target of assassination attempts.
The story makes a good deal of macabre comedy out of the situation. But it still involves someone who is deliberately chosen to be the target of a sacrificial death. In "Curtain Line", an actor playing a famous detective is killed. He is in fact being murdered in an attempt to symbolically kill the fictional detective he portrays. The novel Prisoner's Base also deals disturbingly in a public attempt to kill someone. The League of Frightened Men involves a student injured during a fraternity hazing ritual - another example of the invocation of ritual in these killings.
There is another element in many of these stories of ritual sacrifice.
Where There's a Will (Nero Wolfe, Book 8)
It is an emphasis on the large number of people who will participate. In Caesar , the bull's flesh will be fed to the masses at a chain of cheap eateries, with the experience amplified by all that modern publicity can do. In And Be A Villain , the victim is killed in front of a nationwide radio audience. As in the Dionysius story, and other ancient myths, the sacrifice is participated in, and benefits, the entire nation. The people as a whole take part in it. Champagne for One also has elements of a public murder.
Even before that, the opening scenes depict a party with many aspects of a fertility ritual. This formal society dinner party embodies all the rituals of that strangely elaborate social protocol. These are combined with an unusual asymmetry between the men and women guests. In many ways, the men are on display here as potential romantic partners to the women, and vice versa.
This gives an odd and interesting effect to all the ritual. The institution with the women recalls the female factory in "Bitter End" , and its comparison to a maternity ward. The romantic exhibition of the men, including Archie, who are their most polished and suave here, also recalls tales such as "A Window For Death" , and Archie's friendship with Arrow. Archie clearly enjoys taking part in this refined ritual exhibition. The novel demonstrates Stout's abilities to create unique situations, ones loaded with symbolic resonance.
The book also has a creative puzzle plot, one with aspects of the impossible crime. Once again, Stout shows ingenuity is showing how an inexplicable crime was actually done. The dinner party and the women's institution recall a bit Hulbert Footner's The House With the Blue Door , while the actual murder is somewhat in the tradition of Ellery Queen's Calamity Town Stout's first Nero Wolfe novella was "Bitter End" While the puzzle plot is ordinary, the story is oddly compelling reading.
The family relationships that are set up seem genuinely bizarre and strange. The horrifying relationships of the family in the tale even penetrate to the all male refuge of Wolfe's brownstone in the novella's opening, as family problems invade Wolfe's retreat. The opening of the story echoes Some Buried Caesar in dealing with the mass production of food.
The manufacture of the food, in an antiquated factory run entirely by women, is compared to a maternity ward by Stout. This bizarre production of food-as-children in the first half of the story is echoed by the real and even more bizarre child raising practices in the second half. The deliberate spoiling of the food seems rather analogous to the sacrifice of the bull in Caesar. It also anticipates the rejection of the child in the second part of the story.
The architecture of the factory also seems interesting, with tunnels for trucks leading in and out representing the female body. The idea of a female factory symbolizing the reproductive process recalls Herman Melville's "The Paradise of Bachelors and The Tartarus of Maids" , which describes a paper factory.
There are important differences between Melville and Stout as well, however: Stout seems to deal more with the actual creation and raising of children, whereas Melville's imagery reflects sexuality. Melville's tale tends to depersonalize the people caught in it, whereas Stout's work heightens his characters' unique personalities.
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He returned to the mood of this story in two novellas he wrote in early , "Eeny Meeny Murder Mo" and "Counterfeit for Murder". It also shows good storytelling throughout. Both "Counterfeit" and "Not Quite Dead Enough" have a similar setting, a cheap but respectable rooming house run by a crusty old landlady.
The denizens of these houses are among the few financially strapped groups of suspects in Stout's work; he tended to write about upper middle class New Yorkers, in the Van Dine tradition. Even here, however, in "Counterfeit for Murder", the characters are all theatrical types, and preserve the intellectual character of the Van Dine school. I'm not sure whether to recommend "Booby Trap" or not. The central puzzle plot is completely ordinary. It is one of those tales in which Wolfe finds the killer, not through logical deduction from clues, but by setting a trap for the killer.
This sort of thing violates fair play; logically, the killer could have been any one of the six suspects in the tale, and there is nothing to suggest one over the other. However, the subsidiary mysteries in "Booby Trap" are all quite clever. Stout derives many paradoxes from the military setting; this is one of the few works of his that has such a background.
Stout was an ardent patriot, who spent the war years doing public service on the war effort.
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Yet he is quite skeptical about the military. He depicts it as an institution riddled with both politics and corruption. This is the point of view that will be found later in Lawrence G. Blochman's service tales. Stout's point of view seems to stem from a suspicion of the rich and powerful in all areas.
Since such people tend toward corruption, he logically deduces that they will be equally corrupt when put in charge of the Armed Forces. Stout's politics can be described as liberal, but definitely not radical. After the war, in the late 's, Stout will be just as savagely critical of the Communist far left as he was of fascists and appeasers during the war. This anti-Communist stance also anticipates Blochman, and his work of the 's. If Stout was critical of high level Army officials, he was fascinated by the way the Army was run.
He clearly loved the uniforms, the saluting, and all the military and Intelligence ethos. His attitude echoed that of the 's American public, who regarded such things with similar enthusiasm, almost as a new toy. By the 's, such things will be unfashionable with the general public, and much ridiculed.
Stout was plainly thrilled to put Archie in uniform, and give him an officer's rank. This is the closest Archie gets to an independent life in any of the tales. It is also the most recognition Archie gets from society as a person of ability. There will be a little of the same effect again, when Archie goes out on a solo social outing at the start of Champagne for One , and gets involved in a murder mystery.
The tuxedo that Archie and the other men wear is referred to metaphorically as a uniform. Many of the transitional novellas Stout wrote in the late 's and early 's are not that good. But "The Cop-Killer" is a solid work, with a well hidden plot idea in its solution. Like "Too Many Detectives" , the plot focuses on the "economy of knowledge", showing how information is passed around. Several of Stout's puzzle plots involve such an intricate dance of knowledge.
The milieu, a barbershop, is far more working class than much of Stout's fiction.