Thursday, 4 August 2016

Invitation to Murder by Rex Stout

 
from Three Men Out, collection of novellas published 1954

also contains The Zero Clue and This Won’t Kill You


 
 
Invitation to Murder
 


Another door swung open, this time the one by which Lewent and I had entered from the hall, and another female was with us. On a guess she was somewhat younger than Dorothy Riff, but it was hard to tell with her nurse’s uniform setting off her big dark eyes and dark brown hair. Stopping for no questions, she crossed to a cabinet, got out a glass, a thermos carafe, and a bottle of Solway’s twenty-year liqueur striped-label scotch, put on ounce from the bottle and two ounces from the carafe into the glass, no ice, and went and handed it to Huck and got thanked. She asked him in a low, cooing voice, “Everything under control?”

“Fine.”

“Your two-thirty exercise?” 

“Of course.” 

She left us, having given me just one swift glance.

 
commentary: I’m always on the alert for which Rex Stout book to read next, so when John at Pretty Sinister Books wrote about this one I downloaded it straightaway. It comprises three very different novellas, and in fact John and I differed as to which one we liked best.

They have varied settings – a rich man’s household, the office of another investigator, and a baseball game – but all are straightforwardly looking at a number of people and saying ‘which of you did it?’ We are listening in as Wolfe and Archie talk to everyone and use the answers to determine the truth. By the way, Wolfe leaves the brownstone in two of these three stories – quite a high hitrate.

I tried to work out why I liked this one: John does such great analyses, he can explain that kind of thing really well, but this time I’m just all ‘I dunno, I enjoyed it.’

The setup is this: Wolfe’s client Herman Lewent is concerned about his recently-widowed brother-in-law, Huck, who inherited a lot of money from the dead sister. He fears the b-in-l is falling in love with one of the women of his household – and there may be other concerns too.

Lewent’s thinking is a delight:
“I need to know as soon as possible which one of those women is landing my brother-in-law…. I merely want to engage her sympathetic interest. I want to secure her friendship. I want to make absolutely certain that she will be permanently well disposed toward me after she lands Huck. That will take me three weeks if it is Miss Marcy or Miss Riff, four if it is Mrs. O’Shea.”
The women are a nurse, a housekeeper and a secretary, so Archie heads off to take a look at the household – and is let in by
a female viking who could have carried Herman [Lewent] around in her apron…The viqueen took our hats…
I never really established who this character was, but I did love the idea of a viqueen.

As ever in a novella (and as in all the tales in this collection) there isn’t really space for you to distinguish much among the various suspects, but the story rattled along, and I enjoyed it, though rather put-off by a giant red herring in the area of food preparation – I don’t quite get the point of that.

The Zero Clue was clever, but I thought (again) had too many characters. Baseball, in This Won’t Kill You (didn’t understand the name) is always beyond me, but I was impressed by the deduction that Wolfe made as to who must have been guilty – simple and convincing. And I learned that glomming has two possible meanings – to steal something or (as in this case) ‘to become attached to’. Archie gloms onto a girl…

The nurse above is from a poster at the Imperial War Museum.

There are quite a few more Rex Stout entries all over the blog – click on the label below.




















14 comments:

  1. I know the feeling, Moira, of 'I dunno why, I just liked it.' I've had that happen to me, too. I've always liked the way Stout handled dialogue. And the crackling relationship between Archie Goodwin and his boss is just terrific. This sounds like there's a bit of wit in it, too. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. Yes indeed Margot. I think probably I will not remember who was the guilty party in many of Stout's books - but I will remember the byplay between Wolfe and Goodwin..

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  2. Probably won't be tempted if I'm honest. A couple of Stout's will do me one day!

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    1. It'd probably be a while before you got to this one - start with one of the big hitters! Or whatever you have in the tubs...

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  3. I think the Stout novellas are often better than the novels in fact - CURTAINS FOR THREE is my personal favourite collection. Thanks Moira, too long since I joined the Wolfe Pack.

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    1. I always enjoy Stout when I read him - and it's true, the shorter ones go down very easily...

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  4. I don't remember this novella that well. That means I should read it again. I did like the other two novellas in this book more: The Zero Clue and This Won’t Kill You. For some reason I like the subplot in This Won't Kill You a lot, and that is the part I focused on.

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    1. Yes I remember you saying that about the baseball one... it's hard to predict what will appeal to different people I guess!

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  5. This is one that I haven't read. Not for lack of trying,though. I used to buy those paperback Bantam reprints from Borders whenever I was on holiday near to Bournemouth. That Borders is no longer there, so it's pretty much buying from the internet. THREE MEN OUT is one of those books that is particularly difficult to find at anything like a sensible price (most of the copies that I've seen go for about £20!) You've given it a good review and it comes from my favourite period form Stout (mid '50s) so it looks like it will be worth waiting for, but I am beginning to suspect that it will the last one that I'll find.

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    1. You don't do Kindle? I've seen the crazy prices for this, but I got the download version for 4.16p...

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  6. Thanks for the link to my post. Always interesting to see how two people react to the same work. I want a detective story to have real detection and a bit of mystery and I want at least one surprise. For those reasons "The Zero Clue" was the winner for me. There was some good character work (Stout's real strength when he puts his mind to it) in "Invitation to Murder" but it was all a bit obvious for me.

    I guess glom means "to steal a glance" if it has that other connotation which I missed. I always thought it was a tough, macho, slang way of saying "ogle". Using "ogle" would make a man sound like a perv if he talking about his own actions.

    You didn't dare do anything about the baseball uniforms, eh? ;^) Or was there any talk of those? I skipped over so much of that story because reading about sports bores the hell out of me. Having to go through pages of description of a baseball game (or football or soccer or tennis or any sport) is not at all interesting to me.

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    1. I wasn't going near baseball clothes! I did do a baseball-related post once because it dealt with a summer that I was in the USA and was aware of a big baseball rivalry http://goo.gl/ZdXemL but in general baseball is beyond me, though if pushed will always be in favour of the Seattle Mariners.
      I do find descriptions of sports beyond dull in fiction, and will tend to skip A LOT.

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  7. Gosh, I haven't read any novellas in the Wolfe canon. Must remedy that.

    These look like fun. I don't know if reading about baseball will bore me. It's a sport I actually understand and played softball as a kid at public school.

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    1. Oh well it's probably fine for you. Though I have to admit, I'm not much better with sports I do understand...

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