The Tuesday Night Bloggers are a loose group of crime fiction fans choosing a new author to write about each month – Rex Stout is our January centre of attraction. New and occasional writers always welcome to join in – just send one of us the link to your piece.
The Stout blogposts are collected at Noah Stewart’s blog – here are last week’s links.
This week I am going to look at two Stout books which do NOT feature Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. I didn’t intend to do this, but I was fascinated both by the character of Dol Bonner, and about the fact – which Lynn Mally told me in the comments of one of my pieces – that Stout’s wife was a noted designed of fashion fabrics. Presumably Pola Stout gave him the background to Red Threads.
So that’s the end of Stout month, but I will also ask readers to pick one of the Wolfe books in front of me, and I will read one more even though the Tuesday Night Club is moving on (to Dorothy L Sayers). See below.
The Hand in the Glove by Rex Stout
When Dol Bonner, at 6 o’clock that Saturday afternoon, steered her coupe (one of the assets of Bonner & Raffray, Inc, soon to be dissolved) up the winding drive and onto the gravelled space beyond the shrubbery bordering the terrace, she was surprised to hear sounds of activity from the direction of the tennis court… [She] set off along the path. She still wore the tan woollen dress, with a loose red jacket and a little brown hat which might or might not have seemed familiar to a Tyrolese.
commentary: Dol Bonner is something of a collection of characteristics. She is very anti-men (because of a bad experience), she is as good as any man, she has caramel-coloured eyes (we are told often) and she has no money,and is proud and independent. So we’re not in any doubt she’s our heroine.
I thought the opening chapters of this book were spectacularly, amateurishly, bad: names are thrown around, events are discussed, it’s impossible to work out who is who or what is going on. It felt like an attempt to push the reader into the middle of things, but it didn’t work for me. But then Dol goes off a country house to investigate, and everything got a lot better. There is a quite splendid Indian mystic who has the women of the house in thrall– this was very cleverly done, because not just aimed at making anyone look like a fake or an idiot. It was the source of endless very funny lines - ‘Do you think to entrap Siva with a pair of gloves?’ & ‘I am no longer in the sphere that holds you.’ The book also contains a truly splendid serious and practical marriage proposal, perhaps the most unromantic one every committed to paper.
About the gloves mentioned above: In Sunday’s blogpost I reminisced about a discussion on whether a gun could be hidden in a stocking top. In this book, there is a vital pair of gloves, which have been damaged when the murderer uses them to string up his victim. They are objects of some disgust. But Dol hides them in her stocking-tops, which seems a) repellent and b) impossible – they are obviously heavy, substantial horsehide gauntlets.
Anyway, it was an enjoyable read when it got going. I had no trouble guessing the murderer, but discovering the motive provided a very tense closing. And I was fascinated to find that Theodolinda is not a made-up name: she was Queen of the Lombards in the 6th and 7th centuries.
I believe Dol Bonner turns up in some other books – I’ll rely on my fellow-fans to say which.
Red Threads by Rex Stout
[A fashion show in the garden of a country estate] ….In front of the main group two professionally lovely models, wearing tailored woollen dresses, paraded and smiled; and as they disappeared into a gaily coloured tent, two others emerged….
commentary: This one combines two very strange setups: half of it deals with a fabric fashion house (as I explain above, probably from conjugal experience), while the crime has been committed in an extraordinary Native American Taj Mahal. A very rich man built a temple/mausoleum for his dead wife, and has been murdered there. The whole Native American thing (as Stout does not call it) is very difficult to read for modern sensibilities, though it’s clear the author is trying to show respect for and interest in the culture.
I loved the weird setting, and very much enjoyed the fashion/fabric aspects – the dead man had the eponymous red threads in his hand, and the story and history of the relevant fabric is fascinating. I liked that there was a lot of detail about how much clothes cost, and how much people were paid.
But in the end I think I just missed Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin too much. The crime is investigated by Inspector Cramer, a regular in the Wolfe books, and I kept thinking that this great setup was wasted in not having the brownstone inhabitants dealing with it.
Top picture is a fashion advert. Lower picture shows a fashion show at the New York Worlds Fair around 1940, from the NYPL.
Now, a final request for advice. I have copies of these Rex Stout books:
The Golden Spiders
Too Many Cooks
Over My Dead Body
Fer de Lance
--- which one would readers advise me to read next? Thanks for all tips and suggestions (even though I know half of you will say ‘none of them – go and buy X or Y’).