Sunday, March 24, 2013

Too Many Clients, by Rex Stout

Too Many Clients
By Rex Stout

One of only a few Nero Wolfe books that I haven't read yet, Too Many Clients is now one of the Wolfe books that I'd rank near the top of the heap - with perhaps one relatively small reservation. But I'll get to that in a moment.

Things kick off in fairly standard fashion for a Wolfe novel. A high-powered business type approaches Archie due to concerns that he's being followed. Archie doubts that Wolfe will take the case and sends the man away and what do you know - it's not long at all before said businessman's body is discovered and there's little doubt that he's been murdered.

But there's a pretty interesting twist in all of this and one that I won't reveal. One of the frequent criticisms of the Wolfe books - and it's one that I've made quite a few times myself - is that he wasn't exactly what you'd call a master of plotting. I'd be willing to call this book one of the exceptions to that rule, although it hardly is in the rank of the likes of Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr.

But it wasn't the plot that stood out for me in Too Many Clients, interesting though it was. What really worked best in this one was Nero Wolfe himself and specifically his interactions with the various players in this particular drama. You could make the argument that Archie Goodwin is the tough guy, hardboiled, private eye counterpoint to Wolfe's cerebral great thinker of a detective, but something that's not so often remarked upon is what a formidable opponent the big guy can be.

No, Nero Wolfe is not likely to come at you with guns blazing or fists flying, though he did show a considerable amount of physical toughness in The Black Mountain and it's been made pretty clear that in his younger days he was hardly a pushover when it came to this sort of thing. But as this book in particular shows, Wolfe is still no pushover even now that he weighs a seventh of a ton, but simply prefers to use words as his weapon, something that he does with great skill.

So about that small reservation. That would be the ending. Not the whole thing, but just a portion of it, which seemed to be a bit clich├ęd and just didn't quite ring true. It's the sort of thing that Stout used on at least one other occasion, if I recall right, and while it didn't really detract from the story that much overall, I would give it one minor demerit.

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