Not Quite Dead Enough. | Chapter 5 of 30

Author: Rex Stout | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2955 Views | Add a Review

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Introduction

A

rchie’s in the army.

He’s Major Archie Goodwin now, and the urbane but reclusive three-hundred-pound master detective Nero Wolfe is emerging from his West 35th Street brownstone with regularity to train with his chef, Fritz Brenner, for some future combat envisioned by Wolfe.

When Major Goodwin calls at the venerable brownstone, he’s told that Wolfe and Brenner are out walking, as they are every morning these days, in an effort to toughen themselves and to sweat some weight off the corpulent Wolfe. They are by the river, where, a shocked Archie is told, Wolfe “obtained permission from the authorities to train on a pier because the boys on the street ridicule him.”

When Wolfe and Fritz return Archie ruefully observes them eating an unappetizing breakfast of prunes, lettuce, and tomatoes. The regimen seems to be working, at least in the mind of Wolfe, and the astounded Archie is told that next week the two intend to begin running.

But beyond these strange circumstances, not much has changed in the universe of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. The war years didn’t slow the remarkable Rex Stout’s prolificity or ingenuity. Quite the contrary. The patriotic Stout was the host of three radio programs during the war, and served as chairman of the War Writers’ Board. He was also president of Friends of Democracy, 1941–51, the Authors’ Guild, 1943–45, and the Society for the Prevention of World War III, 1943–46. When it came to serving his country, both during and after World War II, this amazing author was busier than the marines. Yet somehow during the war years he found the time and talent to create four novels, The Broken Vase, Alphabet Hicks, Black Orchids, and Not Quite Dead Enough.

In the latter, the hugely overweight Wolfe might be training for physical rough stuff, but Archie, assigned by the army to obtain Wolfe’s help, realizes it’s Wolfe’s brain and not brawn that would best serve the cause. So, after some neat maneuvering by the shrewd and supremely competent Archie, the two complementary characters are at it as always in Not Quite Dead Enough, Wolfe the lazy, unparalleled genius in his comfortable West Side brownstone, Archie the affable, energetic, and resourceful legman working the streets of Manhattan and environs.

The familiar cast of satellite characters also appears. There are daring and dangerous Lily Rowan, still trying and sometimes succeeding in manipulating Archie by his heartstrings, and the intrepid, antagonistic, and usually one-step-behind Inspector Cramer, who isn’t at all agreeable to Wolfe and Archie meddling in New York Police business, especially if that business is a homicide investigation.

This investigation is already complicated by the oddball tenants of an apartment building with a rooftop pigeon coop, folks described by even the worldly and tolerant Archie as “the goofy assortment of specimens.” Inspector Cramer would much rather that Wolfe and Archie weren’t part of the mix.

While the mood and tempo of Not Quite Dead Enough is, I am happy to report, representative of the Wolfe body of work, and it is a book that exists despite the war rather than because of it, the novel also provides some interesting glimpses into New York life and attitudes in the tumultuous early forties. Who better as a tour guide for this time travel to the war years than the masterful, patriotic, and indefatigable Rex Stout, through his wonderful creations Wolfe and Archie?

All of the Nero Wolfe novels are cleverly and tightly plotted, smooth, stylish, and generously peppered with wit and insight. Wolfe and his live-in confidential assistant Archie are in many ways direct opposites: Wolfe is essentially cerebral, engaging in little physical activity and absorbed in his hobbies of orchid growing, reading, eating fine food prepared by Fritz, and drinking (beer and more beer). And, of course, occasionally solving crimes. Archie has a sharp and retentive mind, but he’s more the physical type, needing to roam and be among the common man and woman in bustling and raucous New York, while Wolfe needs to spend hours alone in his office or his plant rooms among quiet, exotic orchids. The obese Wolfe is in his fifties, and the trim and handsome Archie is in his thirties, causing at times a clash of generations as well as one of personalities. But wry observations and acidic remarks aside, the two have affection and respect for each other, personally and professionally.

I’ve long been an avid fan of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels. I admire Stout’s fascinating characters, his innovative plots, the subtle but complete and totally believable world he created. He made it seem easy, and I know it isn’t.

The New York of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin still exists between the covers of Stout’s books, waiting for us to enter. For that we should be grateful, because it’s a place worth visiting, where calm reasoning (Wolfe) and dogged determination and physical energy (Archie) ultimately bring desired results. Though it’s a delicate balance to be sure, Stout’s New York is a city where order still outweighs chaos, while perhaps in the New York of the nineties it’s become the other way around.

Not Quite Dead Enough is quintessential Nero Wolfe. The fact that it is set on the World War II home front only adds to its solid sense of place. Stout skillfully weaves us into that not-so-long-ago and still familiar prenuclear era that was governed by simple, important principles and the obvious necessity of national survival.

It is in this place and time that Wolfe and Archie must cope with one of the most ancient, persistent, and horrible problems plaguing the human race—not war, but murder. Despite their opposing outlooks and their sometimes acerbic banter, these two very different men, united in a common purpose, know and understand each other well. And they know that as a team they are the best.

Millions of readers over six decades have concurred.

I think you’ll agree with their assessment.

—John Lutz

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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