Last Rides

"I would not tell them too much," said Holmes. "Women are never to be entirely trusted,--not the best of them."
- Sherlock Holmes (The Sign of Four, 1890)
Normally, when opening a Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin novel or novelette, I am greeted by the familiar clatter of a verbal sparring match emerging from the office and imaginary flavors of Fritz's latest culinary masterpiece drifting from the kitchen that makes that famous brownstone, on West 35th Street, one of those fictitious places I would like to find a Never-Ending Story-like entrance to. But this time I was met on the doorstep by a chill that ran through the house to answer the door.

Rex Stout's Too Many Women (1947) begins with a confession from Archie that he had more of Wolfe than was good for either of them and reopens a line of communication with a client who was brushed aside by the lack of subtlety from the brains of their snooping outfit. Mr. Jasper Pine is the president of Naylor-Kerr, Inc. (an engineering supply company) and wants Wolfe, under an assumed name, to take a job in the stock department to look if there's any validity in the rumor that one of his employees, Waldo Moore, was accidentally or intentionally run down with a car.

It's out of the question that Wolfe will expose himself to any fieldwork, but Archie is more than up for the job and finds a newfound appreciation for his work as he fishes in the secretary pool of Naylor-Kerr for information and clues. I think watching Archie interact with the women of the work floor, even trading blows with the estranged husband of one of them in the street in front of the brownstone, made up for the story's lack of pace.

The first quarter of the book is very, very slow moving and Archie even admits this himself. Waldo Moore's death is officially written-off as an unsolved and unintentionally hit-and-run and with a trail that has gone cold months before they were pulled into the case lowered their changes considerably of pulling a quick one – especially if you have to sift through offices jam packed with potential suspects and witnesses. This took the urgency completely out of the book and it never made any serious attempts at a comeback.

I thought the plot was finally brought into motion after the murderer ran over Kerr Naylor, son of one of the company's founders and named after the other, but the case jams again after Wolfe's best operatives come up empty handed and the only thing the police was able to establish is that their lab guys confirmed the suspicion of murder. Moore and Naylor were either stunned or killed before being moved to the scene of the crime and ran over with a car (hence the botched attempt at a clever and witty pun in the post title). Wolfe finally deigns it worthy to take action, after having done next to nothing for the entire book, and leads everyone to a very unsatisfactory conclusion.

However, I was not disappointed at all. I knew before tackling the book that it was not going to be one of his greatest achievements and as I have said many times before, this is one of the few detective series I read for their characters rather than their plots. Good plots are an extra with Rex Stout, but not a necessity and this book had more than enough to offer as far as the characters are concerned. It was also nice to see Archie as the main protagonist and the only complaint I have is that Stout didn't go all the way and let him solve this case, if only just for once.

Anyway, plot-wise, Too Many Women is far below average with its lack of clues and fair play, but I very much doubt that will deter any dedicated Rex Stout fan from enjoying it.

I also reviewed:

And tried answering that age-old question: why do Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin never age in the stories.


  1. I enjoyed your review! "Too Many Women" is the Wolfe novel I have re-read the fewest times, partly because I had a really hard time finding a copy and partly because of the flaws your review ably highlights. As someone who has worked as a secretary in an office, one thing I did enjoy in the book was the glimpse into the way a "modern" office was run in that time period. That giant room with all those secretaries! All that carbon paper! It was a bit of fascinating minutiae that helped propel me through the saggy plot.


  2. I decided to skip this one and go right to AND BE A VILLAIN... Now I'm kind of glad I did.

  3. "Good plots are an extra with Rex Stout, but not a necessity..." Very well said, TomCat.

    I consider myself one of the world's most devoted Rex Stout fans - I'm constantly rereading my favorites. Mainly I love to visit with Wolfe and Archie, everything else that happens is gravy. :)

    I agree in general with your review. Stout had so many terrific books, that a lesser one here and there doesn't count for much in the great scheme of things.

  4. @brilliantdisguisebooks

    Thanks! Glad you enjoyed reading my scribbles on this book. I have read that this is one of the hardest books from the corpus to find and feel embarrassed that it languished on my TBR pile until one of Patrick's recent reviews reminded me that a copy of that book was actually in my possession.

    Anyway, I, too, enjoy the glimpses these old-fashioned mysteries give of the inner workings of companies and institutions of the time and can recommend Pat McGerr's Pick Your Victim, which is not only a brilliant and experimental inverted mystery but also gives an in-depth look at the day-to-day running of a company.


    Glad you skipped a volume from the corpus? Not something I expected from the mouth of a fellow Rex Stout aficionado. ;)


    Stout was also a prolific writer and weaker novels, plot-wise, are to be expected, but I always admired that the characters, the main attraction of his books, never showed any signs of wear – even in the very late ones. And he was well into his eighties when he penned the last few books.

  5. Tomcat, you're quite right about the weakness of some of the plots - and the fact that the plots are NOT the reason why I read and re-read all the Nero Wolfe novels. The characters are old friends, always worth revisiting, whose flaws I readily forgive (where they might irritate me in a less capable author's hands). You might be surprised at the number of Wolfe Pack book discussion sessions at which someone is sure to comment, "well the plot is lousy, but I love it when Archie does" thus-and-so.

  6. In being a big fan of the series, have you ever noticed how many people are run over by cars in the books? Golden Spiders, Father Hunt, Murder By the Book, etc..I've always wondered why Stout liked that method so much..

  7. @Les Blatt:

    They really do feel like old friends and those meetings with other fans seem like a lot of fun.

    @Jeffrey Marks:

    Yes! I was thinking of bringing that up, but decided against it.

    Still, it's an unusual method that turns up a lot in Stout's work and even one of Wolfe's operatives, Johnny Keems, is killed by a hit-and-run driver in Might as Well Be Dead. Another unusual method is murder by an explosive device, which turn up in the novellas "Instead of the Evidence," "Booby Trap" and the novel Please, Pass the Guilt.

    I would also love to know if there was a deeper meaning to all that water in Gladys Mitchell's novels.

  8. Jeff, I have wondered the same thing! Rex Stout liked to run over people in his books, ECR Lorac to throw them down stairs, Gladys Mitchell to drown them. Weird. Oh, well, we can't all be as original with murder means as Major Street!

    I confess I like a Stout with a stout plot, but there's simply something pleasing at a very basic level about reacquainting oneself with the whole crew.