I am not one of Rex Stout’s biggest fans. I don’t actively dislike his work but at the same time I’m not invariably jumping up and down with excitement over his work. However, I decided to give him another go, as the premise for this book was quite intriguing. Definitely picked my moment right as well because after giving up on a book yesterday, Stout’s book seemed infinitely better in comparison.
My edition (as pictured) also comes with dustjacket pictures from foreign editions and an introduction by Linda Barnes, who although weirdly categorises her books by groupings such as ‘comfort reads,’ does make a very good point about this story being ‘atypical Stout, atypical Wolfe.’ Wolfe’s world is definitely turned upside down when Archie lets a boy named Pete Drossos consult Wolfe, on what he believes is a case. Whilst washing a woman’s windscreen at some traffic lights, she mouths to him for help and for assistance from the police and she seems highly uneasy around her passenger. However Pete is not able to fulfil this task and goes to Wolfe with his story, helpfully having got the number plate of the car. It doesn’t look like much will happen after this discussion, until the following day when Pete is the victim of a hit and run accident and it seems like he is not the only one who has died at the hands of the mysterious car he washed that fateful day… Aside from the child victim, this story is also unusual in how Wolfe gets involves, as he doesn’t have a conventional client to serve and there are many, including the police, who are far from pleased with his interest in the case. A key clue to the mystery is that Pete noticed the female driver wearing a pair of golden spider earrings and true to the genre this is a slippery clue to follow up.
I think this book is one of the strongest openings I have read in a Stout novel. There is a brilliant sense of comedy in the opening chapters, with Wolfe and Goodwin trying to best each other and having a child client brings these two more to life. The unusual nature of the case and how it is investigated held my attention better, as did the more personal nature of it, as there is a sense of vengeance behind Wolfe’s pursuit of the killer. Unlike other Wolfe mysteries I don’t feel like this case had a specific or set milieu, which I liked in the main, though it did mean in the final third there was an abrupt style change when Goodwin and his cohorts use physical pressure, say we shall, to get some suspects to talk. The revelation of the killer was well done, though I am not sure how easy it is for the reader to deduce the guilty party for themselves. But at the end of the day Stout’s book was a much needed antidote for me after my truncated previous read.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Gold Card): Spider