And Four To Go (1958) by Rex Stout

When beginning today’s read I was fairly sure I’d not read a Stout short story before. Of course when reading the first story, ‘Christmas Party,’ I realised I had read that one. However the other three were completely new to me. Jane Haddam writes a personal introduction to the collection, of her early experiences of the author and his work. I enjoyed this, as I never realised Stout was a banker before he became a writer, but I think me and Haddam are always going to differ over Stout’s quality as a writer; where she sees perfection, I see a set of four stories which kind of all have the same problem. More on that later though. Interestingly when Easter Parade was first printed in Look Magazine, it was printed alongside a series of colour pictures which had fair play clues in them. Alas my edition does not have these images. Apparently they are not essential for solving the case yourself, but having now read the story I do wonder if this is the case.

Christmas Party

After some humorous arguing and deception on Archie’s part, Archie is allowed to go to the Christmas office party of a client they once had, instead of taking Nero to horticulturist. Things seem to be going well at the party and there is even a Santa Klaus dressed bartender. Yet events take a turn for the worse when Kurt Bottweil, the boss, is poisoned during the toast and the unknown bartender mysteriously disappears, though not without a trace. Various factors put Nero and his assistant in an ethical quandary, though not for long.

Although I had read this one before I had forgotten its’ most surprising element should I say. Despite the great setup the compact nature of the story meant that Wolfe’s solution had the pulled from a hat kind of feel. Given the nature of his evidence and his method of identifying the killer, the culprit could have easily been any one of the suspects.

Easter Parade

Wolfe’s plans to steal an orchid bloom from the coat of an orchid growing rival’s wife go awry when the woman is murdered shortly leaving church on Easter Sunday. Again he and Archie are placed in a difficult position with the police due to their own unwise decisions, petty crimes and feelings of pride.

The method of death in this story is an unusual one, though I think more could have been made of it in a novel format. Again the shortness of the story means the process by which Wolfe solves the case is much more curtailed; a feature which doesn’t hugely work for me.

Fourth of July Picnic

Nero Wolfe is asked to make a speech at the Independence Day picnic of the United Restaurant Workers of America. But just before he is to give his speech, an unwell organiser is found dead in a tent, a tent visited by numerous speakers, including Nero and the possibility of an outside killer is quickly ruled out. Once more Wolfe is in a tricky predicament and invariably has to find the killer rapidly to avoid massive inconveniences for himself.

The setting was an unusual one and I would have liked this to have been made more of but again speed and brevity kill off the full potential of this plot and Wolfe’s reliance on a trick to find the killer doesn’t feel wholly satisfying.

Murder Is No Joke

Flora Gallant is sister to a famous fashion designer. Her brother though seems to be under the thumb of a woman named Bianca Voss. She is pushing her weight around in the business, but her brother won’t say with what authority she does this. Worried she will ruin the business, Flora wants Wolfe to find out what hold Voss has on her brother. But when Wolfe is on the phone to Voss it seems someone has found another solution to the problem and of course she is duly found murdered.

The solution to this one relies largely on a variation of one Christie used in the 1930s, which makes it fairly easy to deduce what is going on. However Stout does throw in a final twist, though not one you can figure out yourself.

Overall Thoughts

So you’ve probably picked up on my lukewarm response to this collection, which will probably not endear me to the many Stout fans out there. The stories themselves were okay and each had unusual elements which I liked, but the brevity of the stories definitely hampered Wolfe’s methods and time for solving crimes and for revealing the solution. I have often felt that unconventional mysteries make for better short stories, as they are not constrained by having to include all the stages of a traditional murder and its resultant investigation. I think it is very hard to write a successful short story which tries to encompass the traditional murder mystery, as it difficult to fit all these various stages in, something inevitably has to give and in this instance for Stout it the nature of how Wolfe solves the mysteries and how he delivers these solutions to the reader.

Rating: 3.5/5

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Last Gold Item!!): Holiday Decoration

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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8 Responses to And Four To Go (1958) by Rex Stout

  1. Noah Stewart says:

    I’m a big fan, but I agree with you that Stout’s strengths were sometimes lost in the short story format, especially his shortest stories as found here. I do think he was working for his market, though; as I understand it, Stout sold a LOT to magazines and needed the shorter-format works to please readers who were annoyed by serialization of novels.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. JFW says:

    Thanks for the review. 🙂 I’m not overly fond of the short story format for the puzzle-based mystery genre – and so apart from whether or not I would like Stout, I suspect I won’t be picking this collection up anytime soon. In any case, I’ve just poured some money into purchasing ‘Realm of the Impossible’.

    Would you recommend any of Stout’s full-length work to me? I seem to recall that you are not especially enamoured by his novels either. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  3. rkottery says:

    I think you’re right to say that an unconventional format is usually best for short stories. The Biter bit by Wilkie Collins or We Know You’re Busy Writing by Edmund Crispin for example.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. rkottery says:

    In Fen Country, I think. It’s much the best short story he wrote.

    Like

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