a Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin mystery
The Saturday Evening Post, 29 Feb 1936 - 4 April 1936
Farrar & Rinehart: New York, 1936
collected in —
The past frontier & the current city
In several of his own detective stories, A. Conan Doyle deployed the plot device of a frontier adventure or crime a generation earlier, perhaps in India or the American West, which surfaces in the current time of the story to unsettle people in London, and hence involve the attention of Sherlock Holmes. In this manner, Rex Stout in The Rubber Band gives us a misadventure in Nevada in 1895, which has repercussions in New York City forty years on, the setting of the story. The detective genius Nero Wolfe, with his satisfactorily active agent Archie Goodwin, are first drawn into a larceny case, but almost immediately we find that the accused, a young woman named Clara Fox, is through her late father tied to the old Nevada event.
[Harlan Scovil:] "I've traveled over two thousand miles, from Hiller County, Wyoming, to come here on an off chance. I sold thirty calves to get the money to come on, and for me nowadays that's a lot of calves. ... One thing you can tell me anyhow, did you ever hear of any kind of a man called a Marquis of Clivers?"
[Archie Goodwin:] I nodded. "I've read in the paper about that kind of a man."
[Scovil:] "Good for you. I don't read much. One reason, I'm so damn suspicious I don't believe it even if I do read it, so it don't seem worth the trouble."
Sometimes I feel a bit that way myself about the heaps in front of me to read.
As with complex but fast-moving detective novels generally, sharp capsule characterizations are essential to the story's momentum. There's a good cross-section here, ranging farther afield than usual, from the Wyoming rancher above to a British lord, and the plot — like a wide rubber band — pulls the disparate elements into alliance and murderous conflict in New York.
There are some good examples of the Wolfean wit, including, briefly but pointedly, his misogyny. This awkward sidestepping around feminine emotiveness does not, of course, prevent Wolfe from doing superb work for female clients, such as Clara Fox in The Rubber Band. We also have some fun with Wolfe's fabulous orchid collection.
Rather an old-fashioned kind of a mystery plot, but an enjoyable and fast-moving book.