Too Many Women
by Rex Stout

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

a Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin mystery

Viking: New York, 1947
251 pages

collected in —
All Aces

February 2020

Many suspects & motives

The simple title describes the main setting, but merely hints at the novel's intricacy. Too Many Women swirls around a huge room of some five hundred clerks and typists and stenographers at Naylor-Kerr, a big engineering-equipment firm in the Wall Street area, but not all the suspects are among the rumor-rife young women working there. Nero Wolfe, Rex Stout's famously home-bound and women-avoiding genius detective, naturally has to send his debonaire and active assistant Archie Goodwin to do the in-person and sometimes hands-on investigating. Which Archie does competently and professionally of course, albeit with some feminine distractions — optical, tactile, and even emotional. However, Archie's beginning his undercover job leads off with one of Stout's rare mischaracterizations of one of his main team:

Wednesday morning I was on the job in the stock department on the thirty-fourth floor. It handed me a surprise. I had vaguely supposed it to be something on the order of an overgrown hardware store, with rows of shelves to the ceiling containing samples of things that hold bridges together and related objects, but not at all. Primarily, as far as space went, it was a room about the size of the Yankee Stadium, with hundreds of desks and girls at them. Along each side of that area, the entire length, was a series of partitioned offices, with some of the doors closed and some open. No stock of anything was in sight anywhere.

One good glance and I liked the job. The girls. All right there, all being paid to stay right there, and me being paid to move freely about and converse with anyone whomever ... it was enough to take your breath away. At least half a thousand of them, and the general and overwhelming impression was of—clean, young, healthy, friendly, spirited, beautiful, and ready. I stood and filled my eyes, trying to look detached. It was an ocean of opportunity.

Okay, appreciation is fine; maybe even some pleased surprise at a big room full of attractive women. But Archie Goodwin hasn't just fallen off the turnip truck. He's worked for Nero Wolfe for years, living in Manhattan, interacting with the city and always rubbing shoulders with its myriad of inhabitants. He's a man-about-town. That he's now stopped in his tracks by this assemblage, much less populous than Yankee Stadium I'm sure, fits neither his life as a New Yorker, his profession as an excellent detective, his cover identity here as a personnel expert, or his character as a ladies' man.

His reaction does, however, go somewhat toward explaining the title, for the plot is woven of men's and women's relations: good or bad romance, gallant or unreasonable chivalry, love and jealousy and revenge. The Goddess of Rumor presides over the office, but it's the raw and tangled emotions which lead to murder.

Saul Panzer, a superb and favorite on-call detective, has some shadowing to do with his usual thoughtful expertise. Police Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Purley Stebbins have relatively small roles in this novel, respectively suspicious and helpful of Wolfe's and Archie's endeavors.

Too Many Women is neatly plotted, a fine mystery full of twists and turns, and really not too many women.


© 2020 Robert Wilfred Franson

Detection at Troynovant
solving mysteries; detective agencies

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Notes to a Proofreader: (ebook)

  • also think it would be simple =>
    also thinking it would be simple
  • nylons nearly parallel the =>
    nylons nearly parallel, the

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