Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Not Quite Dead Enough - Rex Stout


For a number of reasons, Not Quite Dead Enough, comprised of two novellas published under a single title, is probably the most fascinating Nero Wolfe book that I’ve read. The first of the  two novellas, Not Quite Dead Enough, was originally published in 1942 in an abridged format in the December edition of The American Magazine, and the second, Booby Trap, was abridged for the same magazine in August 1944. But the most fun thing about the novellas is that, because they were written and published in the midst of World War II, Stout decides to remove Wolfe from his NYC apartment cocoon and force him to cope (which he does rather effectively) in the real world.


Not Quite Dead Enough begins with Archie Goodwin, now a newly promoted Army major, tasked with convincing his old boss Nero Wolfe that Wolfe should apply his investigatory talents to furthering America’s war efforts — free of charge, of course. Archie agrees to give it a try, but receives the shock of his life when he attempts to surprise Wolfe by showing up at Wolfe’s apartment unannounced. Neither Wolfe nor Fritz (the cook) are anywhere to be seen; every surface in the apartment is dusty, piles of unopened mail are on Wolfe’s desk, and even Wolfe’s beloved orchids are being ignored. Are the two men dead or have they been kidnapped? Neither, as it turns out. 


Even more amazingly, Wolfe (a World War I veteran) and Fritz are getting themselves in shape to join the army so that, as Wolfe puts it, they can “kill Germans.” Archie, though, has the perfect way to get Wolfe back in the game: a dead woman who moves around even after she quits breathing. 


By the time that novella number two, Booby Trap, begins, Wolfe has agreed to help the army investigate the murder of an officer who may have been involved in a plan to profit from advanced weapons technology being readied for battlefield deployment. Either the dead colonel was in the middle of the scheme or he knew too much about it to be allowed to live another minute. Either way, Wolfe considers everyone involved to be traitors to the country during a time of war, and he badly wants to nail them. 


Bottom Line: The two novellas in Not Quite Dead Enough give Nero Wolfe the chance to show a different side of his personality. In both novellas, readers get a glimpse of a patriotic, much less self-absorbed, and much more ruthless Nero Wolfe than they expected ever to see. Wolfe has always been willing to be both “judge and jury” during his investigations. Now the question is whether he is also willing to be “executioner.” 


Rex Stout


14 comments:

  1. These two novellas do sound like fun. Is this a series where you need to start with the first book, or can you dip in and out of it?

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    1. I think you can pretty much jump in just about anywhere. (At least as far as I can tell) their relationship really doesn't change all that much over the years, nor their personal habits, likes, dislikes, etc. I've been reading them based just on what I find easiest to get my hands on at the moment I go looking for another Nero Wolfe mystery.

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  2. The book is new to me so I enjoyed the update and review more. Thanks.

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    1. I enjoy the Nero Wolfe series, Mystica, for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones is that they provide a look at the mythical New York City that doesn't exist anymore. Thanks for stopping by.

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  3. I remember Not Quite Dead Enough fondly but can't really recall Booby Trap. Archie and Nero, and Fritz for that matter, were such great characters and their relationship was much of the charm of this series.

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    1. Booby Trap even though it was published quite a while after Not Quite Dead Enough sort of continues the plot in that one. The army has finally gotten its way; Wolfe is working on a case for the military and he's given up on wanting to rejoin the army to fight. Instead, he's trying to make sure that no one is personally profiting from the war efforts.

      Really, the two novellas could probably have been combined to make one novel if Stout had wanted to take the time to write the connecting "middle" part.

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  4. Your "bottom line" comments make me even more interested.

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    1. Just a hint at how surprised I was by certain aspects of this one.

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  5. You probably know how much I like Rex Stout and the Nero Wolfe series. This is a great review. This book is one of my favorites because of the World War II setting and I wish he had done more stories set at that time. If I remember correctly from his biography, he was so busy doing war work that he did not take the time to write fiction.

    A while back I read one Rex Stout book that I did not review, and I hate it that I haven't done that. The book was The Red Box and it was one of the earlier books.

    I agree that you can start anywhere. Except don't read the last one first. The first time I read the books I read what I could find, and enjoyed them all.

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    1. I haven't read the last one yet, so I appreciate the heads-up about avoiding that one until I get to it at the end of the list.

      Reviewing what I read has turned out to be one of the best decisions I've made regarding my reading...exactly why I started book blogging in 2007, in fact. Having to think about what I've just finished has a way of locking a book into my memory in a way that nothing else can do for me. Although I sometimes cringe at some of my reviews, re-reading them is also a good way to reacquaint myself with lesser read authors.

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    2. When I first started my blog (2012) I reviewed every book I read, and I continued to do that for four or five years. After that I found I could not keep up with every title. I am unhappy about that but I haven't figured out how to have the time and energy to accomplish it. I am not reading more books so that is not it. One goal is to write shorter reviews but so far I have had little luck with that.

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    3. My reviews are all relatively short, totaling somewhere between 500 and 800 words each, and I always dread having to sit down and write one of them. But once I get started, I usually end up enjoying the process of trying walk that fine line between giving a good feel of the book and not revealing so much that it spoils it for others.

      Now I can't even imagine not writing them - even if just for myself - because the process really locks the book into my memory. But no doubt about it slowing me down, and in the long run meaning that I will end up reading hundreds fewer books than I would have otherwise gotten to.

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  6. I've never tried this author but you make the 2 novellas sound really good. I should see if these are available on audio as I think this might make a good joint listen with the hub.

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    1. Diane, they are definitely fun for me. It's kind of hard to judge, always, how someone new to the characters is going to feel about them upon first exposure. These two do grow on you pretty quickly, though,

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