The League of Frightened Men (Nero Wolfe #2) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: The League of Frightened Men
Series: Nero Wolfe #2
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 233
Words: 92K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

After reading a controversial new novel by an author called Paul Chapin, Nero Wolfe reveals to Archie Goodwin that he has been approached by Andrew Hibbard, a psychologist fearing for his life. Hibbard had received threatening poems from an individual he refused to name, but after reading a phrase in Chapin’s book that also appeared in the poems, Wolfe has deduced that the man Hibbard feared is Chapin. Wolfe orders Archie to contact Hibbard to offer Wolfe’s services, but when Archie does so he learns that Hibbard has disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Hibbard is a member of “the League of Atonement”, a group of college friends who once played a prank on Chapin that, to their lingering shame and remorse, left him permanently crippled. In addition to Hibbard’s disappearance, two other members of the group have also died under mysterious circumstances, and both Hibbard’s niece Evelyn and the police suspect that Chapin has murdered them. Wolfe acquires a list of the other men in the League and summons them to his office, where he proposes to both determine the truth behind the deaths of their mutual friends and remove the threat that they believe Chapin poses. The meeting is interrupted by Chapin himself, who claims innocence in the affair but refuses to provide evidence when Wolfe challenges him to do so. This prompts the League to agree to Wolfe’s terms.

Wolfe has Archie arrange for Chapin to be tailed as closely as possible, a search for Hibbard to be conducted, and the two deaths to be investigated. Archie discovers that another member of the League, Dr. Leopold Elkus, is also tangentially involved in the two deaths and, as Elkus is sympathetic to Chapin, begins to suspect that he is helping him commit the murders. He also discovers the existence of a mysterious man with gold teeth and a pink tie who also appears to be tailing Chapin. On bringing this man to Wolfe, they discover it is in fact Andrew Hibbard. Hibbard, driven to desperation by his fear and paranoia of Chapin, had faked his death and begun following Chapin to work up the courage to murder him.

Soon after, Paul Chapin is arrested for the sudden murder of Dr. Loring Burton, who is both a fellow member of the League and the man who married the woman Chapin was in love with. This prompts Wolfe to take the drastic step of leaving his home to consult with Chapin, while Archie gains the trust of Burton’s wife and learns that Dora Chapin, the wife of Paul Chapin and Burton’s former house-maid, had visited Burton before he was murdered. Believing Dora to be the murderer, Archie attempts to confront her but is taken by surprise, drugged, and incapacitated.

Upon regaining consciousness, Archie is alarmed to discover that Dora Chapin has apparently kidnapped Wolfe. On receiving a message from Wolfe, however, he learns that Wolfe has convinced Dora Chapin that he poses no threat to her husband and does not believe him to be guilty of murder. Wolfe then summons the members of the League to his office, where he produces Hibbard and reveals a confession he has apparently received from Paul Chapin. To the League’s surprise the letter confirms, as Wolfe suspected all along, that Chapin had no involvement in the deaths of their two mutual friends at all. The deaths were an unfortunate accident and a suicide respectively, but Chapin, psychologically incapable of murder but resentful of his friends for both their responsibility for his injury and their pity towards him, sent the poems to scare his friends and gain his vengeance on them that way.

Incredulous and skeptical of Wolfe’s claims, the League vote on whether to pay Wolfe. When the vote indicates that Wolfe will not receive his fee, Wolfe presses one member—Ferdinand Bowen, a stockbroker—to change his vote. When Bowen refuses, Wolfe reveals that Bowen is in fact Burton’s murderer. Burton had discovered that Bowen had been embezzling from him and other members of the League whose investments he managed, and Bowen used the fear and paranoia that everyone had of Chapin to stage Burton’s murder and throw suspicion on Chapin. Bowen is arrested, leaving Archie to realise that Chapin’s letter was faked. His vengeance thwarted, Chapin reveals to Wolfe that he will be basing a character on Wolfe in a forthcoming novel, and that character will meet a very unpleasant end.

My Thoughts:

Another thoroughly enjoyable read.

I skipped the introduction, as I found that the people who do that kind of thing are idiots and either spoil the heck out of the book OR are wannabe freuds and everything is about sex, even when it isn’t. My life is better when I just read the book for myself instead of being told what it is supposed to mean by some hack.

I do have to admit, I didn’t understand why everyone was so afraid of Chapin, the supposed villain of this particular story. A self-absorbed, selfish crippled gimp who is still in love with a woman who has been married for decades and has his own wife steal things from her? Of course, with him “claiming” to have done the murders through anonymous letters, you could see why they were concerned. But afraid? Ask Chapin to his face and get a yes or no. If you can’t, then you kill him yourself. Man, nobody in that group had one pair of balls between them all. Shameful. Thankfully, the title alerted me to what I was getting into so I didn’t get too steamed up about the group’s lack of manhood, but still, it was a sore point for me.

I did end up laughing out loud at the shenanigans Wolfe got up to at the end. What a dirty money grubber. I’m hoping he refutes his own statement about letting murderers go free if he’s not paid to catch them by future actions. If not, this series might have a much smaller chance of survival with me than expected.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Fer-De-Lance (Nero Wolfe #1) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Fer-De-Lance
Series: Nero Wolfe #1
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 222
Words: 87.5K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia.com

Maria Maffei, a family friend of one of Wolfe’s free-lance men, offers to hire Wolfe to locate her missing brother Carlo, a metalworker. Wolfe, affected by the Depression, decides to take the job, although it is unappealing to him. Archie locates Anna Fiore, a girl who listened in on a phone call Carlo received at his boarding-house shortly before his disappearance. Wolfe learns from her that Carlo had clipped a story from a copy of The New York Times about the sudden death (apparently by stroke) of Peter Oliver Barstow, president of Holland College. However, Anna refuses to provide any further details about Carlo, who is soon found dead in the countryside, stabbed in the back.

From reading the account of Barstow’s death, which occurred during a round of golf, Wolfe conjectures that one of his clubs may have been altered to fire a poisoned needle into his belly. An autopsy proves Wolfe right, and he and Archie begin to concentrate on the Barstow family and their acquaintances, E.D. Kimball and his son Manuel, who had both been part of the golf foursome. While trying to figure out the whereabouts of Barstow’s golf bag, Archie learns from the group’s caddies that he had borrowed a driver from E.D. during the round. This fact, coupled with E.D.’s accounts of his past in Argentina, leads Wolfe and Archie to conclude that Manuel had intended to kill his father, not Barstow, in revenge for the death of his mother years earlier. Archie confirms Manuel’s movements on the day Carlo was killed, making him a suspect in that murder as well. Manuel retaliates by having an associate plant a deadly Bothrops atrox viper in Wolfe’s desk drawer, but Wolfe and Archie find and kill it.

With Maria’s cooperation, Wolfe and Archie arrange a robbery in the countryside to scare Anna into telling what she knows. The trick works, and she hands over documents proving that Manuel hired Carlo to build the driver that killed Barstow. With the Kimball estate staked out, and a copy of the evidence delivered to Manuel, Archie leads the local police in so they can make an arrest. They learn that Manuel, an avid pilot, has taken E.D. up for a flight, and are shocked when the plane suddenly nose-dives into the ground; the impact kills both of them.

Wolfe collects both the $50,000 reward that Barstow’s widow had offered for the capture of his killer, and another $10,000 from a district attorney who had been skeptical of the murder theory. Wolfe comments that the climax of the case gave both E.D. and Manuel a chance to end their lives without any sense of bitterness or despair, but Archie notes that it also keeps Wolfe from having to leave his comfortable house in order to testify at a murder trial.

My Thoughts:

2021 has seen a marked decline in the percentage of SFF that I read. Nonfiction has increased with the Very Short Introduction series, Max Brand is keeping the Western genre alive in the rotation, Dickens has kept the Classics on a roll and tumbled into Chesterton and the Bronte’s, Shakespeare is keeping me firmly in the world of Literature and Lord Peter Wimsey is doing his dashin’ best to keep my interest in the Mystery genre. And now we have old fatso himself, Nero Wolfe, bringing back the Private Investigator. I’ve seen other bloggers change slowly and just wanted to stop and take a second to recollect that my reading is changing and is quite different from even 4 years ago. The reason I got all introspective was because of the main character in this book.

Nero Wolfe is an eccentric private detective who adores food, sleep and mystery and abhors people and leaving his house. As such, he’s hugely fat and I kept waiting for him to keel over dead from a heart attack. He’s a very smart man, able to reason out the much larger picture from just a fragment. He’s also immensely arrogant and beyond self-assured and if he’d been the narrator of the story I would have hated him and despised the author and you’d have gotten one long ranty review where I condemned Rex Stout to the stygian pits of darkness. But he was NOT the narrator. Thank goodness, we are told the story by one of Wolfe’s helpers, Archie Goodwin. Archie is a man’s man, full of vim, vigor and fisticuffs and not afraid to talk back to the police, tell a girl he’d like to pinch her cheeks and fake a robbery on his own client to get her to talk.

The mystery was interesting but seeing Nero orchestrate incidents and get people together or apart is what made this work for me. His manipulation of Archie is hard at times to stomach, but Archie trusts him (even while not necessarily liking him all the time) and Nero is proved right time after time. Nero is the brains while Archie is the foot and fist.

This was written in 1934 and as such is quite an interesting look into the times. The Great Depression, the after-effects of Prohibition, just life in general. I found it fascinating and led me down rabbit trails I wasn’t expecting. One such was the use of the word “spiggoty” by Archie. I could tell it was derogatory but I’d never heard of it before and couldn’t figure out HOW it was supposed to be derogatory. I basically had to chase down the etymology of the word and it turns out it is the predecessor of the slur “spic” today. Now, you’re not going to read books today that take you down trails like that.

There are approximately 47 books in this series. I think that is the longest series I’ve attempted to date. I am a bit concerned that it will go stale on me or, like the Brother Cadfael series, bore me by the end. My other concern is that I’m going to mix up the author with the main character. Nero Wolfe is the main character and he’s immensely fat. The author’s name is Rex Stout, another word for fat. I just know I’m going to mix up the two “fat” men at some point and I’m really concerned about it. What if I hurt their feelings? Fictional characters and dead men have feelings too! Oh wait, no they don’t. Ok, problem solved!

In ending, this was a great start to a series in a genre that hasn’t always appealed to me. Here’s to hoping it keeps me interested the whole time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.