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Title: The Rubber Band
Series: Nero Wolfe #3
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Click on the “Details” to see the Full Synopsis
Nero Wolfe is approached by Anthony Perry, president of the Seaboard Products Corporation, who is concerned that one of his employees is being unjustly accused of theft. A package containing $30,000 has gone missing, and Ramsey Muir, the company’s vice-president is accusing Clara Fox, Perry’s personal assistant. Perry’s meeting with Archie Goodwin is interrupted by Harlan Scovil, who has recently arrived in New York City from Wyoming and is one of a group that has a later appointment with Wolfe. At one point Scovil seems to mistake Perry for another man, Mike Walsh.
Before Archie can attend to Scovil, he is summoned to Perry’s offices, where Muir—motivated by jealousy and spite after Clara rejected his advances—is threatening to call the police. Archie’s preliminary investigations turn up little, and he arrives back to the brownstone to learn that Scovil has left, summoned away by a telephone call. However, the other members of his group have arrived, including the real Mike Walsh, and Archie is surprised to discover that Clara Fox is their leader. Clara wishes to hire Wolfe to recover a sum of money owed to the group by the Marquis of Clivers, a British nobleman in America on confidential government business. Years ago, the group (or in the case of Clara, her father) were a Wild West posse called “The Rubber Band”, and they saved the future Marquis from a lynching. The Marquis promised them a substantial share of his fortune in return but has rebuffed Clara’s claims.
The discussion is interrupted by a police detective who brings the news that Harlan Scovil has been murdered. In his pockets were found the contact details for the Marquis of Clivers, prompting the police — eager to avoid inconveniencing the Marquis and causing diplomatic issues with Britain — to suspect the group of blackmail. Wolfe also learns from Fred Durkin that the police have found the missing $30,000 in Clara’s car, and a warrant has been issued for her arrest. Once the policeman has left, Wolfe questions Fox concerning the stolen money and the murder. Satisfied as to her honesty and innocence on both matters, he accepts her as his client, and persuades her to remain in the brownstone. Mike Walsh rejects Wolfe’s offer of protection and storms out. Wolfe sends a letter to the Marquis informing him of the group’s claims and suggesting that legal action may be taken. He also informs Perry that he will not be investigating on behalf of him or the corporation.
For several days, the numerous charges that Clara is facing mean that Wolfe is forced to keep her as his guest in the brownstone. However the police, led by the obnoxious Lt. Rowcliff, soon arrive with a search and arrest warrant to enter the brownstone and arrest Clara for the theft of the $30,000. Wolfe is outraged by Rowcliff’s impertinence, but is forced to allow the police to search the premises. Clara, however, cannot be found, and once the police have left Wolfe reveals that he concealed her in the orchid rooms.
Wolfe receives a visit from the Marquis of Clivers himself, who insists that he has already paid his debt to the Rubber Band. He claims that the group’s leader, Rubber Coleman, approached him years ago representing the Band, and that on receiving the money Coleman provided him with a receipt signed by the other members. The next day, Archie receives a phone call from Mike Walsh claiming that he has found “him”, only for the call to be ended by a loud noise that sounds like a gunshot. Moments after the call Walsh is found dead, with the Marquis of Clivers standing over the body. Inspector Cramer, Police Commissioner Hombert and District Attorney Skinner arrive at the brownstone and demand that Wolfe share what he has learned about the case. Wolfe produces Clara and provides proof that she neither stole the $30,000 nor murdered Scovil and Walsh. He reveals to the authorities that he is almost ready to solve the case, but one lingering unresolved detail is troubling him.
The next morning, Archie is surprised to find Wolfe slamming wooden boards in the orchid rooms, to no purpose that Archie can see. Wolfe takes notice of Archie’s bundle of papers secured with a rubber band. After doing so, Wolfe has him summon everyone, including Ramsey Muir, Anthony Perry and the Marquis of Clivers, to his office. Once he arrives, the Marquis recognizes Anthony Perry instantly — he is Rubber Coleman. Wolfe reveals that Perry, or rather Coleman, swindled the money from the other members of the Rubber Band and used it to fund his numerous business enterprises, only to discover that Clara was pursuing the Rubber Band’s claim. Coleman hired her to keep her close, and attempted to discourage her from her pursuit but framed her for the theft of the $30,000 when he was unable to do so. Although intending to hire Wolfe to cover his tracks and throw suspicion off himself, Coleman had the misfortune to be recognised by Scovil at Wolfe’s office, and so murdered him and Walsh to preserve his secret. Coleman staged the phone call that purported to record Walsh’s death with the use of a rubber band to simulate a gunshot, thus giving himself an alibi.
Though Coleman is defiant, Wolfe reveals that he has obtained the “receipt” that Coleman used to forge the signatures of the other members of the band when claiming the money from the Marquis; even by chance he cannot be convicted of murder in New York, this will be sufficient to convict him of fraud in England, which will equally expose and ruin him. Thwarted, Coleman attempts to shoot Wolfe but is gunned down by the Marquis and Archie before he can do so. Having proven Clara’s innocence, Wolfe negotiates with the Marquis to claim the remainder of the Band’s fair share of his inheritance. Guilt-ridden by the deaths she believes have been caused by her quest, Clara attempts to turn it down, but Wolfe persuades her to accept it.
I’m scrabbling through my mind palace trying to find a shiny bauble to present to you all. Instead, all I’m finding is chairs and tables, food and drink, everyday ordinary kinds of things.
And you know what? That’s not such a bad thing. Maybe if you are a Golden Age Mystery buff you could dig through these stories and mine insights from them. But if you’re a normal reader (like me, the most extraordinary and best normal reader that has ever existed), these are just good stories.
That is what I want. A good story to engage my mind for a couple of hours. Yes, there are times I want “more”. There are times I want intricate plot points, super twisty plots and extremely developed characters. However, I don’t want to know these characters more than my co-workers or those I go to church with. What does it say about ME, as a person, if I know more about a fictional character in a book than I do about the couple with two boys in the pew across from us at church?
These books are entertainment only. Entertainment has a place in a Christian’s life. But that place shouldn’t be central in my life or the main reason for my life. And as odd as it sounds, Rex Stout writes that way. I appreciate that.