Rex Stout published 48 Nero Wolfe books in total. 33 of these were novels, with the other 15 being collections of novellas previously printed in magazines. I own most of the Nero Wolfes in paperback form, and, including Not Quite Dead Enough, I’ve read only ten of them so far. It gladdens my heart to know I still have a lot left to read. Something to look forward to.
Not Quite Dead Enough was published in 1944, while World War II was in full swing. It is comprised of two novellas: “Not Quite Dead Enough;” and, “Booby Trap.”
Just in case you’ve never heard of Nero Wolfe, allow me to provide a brief character sketch that will fail to do him justice. Nero Wolfe is an armchair detective, a very overweight man, who lives in a brownstone on West 35th Street in New York City, raises orchids, likes his beer and lavish gourmet dinners. To call him eccentric would be an understatement. While his genius detective skills are undoubted, his people skills can be lacking. He keeps to a rigid daily schedule and rarely leaves his brownstone. His confidential secretary, Archie Goodwin, does most of his legwork and narrates all of the Wolfe stories. Goodwin is Watson to Wolfe’s Sherlock.
What’s unique about the two novellas in this book is that Archie is a Major in the U.S. Army in both stories. In “Not Quite Dead Enough,” Archie ends up having to frame himself for murder in order to get Nero Wolfe to get back to work and give up on his pipedream of becoming a soldier to kill Germans. Wolfe has been dieting and training, two words that aren’t normally in Wolfe’s vocabulary, in a hopeless attempt to get into fighting shape. Archie’s high rank as a rookie GI is largely because the Army wants him to recruit Wolfe to work on investigations for them. When Archie frames himself for murder, Wolfe is forced to return to the work he excels at. Not surprisingly, the murder is solved and Archie exonerated.
In “Booby Trap,” Wolfe, with Archie Goodwin’s help, of course, solves the murder of two Army officers while also unraveling industrial espionage affecting the war effort. This story involves advanced pink hand grenades, one of which is used to commit murder. Another of which is used to mete out justice. I have a relatively high tolerance for surprises, but the ending to this one genuinely shocked me, though in a good way.
I like the Nero Wolfe books. This one was no exception. Slipping between the pages of a Wolfe story is like visiting old friends who you love despite their eccentricities. As an added bonus, in this one you get a contemporary look at New York City during WWII.