Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Over My Dead Body

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Over My Dead Body (Farrar & Rinehart, 1940).

I love the way Rex Stout created this remarkable character in Nero Wolfe and then apparently spent the better part of his career finding new ways and opportunities to make him uncomfortable and aggravated. In the fifth and sixth novels in the series, Stout moved the action away from New York City, forcing Wolfe out of his eccentric regime, and in the seventh, Over My Dead Body, he makes Wolfe deal with his younger days in Montenegro and confront his long-lost adopted daughter. Nobody in fiction can needle quite the way Archie Goodwin can; when he learns that Wolfe has a daughter, I had to put the book down from laughing.

All of this comes to light when Wolfe is asked to settle a claim about some stolen property. Naturally, it's just a matter of time before somebody ends up dead. With foreign nationals involved and war about to start in Europe - the book originally appeared, in abridged form, in American Magazine a couple of weeks before Germany invaded Poland - the FBI takes an interest in who might be spying for what nation, and whether Wolfe's loyalties might not lie someplace else. All of this conspires to keep him in a really bad mood, even by his own standards.

I enjoyed this one a lot. You can tell that Stout's not allowing comfort with his creation to allow him any complacency, and he's enjoying shaking up the formula as much as crafting a really solid mystery. It turns out that this is the earliest of the Stout stories to have been adapted for the 2000-02 Nero Wolfe Mystery TV series. It's not one of the handful that my wife and I have seen; I need to keep my eye out for those box sets, don't I? Recommended.

1 comment:

scooter5203249 said...

Yes, you do need to keep an eye out for those box sets. The Michael Jaffe/Tim Hutton production of "Over My Dead Body" was terrific! (As were all of the adaptations for the too short-lived "A Nero Wolfe Mystery.") Picture Tim Hutton/Archie Goodwin needling Maury Chaykin/Nero Wolfe about marrying the adopted daughter if you want a good laugh.