Friday, April 16, 2010

The Second Confession

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 The Second Confession (Viking, 1949).

As readers may have noticed, I've been devouring all of Rex Stout's stories of Nero Wolfe in order. When I read And Be a Villain, the novel that preceded this one, I mentioned to my wife how much I enjoyed it, and how I hoped that we'd see the clearly-inspired-by-Moriarty character of Arnold Zeck again. Then I went and read the Wikipedia entry for that book and spoiled my discovery that we would. Stupid Wikipedia. Because it's the service's fault and not mine.

The Second Confession is an interesting book that really plays with the rules of the series. It has rather less in common with the refined English school of detective fiction that informs most of the series, taking inspiration from radio and film thrillers. Wolfe is asked by a millionaire bigwig to find evidence that the man courting his daughter is a communist, and Wolfe only agrees to get involved with something like that because he's a strident patriot who hates the reds.

Unfortunately, the potential red is also being scouted by another source, leading to a faked holdup by the side of the road, and an ominous phone call from the master criminal Zeck, warning our heroes to lay off their investigation. When Zeck realizes that his threats require a little proof that he's serious, he brings it on with a surprising attack on Wolfe's property. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this adventure isn't as witty or lighthearted as others in the series, but it's so tremendously exciting to follow that I enjoyed it all the same. Recommended, but not as your first Stout novel.

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