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Authors: Rex Stout

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Death Times Three SSC

BOOK: Death Times Three SSC
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Death Times Three SSC
Book Jacket
Wolfe [47]
Mystery & Crimettt
Nero Wolfe Series 47
Contains 3 Short Stories: Bitter End, Frame-Up for Murder, and Assault on a Brownstone. With an introduction by John J. McAleer. The last published Nero Wolfe book.
Table of Contents
Bantam Crime Line Cover

Bantam Crime Line Cover


Rex Stout

The Rex Stout Library


Bitter End

Frame-Up for Murder


Assault on a Brownstone


The World of Rex Stout

Rex Stout

REX STOUT, the creator of Nero Wolfe, was born in Noblesville, Indiana, in 1886, the sixth of nine children of John and Lucetta Todhunter Stout, both Quakers. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Wakarusa, Kansas. He was educated in a country school, but, by the age of nine, he was recognized throughout the state as a prodigy in arithmetic. Mr. Stout briefly attended the University of Kansas, but left to enlist in the Navy and spent the next two years as a warrant officer on board President Theodore Roosevelt's yacht. When he left the Navy in 1908, Rex Stout began to write free-lance articles, worked as a sightseeing guide and as an itinerant bookkeeper. Later he devised and implemented a school banking system which was installed in four hundred cities and towns throughout the country.

In 1927 Mr. Stout retired from the world of finance and, with the proceeds of his banking scheme, left for Paris to write serious fiction. He wrote three novels that received favorable reviews before turning to detective fiction. His first Nero Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance, appeared in 1934. It was followed by many others, among them, Too Many Cooks, The Silent Speaker, If Death Ever Slept, The Doorbell Rang, and Please Pass the Guilt, which established Nero Wolfe as a leading character on a par with Erle Stanley Gardner's famous protagonist, Perry Mason. During World War II, Rex Stout waged a personal campaign against Nazism as chairman of the War Writers' Board, master of ceremonies of the radio program "Speaking of Liberty," and as a member of several national committees. After the war, he turned his attention to mobilizing public opinion against the wartime use of thermonuclear devices, was an active leader in the Authors' Guild and resumed writing his Nero Wolfe novels. Rex Stout died in 1975 at the age of eighty-nine. A month before his death, he published his seventy-second Nero Wolfe mystery, A Family Affair. Ten years later, a seventy-third Nero Wolfe mystery was discovered and published in Death Times Three.

The Rex Stout Library


The League of Frightened Men

The Rubber Band The Red Box

Too Many Cooks

Some Buried Caesar

Over My Dead Body

Where There's a Will

Black Orchids

Not Quite Dead Enough

The Silent Speaker

Too Many Women

And Be a Villain

The Second Confession

Trouble in Triplicate

In the Best Families

Three Doors to Death

Murder by the Book

Curtains for Three

Prisoner's Base

Triple Jeopardy

The Golden Spiders

The Black Mountain

Three Men Out

Before Midnight

Might As Well Be Dead

Three Witnesses

If Death Ever Slept

Three for the Chair

Champagne for One

And Four to Go

Plot It Yourself

Too Many Clients

Three at Wolfe's Door

The Final Deduction Gambit

Homicide Trinity

The Mother Hunt

A Right to Die

Trio for Blunt Instruments

The Doorbell Rang

Death of a Doxy

The Father Hunt

Death of a Dude

Please Pass the Guilt

A Family Affair

Death Times Three

The Hand in the Glove

Double for Death

Bad for Business

The Broken Vase

The Sound of Murder

Red Threads

The Mountain Cat Murders


Death Times Three

With an Introduction

by John J. McAleer




This book is fiction. No resemblance is intended
between any character herein and any person,
living or dead; any such resemblance is
purely coincidental.


A Bantam Book / December 1985
Bantam reissue edition / January 1995


"Bitter End" first appeared in the November 1940 issue of The American Magazine, and later in a limited edition volume entitled Corsage.

"Frame- Up for Murder" originally appeared in the June 21st, June 28th, and July 5th 1958 editions of The Saturday Evening Post.

"Assault on a Brownstone" appeared in substantially different form as "The Counterfeiter's Knife" in the January 14th, January 21st, and January 28th issues of The Saturday Evening Post in 1961, and as "Counterfeit for Murder" in Homicide Trinity.

CRIME LINE and the portrayal of a boxed "cl" are trademarks of Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

All rights reserved.
Copyright @ 1985 by Barbara Stout and Rebecca Stout Bradbury.
Introduction copyright 1985 by Bantam Books.
Cover art copyright 1994 by Tom Hallman.
ISBN 0-553-76305-9
Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words "Bantam Books" and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Maria Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036.


SCANNED AND PROOFED Version 1.0 by eBookMan 8 November 2009.


During the last years of Rex Stout's life, as his authorized biographer, I received numerous letters from well-wishers and, on occasion, not-such-well-wishers, offering me advice. "Is it true," one of the latter asked, "that Stout has a secretary who writes all his stuff for him?" I showed the letter to Rex, then in his eighty-ninth year. He scanned it and said, "Tell him the name is Jane Austen, but I haven't the address." The joke was on the letter writer. Rex was classing himself with the best. Not long before that he had told me, "I used to think that men did everything better than women, but that was before I read Jane Austen. I don't think any man ever wrote better than Jane Austen."

It was no coincidence that, when I asked after Wolfe a few days before Rex died, Rex confided, "He's re reading Emma." Rex ranked Emma as Jane Austen's masterpiece. In the last weeks of his life he also reread it. That a book could be reread was to him solid proof of its worth. Thus it pleased him when P. G. Wodehouse, whom Rex admired, declared, at ninety-four, in a letter that he wrote to me, "He [Rex Stout] passes the supreme test of being re-readable. I don't know how many times I have re-read the Nero Wolfe stories,-but plenty. I know exactly what is coming and how it is all going to end, but it doesn't matter. That's writing."

Since Rex's death, on October 27, 1975, the radiant host that constitutes his loyal following has reread many times the thirty-three novels and thirty-eight novellas believed to make up the entire corpus of the Wolfe saga. How jubilant must be this worldwide audience to learn now that many new pages of reading pleasure await it--a thirty-ninth novella, "Bitter End," known only to a smattering of readers; "Frame-Up for Murder," a substantially expanded rewrite of "Murder Is No Joke," the existence of which has gone unsuspected by most Stout readers since it has never before appeared in book form; and a fortieth novella, the original version of "Counterfeit for Murder," which, after the first seven pages, pursues a plot line that differs markedly from what followed in the version eventually published in Homicide Trinity (1962). The existence of this unpublished manuscript was unknown, even to members of Rex Stout's own family, until 1972, when Rex furnished me a handwritten copy of his personal "Writing Record," in which the facts relating to its composition were recorded. A diligent search among his voluminous papers, at Boston College's Bapst Library, when they were delivered to the college following, his death, disclosed that, contrary to his remembrance, he had not destroyed this manuscript and that there was, therefore, a seventy-third Nero Wolfe story that had never seen print. This discovery surpasses in significance the publication--in 1951, for the first time in the United States--of the fifty-first Father Brown story, "The Vampire of the Village," and the publication--in 1972, for the first time anywhere of "Talbot's," a hitherto unknown Lord Peter Wimsey story; it is on a par only with the discovery of an eightieth Sherlock Holmes story--an event which has not yet occurred.

For admirers of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, in the years between 1934 and 1975, the advent of a new Nero Wolfe story was ever an occasion for rejoicing. However, because the stories appeared with unfailing regularity (save for the years of World War II, when Rex Stout was heading up America's propaganda effort as chairman of the Writers' War Board), the thrill probably came to be regarded by many as theirs by right of entitlement. For a bona fide new story to come to light, after every legitimate hope for such an event had been relinquished, constitutes an occasion that must set the firmament ablaze with pyrotechnical wonders. What a windfall! What a gift from the stars! Yet, here we have, in this single volume, not only such a treasure, but two other Nero Wolfe tales largely new to us. None of the three, moreover, can be dismissed as a mere practice exercise, sketched out and flung aside by Rex Stout as beneath his standards. Each piece is carefully wrought; each is from a period when he was in top writing form; each contains incomparable moments, insights, and sallies of wit that will take their place in the memories of votaries of the corpus as new pinnacles in a landscape already wondrously sown with pinnacles. Let us consider each in its turn.

"Bitter End," published in The American Magazine in November 1940, was the first of what we now know to be forty Nero Wolfe novellas. But it began life not as a Nero Wolfe novella but as a Tecumseh Fox novel. In 1939, to accommodate his publishers, who had asked him to create another detective to spell Wolfe, Rex introduced Tecumseh Fox in Double for Death. Fox was not the superman Wolfe was, nor did he have Archie's panache, but he did have brains and muscle and, without the advantage of a dogsbody to assist him, he worked out the solution to an intricate case. Rex's friends thought Fox was rather like Rex himself. Certainly, like Rex, he was on the move a lot. That was inevitable. Rex said he had made Wolfe housebound because other people's detectives "ran around too damn much." Yet he realized that two sedentary detectives would be too limiting.

In the summer of 1940 Rex was ready with a second Fox novel--Bad for Business. Farrar & Rinehart scheduled it for publication in November of that year in its Second Mystery Book, where it was to be the culminating tale in a volume that would include stories by Anthony Abbot, Philip Wylie, Leslie Ford, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and David Frome (a Leslie Ford alias)

Bad for Business though, weighing in at two hundred and five pages, was far and away the longest. As was customary, the story was offered to The American Magazine for abridged publication before the book itself appeared. To Stout's surprise, Sumner Blossom, publisher of The American Magazine, refused to pursue the Fox piece but offered Stout double payment if he would convert the story into a Wolfe novella. To Blossom's surprise, and maybe his own, Rex effected the transformation in eleven days. As he explained to me later, by then he had already become deeply committed to the war against Hitler and needed the money.

Thus "Bitter End," Rex's first Wolfe novella, appeared in The American Magazine in November 1940 -and on November 28, Bad for Business appeared in the Second Mystery Book. Those who read both stories at that time must have been perplexed. The plot was basically unchanged. The names of the principal characters likewise were the same. This was true as well of many lines of dialogue and of many crucial expository passages. Yet, Tecumseh Fox's labors had been portioned out between Wolfe and Archie; Fox's nemesis from Homicide, Inspector Damon, had been supplanted, inevitably, by Inspector Cramer; and Dol Bonner, whose path occasionally crossed Fox's in Bad for Business, had been dispensed with entirely.

These changes were by no means matter-of-fact substitutions. Although the new story was only a third as long as the original, compactness actually gave it a snap and purpose that it lacked before. Most of the members of the supporting cast were enhanced. They were not on stage as long as they had been before, so the moment an opportunity came their way, they made their presence felt. By dividing Fox's responsibilities between Wolfe and Archie, Rex showed how incomparable and how indispensable were the distinctive attributes of each member of his sublime duo. Each does superbly what Fox was able to do merely adequately. Working once again with the characters he loved best, Rex found ways to involve them intimately in events as they unfolded.

In Bad for Business, Tecumseh Fox learns second-hand that someone (in a prefiguration of the Tylenol tragedy of later times) is adulterating, apparently with sinister intent, Tingley's Tidbits, a liver pate. In "Bitter End," Nero Wolfe actually partakes of the pate, which is laced with quinine, and all but explodes at the dinner table, splattering a landscape that includes Archie. Predictably, and reminiscent of his duel to the death with Arnold Zeck, he commits himself to seeking out and revenging himself on the adulterator. Furthermore, Cramer abducts a guest from Wolfe's brownstone, simultaneously giving new scope to Wolfe's vendetta and a scope to Cramer's own performance that, by contrast, diminishes Inspector Damon's role. In Bad for Business, Tecumseh Fox learns secondhand of a bloody murder. In "Bitter End," Archie arrives on the murder scene as one of the first witnesses. Surprisingly, though Fox openly romances the heroine in Bad for Business, in "Bitter End," Archie, though solicitous, keeps his distance. This enables Archie to give needed support to Amy's true suitor, the inept Leonard Cliff.

The viewpoint in Bad for Business is that of the omniscient author. In "Bitter End," naturally, Archie is the narrator. Rex Stout had proven that he could bring startling piquancy to a plot by relinquishing control of it to Archie, and we must concede that Stout showed excellent judgment in letting Archie be his spokesman throughout the Wolfe saga. When "Archie took control of the narrative," he said, he himself was no longer responsible for what Archie said and did. And he meant it. So successful were the results in "Bitter End" that we must regret that Rex was never motivated to rewrite each of the Fox stories as Wolfe stories, with Archie narrating. Let those who may undertake to continue the saga not leave that avenue unexplored. In "Bitter End," Rex Stout showed that it can be done with complete success.

It was not by chance that Bad for Business was never given separate hardcover publication in the United States or that Rex Stout dropped Fox after a few appearances. "Fox wasn't a created character, like Wolfe," Rex conceded. "He was put together piece-by-piece and wasn't worth a damn." Nonetheless, Fox's precedence as the sleuth who unknotted the tangled Tingley fortunes (in Bad for Business) made Rex reluctant to include "Bitter End" in his volumes of Wolfe novellas. Stout never went back and reread the story because he could not forget that Wolfe had been called in on the case as someone from whom a second opinion was sought. It was not becoming to Wolfe's dignity to sit him down to another man's leavings.

Rex ought to have remembered that a good story always stands the test of rereading. And "Bitter End," like the other seventy-two stories in the corpus, passes that test beyond quibble or sneer. Perhaps if Rex had remembered that it was this story that had shown him that Wolfe and Archie could thrive in a novella quite as well as in a novel, he would have given it due acknowledgment. Actually, in the last year of his life he may have come to that realization when he gave Michael Bourne permission to bring the story out in a limited edition of five hundred copies. Bourne conceived of this edition as a tribute to mark, in 1976, Rex's ninetieth birthday. Plans for it were still afoot when Rex died. In 1977, it appeared instead in the volume called Corsage, as a memorial tribute. Although its publication brought joy to those who were aware of it, the restriction Rex had placed on the number of copies to be printed resulted in a volume known to few readers who were not avid bibliophiles.

The entry in Rex Stout's Writing Record for "Murder Is No Joke," appears between the entries for If Death Ever Slept and Champagne for One. It reads: "Murder Is No Joke" --48 pp. Began 8/5/57, finished 8/15/57. 1 day out, 10 days writing time." Rex's breakdown, reporting his day by day output, shows that he worked on the story on eleven different days but counted two days as half days because he did not put in a full nine hours at his desk. On the thirteenth he had been interrupted by the arrival of a visitor. On the fifteenth he quit early because half a day's work brought him to the end of his labors. As usual, of course, he did no revision. Whatever had to be done was always done in his head. The first draft was always the only draft. "Murder Is No Joke" was the fourth story Rex worked on that year, because, in addition to If Death Ever Slept, which he had begun in mid-May and finished in mid-June, he had finished "Easter Parade" in the first days of the new year, and then in March, in nine days, had written "Fourth-of-July Picnic." All were Nero Wolfe stories. Indeed, after World War II he wrote nothing else.

BOOK: Death Times Three SSC
13.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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