Too Many Women (novel)

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Too Many Women
Stout-TMW-1.jpg
Author Rex Stout
Cover artistRobert Hallock
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Series Nero Wolfe
Genre Detective fiction
Publisher Viking Press
Publication date
October 20, 1947
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Pages251 pp. (first edition)
OCLC 1463556
Preceded by The Silent Speaker  
Followed by And Be a Villain  

Too Many Women is a Nero Wolfe detective novel by Rex Stout, published in 1947 by the Viking Press. The novel was also collected in the omnibus volume All Aces (Viking 1958).

Contents

Plot introduction

I told him I was Archie Goodwin, the heart, liver, lungs, and gizzard of the private detective business of Nero Wolfe, Wolfe being merely the brains. He asked sarcastically if I was a genius too, and I told him no indeed, I was comparatively human.

Archie Goodwin converses with the prospective client in Too Many Women, chapter 1

A malcontent at the Naylor-Kerr corporation charges that one of its employees, thought to have been killed in a hit-and-run accident, was actually murdered. The president of the giant New York firm hires Archie to look for proof one way or another, in the guise of a personnel consultant in the corporation's executive offices — where 500 beautiful women are employed.

Plot summary

When a major engineering corporation conducts a survey into high employee turnover, a report is returned claiming that Waldo Moore, an employee recently killed in what was believed to be a hit-and-run accident, was murdered. The company president, Jasper Pine, approaches Nero Wolfe and hires him to find out whether this claim is true. Archie Goodwin is sent undercover as an outside consultant and assigned to investigate the stock department, where Moore worked, and is amazed to discover 500 beautiful women employed as secretaries and assistants.

Archie discovers that Moore was notorious among the employees as a lothario but had become engaged to Hester Livsey, a stenographer. He quickly identifies numerous possible suspects for Moore's murder — in addition to Livsey, these include Rosa Bendini, who had enjoyed a dalliance with Moore; Bendini's jealous estranged husband Harold Anthony; Gwynne Ferris, who had tried to seduce Moore but was rebuffed; Benjamin Frenkel, a supervisor who had developed feelings for Ferris and had been rebuffed; and Sumner Hoff, a hot-headed technical advisor who had gotten into a physical fight with Moore, which was believed to be over Livsey. As gossip begins to spread among the employees about Archie's true mission, he begins to clash with Kerr Naylor, the eccentric and unpleasant department supervisor who lodged the initial report claiming that Moore was murdered.

During one confrontation, Naylor reveals that he knows Archie's true identity, and that Moore had been given his job due to the intervention of Naylor's sister Cecily, who is also married to Jasper Pine. Naylor and Cecily are the children of one of the founders of the company, and Naylor resents Pine being promoted over him. Naylor also claims that he knows the identity of Moore's murderer, but when Archie reveals this in a report to the company directors he changes his story and claims Archie was lying. Cecily Pine meets with Wolfe, asking him to drop the investigation.

When an article about Wolfe's investigation appears in the newspapers, Inspector Cramer confronts Wolfe in his office about what he knows. The increasingly heated and childish argument is interrupted by a phone call for Cramer; Kerr Naylor has been found dead, killed in a seeming hit-and-run accident in exactly the same manner and location that Waldo Moore had been found. The similarity of the deaths and the location remove any doubt that both men have been the victim of homicide. Wolfe had previously assigned Saul Panzer to shadow Naylor and, while Saul had lost the tail before Naylor's murder, Saul managed to witness Naylor arguing with Hester Livsey hours before his death, with Sumner Hoff also present at the scene.

The company directors hire Wolfe to solve the murder of Kerr Naylor in addition to Waldo Moore. Archie hints to Livsey that he is aware of her meeting with Naylor prior to his death, and her suspicious reaction convinces him that she knows even more of the matter than she has let on. Archie persuades her to come to Wolfe's office for an interview, but Sumner Hoff tags along, suspicious and confrontational towards both Archie and Wolfe. When Wolfe challenges them regarding her meeting with Naylor, both claim that they were with each other at the time, concocting an overly detailed story as corroboration. While the lie is obvious, it is also sufficiently unbreakable to completely stall the investigation.

Insulted by the transparency of Livsey's lie, Wolfe concocts a plan to expose the truth. Archie stages a meeting with Livsey which, with Archie's prodding, quickly results in the rumour spreading that Livsey knows the identity of the murderer. Livsey eventually cracks under the pressure and insists that she will reveal the truth to anyone other than Jasper Pine. Archie convinces her to accompany him to the brownstone for her protection, where Wolfe summons Cecily Pine by informing her that he knows who the murderer is.

When she arrives, Cecily Pine confirms Wolfe's suspicions—the murderer was her husband, Jasper Pine. Pine and Livsey had begun a clandestine affair, but Pine had become increasingly obsessed with her. Although unbothered by the actual affair, Cecily had begun to worry that her husband's obsession was threatening their comfortable lifestyle, and so persuaded Moore to seduce Livsey away from her husband. When Moore and Livsey ended up falling in love, Pine was driven to a jealous rage and murdered Moore. Cecily confided in her brother, and Naylor used the information to try and force Pine out of the company presidency and seize it for himself, but Pine murdered him.

Before the authorities can be notified, Wolfe receives news that Jasper Pine has committed suicide. Wolfe and Archie realise that Cecily contacted her husband before meeting Wolfe, and manipulated him into taking his own life. The investigation is closed, and Archie ends the novel by arranging a simultaneous date with Hester Livsey, Rosa Bendini and Gwynne Ferris.

Extraordinary events

The resolution to this Nero Wolfe case is made significantly more difficult by two events that border on impossibility within the Nero Wolfe universe: 1) Saul Panzer loses a tail, and 2) Fritz forgets to give Archie a message. All of the principal characters in the novel are aghast at how astronomically unlikely each of these events is by itself, never mind both of them occurring in a short period of time.

Inspector Cramer, who always assumes Wolfe is keeping vital information from him, is perhaps most convinced of that in this Nero Wolfe story than in any other, since to take what Wolfe and Archie are telling him at face value, he must believe that these two "impossible" events took place (even though they actually did).

Reviews and commentary

Publication history

In his limited-edition pamphlet, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I, Otto Penzler describes the first edition of Too Many Women: "Green cloth, front cover and spine printed with very dark green lettering and yellow wavy rule; rear cover blank. Issued in a full-color pictorial dust wrapper." [6]
In April 2006, Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine estimated that the first edition of Too Many Women had a value of between $400 and $750. The estimate is for a copy in very good to fine condition in a like dustjacket. [7]

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References

  1. Barzun, Jacques and Taylor, Wendell Hertig. A Catalogue of Crime. New York: Harper & Row. 1971, revised and enlarged edition 1989. ISBN   0-06-015796-8
  2. "Escape Into New York"
  3. "Forty years with Nero Wolfe" Archived 2011-12-28 at the Wayback Machine
  4. Van Dover, J. Kenneth, At Wolfe's Door: The Nero Wolfe Novels of Rex Stout (1991, Borgo Press, Mitford Series; second edition 2003, James A. Rock & Co., Publishers; hardcover ISBN   0-918736-51-X / Paperback ISBN   0-918736-52-8); p. 19
  5. Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, New York: Garland Publishing; ISBN   0-8240-9479-4), pp. 24–25. John McAleer, Judson Sapp and Arriean Schemer are associate editors of this definitive publication history.
  6. Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I (2001, New York: The Mysterious Bookshop, limited edition of 250 copies), p. 21
  7. Smiley, Robin H., "Rex Stout: A Checklist of Primary First Editions." Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine (Volume 16, Number 4), April 2006, p. 33

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