Authors: Double for Death
Tags: #Mystery & Detective, #Murder - Investigation, #Fox; Tecumseh (Fictitious Character), #Political, #General, #Mystery Fiction, #Fiction, #Detective and Mystery Stories; American
, 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 he 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 and worked as a sightseeing guide and 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,
, appeared in 1934. It was followed by many others, among them,
Too Many Cooks, The Silent Speaker, If Death Ever Slept, The Doorbell Rang
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
, 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 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-eight. 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
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
The Golden Spiders
The Black Mountain
Three Men Out
Might As Well Be Dead
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
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
The Mountain Cat Murders
ysteries are like cayenne for the brain. The senses
pick up. Who was Jack the Ripper? Who killed Judge Crater? How did I burn through my paycheck so fast? Such questions can intrigue or infuriate, but the mind snaps to attention.
How much better if the mystery attaches to someone else! After all, you don’t really want to find a body in your library. You probably wouldn’t even want to find one in your garage, and it’s easier to tidy up in there.
It’s much more satifying to read about human carcasses than to see them. Rex Stout understood this fastidiousness in
Double for Death.
The victims are discovered soon after their dispatch from this vale of tears. Actually, the reason they were dispatched might be that for them life wasn’t a vale of tears. The living was good until the end, of course. The final moment appeared to make no sense.
That’s the fun of the mystery, figuring out why it does make sense. In the fiction of Mr. Stout, murderers do have motives. Given that we exist in a world of aimless violence, having a solid reason for murder makes it somehow less horrifying … not less morally
reprehensible, just less horrifying. So the key to unraveling the mystery is finding the motive.
Knowing that, Stout sprays motives around like soapsuds at a car wash. It’s either that technique or the “he hadn’t an enemy in the world” technique. In
Double for Death
we discover that the intended victim, not exactly a prince among men, had enemies enough. At first it appears that whoever the individual or individuals might be, they are woefully stupid: they killed the wrong man.
Imagine going to all the trouble to murder someone and finding out you blew it. Do you succumb to the ravishment of misery or do you try, try again? The author tantalizes us with this information but we still can’t unmask the killer.
Whether the detective is the lean and handsome Tecumseh Fox, as in
Double for Death
, or the gargantuan and imperious Nero Wolfe, Rex Stout keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
In Tecumseh Fox, Stout creates a figure as interesting as the mysteries he solves. His country house, dubbed “The Zoo” by neighboring farmers, harbors former criminals trying to straighten up, clients in jeopardy, Mrs. Trimble, the sensitive housekeeper, and Dan Pavey, referred to as Tecumseh’s vice president. Set outside New York City in what was then rolling countryside, Tecumseh’s house is like camp for adults, only without the mandatory swimming classes. Footsteps tramp up and down the hallways; young men prune large branches out of trees; if someone needs a friend to talk to at three in the morning he can usually find another guest awake or he can rouse one. The police roll in and out, complaining or matching wits with Tecumseh, so there’s a dash of animosity to enliven the atmosphere.
We know from the Zoo that Tecumseh, for all his toughness, is softhearted. He can’t turn away someone in trouble. He doesn’t always get paid, either, and he works on a sliding scale of fees. When the damsel in distress shows up at his farm, one of the first things she tells him is that she doesn’t have any money and her uncle, accused of murder and recently fired, doesn’t have any money either. He helps her anyway and is soon drawn into a complex web of personalities, one of whom is bound to be the spider.
Tecumseh appreciates ladies, although Nancy Grant, beautiful and in her early twenties, amuses him more than she attracts him. Nancy at times appears to be a quart low, and while airheads appeal to some men, they don’t especially appeal to Tecumseh. He likes her, he can’t resist her frantic entreaties, but he’s not drawn to her. Somehow that makes him far more interesting than if he took the case in a flash of lust. In
Double for Death
he is a man in his mid-thirties, quite capable of exercising all his parts. He’s working from a different standard and in his way he mystifies people accustomed to simple men, men driven by lust, money, or even fame. Tecumseh, much more complicated, seeks balance. Redressing a wrong is balance. It’s justice, too, but Tecumseh knows better than to pontificate on such subjects as justice, love, and goodness. He lets others blather. He just gets the job done.
How American. Perhaps that’s why we like him so much. It’s not that Tecumseh Fox doesn’t understand the Great Questions. He does. One suspects he’s even answered some of them for himself. But he’s not going to answer them for you. That’s your job. The deepest mysteries are always individual.
One tiny criticism about
Double for Death
from my mystery-writing partner, Sneaky Pie, a tiger cat. There are no cats in this mystery, only sheep. Miss Pie thinks that’s awful.
—Rita Mae Brown
man, with brown cheeks smoothly shaven and wearing a clean denim shirt because it was Monday morning, chaperoning his herd of Jerseys across the paved road from the barn side to the pasture side, saw a car coming and cussed. With any driver whatever the car would make his cows nervous; and if bad luck made it a certain kind of weekend driver from New York, which was only fifty miles to the south, there was no telling what might happen. He stood in the middle of the road and glared at the approaching demon, then felt easier as he saw it was slowing down and still easier when it crept, circling for a six-foot clearance past Jennifer’s indifferent rump. When it stopped completely, so close alongside that he could have reached out and touched the door handle, the last shred of his irritation was dissolved, for he was by no means so hopelessly committed to cows that he didn’t know a pretty girl when he saw one. He even saw, before she spoke, the flecks of ochre that warmed her troubled grey eyes, though she spoke at once.
“Please, am I going right for the Fox place?”
He grunted and crinkles of criticism radiated from
the corners of his eyes. “Oh,” he said, “you’re bound for The Zoo.”
“Yes,” she agreed, not smiling. “I’ve heard that’s what they call it in the neighborhood. Am I going right?”
He nodded and jerked a thumb. “On about a mile, big white house set on a knoll with trees around, back from the road a piece.”
She thanked him. He saw her lips tighten as she reached for the gearshift and blurted: “What you so mad about this fine summer morning?”
“I’m not mad, I’m worried. Thank you.”
He watched the small coupé, not ramshackle but far from elegant, recede until it rounded the bend, then sighed and muttered: “If it’s a man worrying her it’s not me and never will be,” and yelled in fresh irritation: “Hey, Queenie, dern you, move!”
The girl drove the prescribed mile, saw the big white house on the knoll among trees and turned into the private lane which led to it. The pleasant curves of the lane, the little bridge over a brook, the elms and maples which permitted the sunshine to reach only a stingy third of the lawn, even the four or five people scattered around who turned or lifted their heads to watch the coupé pass—these details barely grazed the rim of her attention. There appeared to be no connection between the driveway and the pillared porch, so she followed it around the house to a broad gravelled space, the rear boundary of which was an enormous old barn with one end, judging from the doors, converted into a garage.
She parked at the edge of the gravel and got out. Two big dogs and one little one came loping from behind shrubs, regarded her cynically and rambled off. A rooster crowed without enthusiasm. A man appeared
at a small door at the far corner of the barn, decided in one brief glance that the coupé and its cargo were not his affair, and vanished. The girl started for the back entrance of the house, which was all but hidden from view by a riot of yellow climbing roses, and when nearly there was halted by the emergence of a large round-faced woman in a green smock with the impatient eyes of one who has not quite caught up with the urgencies of life and does not expect to. Her voice, too, was husky with impatience, but not unpleasant.
“How do you do?”
“How do you do?” said the girl. “My name is Nancy Grant. I phoned an hour ago. Is Mr. Fox here?”
The woman shook her head. “Mr. Tecumseh Fox hasn’t returned. You wait on the front porch unless you want to come in the house this way. I’m busy getting ready to cook dinner.”
“I—” The girl bit her lip. “Will he be here soon?”
“Maybe he will, but there’s no telling. He was supposed to come home last night. Didn’t Mr. Crocker tell you that on the phone?”
“Yes, he did, but I—”
“Well, Mr. Tecumseh Fox’ll come some time. He always does. What kind of trouble are you in? Bad?”
“Forget it. You can go and pick flowers. They’re all around, pick any kind you want to. I wish I could. I wish I could go to church or sit outdoors or pick flowers a day like this, but I’ve got to cook dinner.” She wheeled abruptly and made for the entrance, but after she had disappeared behind the roses her face showed again for the announcement: “My name is Mrs. Trimble!” and then was gone.