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Authors: Rex Stout

Tags: #Mystery, #Crime, #Thriller, #Classic

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Nero Wolfe 14 - Trouble in Triplicate

The World of Rex Stout

Now, for the first time ever, enjoy a peek into the life of Nero Wolfe's creator, Rex Stout, courtesy of the Stout Estate. Pulled from Rex Stout's own archives, here are rarely seen, some never-before-published memorabilia. Each title in 'The Rex Stout Library' will offer an exclusive look into the life of the man who gave Nero Wolfe life.

At the time of Trouble in Triplicate's publication in 1949, The New Yorker magazine did a rather complimentary (and by no means embellished) piece on Rex Stout. One reader lacked sufficient faith in the great author and took the magazine to task for its claims. Here is his response.


July 14,1949

To the Editors, The New Yorker,


IT is perilous at any time to take issue with a writer of Alva Johnston's reputation. It is doubly dangerous when one may be taking issue at the same time with Rex Stout, who, to judge by Mr. Johnston's recent Profile of him, could single-handed out-argue a team made up of Sam Leibowitz, Casey Stengel, and Donald Duck. Nevertheless, I am going to take issue with Mr. Johnston and let Mr. Stout shoulder his way into the matter if he feels like it.

In the Profile of Mr. Stout, Mr. J. says, 'John Wallace Stout [Rex Stout's father] had an extraordinary library. It consisted of about twelve hundred volumes of biography, history, fiction, philosophy, science, and poetry. Rex had read them all by the time he was eleven.'

I just plain don't believe this assertion, that it is impossible for an eleven-year-old boy, Stout or not Stout, to have read twelve hundred assorted volumes of printed matter, especially of such printed matter as must have been in the Stout home fifty-odd years ago. It was a windy era, and books ran [???].

Let us say, since Mr. Johnston does not state otherwise, that Rex Stout began reading books-honest, three-pound books-at the age of six. That allows him five years, or 1,826 days. (1896 was a leap year.) On the next factor in this computation, let us give Mr. Johnston's statement a break; let us say that the twelve hundred volumes averaged three hundred pages apiece. In reality, they probably averaged many more pages than that. No thrifty Quaker of that time would have handed out good money for a skinny little book of less than four or five hundred pages.

Well, twelve hundred volumes of three hundred pages each is three hundred and sixty thousand pages. That means that for five years, from the time he was six until he was eleven, this spare-time bookworm was devouring a hundred and ninety-seven pages of heavy stuff every single day, without fail.

Now, a person could easily read a hundred and ninety-seven pages a day, although I deem it unlikely that any seven- or eight-year-old boy would do so, but by Mr. Johnston's own account the young Stout was not a lad with a one-track mind. He was doing plenty of other things that took time. To clarify my position in all this, I have jotted down my own estimate-arbitrary, of course-of what the boy was up to:

Young Rex Stout's Day

School 4 hours

Travel time to and from school 2 hours

Sleep 8 hours

Mathematical wizardry 2 hours

Meals 2 hours

Ghost-exorcising and such sundries 1 hour

Going to church 1 hour

Committing routine annoyances 2 hours

Natural odds and ends 1 hour

Total 22 hours

Left for reading 2 hours

If this figure seems low, it is because it is estimated on a yearly basis, allowing for vacations. As for holidays, I couldn't be bothered figuring them in.

2 At one place in the Profile, I got the impression that...

3 Mr. Johnston tells fully of the tyke's mathematical...

4 Come to look back at the Profile, it was the church and not the school that I took to be nine miles away, but, at that, the church was probably near the school, and since this garrulous lad Stout used to engage his Sunday-school teacher in arguments about such things as the possibility of changing water into wine, the whole process of Sunday-school attending must have used up seven hours a week, or an average of one hour a day. In debating a much simpler feat-turning wine into water-I have heard arguments continue for weeks and months between certain saloon proprietors accused of this metamorphosis and the customers at the bar, so I think my estimate is fair.

5 I am moved to explain here that Rex Stout between the ages of six and eleven does not appeal to me as the most entrancing of youngsters, at least as set forth by Mr. Johnston. To put it another way, if his duplicate were up for adoption this minute, my dear ones and I would take a distinctly bleak attitude toward any effort to fob him off on us. Therefore, I have assumed that the lad set aside an hour or so a day for being a nuisance generally, purely as a matter of routine.

My reasoning thus far compels me either to accept the deduction that young Rex Stout read a hundred and ninety-seven pages in two hours of every day from the age of six to the age of eleven or to reject the deduction. I reject the deduction. That would be ninety-eight and a half pages an hour, or about 1.6 pages a minute. Mostly heavy stuff, too-biography, history, philosophy, science, poetry. I simply don't believe it. Not for 1.6 minutes do I believe it.


John McNulty

BOOK: Trouble In Triplicate
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