Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In the Best Families, by Rex Stout

This novel completes the Arnold Zeck trilogy (Nero Wolfe's Moriarty).  Zeck wasn't much of a villian, and his death isn't much of a story.  In fact I enjoyed this book the least of any Wolfe novel in recent memory.
First off I should note the following:  I am a hypocrite.  If you look through this site at the novels I've read, the vast majority are crime novels, and the vast majority of those deal with the deaths of humans.  I am not bothered by these deaths, for the most part, at all.  But in this book, along with a woman being killed, so is her loyal dog.  And dammit if that didn't really get to me.
With that out of the way we get to the first reason I didn't enjoy this book very much:  Although I've always thought the narrator (Archie Goodwin) was my favorite character, it turns out I don't like him as much as I thought when he doesn't have Wolfe around.  In this book, Wolfe is around in the beginning and the end, but the majority of the book is Wolfe free.  Goodwin, without Wolfe, is a pain in the ass.  I'm sure Stout did this on purpose, and I imagine Wolfe without Goodwin is equally a pain.   And it turns out Goodwin doesn't like dogs, and doesn't seem to care much that one died.  Strike two.
Another reason I wasn't much of a fan of this one is the Arnold Zeck death is anticlimactic to say the least, and Zeck really never seems like much of a threat. 
Stout (the author), however is to be commended.  He clearly knows (knew) his audience, and I must admit I fell for the having Goodwin not care about dogs business.  After Zeck is killed there is still the question of who killed the woman who hired Wolfe in the beginning (she was killed while walking her dog, her dog was killed immedately after she was).
Wolfe states (paraphrasing) to his collected guests, one of whom is the killer, that the death of the dog was in fact worse than the death of the woman.  The woman was killed for her money.  A tragic death, but not an uncommon one.  But the dog, the dog was killed by someone she loved and trusted, and the killer broke this trust and for that Wolfe insisted he be brought to justice.
So Stout (the author) made me finally find a flaw in Goodwin (the narrator), but raised my esteem for Wolfe.  The ending where Wolfe is stating how the dog loved and trusted the killer probably wouldn't mean much to a non-animal person, but if you've ever loved a dog, it will get to you.  I found the description stayed with me for hours after I'd read it.  It didn't have the power of the Polar Bear story I mentioned in my last update (O'Brian's Nutmeg of Consolation), but it was moving none-the-less.

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