Let's face it. Most of us read - and re-read - the Nero Wolfe books for reasons that have little to do with the plots of the stories. We read them for the interplay between Wolfe - the often-insufferable genius who rarely moves at all - and Archie Goodwin, who acts as his arms, legs and eyes, as well as being the wisecracking narrator of the stories. We read them for the regular characters, for Fritz and Theodore and Saul, Fred, Orrie, Inspector Cramer, Purley Stebbins, even the despised Lt. Rowcliff. We want to know what Fritz is serving for dinner tonight in the brownstone, or whether Cramer will finally light that cigar, or how Archie will be able to goad Wolfe back into action after the detective relapses into inactivity.
But the plots? Not so much. We enjoy the climactic office confrontations, to be sure. But very often, the plots themselves are on the thin side.
Which brings me to a glaring exception to the rule. I think the plot of "Plot It Yourself" is among the strongest of any Wolfe book - at least in its initial setup and exposition. "Plot It Yourself," by Rex Stout, is the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to that review in its entirety by clicking here.
The plot of "Plot It Yourself" revolves around charges of plagiarism - charges, apparently brought by unsuccessful writers against very successful ones. It appears to be a racket - a very lucrative racket indeed, and the successful authors and their publishers want it stopped.
The best part of "Plot It Yourself" is found in the first several chapters, where Nero Wolfe analyzes the claims of perjury and proves - to his satisfaction and ours - that all the claims must have been made by the same villainous writer. But then the murders begin - and Wolfe becomes so enraged that he takes an oath to stop eating meat and stop drinking beer until he has caught the killer (and plagiarist). Regular readers of Rex Stout's books will understand what an earth-shattering step that is for Wolfe to take.
No need to "Plot It Yourself"; Rex Stout has provided a wonderful plot indeed, and I think it's one of the stronger entries in the series. At the moment, it seems to be out of print again - but it is available (at the link above) in an electronic edition for the Amazon Kindle, and it is most likely available for other e-readers as well.