During the darkest days of World War II, the United States Army wanted Nero Wolfe to apply his genius to problems of military intelligence. (They already had enlisted Major Archie Goodwin in the cause.) But all Wolfe wanted was to be a foot soldier - to go out and shoot the enemy. All he and his chef/major-domo Fritz Brenner would do was walk outdoors in an effort to lose weight and get the army to let him enlist. Not likely, right? So the army sent Major Goodwin to try and talk some sense into Wolfe's head. What happened is told in the two novellas that make up Not Quite Dead Enough, by Rex Stout, first published in 1944. The book is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
In "Not Quite Dead Enough," the first of the two novellas in this volume, Archie Goodwin comes home to the brownstone where Wolfe lives to find his civilian boss trying to lose weight in an effort – one Archie cheerfully calls “pathetic” – to get the army to let him go to Europe and shoot enemy soldiers. Wolfe, because he is stubborn and – let’s be charitable – his mind is somewhat clouded by a radical diet consisting primarily of lettuce and prunes, won’t respond to the army’s efforts to enlist his brain for the war effort. That’s why Archie’s military superiors send him home – to try to talk some sense into Nero Wolfe. Archie is smart enough to consider that a lost cause, so instead he must find a way to reawaken Wolfe’s brain – and the way he does so will probably delight you. It's outrageous enough to make readers sympathize, for once, with Wolfe's long-time nemesis, Lieutenant Cramer of homicide.
The second novella, “Booby Trap,” has Wolfe working with the army in an effort to determine whether the death of an Army officer, blown up with a new type of hand grenade, is murder – and, if so, to solve the case. Of course, Wolfe has Archie back as his right-hand man, even though Archie technically is still reporting through the military chain of command. It’s a very good puzzle. I might add that the concluding confrontation scene is a bit unusual in this one – unusual in a good way, too, with more tension than usual.
These two stories make a fine addition to the corpus, the collective stories about Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Both regular readers and newcomers to Wolfe and Goodwin will find these stories a delight.