Murder by the Book
|Murder by the Book|
|Cover artist||Bill English|
|October 12, 1951|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Pages||248 pp. (first edition)|
|Preceded by||Curtains for Three|
|Followed by||Triple Jeopardy|
Because the New York police have written the case off as an accident, a Peoria businessman asks Wolfe to investigate the hit-and-run death of his daughter, a reader for a book publishing company, in Van Cortlandt Park. Wolfe connects her death to a list of names he was recently shown by Inspector Cramer, related to a stalled homicide investigation — and concludes there is a second murder. A third murder validates Wolfe's conclusion, and Archie follows the trail of an unpublished novel to California and back. Much of the plot -- and the eventual solution to the mystery -- turns on the daily life of a big law office, the frictions and rivalries between the partners (as well as between their respective secretaries and clerks).
Reviews and commentary
- Anthony Boucher, The New York Times Book Review (October 28, 1951) — For some years now Nero Wolfe has flourished best in novelettes ... The shorter exploits, annually collected in volumes of three, have been models of the middle-length detective story; but some of us have still yearned nostalgically for the days of such Wolfe novels as Too Many Cooks and The League of Frightened Men. It's a pleasure at last to report that in Murder by the Book Rex Stout restores Nero Wolfe to his proper place in the long detective novel. A man has been murdered presumably because of a novel which he wrote and which has completely disappeared; there is apparently as total an absence of clues as ever confronted a fictional detective. And the story is not so much one of detection, as of the ingenious efforts of Wolfe and the incomparable Archie Goodwin to find some conceivable starting point from which detection can be carried on. It's an odd and interesting approach; the solution is at once plausible and surprising (if not quite deductively watertight). Wolfe and Archie are both in top form and Stout has rarely done a better novelistic job of putting flesh on assorted minor characters.
- Stuart M. Kaminsky — I am a huge Stout fan. I've got a collection of the Wolfe novels and re-read them. I just finished reading Murder by the Book, definitely one of my favorites in the series. Check Stout's scenes of Archie in Los Angeles. They rank right up there with Chandler, and the characters — major and minor — are vivid and memorable, not to mention the great give-and-take between Wolfe and Archie.
- Nancy Pearl, Book Lust — When Stout is on top of his game, which is most of the time, his diabolically clever plotting and his storytelling ability exceed that of any other mystery writer you can name, including Agatha Christie, who invented her own eccentric genius detective Hercule Poirot. Although in the years since Stout's death I find myself going back and rereading his entire oeuvre every year or two, I return with particular pleasure to these five novels: The Doorbell Rang; Plot It Yourself; Murder by the Book; Champagne for One; and Gambit.
- Saturday Review of Literature (November 10, 1951) — Missing novel MS is lethal to NY quartet and disrupts high-toned law office, but orchidaphilic Nero Wolfe pins blue ribbon on felon. Usual scrupulous attention to, and skilled management of, detail; honest, lively, interest-holding performance.
- Terry Teachout, About Last Night, "Forty years with Nero Wolfe" (January 12, 2009) — Rex Stout's witty, fast-moving prose hasn't dated a day, while Wolfe himself is one of the enduringly great eccentrics of popular fiction. I've spent the past four decades reading and re-reading Stout's novels for pleasure, and they have yet to lose their savor ... It is to revel in such writing that I return time and again to Stout's books, and in particular to The League of Frightened Men, Some Buried Caesar, The Silent Speaker, Too Many Women, Murder by the Book, Before Midnight, Plot It Yourself, Too Many Clients, The Doorbell Rang, and Death of a Doxy, which are for me the best of all the full-length Wolfe novels.
Nero Wolfe (Paramount Television)
Murder by the Book was adapted as the eighth episode of Nero Wolfe (1981), an NBC TV series starring William Conrad as Nero Wolfe and Lee Horsley as Archie Goodwin. Other members of the regular cast include George Voskovec (Fritz Brenner), Robert Coote (Theodore Horstmann), George Wyner (Saul Panzer) and Allan Miller (Inspector Cramer). Guest stars include Walter Brooke (George [Frederick] Briggs), Delta Burke (Jean Wellmann), Ed Gilbert (Robert [Emmett] Phelps), David Hedison (Phillip [James] Corrigan) and John Randolph (Ryan [Conroy] O'Malley). Directed by Bob Kelljan from a teleplay by Wallace Ware (David Karp), "Murder by the Book" aired March 13, 1981.
Andre Malraux reference
During his foray to California, Archie Goodwin contracts with a local detective agency for a detective able to impersonate a literary agent, and rejects several candidates who don't fit the role. The one who is finally chosen (and performs to great satisfaction) surprises Goodwin by reading in his spare time a serious philosophical book named Twilight of the Absolute. (Goodwin himself, when later left alone, glances at this book but does not care to read it, preferring to pass his time with newspapers and magazines.)
Stout does not specify the name of the writer of Twilight of the Absolute. In fact it is a book by Andre Malraux, translated from French and published in the US by Pantheon Books in 1950, one year before the present book .
- In his limited-edition pamphlet, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I, Otto Penzler describes the first edition of Murder by the Book: "Yellow cloth, front cover and spine printed with red; rear cover blank. Issued in a yellow, red, black and white dust wrapper."
- In April 2006, Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine estimated that the first edition of Murder by the Book (featured on the cover of the magazine) had a value of between $400 and $750. The estimate is for a copy in very good to fine condition in a like dustjacket.
- 1952, New York: Viking (Mystery Guild), January 1952, hardcover
- The far less valuable Viking book club edition may be distinguished from the first edition in three ways:
- The dust jacket has "Book Club Edition" printed on the inside front flap, and the price is absent (first editions may be price clipped if they were given as gifts).
- Book club editions are sometimes thinner and always taller (usually a quarter of an inch) than first editions.
- Book club editions are bound in cardboard, and first editions are bound in cloth (or have at least a cloth spine).
- 1952, London: Collins Crime Club, April 7, 1952, hardcover
- 1954, New York: Bantam #1252, August 1954, paperback
- London: Collins (White Circle), #295c, not dated, paperback
- 1964, New York: The Viking Press, Royal Flush: The Fourth Nero Wolfe Omnibus (with Fer-de-Lance and Three Witnesses), July 23, 1965, hardcover
- 1967, London: Fontana #1534, 1967, paperback
- 1974, London: Penguin Books, ISBN 978-0-14-003806-4 1974, paperback
- 1995, New York: Bantam ISBN 0-553-76311-3 September 1, 1995, paperback
- 2006, Auburn, California: The Audio Partners Publishing Corp., Mystery Masters ISBN 1-57270-536-1 June 28, 2006 , CD (unabridged, read by Michael Prichard)
- 2010, New York: Bantam ISBN 978-0-307-75606-0 May 12, 2010, e-book
- Pierce, J. Kingston, "Murder Is His Business". Stuart M. Kaminsky interviewed in January Magazine, 2002
- Pearl, Nancy, Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason (Seattle, Washington: Sasquatch Books, 2003, ISBN 1-57061-381-8); p. 226
- Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, New York: Garland Publishing; ISBN 0-8240-9479-4), p9. 28–29. John McAleer, Judson Sapp and Arriean Schemer are associate editors of this definitive publication history.
- Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I (2001, New York: The Mysterious Bookshop, limited edition of 250 copies), p. 27
- Smiley, Robin H., "Rex Stout: A Checklist of Primary First Editions." Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine (Volume 16, Number 4), April 2006, p. 33
- Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I, pp. 19–20
Quotations related to Murder by the Book at Wikiquote