The Father Hunt
|Cover artist||Mel Williamson|
|May 28, 1968|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Pages||184 pp. (first edition)|
|Preceded by||Death of a Doxy|
|Followed by||Death of a Dude|
The Father Hunt is a Nero Wolfe detective novel by Rex Stout, published by the Viking Press in 1968. "This is the first Nero Wolfe novel in nearly two years," the front flap of the dust jacket reads, "an unusual interval for the productive Rex Stout, who celebrated his eightieth birthday in December 1966."
"Then we're left with nothing."
"We have Saul and Fred and Orrie. And me. And, oh yes, excuse me, we have you."
He looked at his current book, always there on the desk, picked it up, dropped it, and glared at me.
— Nero Wolfe at an impasse in The Father Hunt, chapter 9
Amy Denovo, a young woman assisting Lily Rowan, hires Nero Wolfe because she must find out who her father is, or was. After her mother was killed in a recent hit-and-run, Amy received a locked metal box containing more than a quarter of a million dollars in cash — and a letter from her mother that explained only that the money came from her father. The mystery of Amy's mother's identity rivals that of her father's.
Lily Rowan has employed Amy Denovo, a recent Smith graduate, to assist her in collecting material about her father for a book. After a brief acquaintance with Archie Goodwin, Amy intercepts him one afternoon in the lobby of Lily's building. "It's very personal," Amy tells Archie as she asks for a few minutes of his time.
Amy has never known her own father, and she asks Archie to help her find out who he is, or was. She believes her mother took the name Denovo — "de novo," Latin for "anew," "afresh" — because she began a new life after Amy was born. She can't be certain because Elinor Denovo was killed three months before, in a hit-and-run. Amy is curious about her mother, but she must know about her father — and the inquiry must be kept secret. Amy knows Archie is the only person she can trust.
Although he is intrigued, Archie turns Amy down. Nero Wolfe charges high fees, and the $2,000 Amy has in the bank would not begin to cover what promises to be a long and expensive job. Archie floats the idea of having Lily supply the funds — she undoubtedly would — but Amy is adamant that no one is to know about the father hunt. Leaving Amy at a loss to know what she should do next, Archie goes to Saul Panzer's place to play poker — but the cards do not cooperate.
The next afternoon, Amy arrives at the brownstone with $20,000 in hundred-dollar bills — a retainer. Archie parks Amy in the front room, explains the situation to Nero Wolfe, and introduces her. Wolfe wants reassurance that the money is in Amy's possession legally. Amy says that her mother's death has brought to light the fact that Elinor Denovo had received $1,000 a month since Amy was born — a total of $264,000 — and that this money is from Amy's father. She recites her mother's letter verbatim. Wolfe keeps the money, but only for safekeeping pending Archie's verification of the letter.
A visit to Elinor Denovo's apartment tells Archie next to nothing about her. He reviews documents in her handwriting, finds the letter is authentic, and tells Amy she is now a client in good standing.
"I doubt if there's another girl anywhere who had a mother for twenty-two years and knows so little about her," Archie tells Wolfe when he returns to the office. Amy has no photographs of her mother. She knows nothing of her mother's friends, her background, her childhood. She doesn't know what her mother did for a living before she was born. She isn't even sure what kind of work she did for Raymond Thorne Productions, a television production company. She doesn't know where she herself was born.
At the Gazette, Archie gets what little Lon Cohen can give him about the hit-and-run that killed Mrs. Denovo, and concludes that the police were getting nowhere. On his way out, Archie stops at a phone booth to call Sergeant Purley Stebbins, and casually asks how the case is progressing. "It's hanging," Purley tells him. "But we're not forgetting it." Inspector Cramer visits the brownstone the next morning, indicating the police will also not be forgetting that Archie is asking questions.
Archie visits the Madison Avenue office of Raymond Thorne Productions, Elinor Denovo's employer for more than 20 years. He tells Thorne that Amy is convinced that her mother was deliberately killed and has hired Nero Wolfe to find the murderer. Thorne says there is no chance anyone working there killed her.
He, too, knows nothing of Mrs. Denovo's life before she began working for him. One day in July 1945 she had walked in, he was short staffed, and after a week he didn't care where she'd come from because she was so good. When she died she was vice-president of the company.
Thorne isn't surprised there are no photographs in the apartment, because Mrs. Denovo could never be persuaded to have one taken, not even for professional purposes. But Thorne has one — two, actually, captured by accident and without her knowledge. He will give copies to Archie.
Archie traces the checks Elinor Denovo received every month to the Seaboard Bank and Trust Company. Wolfe imposes upon the good will of a director of Seaboard — Avery Ballou, who had paid Wolfe well for rescuing him from a predicament a year and a half before. Ballou soon tells him that the checks were drawn by Cyrus M. Jarrett, who was president of Seaboard and 54 years old when Amy was born. Jarrett has a daughter living in Europe, and a son, Eugene, age 43. Ballou doesn't like Jarrett — a lot of people don't, he says — and when Archie meets the old man, he knows why.
Ballou arranges for Archie to have lunch with Bert McCray, a vice president at Seaboard who once had been Jarrett's protégé. McCray recognizes the photographs of Elinor Denovo, whose name was Carlotta Vaughn when they both worked for Cyrus M. Jarrett.
Freelance detective Orrie Cather is sent to Washington, D.C., to check on Cyrus M. Jarrett. Saul Panzer and Fred Durkin try to turn up something, anything, about Carlotta Vaughn. Archie follows two promising leads that end in humiliation. Wolfe drafts a display ad to run in all of the New York papers, offering a $500 reward for information about the whereabouts of Carlotta Vaughn, alias Elinor Denovo, between April and October 1944.
After placing the ads, Archie leaves to spend the weekend at Lily's place in the country. Some uninvited people drop by, but following custom there is only one other weekend houseguest. This weekend Lily has invited Amy Denovo, who makes the mistake of calling Archie by his first name in Lily's presence, after dinner on the terrace. The weekend is less than perfect, and Archie is annoyed by the presence of Floyd Vance, an obnoxious press agent.
By 3 p.m. Thursday, few leads have been turned up by the newspaper ad. When Saul, Fred and Orrie call in, Archie will not be disappointed since he expects nothing. Wolfe has exceeded his quota of beer, and Archie has come back to the office with a slug of Irish whiskey. Sitting with his eyes closed, Wolfe declares that he has decided to assume that Amy's father killed her mother, since a three-month-old murder will be easier to solve than a 22-year-old mystery. They will begin by speaking to Raymond Thorne. During a long, rambling interview that extends into the wee hours, Archie gets something. After hearing that something, Wolfe goes to the kitchen for beer and brings Archie a glass of cognac.
The next morning Archie tells Wolfe he'll brief Saul, Fred and Orrie during breakfast. "Only Saul," Wolfe says. "We won't risk it with Fred and Orrie." Archie arranges for Lily to play bodyguard to Amy, since it is now a certainty that Elinor Denovo was murdered and she may be next. Then Archie and Saul go to work.
The unfamiliar word
In most Nero Wolfe novels and novellas, there is at least one unfamiliar word, usually spoken by Wolfe.
- The word "cogitable" appears in chapter 5, in Archie's reply to a question about whether Mrs. Denovo's death was premeditated murder:
- "Mr. Wolfe would say it's 'cogitable.' He likes words like that."
Cast of characters
- Nero Wolfe — The private investigator
- Archie Goodwin — Wolfe's assistant, and the narrator of all Wolfe stories
- Lily Rowan — Manhattan socialite and heiress who is Archie's main romantic interest throughout the corpus
- Amy Denovo — Smith graduate hired by Lily Rowan to assist in collecting material for a book about Lily's father
- Elinor Denovo — Amy's mother, killed in a hit-and-run three months before
- Lon Cohen — Of the Gazette
- Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Purley Stebbins — Of Manhattan Homicide South
- Mortimer Hotchkiss and Mr. Atwood — Of Continental Bank and Trust
- Avery Ballou — A director of the Seaboard Bank and Trust Company
- Cyrus M. Jarrett — Of Seaboard
- Bertram McCray — A vice president of Seaboard; formerly Cyrus M. Jarrett's secretary and protégé
- Eugene Jarrett — Son of Cyrus M. Jarrett, and a vice president of Seaboard
- Floyd Vance — public relations counselor
- James O'Dell Worthington — Physician
- Doc Vollmer — Physician and neighbor to Nero Wolfe
- Salvatore Manzoni — Waiter
- Nathaniel Parker — Nero Wolfe's attorney
- Dorothy Sebor — Of Sebor Shopping Service, Rockefeller Center; "You are the most beautiful woman I ever laid eyes on," Archie tells her
- Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin and Orrie Cather — Freelance detectives employed by Wolfe
- 1968, New York: Viking, May 28, 1968, hardcover
- In his limited-edition pamphlet, Collecting Mystery Fiction #10, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part II, Otto Penzler describes the first edition of The Father Hunt: "Red boards, black cloth spine; front and rear covers blank; spine printed with white. Issued in a mainly red pictorial dust wrapper."
- In April 2006, Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine estimated that the first edition of The Father Hunt had a value of between $100 and $200. The estimate is for a copy in very good to fine condition in a like dustjacket.
- 1968, New York: Viking (Mystery Guild), August 1968, 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).
- 1968, Argosy, November 1968 (abridged)
- 1969, London: Collins Crime Club, March 1969, hardcover
- 1969, New York: Bantam #H4467, June 1969, paperback
- 1970, London: Fontana, 1970, paperback
- 1995, USA, Bantam Books ISBN 0-553-76297-4 January 2, 1995, paperback
- 2005, USA, The Audio Partners Publishing Corp., Mystery Masters ISBN 1-57270-459-4 May 10, 2005, audio CD (unabridged, read by Michael Prichard)
- 2010, New York: Bantam ISBN 978-0-307-75591-9 May 26, 2010, e-book
- Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, New York: Garland Publishing; ISBN 0-8240-9479-4), pp. 42–43. John McAleer, Judson Sapp and Arriean Schemer are associate editors of this definitive publication history.
- Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #10, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part II (2001, New York: The Mysterious Bookshop, limited edition of 250 copies), p. 22
- Smiley, Robin H., "Rex Stout: A Checklist of Primary First Editions." Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine (Volume 16, Number 4), April 2006, p. 35
- Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I, pp. 19–20
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