Too Many Women (novel)
|Cover artist||Robert Hallock|
|October 20, 1947|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Pages||251 pp. (first edition)|
|Preceded by||The Silent Speaker|
|Followed by||And Be a Villain|
I told him I was Archie Goodwin, the heart, liver, lungs, and gizzard of the private detective business of Nero Wolfe, Wolfe being merely the brains. He asked sarcastically if I was a genius too, and I told him no indeed, I was comparatively human.
— Archie Goodwin converses with the prospective client in Too Many Women, chapter 1
A malcontent at the Naylor-Kerr corporation charges that one of its employees, thought to have been killed in a hit-and-run accident, was actually murdered. The president of the giant New York firm hires Archie to look for proof one way or another, in the guise of a personnel consultant in the corporation's executive offices — where 500 beautiful women are employed.
Nero Wolfe is approached by Jasper Pine, the president of Naylor-Kerr Inc., a large engineering corporation. Having recently commissioned a survey into employee turnover, a report has come back from one department claiming that Waldo Moore, an employee previously thought to have been killed in a hit-and-run accident, was in fact murdered. Alarmed by the report, Naylor-Kerr's board of directors wish Nero Wolfe to investigate and resolve the matter. As Wolfe has been increasingly frustrating company of late, Archie Goodwin offers to go undercover as an outside consultant to investigate the matter, and with Wolfe's consent is duly placed on the Naylor-Kerr payroll.
Archie's investigation begins in the stock department, where Archie is amazed to discover 500 beautiful women employed as secretaries and assistants, including Hester Livsey, Moore's fiancée at the time of his death. He encounters Kerr Naylor, the eccentric and disagreeable department supervisor and the man who lodged the report claiming that Moore was murdered; Naylor is the son of one of the founders of the company and has ambitions towards becoming president. Naylor reveals that he is aware of Goodwin's real identity and reveals that Moore gained his job through the intervention Naylor's sister Celia, who is also married to Jasper Pine. The rumour begins to spread that Archie is investigating Moore's death.
Archie is approached by Rosa Bendini, a filer in the company, who support's Naylor's claim that Moore was murdered before trying to seduce Archie. During their discussion, Archie learns details about Moore's interactions with his coworkers, including Rosa herself and develops a potential list of suspects: Livsey herself; Gwynne Ferris, who attempted to seduce Moore but was rebuffed; Benjamin Frenkel, a supervisor who had developed feelings for Ferris and had been rebuffed; and Summer Hoff, a technical advisor who had gotten into a physical fight with Moore, which was believed to be over Livsey.
Archie decides to take Bendini back to the brownstone to be interviewed by Wolfe, but they are followed and approached by Harold Anthony, Rosa's jealous estranged husband who suspects Archie of seducing his wife. In the resulting altercation, Rosa flees, and upon subduing Anthony Archie takes him to see Wolfe. Upon being convinced that Archie has no designs on his wife, Anthony becomes cooperative, admitting that he did get into a fight with Moore over his wife but that he has an alibi for the time of the man's death. Afterwards, Cecily Pine contacts Wolfe and arranges an interview with him, taking a shine to Archie in the process. She asks Wolfe to drop his investigation and admits that she had had a close friendship with Moore, and used her influence to get him his job. She tells Wolfe and Archie that she has attempted to persuade her brother to stop causing trouble regarding Moore's death, but her brother has refused.
The next day, Frenkel approaches Goodwin, and admits that he has been acting irrationally since Moore seduced Ferris away from him; he suspects he has murdered Moore while in a fugue state. They are interrupted by Naylor, who reveals to Archie that he knows the identity of Moore's murderer, but refuses to reveal it. Archie includes this information in his daily report to Pine and the board of executives, and the next day when he arrives at the office he discovers that someone has broken into his filing cabinet and read his reports. A fingerprint analysis reveals that it was Gwynne Ferris, who was the one to spread the rumour of Archie's investigation after he inadvertently asked her about Moore on his first day. During Archie's interview with Ferris, Naylor interrupts once again, retracting his earlier claim of knowing who the murderer was and accusing Archie of lying.
An article about Archie's investigation appears in the Gazette, prompting Inspector Cramer to arrive at the brownstone. He demands to know what Wolfe and Archie are up to, and the resulting argument gets increasingly heated and childish before it is interrupted by a phone call for Cramer; Kerr Naylor has been found dead, run over at the same location as Waldo Moore. The similarity of the deaths and the location remove any doubt that both men have been the victim of vehicular homicide. Archie accompanies Cramer to interview all the suspects except for Hester Livsey, who is out of town.
Saul Panzer arrives at the brownstone the next day. Having been hired by Wolfe to tail Kerr Naylor but having lost the tail before the murder, he reveals that on the afternoon of his death Naylor met up with a young woman with whom he had an argument; the description matches Hester Livsey. Archie manages to persuade Wolfe to hold off on contacting the police with this information until Saul has confirmed that Livsey was the woman in question, but Wolfe assigns Saul a task that Archie is not privy to. That Monday, Saul confirms to Archie that Livsey was the woman he saw when the two detectives see her arrive for work -- then, upon seeing Summer Hoff approach her, Saul reveals that he was also present, having observed the meeting as well.
Archie is approached by the company board of directors, including Pine, who vote to hire Wolfe to investigate both murders and identify the murderer. Archie reveals to Livsey that he is aware she is hiding something about the matter, although he does not reveal what, and persuades her to come to Wolfe's office for an interview. Summer Hoff tags along, and when Wolfe challenges them regarding her meeting with Naylor, both claim that they were with each other at the time. Insulted by the transparency of the lie, and after a lengthy period of futile investigating which produces no information of value, Wolfe arranges a ploy with Archie to stir the murderer into action.
The next day, Archie stages a meeting with Livsey that makes it seem like she has revealed the identity of the murderer to him, and further implies this to Gwynne Ferris, the office gossip. Between the two, the rumour is soon spreading that Livsey knows who the murderer is, and Archie further stokes the flames of gossip with a report to the board of directors that confirms this. The resulting gossip stirs the key suspects into action, and under the pressure Livsey finally cracks, insisting that she will reveal the truth to anyone except Jasper Pine. Archie convinces her to accompany him to the brownstone for her protection, where Wolfe summons Cecily Pine by informing her that he knows who the murderer is.
When she arrives, Cecily Pine confirms Wolfe's suspicions -- the murderer was her husband, Jasper Pine. Over a year ago, Pine and Livsey had begun a clandestine affair, during which Pine had become increasingly obsessed with her. Although not resentful of the affair itself, Cecily begun to fear that her husband's obsession was threatening their comfortable lifestyle, and so persuaded Moore to seduce Livsey away from her husband. When Moore and Livsey ended up falling in love, Jasper Pine was driven to a jealous rage and murdered Moore. Cecily confided in her brother, and Naylor used the information to try and force Pine out of the company presidency and seize it for himself, but underestimated Pine; Pine murdered him to keep him silent. The conversation is interrupted by a phone call from one of Wolfe's operatives revealing that Jasper Pine has committed suicide by leaping out of his office window, and Wolfe and Archie realise that Cecily manipulated him into doing so.
The resolution to this Nero Wolfe case is made significantly more difficult by two events that border on impossibility within the Nero Wolfe universe: 1) Saul Panzer loses a tail, and 2) Fritz forgets to give Archie a message. All of the principal characters in the novel are aghast at how astronomically unlikely each of these events, by themselves are, never mind both of them occurring in a short period of time.
Inspector Cramer, who always assumes Wolfe is keeping vital information from him, is perhaps most convinced of that in this Nero Wolfe story than in any other, since to take what Wolfe and Archie are telling him at face value, he must believe that these two "impossible" events took place (even though they actually did).
Reviews and commentary
- Isaac Anderson, The New York Times Book Review (October 19, 1947) — Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe's right-hand man, takes an assumed name and enters the employ of the engineering firm of Naylor-Kerr, Inc., in order to investigate the death of a former employe of that firm. In no time at all everybody in the Naylor-Kerr organization knows who Archie is and what he is doing. Naturally that makes it a bit difficult for him to carry on. Another difficulty is that there are so many liars about the place. Nero Wolfe advises Archie to counter-attack by capping their lies with others of his own, which Archie does with excellent results. Most of the women in the case — and mighty attractive women they are — are employes of Naylor-Kerr, and one of them is even more closely connected with the firm. Nero and Archie win out despite the obstructive tactics of almost everyone concerned. But why does Rex Stout call these books Nero Wolfe novels? Surely Archie Goodwin deserves equal billing with his obese employer.
- Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor, A Catalogue of Crime — Archie is the center of a seraglio of designing creatures, who want to bribe or seduce him as he helps Nero discover who killed (the victim in a firm) that employs 500 women. Longer than the later tales, this one has a great many lively turns and a good surprise ending.
- David Lehman, "Escape Into New York", The New York Times (November 25, 2001) — Of Stout's 72 Nero Wolfe novels, the mystery aficionado Jacques Barzun prefers Too Many Cooks (1938). I vote for Too Many Women (1947). But you can't go wrong with And Be a Villain (1948) and The Silent Speaker (1946) if the place you'd like to escape to is New York in the late 1940s.
- 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.
- J. Kenneth Van Dover, At Wolfe's Door — Too Many Women is one of the last novels of the series to animate the established conventions without going beyond them (e.g. by introducing a master criminal or by implicating one of the members of the repertory cast). Wolfe's role is subordinate to that of Archie, who engages in a number of entertaining encounters with the women of Naylor-Kerr.
- In his limited-edition pamphlet, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I, Otto Penzler describes the first edition of Too Many Women: "Green cloth, front cover and spine printed with very dark green lettering and yellow wavy rule; rear cover blank. Issued in a full-color pictorial dust wrapper."
- In April 2006, Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine estimated that the first edition of Too Many Women had a value of between $400 and $750. The estimate is for a copy in very good to fine condition in a like dustjacket.
- 1947, Toronto: Macmillan, 1947, hardcover
- 1948, New York: Detective Book Club #68, February 1948, hardcover
- 1948, London: Collins Crime Club, April 12, 1948, hardcover
- 1949, New York: Bantam #722, October 1949, first paperback
- London: Collins (White Circle) #205c, not dated, paperback
- 1958, New York: The Viking Press, All Aces: A Nero Wolfe Omnibus (with Some Buried Caesar and Trouble in Triplicate), May 15, 1958, hardcover
- 1964, London: Fontana, 1964, paperback
- 1985, New York: Bantam, ISBN 0-553-25066-3 July 1985, paperback
- 2007, New Kingstown, RI: BBC Audiobooks America, Mystery Masters ISBN 1-57270-850-6 September 7, 2007 , CD (unabridged, read by Michael Prichard)
- 2011, New York: Bantam ISBN 978-0-307-76808-7 August 17, 2011, e-book
- Barzun, Jacques and Taylor, Wendell Hertig. A Catalogue of Crime. New York: Harper & Row. 1971, revised and enlarged edition 1989. ISBN 0-06-015796-8
- Van Dover, J. Kenneth, At Wolfe's Door: The Nero Wolfe Novels of Rex Stout (1991, Borgo Press, Mitford Series; second edition 2003, James A. Rock & Co., Publishers; Hardcover ISBN 0-918736-51-X / Paperback ISBN 0-918736-52-8); p. 19
- Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, New York: Garland Publishing; ISBN 0-8240-9479-4), pp. 24–25. 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. 21
- 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
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