Counterfeit for Murder

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"Counterfeit for Murder"
AuthorRex Stout
Original title"The Counterfeiter's Knife"
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
SeriesNero Wolfe
Genre(s)Detective fiction
Published inThe Saturday Evening Post
Publication typePeriodical
Publication dateJanuary 1961

"Counterfeit for Murder" is a Nero Wolfe mystery novella by Rex Stout, first serialized as "The Counterfeiter's Knife" in three issues of The Saturday Evening Post (January 14, 21 and 28, 1961). It first appeared in book form in the short-story collection Homicide Trinity, published by the Viking Press in 1962.

An early draft of "Counterfeit for Murder" was posthumously published in the short-story collection Death Times Three (1985) under the title "Assault on a Brownstone".

Plot summary[edit]

Illustrated by Austin Briggs, "The Counterfeiter's Knife" was serialized in three issues of The Saturday Evening Post (January 14–28, 1961)

Over the years I have been suspected of a lot of things by various authorities, from corrupting a cop by buying him a drink to complicity in a murder, and that day they added a new one to the list. None of them came right out with it, but what was really biting them was their suspicion that I was in collusion with the United States government.

— Archie Goodwin, contemplating a turf battle between the police and the Treasury Department, in "Counterfeit for Murder," chapter 8

Hattie Annis doesn't like cops.[1] So when she shows up at Wolfe's door with a brown paper package holding a large stack of $20 bills, she thinks that there could be a reward for returning it to its owner, but she won't trust the cops with it. They'll probably stiff her.

Wolfe is busy with the orchids, but Hattie says she'll come back later if Archie will hold the money for her. Some time later, a young woman named Tammy Baxter shows up. She is one of the tenants of the cheap boarding house that Hattie owns, whose rooms she only rents to people working in show-business. Tammy is concerned for Hattie, who almost never leaves her house, but today she said she was going to see Nero Wolfe, and she hasn't come home. Feeling protective of Hattie, Tammy has gone to Nero Wolfe's house to see if Hattie arrived. Archie lies and says he hasn't seen her, and Miss Baxter leaves.

When Hattie returns, she collapses at the doorstep; on her way back to Wolfe's house, a car swerved onto the sidewalk and hit her – fortunately, not hard enough to break bones, but enough to shake her up. In the front room, Hattie is revived by Fritz's coffee, and tells Wolfe and Archie about the money. She was chasing a mouse that ran behind the shelves in her parlor when she found the package hidden behind some books. She took the package and opened it to find a large amount of money – Archie estimates $10,000 in twenties.

The doorbell rings. It's Albert Leach, an agent of the Treasury Department, wanting to know if Archie has seen or spoken with a young woman named Tammy Baxter or an older woman named Hattie Annis. Archie, not caring for Leach's approach, admits to meeting Tammy, but does not mention that Hattie is present in the house. Then he returns to the front room, closely examines one of the twenties, and announces that there will probably be a reward: the bills are counterfeit.

Wolfe won't take Hattie on as a client, but he allows Archie to accompany her to her boarding house and investigate. Once there, Archie meets Hattie's boarders: Raymond Dell, Noel Ferris and Paul Hannah, three actors, and Martha Kirk, a dancer; Hattie caters to stage people. It isn't until Archie and Hattie enter the parlor that Archie sees the fifth boarder, Tammy Baxter, lying dead on the floor with a kitchen knife in her chest.

When Homicide arrives, Hattie locks herself in her bedroom and refuses to communicate with the police. Cramer doesn't want to break Hattie's door down and asks Archie to reason with her. Archie does so, and, acting as Wolfe's agent, takes Hattie as a client, but cannot talk her into coming out from her room. Eventually, Cramer gives up, breaks down her door, and has her carried away to be interrogated.

On his way back to the brownstone, Archie phones Wolfe to inform him that he has been hired. Over Wolfe's objection, Archie mentions that Hattie has extensive assets – close to half a million dollars in bonds, in addition to her four-story house in Manhattan. Wolfe, reluctant as always, accedes, and concurs that Parker should be instructed to see to her bail.

Archie has concluded that the murdered woman, Tammy Baxter, was a Treasury agent: Leach, when he asked about Miss Baxter, indicated that he knew both her phone number and that she had been to the brownstone earlier that day. He and Wolfe conjecture that she had been placed in Hattie's boardinghouse by the Treasury Department to investigate a counterfeiting operation.

The surviving tenants, Dell, Ferris, Hannah and Kirk, call at the brownstone. As she was being carried out of her house, Hattie told them to go to Nero Wolfe and tell him everything they had told the police. They set in to do so, but Wolfe takes control of the conversation, and questions each of them about personal background, present employment and source of income.

Wolfe gets some hints, and the next day sends Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin and Orrie Cather to reconnoiter at the boarders' places of employment. Archie is called to the DA's office to help sort out why the Treasury Department, and not Manhattan Homicide, has possession of the counterfeit money, which is evidence in a murder case. When Archie returns to the brownstone it is to find all concerned – the boarders, Inspector Cramer and Sgt. Stebbins, Agent Leach, and Saul Panzer – in the office to hear Saul describe the counterfeiting equipment that he found in the building where Wolfe sent him.

Cast of characters[edit]

  • Nero Wolfe — The private investigator
  • Archie Goodwin — Wolfe's assistant (and the narrator of all Wolfe stories)
  • Hattie Annis — Owner of a boarding house for actors
  • Tammy Baxter — Treasury Department agent posing as an aspiring actress. Murder victim
  • Raymond Dell, Noel Ferris, Paul Hannah and Martha Kirk — Boarders at Miss Annis's establishment
  • Albert Leach — Another Treasury Department agent
  • Inspector Cramer and Sgt. Purley Stebbins — Representing Manhattan Homicide
  • Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin, and Orrie Cather — Wolfe's preferred free-lance detectives

The unfamiliar word[edit]

In most Nero Wolfe novels and novellas, there is at least one unfamiliar word, usually spoken by Wolfe.

  • ". . . of Ormus and of Ind." Chapter 2, spoken by Raymond Dell, quoting from Paradise Lost.

"Assault on a Brownstone"[edit]

The original version of "Counterfeit for Murder" was written January 22–February 11, 1959. Although nothing in Rex Stout's personal writing record[2] indicates that he was unhappy with it, Stout discarded all but the first seven pages and rewrote the story March 6–31, 1959. The revised version was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post in January 1961, and published in Homicide Trinity (1962).[3]

In 1972, Stout's authorized biographer John McAleer learned that there was an earlier version of "Counterfeit for Murder" — something even Stout's family didn't know — when Stout shared a copy of his personal writing record with him. Stout believed the unpublished original text had been destroyed, but after his death McAleer found the manuscript after a meticulous search through the author's papers,[3] donated to Boston College in 1980.[4]

Given the title "Assault on a Brownstone", the original version of "Counterfeit for Murder" was published in Death Times Three (1985), edited by John McAleer. In this early draft, Hattie Annis, who would become one of the most carefully drawn and favorite non-recurring Nero Wolfe characters in the revised published version, is the murder victim, while Tammy survives and has an implied romantic relationship with Archie.

McAleer reported that this rewrite was a unique circumstance, since Stout professed that he never revised stories.[5] Stout did, in fact, rewrite at least two other stories: a comparison of the magazine and book versions shows that he rewrote both the beginning and the epilogue of "Before I Die" (1947);[6] and he expanded the novella "Murder Is No Joke" (1958) into the magazine version of the story, "Frame-Up for Murder."

Publication history[edit]

"Counterfeit for Murder"[edit]

Homicide Trinity[edit]

Contents include "Eeny Meeny Murder Mo", "Death of a Demon" and "Counterfeit for Murder".
In his limited-edition pamphlet, Collecting Mystery Fiction #10, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part II, Otto Penzler describes the first edition of Homicide Trinity: "Blue cloth, front cover stamped in blind; spine printed with deep pink; rear cover blank. Issued in a mainly blue dust wrapper."[8]:14
In April 2006, Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine estimated that the first edition of Homicide Trinity had a value of between $150 and $350. The estimate is for a copy in very good to fine condition in a like dustjacket.[9]
  • 1962, Toronto: Macmillan, 1962, hardcover
  • 1962, New York: Viking (Mystery Guild), August 1962, 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).[10]:19–20
  • 1963, London: Collins Crime Club, February 18, 1963, hardcover
  • 1966, New York: Bantam #F-3118, February 1966, paperback
  • 1993, New York: Bantam Crime Line ISBN 0-553-23446-3 August 1993, paperback, Rex Stout Library edition with introduction by Stephen Greenleaf
  • 1997, Newport Beach, California: Books on Tape, Inc. ISBN 0-7366-4062-2 October 31, 1997, audio cassette (unabridged, read by Michael Prichard)
  • 2010, New York: Bantam Crimeline ISBN 978-0-307-75599-5 July 7, 2010, e-book

Adaptations[edit]

Nero Wolfe (CBC Radio)[edit]

"Counterfeit for Murder" was adapted as the third episode of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's 13-part radio series Nero Wolfe (1982), starring Mavor Moore as Nero Wolfe, Don Francks as Archie Goodwin, and Cec Linder as Inspector Cramer. Written and directed by Toronto actor and producer Ron Hartmann,[11] the hour-long adaptation aired on CBC Stereo January 30, 1982.[12]

La casa degli attori (Radiotelevisione Italiana)[edit]

"Counterfeit for Murder" was adapted for a series of Nero Wolfe films produced by the Italian television network RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana). Written and directed by Giuliana Berlinguer, Nero Wolfe: La casa degli attori first aired January 3, 1970.

The series of black-and-white telemovies stars Tino Buazzelli (Nero Wolfe), Paolo Ferrari (Archie Goodwin), Pupo De Luca (Fritz Brenner), Renzo Palmer (Inspector Cramer), Roberto Pistone (Saul Panzer), Mario Righetti (Orrie Cather) and Gianfranco Varetto (Fred Durkin). Other members of the cast of La casa degli attori include Giusi Raspani Dandolo (Hattie Annis), Agla Marsili (Tammy Baxter), Ruggero De Daninos (Albert Leach), Giorgio Piazza (Raymond Dell), Daniela Surina (Martha Kirk), Paolo Graziosi (Noel Ferris), Giovanni Di Benedetto (Avvocato Parker) and Enrico D'Amato (Procuratore Skinner).

References[edit]

  1. ^ As given to Archie, the details are a little vague, but apparently a policeman, unprovoked, shot her father some years back.
  2. ^ Rex Stout began to keep a detailed personal writing record October 12, 1946, when he began the novella, "Before I Die". McAleer, John, Rex Stout: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977 ISBN 0-316-55340-9, page 365.
  3. ^ a b McAleer, John, ed., introduction to Death Times Three (The Rex Stout Library). New York: Bantam Books, December 1985, reissue edition January 1995, ISBN 0-553-76305-9
  4. ^ "Special Collections Listing". Archived from the original on October 15, 2013. Retrieved 2015-03-11.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link), Boston College, archived from the original at the Internet Archive. Retrieved 2014-10-15.
  5. ^ McAleer, John, Royal Decree: Conversations with Rex Stout. Ashton, Maryland: Pontes Press, 1983, p. 4. "The initial draft has always been the only draft, with an original and two carbons. I have never revised, except when a magazine, The American Magazine, wanted a Tecumseh Fox story, Bad for Business, changed to a Nero Wolfe story, and paid me well for doing it."
  6. ^ Comparison of magazine and book versions of "Before I Die"
  7. ^ a b Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, 1980. John McAleer, Judson Sapp and Arriean Schemer are associate editors of this definitive publication history. ISBN 0-8240-9479-4
  8. ^ Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #10, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part II. New York: The Mysterious Bookshop, 2001. Limited edition of 250 copies.
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I. New York: The Mysterious Bookshop, 2001. Limited edition of 250 copies.
  11. ^ MacNiven, Elina, "Nero Wolfe: Wolfe's verbal coups rendered on radio"; Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), January 16, 1982.
  12. ^ Hickerson, Jay, The Ultimate History of Network Radio Programming and Guide to All Circulating Shows, 1992, Box 4321, Hamden, CT 06514, p. 6; The Thrilling Detective, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe

External links[edit]