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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Silent Speaker: A Nero Wolfe Mystery by Rex Stout

Seemed like Stout was looking for ways to stretch a good story

Rex Stout (1886-1975)
Originally published in 1946, The Silent Speaker is the 13th Nero Wolfe story or the 11th Nero Wolfe book written by Rex Stout (1886-1975) depending on how you want to do the counting. The story features the over-sized and very particular detective Nero Wolfe and his right hand man Archie Goodwin.

If you are not familiar with Nero Wolfe, let me introduce you. Nero Wolfe is an obese genius who solves mysteries but rarely leaves his New York City Brownstone home. His true passions are meticulously prepared meals, orchids and keeping to his routine. Instead of leaving his home and doing the legwork himself, he has several trusted and talented investigators who serve as his eyes and ears. The Nero Wolfe stories are told by Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's number one employee.

Goodwin is an interesting character himself. He is Wolfe's employee, but not a toady. He speaks his mind, sometimes too freely. He is flippant, clever, tough and quite the ladies man. If you are a fan of Robert B. Parker's Spenser books, you will quickly recognize the enormous debt that Parker owed to Rex Stout.

The Silent Speaker is the first post-World War II Nero Wolfe mystery. There are numerous references to Wolfe's exertions on behalf of the Allies during the war. During the war (both in reality and in Nero Wolfe's universe) the American government instituted a series of price controls to try to control inflation and insure that an appropriate amount of resources were sent to the war effort and also to the civilian sector. In Wolfe's universe, it is 1946 and the Bureau of Price Regulation is slowly releasing its hold on the economy. If it releases too fast, it could trigger a recession or a depression. But, some are sure that the National Industrial Association is very sure that it is releasing its grip far too slowly.

When the Director of the Bureau of Price Administration is found dead backstage just before he is to give a major policy speech and present his plans to the gathered members of the National Industrial Association, it looks like an open and shut case of a free market fanatic killing the government regulator. But, which member of the NIA was it? There was a room full of them. Or, did internal government politics inspire murder?

This is my third Nero Wolfe story and I would have to rank it my third favorite. The premise was clever, Archie had plenty of good lines and Nero Wolfe is actually forced to leave his house at one point. But, the story just dragged in the middle while Wolfe was casting around for any sort of clues. Goodwin was left out of most of the heavy lifting and since the story is told through him the reader is left with too many tales of sitting around the house waiting for things to happen. Throw in the way too forced "nervous breakdown" episode and it seemed like Stout was looking for ways to stretch the book.

However, it will not deter me from reading other books in the series.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Silent Speaker (Nero Wolfe)

Reviewed on June 12, 2013.

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