#274: Spoiler Warning – Coming in October: And Be a Villain (1948) by Rex Stout


You’ve just had time to recover from the spoiler-filled look at Rim of the Pit (1944) by Hake Talbot…well here’s fair warning of the subject of the next spoiler-filled discussion that will be going ahead here on The invisible Event this October: And be a Villain (1948), the 13th book by Rex Stout to feature fiction’s most famous orchid fancier, Nero Wolfe.

Noah Stewart, maven of the excellent Noah’s Archives, will be joining me this time around and you are all once again invited to grab a copy of the book — it’s readily available, I checked — and join in.

The plot runs thus:

Madeline Fraser, radio talk show host extraordinaire, had a natural dread of dead air. So when one of her on-air guests signed off at the mic after drinking a glass of a sponsor’s beverage, it was a broadcaster’s nightmare come true. Enter Nero Wolfe. He agrees to take the case, with his sizable fee contingent on his solving the murder. But to Wolfe’s surprise, everyone connected to the case now lies in unison about it.

It’s more complicated than that, of course, but it’s nice to find a book synopsis that doesn’t give away the entire farm.  Anyway, our thoughts will go up here sometime in October, so there’s plenty of time.  Look forward to seeing you all for the discussion that will result!

27 thoughts on “#274: Spoiler Warning – Coming in October: And Be a Villain (1948) by Rex Stout

  1. Ah, I have this title on my Kindle – so this might be the first of your spoiler-filled collaborative reviews that I can read. Then again, this is meant to be Rex Stout’s best work, but I’m starting to feel left out – so I might read this first, and leave ‘Plot It Yourself’ till the end. 😀

    • Stout is generally good in order, anyway. This one in particular, IIRC, is the beginning of a trilogy of sorts…though, to be fair, I get my Stouts so jumbled that I could be wrong about that 🙂

  2. I read this many years ago because I bought a beautiful special edition of Even in the Best Families that was published by the Crime Club as part of a series of the greatest mysteries (I also bought Obelists Fly High, which shows you how subjective any list can be!) Will you tell your readers, or shall I, that ABaV is the first in the remarkable “Arnold Zeck trilogy,” and I wager it comprises the best work of Stout’s career, at least insofar as Nero Wolfe is concerned? (Sorry, John.) I’ll sure try and re-read if I can manage.

  3. It is indeed the first in the Zeck trilogy and I agree with Brad’s designation of it as “remarkable”. I will now strike fear into JJ’s heart by mentioning that I’ve already generated quite a bit of writing on my contribution 😉 It’s a wonderful book in many respects and I have a lot to say about it. I highly recommend it to your readers and I think they will enjoy reading it first and then discussing it along with us.

    • Indeed. He can be very up and down in my estimation, but this is a good place to start because these thtee books do something that’s to be very appreciated in the spectrum of GAD writing. But, well, we shall get into that in October…

    • Never read any Stout? Then there are many treats ahead of you – just remember that the ambience of the brownstone and the interplay between Archie and Wolfe are as important, and arguably more so, than the mysteries themselves.

        • I can understand that, Brad. I think I had a bit of a mixed reaction when I first read Wolfe – can’t recall now if it was a novel or one of the novella collections – as I thought the mystery aspect wasn’t as strong as it could be. Now, having read a fair bit but by no means all of Stout’s output, I think that varies and some mysteries are more puzzling and or satisfying than others. However, the books and stories are never less than satisfying overall, and frequently enormously pleasurable. I just think it does no harm to let those new to the brownstone know that the riches on offer may be laid on a different area of Wolfe’s table.

          • My first was Black Orchid, and I can barely remember the mystery except that I think Wolfe leaves the brownstone. But I remember the sparkling interplay between Archie and his boss. In many respects, I think Archie Goodwin is the best Watson there ever was.

            • Yes and yes – Archie is the template for the perfect sidekick, and I too find the details (even in the broadest sense) of many of the mysteries fade rapidly but that central relationship, and those spinning out from it, is really stamped on my memory.

            • Noah and I threw a lot of titles back and forth in trying to decide what to do for this, and while I’m not entirely sure which one of us mentioned Stout first I do distinctly remember reflecting on just how much I enjoyed reading him in my early days without relly having any proper sense of individual titles and plots. It often takes a lot of prodding for me to recall much beyond the very basics…but at the same time, I know I enjoyed them on the whole.

              Archie’s refusal to stand in awe of the Big man is a huge part of that, espeically as I was reading Holmes and Christie at the same time, where Watson and hastings are deferenital to the point of obsequiousness at times. I think that removal of servility in Archie’s dealings with Wolfe played a huge part in my willingness to forge ahead with GAD writing, because it seemed very much as if pedestals for geniuses would be the order of the day — having that misconception swept away was like bracing fresh air. Here’s hoping that fondness remains when I come to reread this, because it’s been years since I picked up any Stout…

            • I reckon you’ll be happy enough seeing as it appears to be the Archie/Wolfe dynamic that drew you in initially.
              I can’t imagine leaving Stout unread for too long and I try to squeeze in one or maybe two books every calendar year, They invariably leave me feeling better about stuff in general, never a bad thing particularly given the times we live in.

            • Aaaah, Colin, I wish I had your organisation. Alas, Stout and Christie and Doyle started me on a path that keeps revealing more and more unread brilliance (or possible brilliance…) and I just keep getting drawn into new things. But, hey, maybe this reintroduction will spur me onto more revisiting of Stout…

            • It’s not every day I get called organized. I don’t know if I ought to be flattered or offended! 🙂
              Still, I manage to get round to at least one book by Carr, Christie, Stout & McBain every year. I usually get in one or two by Erle Stanley Gardner too (I find them brisk reads, kind of literary snacks) and that generally still leaves time for a smattering of the unplanned, the recommended and the blind buys.

            • I supose part of my difficulty — if that’s the right word — is that there are still so many autors I’ve not completed reading for the first time, and thanks to either reprints or my increasingly successful secondhand forays, I’m finding more and more that I want to read, and so it just escalates.

              Case in point, I’ve only read one Christie this year so far, and am steadily developing a fascination with Freeman Wills Crofts now that he’s back in print in a moderately decent way, plus I jeep rereading Carrs for every two or so of his that I read new… Ho-hum, not to worry. One of these days I’ll run out of stuff to read and be able to ipose some sort of system upon what I’m doing. At least I’m ejoying myself in the meantime!

      • I guess you can say that is Rex Stout’s weakness — to produce well-crafted, stable mysteries and puzzles. Sure, they’re not on the level of Agatha Christie but they’re certainly not bad. I do give Stout credit for coming up with some good, catchy premises. But for the most part it’s the character development and interplay of Wolfe & Archie that keeps fans re-reading the canon over and over, in and out of book order.

        • I don’t think the mysteries are particularly poor but I’d say if you told those stories without the trappings and the byplay between the characters, then you’d end up with pretty dry and routine stuff.

          • Perfectly put; Stouut is probably the pioneer of the “character over plot” aspect of these types of novel: where Poirot or Merrivale’s cases could become dull and you didn’t have some compelling central performance to hang onto, Stout definitely provides something to command your attention even when his plots drop off a bit.

  4. I read the Zeck trilogy a few years ago, around autumn 2014 I think. And Be a Villain, which kicks it all off but functions perfectly well as a standalone title, is a good ‘un and one of the better Wolfe titles in itself.

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