Monday, May 19, 2014

Morsels of Murder: Rex Stout's Death Times Three (1985) Part One: "Bitter End" (1940)

I haven't read Bad for Business (1940), the Tecumseh Fox novel version of the Nero Wolfe novella "Bitter End" (1940), but I know I quite enjoyed reading another installment of the Nero Wolfe-Archie Goodwin saga.  Bitter End ranks, I think, high among the Nero Wolfe novellas.

Part of the fun of reading a Nero Wolfe tale is seeing how Wolfe, who hates actual detective work, will end up taking a job this time. He's an immovable object that seemingly must meet an irresistible force. In Bitter End, this force comes in the form of a jar of Tingley's Tidbit's: It seems that someone has sabotaged the company by putting quinine in their liver pate.

Reduced by the indisposition of his cook, Fritz, to tasting Tingley's Tidbits, Wolfe gets a quinine-tainted batch and is spewing liver fragments everywhere, including all over his unflappable professional assistant, Archie Goodwin.  If anything could be calculated to vex Wolfe, this was it (Archie turns a liver-spotted cheek).

Soon Wolfe is investigating the question of who tainted the tidbits. Coincidentally, there is a pretty young "girl" who arrives on the scene, wanting him to investigate as well. Naturally murder must follow.  Someone coshes Arthur Tingley, owner of Tingley's Tidbits, then cuts his throat.  Suspects in his most unnatural death include employees, business rivals and family members.

Bitter End has all the Stout elements fans expect: Wolfe's outraged dignity, Archie's snappy patter (I loved his observation, "That's the spirit that wins ball games"--see the novella for the context), Inspector Cramer huffing and puffing (yet never succeeding in blowing Wolfe's brownstone down), a pretty girl in trouble and a nice murder.

And there's also something fans don't always get in Stout tales, which is a fairly clued, interesting little murder problem. Like all good Stout, Bitter End goes down smooth.

Coming Soon: my review of "Frame-Up for Murder" (1958), the second novella in Death Times Three.


  1. I have read "Bad for Business." "Bitter End" is a considerable improvement. Taking a full-length, third-person novel and boiling it down to a much shorter, first-person (Archie) novella really tightens the story considerably.

    1. It just seems such an appropriate subject for Nero Wolfe (i.e., something Wolfe can get genuinely passionate about: tainted food hits him at home).

  2. I couldn't help thinking of "Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer," S. J. Perelman's 1944 hard-boiled parody involving tainted herring bits. (Just found your blog this weekend and have read back from the present and consumed two and a half Leo Bruce novels as well.)

    1. Love Bruce! Glad you're enjoying the blog. Quite a lot has accumulated in the last three years.