Eleven years after his own thoughtlessness sent his only son, Paul, away from home, Nebraska businessman James Herold calls upon Nero Wolfe to track down the young man so that he can make amends. (from Goodreads)
I have a love-hate relationship with the Nero Wolfe mysteries. On the one hand, they’re good mysteries! They’re twisty and involved and I always feel happy with the solutions. Nero Wolfe himself is a fascinating character (he never leaves his house, for one thing) and I love his gang of investigators.
On the other hand, there are a LOT of dead women in these books. Like, at least one dead woman a story, and sometimes more. There are very few female characters who don’t die and who play a part in the mystery-solving; the only one I can think of is a female private investigator who helps out in a mystery about a mother.
In the TV show the massive amounts of dead women didn’t give me that much of a problem, because the actors playing the female roles were so strong and amazing. In the books, they tend to show up femme fatale-style and then they die without making much of an impression on me.
I suppose this is because of the time(s) the books were written in? Also, they’re noir-ish, which usually means dead women as motivation for whatever. I don’t like it, but I can tolerate it once in a while, I suppose.
Luckily, though Might as Well Be Dead DOES have a dead woman in it (as well as two dead men), it also has a living one who helps with the case! Yay! And it also has some romance, which is nice. Not with Archie or anyone else in the core Nero Wolfe group (though there is flirting), but between the not-dead lady and the prime suspect. It’s actually a lot more adorable than I’m making it seem.
The actual mystery part is…okay? Most of the time Archie and co. are trying to find out who is lying and why, or they’re trying to get info from people who don’t want to give it. Which is realistic– but then, if I wanted realism in my mysteries I’d read true crime, okay? The refusal of half the cast to actually SAY ANYTHING drags the pacing of the story way down. Which is probably why it took me so long to read such a short book!
The strongest part about Might As Well Be Dead is Archie’s narrative voice. It’s perfectly 1940s (even though it was written in the 1950s) and very fun to read. And though the pacing of the mystery was slow, Archie’s funny observations and double entendre-style wit made it easier to endure.
This might actually be a good place to start with the series if you’ve never read a Nero Wolfe book before! I don’t think it’s the strongest mystery ever, but it’s light on dead women and heavy on the good stuff.
Read: March 16-29, 2014