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Title: Not Quite Dead Enough
Series: Nero Wolfe #10
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Not Quite Dead Enough
Archie has recently joined the Army and is now Major Goodwin. His high rank, as a rookie GI, reflects the fact that the Army recognizes and is making use of his civilian expertise by assigning him to domestic (counter) intelligence, specifically a unit based back in New York City, where Archie lived with his erstwhile boss Nero Wolfe before enlisting.
Since most of his civilian investigations had been done with Nero Wolfe, the Army also wishes to have Wolfe do intelligence investigations, but Wolfe thinks he didn’t kill enough Germans in the previous war and so is more intent on joining the army as a soldier, not intelligence officer.
To this end, pleas from the Pentagon to this effect have been ignored, and indeed the whole household routine Wolfe is (in)famous for has already been abandoned during Archie’s short absence in favor of strict adherence to wartime rations (inconsistent with gourmet dining) and losing weight, which Wolfe and Fritz Brenner (the live-in cook/chef) attempt by morning exercises on the west river banks, while letters not to mention mountains of other correspondence pile up in the previously tidy office/study in the brownstone. As ludicrous as the whole setup might seem, even Goodwin, when he arrives back in New York from Washington to discover it, is unable to budge Wolfe, at least at first.
Meanwhile, on the (scarce) flight back to New York from Washington, Archie has annoyed wealthy and beautiful Lily Rowan, whom he met earlier in Some Buried Caesar and with whom he has the beginnings of a romance, because he has no time for her, even though she has gone to great lengths to get the seat next to his. Lily, by way of counterattack as much as anything, asks him to look into a problem a girl-friend of hers is having. Archie, having assessed the grim situation at Wolfe’s brownstone, seizes an opportunity to be doing something useful, even if he isn’t directly carrying out his assignment from the Pentagon.
Archie (who tells this story as he does all Wolfe stories), likes Lily but wants to be in control, and in an impish assertion of independence he takes Lily’s friend to the Flamingo nightclub as part of his “investigation”, causing Lily to storm home in a mild fit of jealousy. But soon she asks Archie’s help in a bigger problem: her friend is dead. After rushing to the scene, Archie decides to implicate himself in the crime and get his picture in the paper, reasoning that getting him out of jail is no more foolish a war effort for Wolfe than pathetic dockside exercises. In the end, Archie carries out his assignment from the Pentagon (despite having his picture in the paper as a murder suspect), Lily gets herself a boyfriend, and Wolfe solves the underlying crime, but not without teaching both Lily and Archie a thing or two about the consequences of mixing business with romance.
Major Goodwin has been working for Army Intelligence for some time already, and has recently concluded a dangerous mission concerning another problem besides the Nazis: greed by munitions contractors jockeying for post-war power, in the present case by industrial espionage concerning an advanced type of grenade.
Although Archie has managed to unravel a major piece of the puzzle by a recent mission in the South, another officer in his unit, Captain Cross, has just been murdered at a New York hotel, and the remaining members of the unit, plus Wolfe and Congressman Shattuck, have gathered in an Army office to discuss some anonymous letters that Shattuck, as Chairman of a Congressional war committee, has been receiving about how industrial espionage is compromising the war effort and is therefore a national security matter. During the meeting, one of the officers, whose son has just been killed in action in Europe, suddenly announces that he wants to go to Washington to confer with General Carpenter, the Pentagon official in charge of the unit. He has brought a suitcase with him, and his highly irregular request is granted. Earlier, Archie has been issued one of the advanced grenades in question which he kept in Wolfe’s house, now his Army barracks, mostly as a souvenir, but Wolfe didn’t like to have it in the house, and before the meeting Archie has returned the grenade to the Army—i.e. the same office.
The meeting breaks up, since the unit is rapidly depleting (one dead, another heading to Washington, the rest under scrutiny because of the letters). As Wolfe and Goodwin are returning to the building later on the same day, a massive explosion is heard. Since the building is operated clandestinely by Army Intelligence, the NYPD, in the shape of Inspector Cramer show up, but Wolfe and Goodwin’s uncooperativeness, normal as it has been in civilian matters, confuses Cramer now that Goodwin wears an Army uniform — the same uniform Cramer’s son is wearing in Australia.
The story ends with Archie taking another date to the Flamingo Club — and not Lily Rowan. Unlike a Sam Spade or Raymond Chandler story, any actual romantic impulses that Archie may have are cleared into the wings, and even this final action is not necessarily a celebration but may itself contribute to the war effort in its own small way.
Another 2 novellas squashed into 1 book. The format took me by surprise with Black Orchids but it worked out really well here. Archie being in the Army for World War II was a bit disconcerting at first but since it didn’t actually affect the story line (his assignment was to get Wolfe working on a piece of intelligence work for his country) besides jerking the cops around a bit (more than usual that is), it quickly became background information.
I have to admit that my distaste for WWI or II stories came into play while reading this. More in that I just glazed over details as they just didn’t interest me.
This was the first story where a returning female occurs. We had met Lily Rowan before in Some Buried Caesar and she had fallen head over heels for Archie. She is a control freak used to getting her own way and Archie is an arrogant blowhard used to getting his own way. In other words, a match made in Hell. It did make me laugh to see the sparks fly! I don’t expect to see her again, as Archie seems allergic to settling down or being committed.