Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tuesday Night blogs: Rex Stout's other detectives

Before I go into the main body of the posting, I need to point out that, although the Rex Stout blogs are collected by Noah Stewart, as I wrote last time, the wonderful logo was created not by him but another of our merry band, Bev Hankins, who writes the fascinatingly titled blog, My Reader's Block

I am still working round the edges of Rex Stout's work, in that this posting is not about Nero Wolfe and his household or his assistants, although one of his other detectives, Theodolinda Bonner, a she-dick as Archie Goodwin disrespectfully refers to her, and partner in Bonner and Raffray Detective Agency, does appear a few times in the main body of work. 

Theodolinda "Dol" Bonner is a disappointment though her appearances together with her assistant Sally Corbett in several Nero Wolfe novels are satisfactory enough. Wolfe thinks highly enough of her and her agency to employ them at the same time as Saul Panzer and his other agents. The disappointment lies in the one novel about Dol Bonner, The Hand in the Glove. The plot is odd though at times credible and Dol Bonner's much discussed hatred of men turns out to be based on something completely piffling. The arguments about whether the two young ladies should be running something so disreputable as a detective agency are entertaining enough and strike a chord. (How different from our own Miss Maud Silver, well established as a private investigator by 1937.) But on the whole, it is far inferior to Rex Stout's other books.

About the same time, that is in the late thirties and early forties Stout also experimented with another detective, William Tecumseh Sherman Fox, named after the Civil War general of controversial fame and known as Tecumseh or Tec Fox. So far I have managed to read only one of the Tec Fox novels, the last one, as it turns out, The Broken Vase.

Its plot is a little bonkers and involves fabulously beautiful and expensive Chinese vases, one of which is broken and one stolen as well as a very special Stradivarius violin, which is wrecked beyond repair by the end of the book, a number of varied murders and a cast of characters all of whom act in the stupidest way imaginable except for a Hollywood star of great beauty who seems completely dulalee. The only people who appear to keep their senses are Tec Fox himself, Mrs Pomfret (allowing for overwhelming grief) who hires him and, surprisingly, Inspector Damon of NYPD homicide. 

Readers who are used to the sparring and snarling that goes on between Wolfe and Archie on the one hand and Inspector Cramer and his subordinates on the other, will find the open and friendly collaboration between Tec Fox and Inspector Damon rather surprising. 

In fact, Fox is altogether surprising. He appears to own a farm in Westchester County where there are livestock, strawberries, vine and other fruit and vegetables as well as mostly random human inhabitants. Whether his main income is from the farm or from detecting is not made clear in this book but one suspects the latter. He drives into New York or anywhere else he needs to get to and frequents places that are mentioned in the Wolfe stories as well. In The Broken Vase, for instance, he and his buddy Diego (who also behaves like complete idiot) go for a late night drink and sandwich to Rusterman's. There are, apparently, other links in the other two novels though the two detectives never meet and never mention each other. 

Tec Fox is not a genius but is knowledgeable about a number of unexpected subjects and solves the crimes in The Broken Vase through his ability to play with words and some knowledge of Latin. That and the inimitable Stout writing style, toned down a little as it is not Archie who is supposedly telling the tale but a narrator, make me think that I want to read the other two Tecumseh Fox novels and regret that there were only three. 


  1. I've always loved the line in Broken Vase from the incredibly dim Hollywood star, when asked why she threw something out the window -- "It was an ungovernment impulse!"
    I think you and I are on about the same page with Hand in the Glove, except that I like it despite the flaws that you have pinpointed. I suspect it was really difficult at the time to make readers believe that a woman could be a private investigator ... yes, I think Dol is quite odd with the "man-hating" stuff, but it enables her to do her work for a reason that the reader understands. We shall agree to disagree, I hope.

    1. Naturally. This would not be so much fun if we did not disagree in various ways.

  2. I remember liking The Hand in the Glove but it has been awhile. I will have to reread it sometime this year. The Broken Vase I don't remember at all, although I have read it. I did reread the first Tecumseh Fox mystery last year and found it OK. A very complex case but it made sense in the end.

  3. Definitely going to have to read Hand in Glove after seeing quite varied opinions on it. As I said on another post, I hadn't realized Stout wrote quite so many non-Wolfe books.

  4. I think The Hand in the Glove is well worth reading despite my reservations. So are the Tecumseh Fox novels if The Broken Vase is anything to go by. The fact is that Stout's plots are often silly but other aspects of the novels make up for them.