From the Triangle Books Edition: For once in his life, that fat, beer-drinking, orchid-fancying detective, Nero Wolfe, came near getting killed for his cleverness. It all started when he turned down a large fee from Anthony D. Perry, wealthy President of the gigantic Seaboard Products Corporation and took for a client, at a $1.00 retainer fee, pretty Clara Fox who was accused of stealing $30,000.00 from Seaboard. That move surprised everyone who knew Wolfe's insistence on getting paid handsomely for his efforts. But Nero Wolfe wasn't making even a financial mistake. He alone realized that more than a $30,000.00 theft was in the wind, though even he didn't count on two murders and one shooting in self-defense. This is one of the most amusing and fast-paced of the popular Nero Wolfe mystery stories. It demonstrates once again the superiority of mind over action, for the fat detective solves an intricate and difficult series of crimes without even leaving his own house.
Introduces Lieutenant Rowcliff. The mystery starts with a newspaper article about the Marquis of Clivers. According to some fans, this one should be hastily read while moving on to later books. The "Old West" was still a recent memory in this book.
"I am atrociously uncomfortable. It is sufficiently annoying to deal with inadequate information, which is what one usually has, but to sit thus while surmises, the mere ghosts of facts, tumble idiotically in my brain, is next to insupportable." (p. 140)
"I don't answer questions containing two or more unsupported assumptions."
The past frontier & the current city
In several of his own detective stories, A. Conan Doyle deployed the plot device of a frontier adventure or crime a generation earlier, perhaps in India or the American West, which surfaces in the current time of the story to unsettle people in London, and hence involve the attention of Sherlock Holmes. In this manner, Rex Stout in The Rubber Band gives us a misadventure in Nevada in 1895, which has repercussions in New York City forty years on, the setting of the story. The detective genius Nero Wolfe, with his satisfactorily active agent Archie Goodwin, are first drawn into a larceny case, but almost immediately we find that the accused, a young woman named Clara Fox, is through her late father tied to the old Nevada event.
[Harlan Scovil:] "I've traveled over two thousand miles, from Hiller County, Wyoming, to come here on an off chance. I sold thirty calves to get the money to come on, and for me nowadays that's a lot of calves. ... One thing you can tell me anyhow, did you ever hear of any kind of a man called a Marquis of Clivers?"
[Archie Goodwin:] I nodded. "I've read in the paper about that kind of a man."
[Scovil:] "Good for you. I don't read much. One reason, I'm so damn suspicious I don't believe it even if I do read it, so it don't seem worth the trouble."
Sometimes I feel a bit that way myself about the heaps in front of me to read.
As with complex but fast-moving detective novels generally, sharp capsule characterizations are essential to the story's momentum. There's a good cross-section here, ranging farther afield than usual, from the Wyoming rancher above to a British lord, and the plot — like a wide rubber band — pulls the disparate elements into alliance and murderous conflict in New York.
There are some good examples of the Wolfean wit, including, briefly but pointedly, his misogyny. This awkward sidestepping around feminine emotiveness does not, of course, prevent Wolfe from doing superb work for female clients, such as Clara Fox in The Rubber Band. We also have some fun with Wolfe's fabulous orchid collection.
Rather an old-fashioned kind of a mystery plot, but an enjoyable and fast-moving book.
Review by Robert Wilfred Franson: http://www.troynovant.com/Franson/Stout/Rubber-Band.html.