Jun 18

Please Pass the Guilt

Posted by Soliloquy in Braille

When a boorish millionaire and a Mets fan with a phony name show up at his door with a tempting case, Nero Wolf finds himself investigating corporate treachery, domestic intrigue, and worse. Reissue. NYT. … More >>

Please Pass the Guilt

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  • “A week after the explosion of that bomb you were in distress, severe enough to take you to that clinic and then to me. Later, when I became professionally involved, the nature of your distress was of course of interest. There were various possibilities: You had yourself put the bomb in the drawer and the burden of guilt was too heavy for you. Or you hadn’t, but you knew or suspected who had, and your conscience was galling you; your imagined bloody hands were insisting, *please pass the guilt*.”

    – Nero Wolfe to suspect, herein

    As one of the final Wolfe novels written, PLEASE PASS THE GUILT is just as much a period piece as the Wolfe stories set during the Depression and World War II, and not just for the somewhat dated references to women’s lib. When Doc Vollmer (Wolfe’s neighbour, physician, and friend) refers a patient to Wolfe for his troubles, for example, Vollmer feels that it’s necessary to explain the then-newfangled approach to psychiatric therapy known as “crisis intervention”, because the patient in question has a trauma that seems to require the attention of a private investigator rather than a psychiatrist. An anonymous patient keeps imagining blood on his hands, but refuses to identify himself or give the medical staff of the Crisis Clinic any information other than the bare description of his symptoms.

    As a favour to the doc, Wolfe agrees to see the man, and after revealing that the office is wired for sound and for photographs when necessary, persuades him to identify himself: Kenneth Meer, chief assistant to Amory Browning, vice-president in charge of programming at CAN (a major TV network), whose office was destroyed by a bomb recently. There’s some question as to the intended victim in the incident; while the bomb was rigged in a drawer of Browning’s desk where he supposedly kept bourbon, Peter Odell (another VP and a competitor for the presidency of CAN) actually opened the drawer and died.

    Since the first few months of 1969 have brought in few well-paying cases, Archie exerts himself to persuade the grieving widow Madeline [sic] Odell that since she can’t hope to buy her late husband the presidency of CAN anymore, she can at least avenge his death by hiring Wolfe to catch the murderer.

    But who was the intended victim? Mrs. Odell says that Peter was trying to spike Browning’s bourbon with LSD before a crucial interview in selecting the retiring CAN president’s successor; did anyone else know about the plot? Did Browning booby-trap his own desk? Mrs. Browning? Browning’s secretary, Helen Lugos (who may be his mistress)? Meer, who may be interested in Helen and would definitely be interested in moving up at CAN? The technical expertise to set the bomb doesn’t narrow the suspect list in this year of 1969; not only are various members of CAN’s staff old enough to have seen military service, but the network recently produced a documentary on terrorism that could’ve served as a tutorial.

    The three musketeers – Saul, Fred, and Orrie – are soon tasked with learning who knew about the LSD as a starting point. And as for Archie…

    “‘Am I just to sit here and take calls from the help?’

    ‘No. You are to seduce either Miss Lugos or Miss Venner. Which one?’

    I raised one brow. He can’t do that. ‘Why not both?’

    We discussed it.”

    Drive-in totals:

    – One dead body.

    – Newspaper fu (i.e., Wolfe’s tactic of placing inflammatory newspaper advertisements to get stalled investigations moving) and subsequent appointment with a terrorist in the office.

    – Interesting conversation between Archie and a female ex-talk-show-host about obscene language.

    – Some new experiences with Inspector Cramer, starting with his arrival in the middle of a briefing with Saul, Fred, and Orrie.

    – Reappearance of a supporting player from DEATH OF A DOXY.

  • A wonderful followup book to others. Not the first read, but definitely a top 10 Nero book.

  • My 6th Nero Wolfe book, and I have to back off a bit. I get confused when there are too many characters. I was able to keep track, but just barely, and I must say that the story is brilliant, as I’ve decided Stout’s stories consistently are. Stout pulls in the news of the time, and I loved that because I’m an old gal who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s. All those radicals and precursors to today’s terrorist make good fodder for mysteries. So, enjoy, but expect to have to keep track of who is who a little more than you might like to.

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