Novel: “If Death Ever Slept”

by look i have opinions

If Death Ever Slept, by Rex Stout

Originally published by Viking Press in 1957; available as an audiobook, which is what I listened to

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This book kind of pisses me off. Except for Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin, and that one woman Archie keeps flirting with, all the characters are either annoying or forgettable. Archie spends way, way too much time waiting around for something to happen. Everyone in the Jarrell household, including the murderer, has the most boring life imaginable (seriously, who plays that much bridge?). Wolfe’s refusal to share evidence with the police strikes me as stupid. Archie’s destruction of fingerprint evidence makes me ill. Their joint refusal to consider the obvious is excruciating. Wolfe keeps gathering up the suspects for a dramatic group interrogation, to no avail, which makes him look incompetent. Archie keeps getting recognized while undercover, which makes it seem like he has poor judgment. Towards the end, Archie recaps everyone’s alibis in great detail, something I might have found acceptable if I were reading the print version; in audio, it’s pretty painful. I can’t feel any real tension about Archie being a suspect, because if he got barred from detective work, the series would be over, and besides, he has no plausible motive. Wolfe and Archie both seem to consider the case more a nuisance than anything else. The killer is tracked down offstage, and the only way the reader could guess the solution in advance would be to consider each suspect’s (extremely banal) alibi in detail. There are too many detectives involved, and too few of them are memorable. The big reveal at the end falls flat. The murder motive is boring. The title is inspired by an insipid remark that has nothing to do with anything.

This is the first Stout mystery I’ve read. I can see why people enjoy Archie’s quirky narration and Wolfe’s eccentricity, but as a novel, this one just doesn’t hold together at all. Might try another.

I googled “hedgehog omelet” and now I want one.

(Edit to add: My thanks to Carol Novak of The Wolfe Pack for recommending The Doorbell Rang, which I liked much much better.)