Friday, July 08, 2016

FFB: Target Practice -- Rex Stout

Many years ago when I read John McAleer's biography of Stout, I was excited to learn that there were quite a few unpublished stories and novels that Stout had written prior to his Nero Wolfe series, and I wanted to read them.  Eventually some of the novels were published, and I read Under the Andes.  After that, I didn't much care whether I read any of the rest of the early work.  Quite a bit of it was published, and I bought some of the volumes, but I wasn't interested enough to read them.  

The other day, however, I decided to give some of the stories a try, and I pulled Target Practice off the shelf.  According to the back cover, this collection "brings together for the first time the complete short works of fiction that Rex Stout wrote for All-Story Magazine."  The book has no editorial material, doesn't say who the editor is, and doesn't give dates of publication.  The stories I read aren't great, but they're competent.  Crime fiction fans might find something of interest in two of them.

"Secrets" is about a young lawyer who's asked by a young woman to defend her against a charge of theft.  She's quite lovely, and he's smitten.  He becomes convinced of her innocence.  You can probably guess the rest.  I did.  There's also the matter of a picture in the lawyer's office.  I was curious about it, but my curiosity was never satisfied.  I just had to make a guess.

And then there's "Justice Ends at Home," a novella that might be thought of as prefiguring the Wolfe series.  It's a mystery, but unfortunately the killer is obvious from the very beginning.  Simon Leg, an indolent attorney, is assigned to defend an accused killer.  He's reluctant to do any work and has to be pushed by his "office boy," Dan Culp.  It's Dan who does all the detective work, and the procedural part of the story works well.  These two characters aren't much like Wolfe and Archie, and the story is told in the third person, but there's at least a superficial resemblance.  There's also a sappy romance in the story, and the language is nothing like that which Stout would use in the Wolfe stories.  Here's the description of Dan Culp:  "There was a light in his eyes and a form to his brow that spoke of intelligence, and he was genuinely, not superficially, neat in appearance."

The complete table of contents is below.

Target Practice
The Pay Yeoman
Rose Orchid
The inevitable Third
The Lie
If He Be Married
Warner and Wife
Jonathan Stannard's Secret Vice
Justice Ends at Home
It's Science that Counts
The Rope Dance
An Officer and a Lady
Heels of Fate


Jeff Meyerson said...

Interesting. I don't even remember this being published, and since there are many real Wolfe tales I haven't read I doubt I'll be looking at this one any time soon.

George said...

Sounds good! I'll try to track down a copy.

Rick Robinson said...

Yes, Under the Andes is pretty bad, and it cured me of non-Wolfe Stout. I won't attempt to match your bravery by trying these, even if they are slightly better than mediocre.

Mathew Paust said...

I have a fascination for the seminal work of writers I admire. I shall check our local used book store for this volume.

Art Scott said...

10 of these stories were in the 1977 hardback collection of pre-Wolfe stories, JUSTICE ENDS AT HOME (Viking). John McAleer provided a 20-page introduction; those interested in the history and context of Stout's early work should seek it out. I tried a couple...pfui!

Unknown said...

One thing is for sure: These stories in no way forecast the style Stout adopted for the Nero Wolfe series.

Mathew Paust said...

All the more interesting to me, Bill. The guy definitely had craft. I'd love to see where it started.