Thursday, December 2, 2021

S. J. Rozan, The Art of Violence

 

S. J. Rozan, The Art of Violence: A Lydia Chin/Bill Smith Novel
Copyrigight (C) 2020
Pegasus Crime 
ISBN 9781643135311


As I read this book--which is totally excellent--I had an experience that I have had occasionally.  A little less than half-way through, I said to myself "I know who did it."  Not "I think I know."  But "I know."  Usually, when I have that reaction, I'm wrong.  This time, I was right.  And *knowing* that I knew whodunit made no difference to me in terms of wanting--needing--to get to the end of the book.  


It is set, obviously, in the world of avante garde are in NYC.  Leaving aside Smith and Chin, the principal character is Sam Tabor, a convicted murder (of a young woman) who has made it out of prison to become the darling of the art scene.  Other young women die, in ways that are very similar to the murder for which he was convicted.  He hires Smith to find out if he is guilty.  Complicating things is Tabor's severe ADHD issues.   And, following a gala at the Whitney celebrating Tabor's art, a young woman is killed, who was part of a protest against Tabor's celebrity., in a way very similar to his victim.

From what I know of the NYC art scene (not a lot, but enough), the settings and the characters are remarkably depicted.  And the resolution is worthy of everything that goes before.  Even if you think you know whodunit.  The best mystery I have read this year.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Is Faking A Kidnapping Worth It: Althea and Jimmy Vail in The Final Deduction, by Rex Stout

 

Is Faking A Kidnapping Worth It:
Althea and Jimmy Vail in
The Final Deduction,
by Rex Stout

 

I must begin by warning you that this essay contains serious “spoilers,” so if you are not familiar with the plot of The Final Deduction, you should stop reading now and do something more useful than read a deconstruction of the plot of a mystery novel.

Nero Wolfe’s involvement begins when Althea Vale hires him to assure the safe return of her husband, Jimmy Vail, who has been kidnapped.  Both of them have had very puplic lives prior to their marriage.  Althea Purcell was an actor in a major hit on Broadway; she walked away from the theatre to marry a wealthy man, Harold Tedder (presumably in the late 1930s, as, at the time this episode begin (around 1960), she had a son and daughter, both in their early 20s.  Harold Tedder had died, apparently sometime in the early to mid 1950s, leaving his considerable wealth solely to her.  Jimmy Vail had been a nightclub comedian—highly successful—in NYC.  They married, and he walked away from his career, much as she had walked away from hers.

The kidnapping has been orchestrated by a Mr. Knapp, and his arrangements are thorough and fairly ingenious.  And the ransom demand is $500,000.  (It’s worth knowing, I think, that, adjusted for general inflation, such a ransom today would be around $6 million  Keep in mind that Althea has hired Wolfe to recover her husband, not to identify and bring to justice the kidnapper(s).  He asks for, and receives, a retained of $50,000.

From this point on, I will be discussing aspects of this affair that will be spoilers.  So if you have not read this mystery, or if you have read it and expect to read it again, please stop reading now.

As Wolfe begins to earn his fee, he becomes convinced that the kidnapping might be less than it seems, that the Vails have staged the kidnapping, and anticipate claiming a $500,000 deduction from their taxable income.  We never actually learn what their income is, but, as both have walked away from their careers, their income is based on the fortune inherited by Althea when her first husband died.  This has always seemed to me to be a fairly tricky, and risky, scheme.  As I have thought about this, I began to look at the potential rewards of pulling this fraud off successfully (spoiler: they do not pull it off). 

So.  What are the potential rewards?  Put simply, it’s the anticipated tax saving.  That saving will depend on the (marginal) income tax rates and on whether ransom payments are, in fact, are deductible.  But against that is the risk of being charged with and convicted of tax fraud, a risk that extends to Althea’s personal secretary, Dinah Utley.  (I do not recall, and, during my most recent re-reading of the book, I could not find any indication of what share of the loot Utley would receive.  Presumably it would have to me a significant percentage of the take.)

The following table [Federal Income Tax Brackets for Tax Year 1959 (Filed April 1960) (tax-brackets.org)] shows the income tax rates, by income range, for 1960.*  The amount of the (fraudulent) tax saving follows directly by looking at the tax brackets and rates.  We are not told what the household income is, but the maximum tax saving would accrue only if the family taxable income is greater than $1 million (roughly the equivalent of $12 million accounting for inflation.  The maximum tax saving (ignoring state and local income taxes, which would have been negligible in 1969) would be 91% of $500,000--$455,000 (the equivalent of $5.5 million at today’s general price level), minus Utley’s share.  Or, at most, about half of one year’s income.

Federal Income Tax Brackets, 1960

Income Bracket                      Marginal Tax Rate
$0 - $3,999                                      20%
$4,000 -$ 7,999                               22%
$8,000 -$11,999                              22%
$12,000 – 15,999                            26%
$16,000 - $23,999                           34%
$24,000 - $27,999                           43%
$28,000 - $31,000                           47%
$32,000 - $35,999                           50%
$36,000 - $39,000                           53%
$40,000 - $43.000                           56%
$44,000 - $51,999                           59%
$52,000 - $63,999                           62%
$64,000 - $75,999                           65%
$76,000 - $79,999                           69%
$80,000 - $99,999                           72%
$100,000 – $119,000                              75%
$120,000 – $139,999                              78%
$140,000 - $159,000                               81%
$160,000 - $179,000                               84%
$180,000 - $199.000                               89%
$200,000 -$299,000                                90%
$500,000 +                                      91%

But there is a second consideration.  Would the ransom be an allowable deduction from their taxable income?  My take on this is that it might not be deductible.  Two factors matter.  The first is whether proven ransom payment constitutes a deductible a expenditure.  I have found this very difficult to establish.  What I have been able to find pertains to business ransom payments (e.g., payments to get “ransom wear” cleaned from computer systems.  Or, in some cases, documentable kidnapping and safe return of a business’s employee.  What is clear in these cases is that the relevant law enforcement agency (or agencies) be able to document the denial of service that makes up the ransom demand or the captivity of an employee.  This entails, at the least, law enforcement agencies being informed of the event and being able to monitor the amount of the payment.  I have been unable to determine** whether what we might call private kidnapping and ransom payment constitutes a deductible event under current law and practice.  But the implication of what I have been able to discover about current practice does not present a clear case for the deductibility of ransom paid for private kidnapping.

In addition, I would suggest that that if ransom payments are deductible, the taxing authority would require proof that the kidnapping had occurred and that the payment had been made.  In the case of the kidnapping of Jimmy Vail, no attempt was made to inform the police that a kidnapping had occurred. In the absence of some sort of proof that a kidnapping and ransom payment had actually occurred, I seriously doubt that any taxing authority accept a claim of deductibility of a ransom.  And, if the “ransom payment” is not deductible, the Vails would have undertaken a risk for no reward

Let me make this clear:  Rex Stout is my favorite author of mystery novels,  I own copies of all of them; I have read all of them multiple times.  And, if one can ignore the technical issues surrounding the kidnapping and subsequent murder, The Final Deduction is at the very least engrossing.  But I am not sure that the premise of the story really holds up.

*A digression.  Two things are striking about the tax table for 1960 and the current tax table.  First of all, there were 22 tax bracket in 1960— compared with7 tax brackets in 2020.  Second, the maximum tax rate in 2020 was only 37%.  Clearly, the risk-reward ratio for a fraudulent kidnapping would be a lot less enticing today. 

**I spent about 3 hours trying to determine either the state of current tax law and practice or the state of law practice as it was in 1960, without success.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Fritz Gets Paid

             Life—and Pay—as Fritz Brenner


While the focus of the books is inevitably on the case and the investigation, and, of course, on the relationship between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin), life in the old brownstone on West 35th St. centers on The Meals.  And in giving consideration to them, we need to give consideration to the life—and especially to the working schedule—and compensation—of Fritz Brenner.  In particular, I asked myself, was Fritz compensated as well as it appears he should have been—what would a chef as good and as experienced as Fritz reasonably have expected to earn?


Let’s try to answer that question.  (Briefly, anticipating the answer, Fritz was doing all right.)


What can we say with certainty?  That Wolfe and Fritz have known each other from long before Archie began working for Wolfe.  That Fritz is (according to Wolfe, in Too Many Cooks), competent, if not inspired.  That, at the time of In the Best Families (published in 1950), Fritz was making $1,000 per month.  That Fritz does the shopping for the household.  That Fritz is strongly opposed to having a woman in the place.  And probably more.  But we can also infer what his working schedule must look like.


Wolfe breakfasts at 8:00 (or 8:15); lunch is at 1:00 (or 1:15), and dinner is at 7:15 (or 7:30).  Archie eats breakfast at somewhat irregular times, but usually around 8, and usually lunches with Wolfe.  We don’t know when, where, or if Theodore eats.


If Fritz is going to prepare the food for that schedule, here’s what it seems to me that his day must look like:

7:00 – 9:30:  In the kitchen to prepare breakfast for Wolfe and for Archie.  At about 9 (after Wolfe heads for the plant rooms), he retrieves the tray from Wolfe’s room and finishes any after-breakfast clean-up.  (At some time in this interval, he fixes and eats his own breakfast, and fixes breakfast for Archie.)

11:30 – 2:30:  In the kitchen to prepare lunch.  When Wolfe and Archie finish their meal (by about 2:00), he clears the remaining dishes from the dining room and finishes cleaning up.  (At some time in this interval, he eats his own lunch.)

5:30 – 9:00:  In the kitchen to prepare dinner.  He finishes clearing in the dining room after Wolfe and Archie are done, and finishes up in the kitchen by 9:00.  (Again, he finds time to heat his own meal.)


That’s nine hours per day to prepare and clean up after the three meals served.  We’re not told when he shops, but my guess is that he spends two hours on Monday morning shopping, probably at multiple stores (in the European fashion).  So, for Monday through Friday, we have a 47-hour work week.  We also know that Fritz has Sundays off (or mostly off; sometimes it appears that he prepares breakfast, as is  hinted at by Archie’s reference to his “Sunday morning crescents”).  We don’t know about Saturday, but my suspicion is that he prepares breakfast, and leaves things ready for lunch and dinner, but also has most of Saturday off.


If all this is correct, then Fritz has a roughly 50-hour work week.  How would this compare with the work week of an executive chef in a restaurant, on the assumption that the restaurant does lunch and dinner (as, for example, it seems Rusterman’s does).  Suppose the restaurant opens at 11, serves lunch from noon until 2 and dinner from 5:30 until 10, Monday through Saturday (or, perhaps, Tuesday through Sunday—a fair number of restaurants in Chicago seem to be closed on Monday).  The executive chef may not do all that much line cooking, but must determine the menu (especially weekly specials), order  the food and supplies and attend to its delivery, schedule the rest of the staff, supervise the kitchen, and so on.  This looks like a 12-hour day, 6 days a week, or 72 hours a week.[1]  So, in that respect, Fritz’s work week was perhaps somewhat shorter than that of an executive chef in a first-class restaurant.


But Fritz’s working day was longer, from 7 AM until 9 PM (with occasional later duties if Wolfe had clients and others in after dinner)—14 hours a day in which he would have, at best, 2 hours off between breakfast and lunch and 3 off between lunch and dinner.  Having worked, long ago, the occasional split shift, I would argue that those 5 hours would not provide much time for personal activities.


And for this, let’s assume that the $1,500 per month figure noted above represented his compensation (adjusted, of course, for changes in the general level of prices).  In current terms, this translates to about $15,000 per month, or $180,000 per year.  But we need to take account of the fact that his compensation included two major pieces of in-kind pay:  Housing and food.  So we need to take account of the value he received from that. 


For most of the time, Fritz had a large room in the basement (let’s call it the equivalent of a studio apartment, or a small one-bedroom apartment; it’s clearly more space than, for example, Archie had[2]).  Based on some speculation about the floor plans of the brownstone[3], I would put Fritz’s space at about 500 square feet, perhaps 25% to 30% larger than Archie’s.  What I’m finding[4] is current rents of about $2,500 per month for that sort of space in midtown Manhattan.  So the value of his living space would be about $30,000 per year (that would be taxable income today, and was, according to the tax code, taxable income then—but it was basically ignored).


And then there’s the food.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics[5] estimates that average household expenditures on food (both at home and away) in 2014 was about $6,000.  Now, that’s for the entire household.  However, the quality of food served in the brownstone would clearly be higher than that of the average household in the U.S., so I’m going to count the entire amount in estimating the value of meals-at-home for Fritz--$6,000.  (Again, this would be now, and was then, taxable income, but it was generally ignored until sometime in the 1990s.)


So my estimate of the value of Fritz’s annual compensation, including the value of housing and food, would be about $216,000, or about $18,000 per month.  Or, based on my estimate of a 50-hour work-week, and assuming that Fritz got 4 weeks of paid vacation, $90 per hour.  Was Fritz well-paid, or was he underpaid? 


Well, we know that at the time of Too Many Cooks, Philip Lazio was making $60,000 per year, and Jerome Berin was offered as much as $40,000 per year to replace him.  In today’s terms, that would be about $1 million per year for Lazio and about $675,000 for Berin.  That seems fairly reasonable for world-class chefs; one estimate[6] suggests that Mario Batali makes about $3 million a year, and Bobby Flay makes $1.5 million (for both of them, that includes their earnings from television).  (At least Lazio and Berin were being paid close to what one would expect.)


But cooking for 2 people (or 3, counting himself, or 4 if Theodore eats in the kitchen with Fritz) is not as demanding as running a large restaurant.  So a comparison with private chefs is perhaps more relevant.  A quick check[7] suggests that the average annual pay for a private chef in the top 10% of private chefs in the U.S. is about $150,000.  So, as I am rather pleased to discover, it appears that Fritz is being paid what he deserves—as much as the best and most experienced private chefs in America.



[1] We knew fairly well a couple who ran a restaurant in Chicago for about 15 years.  They did not do lunches, but their work day was generally from about 2 PM until about 11 PM.  She ran the kitchen and he ran the front of the house; she ordered the food and planned the menu and specials; he ordered all the beverages.  She supervised the kitchen staff; he supervised the table servers, bartenders, and other front-of-the house personnel.  The kitchen staff was usually 3-4 line chefs; the front was staffed, on weekends, with 5 wait staff, 5 bus, 2 bartenders, and 1 hostess.  They were closed on Sundays.  So their typical work week was 54 hours a week, and that was without lunch service.

 [2] I will note, though, that the bedrooms were quite generously sized.  There were 2 bedrooms on each of the second and third floors, each with its own bathroom.  Those appear to have been front-and-back, with a hallway running also front-to-back.  The first floor had 4 rooms—the front room, the office, the dining room, and the kitchen; of these, only the front room was described as small.  The office could accommodate a crown of 16 or so in a pinch, and we know—from Murder By the Book—that the dining room could seat more than a dozen.  And Fritz had, obviously, a fair amount of space to work in. 

 [3] See http://www.nerowolfe.org/htm/tidbits/Brownstone_Floor_Plans.htm.

[4] http://www.nakedapartments.com/nyc/studio-apartments-manhattan

 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Rex Stout, Champagne For One

 Rex Stout, Chamoagne For One
© Copyright 1958 Rex Stout
Bantam reprint 1996


This is one of my favorite, maybe in my top 10, of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books.  There is, however, one big issue (that I will get to).


Louise Robilloti, re-married after the death of her very wealthy husband Alfred Grantham, does not exactly carry on with his philanthropic endeavors.  But she does host, annually, a very special dinner.  One of his charities was Grantham House, a home for unmarried, pregnant young women.  They receive very good pre-natal and post-natal care, and assistance in finding work after the event.  Archie gets roped in (by Mrs. Robilloti’s nephew Austin Byne) to serve as a guest—4 unmarried men, 4 unwed mothers, and 4 members of the family (the Robillotis and Louise’s 2 children, Cecil and Celia Grantham).  Following a lavish dinner, the host, hostess, family members, and guests adjourn to the ballroom for champagne and dancing.


And one of the mothers, Rose Tuttle, decides to tell Archie that another of the mothers, Faith Usher, has with her a bottle of cyanide, and Rose is afraid that she plans to use it to end her life.  Archie promises to watch over her.  And, of course, Faith Usher dies of cyanide poisoning, presumably in a glass of champagne delivered to her by Cecil Grantham.  Everyone (well, almost everyone) is prepared to accept suicide as a verdict, but Archie is adamant that Usher did bot drop anything into the glass of champagne, or put anything into her mouth (except champagne).  So he’s in for it.  And the hosts and guests can’t just write it off because Archie refuses to accept the conclusion that Usher committed suicide, and the police are reluctant just to ignore Archie’s insistence that it was not suicide.


And one of the guests, Edwin Laidlaw (a wealthy, reformed rake) hires Wolfe to find out what really happened.  He has several reasons for seeking Wolfe’s services, but high on his list is to prevent it coming out that he is the father of Faith Usher’s child.  And he has enough money to make the job worthwhile to Wolfe.  And, from Archie’s point of view, to prove that he’s right, that Usher was murdered.  Although, initially, it seems likely to be impossible, or next to it, to prove that it was murder and to identify the murderer

.

One of the reasons I am drawn to this book is that it is, in my opinion, the best depiction of women in the entire series.  While the women are largely shown as more or less dependent in one way or another, only Louise Robilloti is depicted negatively (and much of that stems from her physical appearance on the one hand and her snobery on the other).  Not only are all four of the young women/mothers depicted in a generally positive way, Celia Grantham is also treated positively. 


But…as the investigation unfolds, we learn that Faith Usher’s mother, Elaine Usher, had an affair with Alfred Grantham, and that Faith is one of the outcomes on that affair.  And here I had a problem.  Assuming that someone has a motive for murder, I have always thought that the more likely subject would have been Elaine Usher.  While it would, obviously, have been impossible to get Elaine Usher into the dinner party, she seems to me to have been the most likely murderee.  The denouement is handled well, however, and the discovery of how the murder was committed is very well handled. 


In my opinion, well worth reading—and re-reading.

 

Friday, July 9, 2021

Raymond Postgate, "Somebody At the Door"

 Just in case you thought I only read books that turn out to be good:

Raymond Postgate, "Somebody At the Door"
Originally published 1943
Reprint in the British Library Crime Classics series2017

I have been a fan of the British Library Crime Classic series from its inception; I've bought and read with pleasure a large number of them (20+, I'm estimating). Bit I have begun to wonder whether the series is running out of high quality material.

The last half dozen or so that I've read have been pedestrian at best, and the one I just finished--Raymond Postgate's "Somebody At the Door" (originally published in 1943)--was at best mediocre (starting with the title which actually doesn't even make sense, given the story). There is a 70+ page section (30% of the book) that provides unnecessary--irrelevant, really--backstory, for example. And the ending seems tacked on just to come up with a conclusion. One oft he least rewarding books I have ever read.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Rex Stout, Prisoner's Base

Rex Stout, Prisoner’s Base
Copyright © 1952 Rex Stout
Bantam Books reprint 1992
ISBN0-553-24269-5


A young and attractive young woman shows up at Nero Wolfe’s house, carrying luggage.  Wolfe is not available—he’s tending to his orchids.  The young woman, Pricilla Eads (as we late discover when her guardian, Perry Helmar, shows up, seeking to hire Wolfe to find her) wishes to remain secluded until her 25th birthday has passed.  Also, as we learn from Helmar when he is seeking to hire Wolfe to(for $10,000—roughly $150,000 in inflation-adjusted terms), on her 25th birthday his guardianship will terminate and she will come into control of a fortune, including a majority ownership of a textile design and manufacturing firm (SoftDown).


Wolfe chooses not to reveal her presence in his house, and persuades Helmar to let him consider whether to take the case until the next morning.  He then confronts Eads, saying that she has a choice:  Pay him $10,000 keep her hidden until her 25th birthday, or leave the brownstone.  Should she leave, he tells her, he will call Helmar the next morning to accept the job he has been offered.  (He also points out that all she has to do is go home and phone Helmar.)


She leaves, and is found the next morning in her apartment, dead—strangled.  And her long-time maid, Margaret Fomos (who does not live in) has been found, also strangled, with her key to Eads’ apartment missing.  It’s not hard to reach the conclusion that Fomos was killed ti get the key, and that the same person has killed them both.  Archie tries to convince Wolfe to investigate the Eads’ murder; Wolfe refuses.  And Archie takes it upon himself to find the killer.


Complications ensue.  Archie crashes a board of directors meeting (identifying himself as a detective); before he has accomplished much, the cops show up and arrest him of a charge of impersonating a police officer.  After some back-and-forth, Archie overhears Wolfe—who was also arrested—describing the events to the police higher-ups, and announces that he does have a client—Archie Goodwin.  Like it or not, Wolfe will investigate the murders.


One of the complications has to do with Eads’ marriage, to Eric Hagh, several years earlier, in Caracas, Venezuela.  She has apparently signed an agreement to share equally any assets she inherits with Hagh.  Which means millions, as of her 25th birthday.  And Hagh has hired a lawyer who has informed Helmar that 50% of Eads’ SoftDown stock should be, as of her 25th birthday, when she formally inherits it, should be transferred to him.


So we have a tangle.  And there is one of Stout’s best-ever scenes.  Wolfe manages to Helmar get the four highest executives of SoftDown to come to his office to discuss the situation.  He asks them to—no, let me quote Wolfe:


I say to you…there is a suspicion current that you had something to do with the murder of Pricilla Eads, and also of Margaret Fomos, and even that you may have actually committed those crimes with your own hands.  What have you to say to remove or discredit that suspicion?


The responses of three of the four executives (Jay Brucker, president; Viola Duday, assistant secretary to the corporation; Oliver Pitkin, corporate treasurer; and Bernard Quest, VP) are among the best set pieces I have ever read in a mystery novel.  (Only Brucker’s is uninteresting.)  And all four of their “voices are distinct and captivating.  These are at the very least among the best conceived characters in any of the books.


Saul Panzer also plays a pivotal role in identifying the murderer.  As is generally the case with the continuing PI characters (excluding Archie) in the saga, we hear what Saul has discovered, but we don’t see or hear him actually doing the work.  (I’ll admit to wishing that Stoup had gotten around to writing a book about Saul as a detective.)


The narrative (the plot, if you will) is among the best Stout ever wrote.  The people involved in this particular situation are well, eve, brilliantly conceived and presented.  It’s the best conceived and presented cast of characters, I think, in the entire body of work.  The events leading up to the murders, and the detective work leading to the climax, are as good as anything Stout ever wrote.  It’s not the book that has moved me most (that would be A Family Affair).  It’s not the book that deals with the weightiest issued (The Doorbell Rang).  But it is very nearly the best thing Stout wrote.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Rex Stout, Too Many Clients

 Rex Stout, Too Many Clients
© Copyright 1960 (and probably renewed by the Estate of Rex Stout)
Bantam Books reprint 1994
ISBN 0-553-25423-5

I’ve read Too Many Clients many times, and have written about it more tan once.  Having just re-read it, I feel obliged (to myself; everyone else in the world should feel free to ignore this) to write about it again.  So here I go.

Thomas Yeager, (one of?) the VPs of the Continental Plastics corporation has been murdered, his body found underneath a tarp at street construction site, n a relatively undesirable part of Manhattan.  Wolfe winds up with three clients:  The Perez family (property managers living in the basement apartment of a residential building near the where the body was found); Yeager’s wife (who knew about his extramarital activities); and the corporation at which Yeager had worked.  The first discovery is that Yeager had owned the building in which the Perez family lived and worked.  He had constructed, on the top floor, what can best be described as the setting for serial extramarital activities.  (There’s some evidence that the activities involved Yeager and a fairly large number of women,)  Keep in mind that this is in what would generally be referred to as a slum.  And Yeager was killed there.


Wolfe and Goodwin manage to discover the murderer.  But what I want to discuss is something entirely different.


Yeager, one would think, would be at pains to keep both the place and the activities.  But consider:  The top floor had to be essentially rebuilt (walls removed; windows as well; an expensive, unpickable lock installed on the basement level.  And an expensive elevator with only 2 stops—the basement and the bower.  Leave aside the cost.  This would have taken a fair amount of time and a fairly large number of constructions.  The residents of the building, and of the surrounding neighborhood, might not know exactly what was being done.  But they would certainly know that something was in the works.  This would certainly attract the attention of the residents and, I would think, of the neighborhood as a whole.  They would wonder who had done this, and why.  They would be curious about the people entering and leaving.  So it is likely that people would be watching, and, if any of t hem had cameras (Kodak Brownies were relatively cheap, it’s likely that someone would be taking photos.  One source (Kodak Eastman: Brownie Flashmite 20 Price Guide: estimate a camera value (collectiblend.com)) puts the price at $15 in the early 1950s, so maybe not so cheap.  But, still, it only takes one…)


Now, to be sure, Yeager might not have been all that concerned about people in the neighborhood knowing something was going on, or even the highly likely knowledge about what was going on.  And the women who made the trip to this apartment building in a slum might not have felt all that insecure (although I would suspect that they would have called for a cab prior to leaving, rather than hailing a cab at the curb.) 


After the Yeager’s murder, things might have changed.  His picture would have appeared in the papers.  Some people in the neighborhood might have recognized this visitor (Yeager).  While most of Yeager’s guests would be anonymous, at least one (Meg Duncan, a well-known actress) might well have been noticed and identified by someone.  Among those recognizing Yeager as the murdered man, someone would likely have called the police.  And then everything would have played out differently.  The police would have discovered Yeager’s ownership of the building, and of the nature of the top floor (and, by the way, how is it that Sgt. Stebbins managed to overlook the presence of an elevator?).  Yet there is not even a suggestion that anyone in the neighborhood noticed or cared.  No suggestion that any of the residents—except the Perez family, and Stebbins came to see them because their daughter had been murdered, not because the bower was discovered—had even been asked if they had seen the body being dumped in the hole.  (I would have thought that canvassing the neighborhood would have been automatic in any event, in an effort to determine if anyone had seen Yeager’s body being dumped.)


A secondary issue is the choice of a slum to begin with, so I’m going to touch on that as well.  Yeager bought the entire building (if memory serves, a 3  or 4 story building, likely with 4 apartments to a floor, so probably 12 apartments (excluding the Perez family’s quarters in the basement).  Yeager’s alternative, it seems to me, would have been to purchase a single co-op (or condo) unit and have it remodeled to suit his needs.  I can’t believe that such a choice would have been more expensive than buying an entire apartment building and remodeling as we know it was.  Furthermore, his guests would not face the same (perhaps small) risks to their personal safety were they to visit him in a mid-town residence (even buying a small single family house in the Village couldn’t have been that much more expensive, even if it needed to be remodeled).  Remodeling a co-op unit wouldn’t attract as much attention as would remodeling a unit in a slum.  The attention that might be paid to his visitors would also probably not have attracted as much neighborhood attention.  So the risk associated with the slum location must, for Yeager, and possibly for his guests as well, have been part of the attraction.  To me, that seems to be a stretch, but I still always find myself why selecting a more obviously unusual site is something that Yeager would have chosen.


I have two additional bones to pick, about the motive of the murderer and about Archie’s reaction to the fate of Dinah Hough, but I’ll leave that for another day.  And that discussion will involve revealing the identity of the murderer, and the murder’s motive.


Having said all that, I will say that, if one accepts the premise, both Goodwin’s actions (with one exception) and Wolfe’s deductions make Too Many Clients a fairly compelling read.