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 ( 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.

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