The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout

The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout

Nero Wolfe vs. the FBI

What on earth would compel Rex Stout’s legendary sleuth Nero Wolfe to confer with his assistant Archie Goodwin while the radio in the office is going full blast?   Why is Archie sleeping there instead of up in his room? And why did Wolfe smuggle into his home via boxes supposedly containing plants his usual trio of operatives (Saul panzer, Fred Durkin, and Orrie Cather) as well as two actors named Jarvis and Hewitt?  It is well-known that the portly gourmet and orchid-loving Wolfe is an eccentric sleuth, but even this is pushing things.  Unless, that is, your home is under surveillance by the FBI.

It began when Rachel Bruner, widow of the wealthy Lloyd Bruner, came to Wolfe with a request: get the FBI off her back.   They have put tails on her car wherever she goes, employees at the Bruner Corporation have been questioned, and she suspects her phones have been tapped.   All in response to her sending out hundreds of copies of a book entitled The FBI Nobody Knows to everybody from members of the Supreme Court to network executives and broadcasters and many more people in high places.

Bruner offers Wolfe a $100,000 retainer plus not only expenses but whatever fee he cares to name when he’s done.  After some initial reluctance, Wolfe finally agrees to take the case after Archie verifies that the FBI is indeed following her.

In their search for a way to compel the G-men to back off Bruner, Inspector Cramer of the New York Police department -the head of Homicide South who frequently is an antagonist of Nero and Archie- uncharacteristically turns ally when he first warns Archie of an attempt by the FBI to have his and Wolfe’s licenses revoked as well as something else: FBI agents may have murdered a writer named Morris Althaus who had been working on a unflattering article about the Bureau whose manuscript pages were found missing when police searched Althaus’ apartment after his death.  

Wolfe encourages the FBI to assume he thinks they killed the journalist so he can set an elaborate trap for them.  Archie meanwhile discovers Althaus also had connections to Bruner, the most compelling of which was via Bruner’s secretary, the lovely Sarah Dacos, so was it the G-men, Bruner, or Dacos that done him in?

The answer to this question (and others) lies within the pages of The Doorbell Rang.  A Nero Wolfe mystery whose denouement, as always, is a corker.