Over My Dead Body

“It gives him the willies to hear a Montenegrin female voice talk Montenegrin. It’s a kind of allergy. I’m sorry, Miss Lovchen, but there’s not a chance. I know him from A to P, which is as far as he goes. P is for pigheaded.”

I haven’t read a Rex Stout book in several years, but my parents used to watch Nero Wolfe all the time and I can never think of him or Archie without picturing the actors (even more so than with Perry Mason, which is surprising because I actively watched those as well). Archie’s sarcastic narration is the best part of the books in my opinion. I’ve been trying to read them roughly in order, using a Nero Wolfe guide I found at a book sale once, and Over My Dead Body is the seventh book.

Something else that’s surprisingly more true for Nero Wolfe than Perry Mason: I can finish the book, enjoy it the whole time, and barely understand what actually happens. I usually consider myself pretty good about following plots, so maybe I just don’t mesh with Rex Stout’s dramatic denouments. Nevertheless, I’ll do my best to summarize.

over my dead bodyA young woman meeting Archie’s approval, giving her name as Carla Lovchen, comes to the brownstone requesting help. She and her friend Neya Tormic are instructors at a fencing and dancing school where Neya has been accused of stealing diamonds from the pocket of a man’s coat in his locker. Wolfe has no intention of taking the case, especially because the two young women are immigrants from Montenegro, where he spent many years as a young man before ending his service there. Two circumstances, however, force him to change his mind. First, Carla tries to hide in his study an identification paper signed by Princess Vladanka Donevitch of Montenegro. The second is another paper, sent along by Neya–the adoption certificate signed twenty years ago by Nero Wolfe himself.

Archie accompanies Carla back to the fencing school, where it turns out that the accusation against Neya was due to a series of mistakes. Her troubles are far from over, however, when a body is found later that evening run through with a sharpened foil. The Englishman Ludlow was Neya’s fencing partner, and also responsible for her alibi in the diamonds affair. It seems that much more is going on beneath the surface than initially appears. It will take Wolfe and Archie’s best efforts, along with both help and hindrance from Inspector Cramer, to unravel events.

Unfortunately I know very little about politics in the Balkan Peninsula, both then and now. While it’s not an essential component of the intricate plot, I do feel like I’m missing something. The who and the why seem to be constantly shifting in mysteries with political allegiances involved. Because of that I wouldn’t call Over My Dead Body one of my favorite Nero Wolfe mysteries. For devotees of his character, though, the revelation of his daughter and other details about his Montenegrin days will make it worth the read.

Published in: on April 11, 2011 at 2:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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