REX STOUT – Too Many Clients. Viking Press, hardcover, October 1960. Bantam, paperback; 1st printing, March 1962. Reprinted by Bantam many times. TV adaptation: Season 2, episodes 9 and 10, of A Nero Wolfe Mystery (A&E, June 2 and 9, 2002).

   The title says it all. Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin go from a bank account that’s discouragingly low, with an IRS payment coming up soon, to a case that walks in the door and before it’s over, ends up with four different clients having paid Wolfe a retainer for his services.

   It begins with an executive for a plastics company hiring Archie to see if he’s being followed when he visits a certain address, a task so simple that Wolfe need not be involved. Archie agrees, but the arrangement falls through when the client is a no-show. Then the client is found dead outside the building that was his destination, but the death occurred the day before, and it isn’t the man who hired Archie.

   It also turns out that the dead man had an elaborate (and duly well-decorated) love nest in the apartment building he was found murdered outside of, and keeping the place a secret while solving the murder is the job Wolfe takes on, hoping that one of the clients will come through with a very large payment for the work he’s done.

   Rex Stout was hitting on all cylinders when he wrote this one. Both the rapport and the repartee between Wolfe and Archie are terrific, the case is quirky enough to be interesting throughout, and all of the usual secondary characters in the Wolfe saga show up and have their individual roles to play. If I could complain about anything, it would be the fact that Stout doesn’t exactly play fair with the reader, in that a short time before the end of the book Wolfe gives Saul Panzer and Orrie Cather a job to do without telling Archie about it, nor us, therefore, the reader.

   That small quibble aside, this one was a lot of fun to read.