REX STOUT – Please Pass the Guilt. Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin #45. Viking, hardcover, September 1973. Bantam, paperback, October 1974.

   When this book was published, Rex Stout was 87, and it had been four years since Death of a Dude, the previous book in the series. I hate to say it, but like many other mystery writers with long careers, the ones written at the ends of their careers are far from their best.

   In Stout’s case, I have to confess that I never thought the detective end of things was his strong suit. What I remember about the books is hardly ever the endings, but the setups for the stories and the comfortable feeling of settling down in a familiar milieu and enjoying the personalities of the cast of characters, their idiosyncrasies and habits, the wit and the repartee, all wrapped up in another episode of their long crime-solving careers.

   All of the latter is still present, and the case is interesting at the beginning — a bomb goes off in a drawer in a TV executive’s office and kills one of the employees working there. But was the bomb meant for the executive who owned the office, or was it intended for the dead man, and if so, how did the killer know he was going to open that drawer at that particular time?

   But there are no witnesses, no clues, and with all of the combined resources that Wolfe has to hand — namely, Archie, Saul, Fred and Orrie — the investigation goes absolutely nowhere. It goes so badly that Archie has to apologize to the reader for it. There is no flow to the story, the rhythm is off, and while I don’t know if this is different from earlier books, but the paragraphs are often unwieldy long, including large chunks of dialogue.

   Worse, the solution (to me) comes from almost nowhere, with no motivation for the killer. I am willing to stand corrected on this, but even if I missed something, this is a book that is nowhere near Stout at his prime.