Three for the Chair

Three for the Chair

infobox Book |
name = Three for the Chair
title_orig =
translator =

author = Rex Stout
cover_artist = Bill English
country = United states
language = English
series = Nero Wolfe
genre = Detective fiction
publisher = Viking Press
release_date = May 3, 1957
media_type = Print (Hardcover)
pages = 183 pp. (first edition)
isbn = NA
preceded_by = Might as Well Be Dead
followed_by = If Death Ever Slept

"Three for the Chair" is a collection of Nero Wolfe mystery novellas by Rex Stout, published by the Viking Press in 1957, and by Bantam Books in various paperback printings beginning in 1958. The book contains three stories:

* "A Window for Death," first published in "The American Magazine" (May 1956) as "Nero Wolfe and the Vanishing Clue"
* "Immune to Murder," first published in "The American Magazine" (November 1955)
* "Too Many Detectives," first published September 14, 1956, in "Collier's"

quotation| "If I may," Ambassador Kelefy put in diplomatically. "I agree with Mr. Bragan and Mr. Ferris. Americans do not fight even for millions with clubs."

I could have named him an American who had used a blackjack on a fellow citizen to relieve him of $2.38, but of course he wasn't an oil tycoon.
Archie, commenting on an ambassador's naïveté, in "Immune to Murder", chapter 4

A Window for Death

Plot summary

David Fyfe, a high school English teacher, brings Wolfe a problem regarding a contract and inheritance. His brother Bert has just died of pneumonia and left his estate to David, another brother Paul, and their sister Louise Fyfe Tuttle. But under the terms of an agreement with Bert's business partner, Johnny Arrow, all assets from their uranium mining operation go to Arrow, and the assets represent nearly all of Bert's five million dollar estate. Paul Fyfe thinks that Arrow might have killed Bert before he could shelter his assets by giving them to his relatives. The family hires Wolfe to determine whether there's enough evidence of a crime to refer the matter to the police.

Twenty years earlier, Bert was charged with the murder of his father. Bert was acquitted, largely on the basis of an alibi provided by Vincent Tuttle, at the time his roommate and later his brother-in-law. After his acquittal Bert broke contact with his family and moved to Canada, where, in partnership with Arrow, he struck it rich in uranium. Having recently returned to New York to re-establish ties with his family, Bert invited them to his hotel suite for dinner, and to a Broadway show. But Bert fell ill with pneumonia and required bed rest and 24-hour nursing care. Paul, a masher, manhandled nurse Anne Goren, who phoned the attending physician to send another nurse. Louise Tuttle volunteered to watch Bert, and Miss Goren left. Then Paul got into a fistfight with Arrow over Miss Goren, who had aroused romantic and protective feelings in Arrow. Arrow beat Paul so badly that he was arrested and spent the night in jail. That night, Bert died, and his doctor certifies that the death was due to pneumonia. Paul now suggests that Arrow might have found a way to substitute something toxic for the morphine that the doctor had left with the nurse.

There are several strange aspects to Bert's death. One is that Bert's father had died in a similar fashion 20 years earlier – someone had opened the bedroom windows on a snowy winter night as the father lay asleep, also suffering from pneumonia. Louise Tuttle has felt guilty ever since, because she was supposed to be looking after him but had fallen asleep in the next room.

Then there's the matter of the missing ice cream. Paul had brought two quarts of ice cream to Bert's hotel room and put them in the refrigerator. It went uneaten due to the subsequent events, but somehow it has disappeared. Wolfe sends Archie to see Paul, Louise and Vincent in Mount Kisco to check on the morphine, and while he's there to investigate the ice cream's disappearance.

Yet another strange aspect is that when Bert's body was found, there were two hot water bags next to him. The presence of the bags was expected; that they were both empty was not.

Cast of characters

*Nero Wolfe — The private investigator
*Archie Goodwin — Wolfe's assistant (and the narrator of all Wolfe stories)
*Bert Fyfe — A wealthy uranium prospector, now deceased
*David Fyfe, Paul Fyfe, and Louise Fyfe Tuttle — Bert's two brothers and sister
*Vincent Tuttle — Louise's husband
*Johnny Arrow — Bert Fyfe's business partner
*Anne Goren — Bert Fyfe's nurse
*Frederick Buhl, MD — Bert Fyfe's doctor

Immune to Murder

Plot summary

Wolfe and Archie travel to an oil tycoon's hunting lodge in the Adirondacks. The oilman, O.V. Bragan, is hosting a gathering of dignitaries who are apparently negotiating the acquisition of oil rights in another country; the country is not identified. Included are the country's ambassador to the U.S., his wife and assistant, a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and his wife, and the head of a consortium of U.S. oil firms that are in competition with Bragan's for the oil rights.

Secretary Leeson has invited Wolfe to the lodge because the ambassador, Theodore Kelefy, wants to catch and eat an American brook trout, and, furthermore, wants the trout to be cooked by Nero Wolfe himself. To accommodate Kelefy, Wolfe agrees to cook trout Montbarry [The full recipe is given in "The Nero Wolfe Cookbook" where, however, the preliminary discussion in the Penguin Books edition hopelessly confuses material from "Immune to Murder" with material from "Death of a Dude", which describes a "real Nero Wolfe trout deal" as a substitute for genuine trout Montbarry.] for the guests on the final day of the conference.

On the night of Wolfe's arrival at the lodge, hard feelings are evident. Dinner is served at a table that is placed far too close to a fireplace for everyone's comfort. Kelefy's assistant, Spiros Papps, is describing the participants' interests to Archie over the entrée, but Bragan has seated both Archie and James Ferris, Bragan's competitor for the oil rights, so close to the fire that they are in serious discomfort. At last Ferris angrily leaves the table, followed shortly thereafter by Archie.

The next morning, the five negotiators – Bragan, Ferris, Kelefy, Papps and Leeson – go fishing. Each is assigned a different stretch of the river that runs by Bragan's lodge, and each is competing to catch the most trout before an 11:30 deadline. After the deadline has passed, Archie takes the opportunity to do some fishing himself, and less than a mile downstream from the lodge he gets a strike from a huge trout. As he is working the trout in, he sees something unexpected: the body of Assistant Secretary Leeson, lying on the riverbank with his head submerged in the water. Enough of his head is visible, though, that Archie can tell it was bashed with a blunt object.

Apparently inured to unexpected death, Archie reels in the trout before he returns to the lodge to report his discovery to Wolfe, who, having prepared the trout Montbarry, is packing to leave. After Archie explains to Wolfe what will happen if they try to leave, and after Wolfe has upbraided Archie for insisting on going fishing, Bragan is notified and the police called. The authorities investigate and conclude that Leeson was murdered, probably by someone staying at the lodge. This conclusion outrages Bragan, and District Attorney Colvin is appropriately obsequious, but he does not bend to the implicit political pressure.

That evening, Kelefy and his beautiful wife Adria visit Wolfe's room at the lodge. Kelefy has heard that the police investigation revealed that Wolfe did not cook the trout that Kelefy caught, and he wants to know why. Wolfe tells Kelefy it was just a whim – he is, after all, a confirmed eccentric. Kelefy accepts the explanation with some reluctance, and then asks Wolfe to keep confidential a heated exchange that took place between Bragan and Ferris. Wolfe agrees, and Kelefy removes an emerald ring from his finger and tells Adria to give it to Wolfe as an expression of his appreciation. After the Kelefys leave his room, Wolfe and Archie examine the emerald and find that, although large, it is flawed and probably fairly cheap.

Wolfe is irked rather than pleased by the tawdry gift, and is moved to action. He wants to speak with his lawyer, Nathaniel Parker, but the police are everywhere at the lodge so there is no possibility of making a telephone call in private. Wolfe solves that problem: for a lawyer, Parker is remarkably well educated, and they converse in French. When he has gotten what he needs from Parker, Wolfe announces that he is prepared to expose Leeson's murderer, the nature of the murderer's alibi, and the motive for the crime.

Cast of characters

*Nero Wolfe — The private investigator
*Archie Goodwin — Wolfe's assistant (and the narrator of all Wolfe stories)
*O.V. Bragan — Oil magnate and host of a conference to negotiate oil rights
*Theodore Kelefy — Ambassador of the country offering the oil rights
*Adria Kelefy — His wife
*Spiros Papps — Kelefy's advisor
*Assistant Secretary of State David M. Leeson
*Sally Leeson — His wife
*James Ferris — Head of an oil consortium in competition with Bragan for oil rights
*District Attorney Jasper Colvin

Too Many Detectives

Plot summary

Wolfe is seriously chagrined. A year earlier, Otis Ross came to the brownstone asking that Wolfe arrange for a wiretap of Ross's own phone line. Ross is a businessman who handles his affairs from home. He suspects that his secretary has been making personal use of confidential information and wants his line tapped so as to determine whether his suspicions are valid. Wolfe knows nothing of wiretaps, but Archie is eager to learn, and so after verifying the client's identity Wolfe accepts the job.

But something in the conversations they are monitoring soon arouses Archie's own suspicions. He calls at the Ross apartment and learns that Otis Ross is not the man who hired Wolfe. The tap is cancelled immediately and the real Mr. Ross is apprised of the deception. Wolfe and Archie spend a month trying to locate the man who posed as Ross, without success.

Nothing further happens until now, when Wolfe and Archie have been summoned to Albany to submit to questioning by the office of New York's secretary of state, which licenses private investigators. It seems that there have been several wiretapping scandals involving private investigators lately and the state government wants to take some action.

Wolfe reiterates his written statement on the Ross matter for Albert Hyatt, a special deputy of the secretary of state, including his own irritation that Archie argued for accepting the job because of the ". . . novelty and diversion a wiretapping operation would offer him personally." [Chapter 1.] But then a body is discovered in a room across the hall, which Archie recognizes as that of the man who impersonated Otis Ross at Wolfe's office.

Wolfe and Archie are not the only private investigators who have been called to Albany that morning. Five others, each from New York City, are present and because they each had opportunity to commit the murder they all are detained in Albany by the police. They are taken one by one to view the corpse and identify it if possible. Then Hyatt provides information that causes the police to arrest Wolfe and Archie. The dead man had called on Hyatt earlier that day, and told him that not only had he hired Wolfe, but also that Wolfe knew that the wiretap was illegal and went ahead with it anyway. This contradicts Wolfe's statement, and Wolfe and Archie are jailed until Wolfe's lawyer Nathaniel Parker arranges for their bail.

That night, Wolfe invites the other detectives to attend a conference in his hotel room to share information. After some back and forth, Wolfe breaks down their initial mistrust of one another and they each reveal that the murdered man hired them to wiretap his own office, giving a different name and address to each of them.

In some Wolfe novels and novellas, Archie is denied information about some fact or about activities that Wolfe has undertaken through hired operatives. In "Too Many Detectives", though, Wolfe shuts Archie completely out of the operation. He is dispatched to answer questions for the district attorney, and is not invited to take part in Wolfe's solution of the murder case. Archie knows only that the other detectives have assisted by making their own employees in New York City available to track down information.

And the reason that Wolfe shuts Archie out of the investigation is not revealed until the final two sentences of the story.

Cast of characters

*Nero Wolfe — The private investigator
*Archie Goodwin — Wolfe's assistant (and the narrator of all Wolfe stories)
*Steve Amsel, Dol Bonner, Sally Colt, Harland Ide and Jay Kerr — Private investigators based in Manhattan
*Albert Hyatt — Special deputy of the New York secretary of state
*Leon Groom — Chief of detectives of the City of Albany

Reviews and commentary

Stout's work sometimes occasioned conflicting viewpoints among the critics. "Three for the Chair" drew praise from Anthony Boucher in "The New York Times" and dispraise from Julian Symons in "The Sunday Times" (London) ["Three for the Chair", back matter, Bantam Crimeline edition, 1994] .


"A Nero Wolfe Mystery" (A&E Network)

"Immune to Murder" was adapted for the second season of the A&E TV series "A Nero Wolfe Mystery" (2001–2002). The episode made its debut August 18, 2002 — the last original broadcast on the A&E Network. Directed by John R. Pepper, the teleplay was written by Stuart Kaminsky. Interviewed by "Publishers Weekly" upon being named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, Kaminsky was asked about his work on "Nero Wolfe":

:I ended up writing the last episode, "Immune to Murder," based on one of Rex Stout's short stories. I thought it was a terrific series, by the way. I don't know for sure why it didn't continue. I love the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin novels. I just loved listening to those characters in my mind talking to each other... [Picker, Leonard, "A New MWA Grand Master; PW Talks with Stuart Kaminsky"; "Publishers Weekly", December 19, 2005]

Timothy Hutton is Archie Goodwin; Maury Chaykin is Nero Wolfe. Other members of the cast (in credits order) include David Schurmann (O.V. Bragan), Robert Bockstael (David Leeson), Carlo Rota (Spiros Papps), Susannah Hoffman (Sally Leeson), Giancarlo Esposito (Ambassador Theodore Kelefy), Seymour Cassel (James Arthur Ferris), Manon von Gerkan (Adria Kelefy), George Plimpton (Cook), Richard Waugh (Capt. Jasper Colvin), Matthew Edison (Nate the Trooper) and Steve Cumyn (D.A. Herman Jasper).

In international broadcasts, the 45-minute A&E version of "Immune to Murder" is expanded into a 90-minute widescreen telefilm. [ [,,-12972736,00.html Sky Movies] (UK) summary retrieved October 3, 2007; run length is recorded as 90 minutes. Program listings for Thursday, November 11, 2004, broadcast on Sky Movies 8 records broadcast as widescreen format.]

"A Nero Wolfe Mystery" is available on DVD from A&E Home Video. ISBN 076708893X

Release details

*1997, USA, Books on Tape, Inc. ISBN 0736637508 July 21, 1997, audio cassette (unabridged, read by Michael Prichard)
*1994, USA, Bantam Crimeline ISBN 0553248138 August 1, 1994, paperback


External links

*imdb title|id=0394817|title=A Nero Wolfe Mystery — "Immune to Murder"
* [ "A Nero Wolfe Mystery" — "Immune to Murder"] at The Wolfe Pack, official site of the Nero Wolfe Society

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