The Second Confession

infobox Book |
name = The Second Confession
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption =
author = Rex Stout
cover_artist = Bill English
country = United States
language = English
series = Nero Wolfe
genre = Detective fiction
publisher = Viking Press
release_date = September 6, 1949
media_type = Print (Hardcover)
pages = 245 pp. (first edition)
isbn = NA
preceded_by = Trouble in Triplicate
followed_by = Three Doors to Death

"The Second Confession" is a Nero Wolfe detective novel by Rex Stout, first published by the Viking Press in 1949. The story was collected in the omnibus volume "Triple Zeck" (Viking 1974).

It is the second of three Nero Wolfe novels that involve crime boss Arnold Zeck and his widespread operations. (The others are "And Be a Villain" and "In the Best Families".) In each story, Zeck – Wolfe's Moriarty – telephones Wolfe to warn him off an investigation that Zeck believes will interfere with his crime syndicate. Each time, Wolfe refuses to cooperate – and there are consequences.

Plot introduction

quotation|Then I saw that I wasn't standing on the stone of the stoop but on a piece of glass, and if I didn't like that piece there were plenty of others. They were all over the stoop, the steps, the areaway, and the sidewalk. I looked straight up, and another piece came flying down, missed me by a good inch, and crashed and tinkled at my feet. I backed across the sill, shut the door, and turned to face Wolfe, who was standing in the hall looking bewildered.
"He took it out on the orchids," I stated.
Archie, viewing Zeck's handiwork, in "The Second Confession", chapter 5

Hired to find evidence that Louis Rony is a Communist, Nero Wolfe finds himself under attack from Arnold Zeck and stymied by his own client. Wolfe solves Rony's murder by coercing the assistance of the American Communist Party.

Plot summary

A wealthy industrialist, James U. Sperling, asks Wolfe to obtain evidence that his daughter's suitor, Louis Rony, is a Communist. Wolfe will neither investigate marital disputes nor collect evidence for divorce cases, but Sperling's request is apparently acceptable. Wolfe recasts the job as finding any information that will cause daughter Gwenn to break it off with Rony, and Sperling agrees.

Wolfe begins the investigation by sending Archie to spend a weekend at Sperling's country estate near Mount Kisco. Rony, and two of Sperling's business associates, are also present as guests. Archie is undercover, as "Andy Goodwin," to avoid alerting the family – and Rony – that a private detective is in their midst.

But daughter Madeline has harbored a crush on Archie for years, having seen his picture and a story about him in the "Gazette" almost ten years earlier. She knows he's not Andy, but she implies that she'll keep it to herself.

At the Sperlings' swimming pool, Archie notices Rony repeatedly check the contents of a wallet attached to his swimming trunks, and wonders what he's hiding. He prepares a strong sedative for Rony and plans to dope his cocktail with it; later, with Rony drugged, Archie can search Rony's room for whatever was hidden in that wallet. Archie dopes his own drink and surreptitiously exchanges it for Rony's. A few minutes later Archie discovers that Rony has emptied his glass – the one with the dope – into an ice bucket.

Bemused, Archie goes to his room. Preparing for bed, he can't stop yawning and just before passing out he realizes that he's been drugged himself. The next day he suffers the drug's aftereffects, but manages to work it out that someone had drugged Rony's drink before Archie exchanged their glasses. Rony was apparently anticipating something of the sort when he dumped his drink. Archie plans to return to Manhattan that night and offers to give Rony a lift. When Rony accepts the offer, Archie lays a trap.

On the road that night, they are waylaid by Wolfe operatives Saul Panzer and Ruth Brady. They pretend to knock Archie out and actually do knock Rony out. While he's unconscious, Archie searches him and finds a membership card for the American Communist party. Archie takes photographs of the card and pretends to come to when Rony regains consciousness.

When Archie gets back to the brownstone Wolfe informs him that he has had a phone call from Arnold Zeck. Zeck, a crime boss introduced in And Be a Villain, has warned Wolfe to drop his investigation of Rony or suffer consequences. Just as Wolfe tells Archie of the phone call, Zeck's men open fire with machine guns from across the street, destroying the plant rooms' windows and most of the orchids. [Archie reports in chapter 5 that Theodore "was okay physically but got so damn mad I thought he was going to choke." All this occurs just two hours before dawn, so in 1949, at least, Theodore lived in the brownstone.]

With replacement materials purchased and repairs underway, Wolfe and Archie decamp for the Sperling estate. There, Wolfe discloses the reason that Sperling hired him. He describes Zeck's operations, the warning Zeck gave him, and what Zeck then did to his orchids, impressing on Gwenn the connection between Zeck and Rony. Gwenn leaves the family meeting, announcing that she will take a few hours to decide what to do about Rony.

Later, Madeline asks Archie for help – she can't find Gwenn. As they search the grounds for her, Archie finds a body that he recognizes as Rony's. It has been run over by a car, and it's just a few feet away from the estate's long driveway. Then Madeline and Archie find Gwenn. She had decided to break it off with Rony, and had phoned earlier to ask him to come to the house.

Archie reports to Wolfe, and the police are notified. Lieutenant Con Noonan, Archie's "bête noire" in Westchester, has a moment of triumph when it is determined that it was Wolfe's car that ran Rony over. But then one of Sperling's houseguests and business associates, Webster Kane, confesses – he borrowed Wolfe's car to run an errand in Mount Kisco and accidentally hit and ran over Rony in the driveway. Kane lost his head, re-parked the car, and pretended to know nothing of the accident.

Wolfe doesn’t buy it, but the District Attorney does, and Wolfe returns with Archie to the brownstone. Wolfe isn't through: he still has the photograph of the Communist party membership card to use as a screw. Wolfe does use it, in combination with detailed information about the Party's internal meetings, to force the Communists to help him expose Rony's murderer.

Cast of characters

*Nero Wolfe – The private investigator
*Archie Goodwin – Wolfe's assistant (and the narrator of all Wolfe stories)
*Mr. and Mrs. James Sperling – Wolfe's client and his wife
*Gwenn Sperling – One of James Sperling's daughters
*Louis Rony – Attorney with some shady connections, and Gwenn's suitor
*Madeline Sperling – James Sperling's other daughter, and Archie's love interest in this book
*Webster Kane – Economist, and consultant to Sperling's corporation
*Paul and Connie Emerson – Radio commentator in the Paul Harvey mold, and his wife
*Lon Cohen – Of the "Gazette"
*Messrs. Harvey and Stevens – Top ranking members of the American Communist party
*Cleveland Archer – District Attorney of Westchester County
*Ben Dykes – Head of the county detectives
*Con Noonan – Of the State Police

The unfamiliar word

In most Nero Wolfe novels and novellas, there is at least one unfamiliar word, usually but not always spoken by Wolfe. "The Second Confession" contains these two:
* Dubiety (chapter 5)
* Hellgrammites (chapter 17, spoken by Connie Emerson)

Reviews and commentary

* Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor, "A Catalogue of Crime" — This, which is vintage Stout, has the memorable scenes of Archie's stay at a posh country house and putting all the owners and their in-laws [Barzun and Taylor are in error here: no in-laws appear in "The Second Confession".] at their ease. Absolutely topnotch, which means: in a class with "And Be a Villain, Some Buried Caesar," and "Too Many Cooks".Barzun, Jacques and Taylor, Wendell Hertig. "A Catalogue of Crime". New York: Harper & Row. 1971, revised and enlarged edition 1989. ISBN 0-06-015796-8]

* J. Kenneth Van Dover, "At Wolfe's Door" — Zeck remains disembodied, but his character is further defined. Wolfe: "He has varied and extensive sources of income. All of them are illegal and some of them are morally repulsive. ..." Wolfe accepts Zeck's $50,000 with the expectation of eventually using it in a campaign to destroy Zeck. Wolfe apparently maintains an informer inside the American Communist Party. He uses his source to publish an account of the Communist conspiracy to assist the Presidential candidacy of Henry Wallace (1948), and he extorts the cooperation of two prominent members of the party. They identify and shun the homicidal party member. Wolfe and Archie both despise the Communists; Wolfe actively supports the World Federalists (Stout himself was a founding member of the United World Federalists). As part of his compensation from Sperling, Wolfe demands that he cease to sponsor the anti-World Federalist (and anti-Wolfe) commentator, Emerson. [Van Dover, J. Kenneth, "At Wolfe's Door: The Nero Wolfe Novels of Rex Stout" (1991, Borgo Press, Mitford Series; second edition 2003, James A. Rock & Co., Publishers; Hardcover ISBN 091873651X / Paperback ISBN 0918736528); p. 23]

Release details

*2006, USA, The Audio Partners Publishing Corp., Mystery Masters ISBN 1572705019 February 9, 2006, audio CD (unabridged, read by Michael Prichard)
*1995, USA, Bantam ISBN 0553245945 May 1995, paperback
*1992, UK, Little, Brown and Company (UK) Limited ISBN 0316903159 1992, hardcover


External links

The unfamiliar word

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