Too Many Danes

By Rex Stout


When the doorbell rang at the old brownstone on West 35th Street, I was already in a lousy mood.  We had just finished the Beltham embezzlement case, and it was Friday, and I had wanted to celebrate by spending the weekend with Lily Rowan.  Instead, Wolfe had insisted I finish the paperwork.  I knew he would have no interest in a case, in any case, what with what we’d just been paid, so I made up my mind that, whoever this was, he was getting in to see Wolfe.

The man on the other side of the glass was young–I’d say in his early twenties.  He was slight, but seemed athletic.  When I opened the door, he said simply, “Mr. Nero Wolfe?”

“No,” I said, “I’m Archie Goodwin.  But if it’s a case, I can take you in to see Mr. Wolfe.  He’s just down from visiting his orchids.”

“His–?  No, never mind.  Yes, I’d like to see him about a case.”

“Then come in, Mr.–”

He handed me his card as I took his coat.  I looked it over–expensive printing, gold lettering.  I guided him to the leather chair.  Wolfe looked up, glared, started to speak, but evidently put it together, because instead his lips pressed together into a thin line–or as thin a line as he can manage.  I handed Wolfe the card.  He glanced at it, glared at me, then turned his attention back to our guest.

“Very well,” he said.  “How can I help you, Mr. Hamlet?”

“I want you to prove that my uncle killed my father.”

He wagged his finger.  “I will do no such thing under any circumstances.  Should I agree to take the case, I will endeavor to discover the truth.”

“That will be fine.  As a retainer, I can–”

“Excuse me, I haven’t said I’d take it, yet.  Now, what makes you think your uncle killed your father?”

“His ghost told me,” said Hamlet, as if it were the most reasonable thing in the world.

Wolfe glared at me.  “Pfui,” he said.  He started to say more, but then stopped, and a sort of malicious glint came into his eye.  He turned to Hamlet.  “That is very interesting,” he said.  “It is getting rather late.  Perhaps you could stay to dinner and afterwards Archie can get all the details?  Archie, tell Fritz we will be having a guest.”

No way around it, I was beat.  I got up and headed to the kitchen to tell Fritz that something smelled rotten in the office.


[Sorry, folks.  I just sorta had to.  Next, Pamela will demonstrate how Shakespeare would have written Plot It Yourself.]

Published by

Avatar photo


Site administrative account, so probably Corwin, Felix or DD-B.

0 thoughts on “Too Many Danes”

  1. I always pictured Nero Wolfe with something more like a Keeshound, not a Great Dane.

  2. Wonderful, sir. Now, then … something about a page from Hawk?

    Be well. Hang in. We need you. Especially with Hawk and … five more, then, is it? … to go.

    But, seriously—be well.

  3. I’m not even going to try to convince myself this was the Percocet talking.

  4. Thank you, good sir. This was so very appreciated.

    (Listening to the audiobook of _Too Many Cooks_ right now.)

  5. TexAnne—

    Good catch. In truth, I probably owe an apology for failing to cover my backside on that one. I was actually making a specific … er … um … twit … of myself.

  6. This? Was awesome. And re-confirms why you’re one of my favorites.

    I hope you feel better soon.

  7. Awful, silly, shameful, absurd….do it again :)

    A short story that mixes from three of my favorite authors.
    And do keep writing. As much as I am loving the run of Vlad books; Are you working on any stand-alone books? The last I read was the Firefly novel and I just finished rereading Gypsy.
    But as you are the author and I am the audience I will gladly defer to you and any muses you may have on hand.

  8. As a matter of fact, just finished one called Spiked, a collaboration with Skyler White. I’m psyched as hell about it. It should be out next year. Thanks for asking.

  9. Hmm. This doesn’t really have much to do with this post but I wasn’t sure where to ask the question…

    I’ve been waiting patiently for Tissa to come out in paperback so I could buy it. I have a bit of OCD about all of my books matching and lo and behold it came out in trade paperback, not the standard mass market I’m used to. **Sigh**

    I guess my question is that I’ve recently seen a trend among SF writers moving toward the larger, and invariably, more expensive trade paperback. Is there a reason, financially or from a marketing perspective for this shift?

    I don’t mind the money but they don’t match all my other Taltos novels! Just curious. Thanks for your time.

  10. Katie @ 12

    Oh, that’s funny–I thought I was all alone in having that particular OCD quirk. I totally hear you on the matching-set gripe, but it wasn’t skzb’s decision. According to my favorite local bookseller, Tor Books flat-out dropped a bunch of so-called “mid-list authors” from the mass-market paperback publishing roster last year. Cost-cutting measure. I would suggest writing Tor to complain, but I tried that myself when Iorich came out in the larger trade format. I even said I understood the financial crunch brought on by changes in publishing technology, and was willing to accept new non-Taltos-series books in the larger format, but I felt Tor had a responsibility to complete the series in mass-market format for those of us who have been with it since the beginning. Never got so much as a corporately-worded drop-dead form letter in reply.

    Apparently, Tor feels no responsibility to anyone, for anything. Including basic customer relations. Or maybe that part of the corporate business model got axed in another round of cost-cutting. Luckily, there are very few current Tor authors represented on my bookshelves, and Brust is the only one I’m unwilling to stop reading. I just don’t buy any other Tor books anymore.

  11. Or maybe your message got accidentally filtered into a spam folder – ever get legitimate messages flagged in your own email? Maybe someone’s finger shook and they accidentally hit delete twice without noticing. Maybe they’re just overwhelmed. Maybe they’ve just had bad experiences discussing that kind of business decision with the general public.

    I don’t know exactly what happened to your message, anymore than I know what happened to the message I sent to another publisher, inquiring as to why the ebook of a book I want was $10 or less through Amazon or B&N but $26.99 through IndieBound — I never got a response to that, either. But I have met several Tor employees, and they’ve all been pretty nice folks. Tor publishes a lot of my favorite authors, too.

    I have a “ led to awesomeness” story, but it’s not quite ready to tell publicly; I need to ping my frame shop guy and see when the final product will be ready, so I can include pictures.

  12. The simple answer is that more and more SF and fantasy has been moving from “hardcover, then mass-market” to “hardcover, then trade paperback” because, due to structural changes in the distribution of mass-market paperbacks — a process involving a bunch of entities _not_ controlled by book publishers and _not_ beholden to them — midlist SF and fantasy no longer gets significant distribution into what we call the “ID” market; i.e., non-bookstore retail outlets that sell mass-market paperback books.

    It’s a complicated story with a lot of interesting sides to it. To some extent it’s the result of big-box retailers like Safeway and Target going national in the late 1980s through late 1990s, and of their desire to deploy more precise, IT-driven stocking systems, and to be supplied, not by a patchwork of local jobbers, but by a smaller number of larger distributors whose IT systems can interface more cleanly with theirs. To some extent it’s a story of what happens when a complicated network of local distributors, each canny in the ways and needs of their particular territory, is rapidly merged into a few mega-operations. Vast amounts of local knowledge simply vanish. The stocking of paperback racks in supermarkets, drugstores, and bus stations was always a small side business for these distributors; their primary business was magazines and newspapers. When 800 operations coalesced, over the 1990s, into about five, the logistical problems faced by the last guys standing were huge. The nuances of midlist genre mass-market paperback distribution were roughly their 5,271,009th priority. This is what led to what we have now: supermarket racks — in those few supermarkets that still sell paperbacks — consisting entirely of bestsellers, not a genre title in sight.

    What’s most interesting about this process is that it’s had absolutely nothing to do with consumer choice. Americans didn’t roll out of bed one day in 1991-or-so and say to themselves “Gee, I don’t want to be able to choose from a wide selection of affordable current paperbacks at the grocery store any more. That sucks! Let’s put a stop to it!” It’s what economists call a “market failure.” It’s the kind of thing that suggests that perhaps, just perhaps, the operations of The Market do not always and everywhere act to meet the demands and needs of actual existing humans. Quite the contrary, The Market can yield outcomes that are utterly perverse, and this is one of those outcomes.

    To bring the point home, we stopped publishing the Vlad books in mass market because we were getting an absurdly low distribution on them. Pointing out that these same distributors had taken _and sold_ tens of thousands of copies of earlier Vlad books just a few years before…cut no ice. So we decided, as we’ve gradually decided to do with a number of authors, to keep publishing them in hardcover (where they sell quite nicely) and follow the hardcover editions with a trade paperback, instead of a mass-market paperback. Advantages of trade paperbacks: Large bookstore chains often prefer them. Large bookstore chains often _leave them on the shelf_ longer — to some extent, simply because they sustain less “shelf wear” over time than mass-market paperbacks do. No, it’s not what we’d prefer. We’d prefer that the big ID wholesaler/distributor operations were still routinely taking tens of thousands of copies of mass-market paperbacks such as the Vlad Taltos books. We’d also like a pony.

    Someone above asserted that Tor “had a responsibility to complete the series in mass-market format for those of us who have been with it since the beginning.” It’s an interesting idea. To my mind Tor has a number of responsibilities, and very important one is to do our best to not drive Steven Brust’s career into a ditch. We have a responsibility to intelligently publish his books into the world that actually exists, a world in which book distribution and retail are changing all the time. We _could_ keep publishing all his books in mass-market paperback, out of a stubborn notion that we’re obliged to keep publishing a series in a particular format because by God it worked before and it ought to work now dammit. We could do that right up to the point where the sales figures were so small that suddenly no bookstore wanted to order his hardcovers, either, because (as it would appear to them) nobody wants to read this author any more.

    Or we could do what we’re doing.

  13. Nolly @ 14: We’re talking snail mail. Try finding a general e-mail contact address at the Tor web site, see how far you get. Try finding even a snail mail address that at least directs you to a specific department rather than an entire corporate headquarters. I sort of suspected my letter would be trashed unread, but I had to work with what Tor was willing to give out.

    Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 15: No need to dance around the name, I am the “someone” you’ve castigated for suggesting that Tor had a “responsibility” to Brust’s long-time readers. Your post was very enlightening. Too bad I’m getting that information only now, more than a year after I first scoured the Tor web site for information on what was happening, then gave up and wrote the corporation–and got jack by way of a reply. The guys at Uncle Hugo’s Bookstore, who passed along the sole alert I ever saw about the mass-market cutbacks, didn’t get their information from Tor, either–they got it from Brust. And you wouldn’t have taken your valuable time to explain the larger situation(which I really do appreciate, by the way: thanks) if I hadn’t finally aired my bitch in this public venue.

    I see that as a substantial corporate accountability failing on Tor’s part. Even now, I don’t have enough knowledge to trust Tor not to abruptly yank (ooh, split infinitive–an *Iorich* Continuity Is *Toast* no-no) another bunch of authors from the mass-market roster in mid-series and again leave readers clueless as to why it’s taking so bloody long for the expected paperback edition to appear. As a consumer, that isn’t acceptable business behavior to me. Allocating my very limited book-buying dollars to other publishers who haven’t jerked me around without a reasonable heads-up and in mid-series (yet) is my personal choice, and my right. And every one of them gives me better-quality trade edition paper stock as a bonus. But, as you have so adroitly pointed out, my impact as a market force is extremely limited. I’m just one reader, and I’m sure Tor expected to lose a few curmudgeonly quacks like me along the way.

    Mightn’t it be just a teeny, tiny bit over the top to lower the boom on me for complaining about not getting a timely reply to my original complaint? I mean, had I gotten such a reply, I wouldn’t have made that born-of-ignorance “responsibility” comment in my original post above.

    Speaking of which–skzb, my apologies for hauling this thread so far off-topic from YOUR original post. I *still* think it’s pretty funny to come across someone else who shares my “matching books” kink.

  14. Snail mail goes astray even more easily than email! I can’t count how many times my mail has gone to the empty place next door — and the mail slot goes into the locked garage, so I can’t even check on it; I’m dependent on the absentee owner! Or gone somewhere else altogether, never to be seen again.

    All I’m saying is there are a lot of potential failure points, many of which are outside Tor’s control.

    PNH — thanks for the explanation, and you’ll see the pics of the outcome of a contact you passed on to me once my frame guy is done. Thank you!

  15. So there won’t be any mass-market paperbacks AT ALL? I wish that this could have been a little better publicised. My local SF bookstore still thinks there will be a mass-market pb any day now.

    But no worries, really. I’ll still run to the bookstore whenever the next Taltos book appears. Tiassa was one of the best books I read so far this year.

    (I really loathe tpb’s, by the way. They combine all the flaws of the hardcover with all the flaws of the pb without having the virtues of either. Why anyone would want them is totally beyond me.)

  16. Thanks, Martin. I agree with you about Trade Paperbacks. And, yeah, I’m also sorry there won’t be any more mass market paperbacks. So is Tor. It kinda sucks for all of us.

    The one thing I like about trade paperbacks is, though as far as I can tell it has nothing to do with the actual form of the book: they tend to stay in print. I really, really like that all of my books are in print. If that could happen with hcs or mmpbs, so much the better: but the Invisible Hand of the Market so often fails to consult with me about these things.

  17. Well, after all, this isn’t the first Taltos tpb for me — I bought Taltos the Assassin in the misty depths of the mid-90s, and I still love it. For me, Fred Gambino captures Vlad excellently.

    I didn’t know that tpb’s stay in print longer. Good point. Brust books in print must be considered a Good Thing, no matter what format.

  18. I hate trade paperbacks too, for the above stated reasons. Therefore, I will continue to buy all my Brust in hardcover.

  19. Thank Devera I just started my collection. Same as Dennis, hardcover is the way I’m going. Hopefully it won’t be phased out by something before the series is over, although how hardcover might be made antiquated is beyond me. I can’t wait for Hawk. I assume there will be plenty of disdainful, haughty rudeness for Vlad to take offense to. Can’t wait for more of that engaging wit I’ve come to know and love these past few years.

  20. I’m a bit bummed myself to read there will be no more MM paperbacks! Like some posters above, I like all my books to match, and I liked the mm paperback format. Unfortunately, I actually went and built 10 bookcases or so which are all designed to fit the mass market paperback format… the taller trade paperbacks and the hardcovers don’t fit! The bookcases wrap around my room/library providing wall to wall books.
    Now I’m forced to have part of a series in alphabetical order on my shelves, and then a few hardcovers and trade books sitting on a larger bottom shelf or some other “non conforming” bookshelf jumbled in with 50 other authors.
    I’ll admit, for the last 10 years (ever since I caught up to real-time for any particular favorite author), I’ve not been able to wait for a paperback anyways and end up buying the hardcover ;)
    On a side note, I must say that I am ALWAYS pleased to read Patrick or Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and find both of their thoughts to be intelligent and enjoyable. Very interesting explanation, and thanks!

Leave a Reply