Cover image for The league of frightened men [a Nero Wolfe mystery]
The league of frightened men [a Nero Wolfe mystery]
Stout, Rex, 1886-1975.
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Publication Information:
Auburn, Ca. : Audio Partners Pub. Corp., [2004]
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8 audio discs (9 hrs, 15 min.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
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Compact disc.

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FICTION CD Adult Audiobook on CD Audiobooks
FICTION CD Adult Audiobook on CD Audiobooks

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Paul Chapin's college cronies have never completely forgiven themselves for the tragic prank that left their friend a twisted cripple. Yet with their Harvard days behind them, they thought it was all in the past--until a class reunion ends in a fatal fall, and mysterious poems swearing deadly retribution begin to arrive. Unabridged. 8 CDs.


When a college prank leaves Paul Chapin paralyzed, the pranksters, Chapin's former friends, fear retribution. After several years pass, one of the culprits dies at a school reunion. Fearing that Chapin, now a famous author on trial for obscenity, is exacting his revenge, Nero Wolfe is called in to investigate.

Author Notes

Author Rex Stout was born on December 1, 1886. A child prodigy with a gift for mathematics, Stout drifted as he became an adult, holding odd jobs in many places---cook, cabinetmaker, bellhop, hotel manager, salesman, bookkeeper, and even a guide in a pueblo. But his true talent lay in storytelling; he sold his first story, about William Howard Taft, in 1912. His most famous creation is Nero Wolfe, a 286-pound detective genius who, with sidekick Archie Goodwin, can often solve a case without leaving his room. It is the way in which the puzzle is solved that intrigues Nero Wolfe, who is much like Sherlock Holmes in his ability to use deductive reasoning. More than 60 million copies (in 24 languages) of Stout's books have been sold. Stout writes quickly, drawing upon a lifetime of impressions. He neither uses an outline nor revises; he lets his characters take over as the story develops. The classy, erudite Nero Wolfe presents for readers an alternative to the hard-boiled branch of the genre. He died on October 27, 1975

(Bowker Author Biography)



Chapter 1   Wolfe and I sat in the office Friday afternoon. As it turned out, the name of Paul Chapin, and his slick and thrifty notions about getting vengeance at wholesale without paying for it, would have come to our notice pretty soon in any event; but that Friday afternoon the combination of an early November rain and a lack of profitable business that had lasted so long it was beginning to be painful, brought us an opening scene--a prologue, not a part of the main action--of the show that was about ready to begin.   Wolfe was drinking beer and looking at pictures of snowflakes in a book someone had sent him from Czechoslovakia. I was reading the morning paper, off and on. I had read it at breakfast, and glanced through it again for half an hour after checking accounts with Hortsmann at eleven o'clock, and here I was with it once more in the middle of the rainy afternoon, thinking halfheartedly to find an item or two that would tickle the brain which seemed about ready to dry up on me. I do read books, but I never yet got any real satisfaction out of one; I always have a feeling there's nothing alive about it, it's all dead and gone, what's the use, you might as well try to enjoy yourself on a picnic in a graveyard. Wolfe asked me once why the devil I ever pretended to read a book, and I told him for cultural reasons, and he said I might as well forgo the pains, that culture was like money, it comes easiest to those who need it least. Anyway, since it was a morning paper and this was the middle of the afternoon, and I had already gone through it twice, it wasn't much better than a book and I was only hanging onto it as an excuse to keep my eyes open.   Wolfe seemed absorbed in the pictures. Looking at him, I said to myself, "He's in a battle with the elements. He's fighting his way through a raging blizzard, just sitting there comfortably looking at pictures of snowflakes. That's the advantage of being an artist, of having imagination." I said aloud, "You mustn't go to sleep, sir, it's fatal. You freeze to death."   Wolfe turned a page, paying no attention to me. I said, "The shipment from Caracas, from Richardt, was twelve bulbs short. I never knew him to make good a shortage."   Still no result. I said, "Fritz tells me that the turkey they sent is too old to broil and will be tough unless it is roasted two hours, which according to you will attenuate the flavor. So the turkey at forty-one cents a pound will be a mess."   "Wolfe turned another page. I stared at him a while and then said, "Did you see the piece in the paper about the woman who has a pet monkey which sleeps at the head of her bed and wraps its tail around her wrist? And keeps it there all night? Did you see the one about the man who found a necklace on the street and returned it to its owner and she claimed he stole two pearls from it and had him arrested? Did you see the one about the man on the witness-stand in a case about an obscene book, and the lawyer asked him what was his purpose in writing the book, and he said because he had committed a murder and all murderers had to talk about their crimes and that was his way of talking about it? Not that I get the idea, about the author's purpose. If a book's dirty it's dirty, and what's the difference how it got that way? The lawyer says if the author's purpose was a worthy literary purpose the obscenity don't matter. You might as well say that if my purpose is to throw a rock at a tin can it don't matter if I hit you in the eye with it. You might as well say that if my purpose is to buy my poor old grandmother a silk dress it don't matter if I grabbed the jack from a Salvation Army kettle. You might as well say--"   I stopped. I had him. He did not lift his eyes from the page, his head did not move, there was no stirring of his massive frame in the specially constructed enormous chair behind his desk; but I saw his right forefinger wiggle faintly--his minatory wand, as he once called it--and I knew I had him. He said:   "Archie. Shut up."   I grinned. "Not a chance, sir. Great God, am I just going to sit here until I die? Shall I phone Pinkertons and ask if they want a hotel room watched or something? If you keep a keg of dynamite around the house you've got to expect some noise sooner or later. That's what I am, a keg of dynamite. Shall I go to a movie?"   "Wolfe's huge head tipped forward a sixteenth of an inch, for him an emphatic nod. "By all means: At once."   I got up from my chair, tossed the newspaper halfway across the room to my desk, turned around, and sat down again. "What was wrong with my analogies?" I demanded.   Wolfe turned another page. "Let us say," he murmured patiently, "that as an analogist you are supreme, Let us say that."   "All right. Say we do. I'm not trying to pick a quarrel, sir. Hell no. I'm just breaking under the strain of trying to figure out a third way of crossing my legs. I've been at it over a week now." It flashed into my mind that Wolfe could never be annoyed by that problem, since his legs were so fat that there was no possibility of them ever getting crossed by any tactics whatever, but I decided not to mention that. I swerved. "I stick to it, if a book's dirty it's dirty, no matter if the author had a string of purposes as long as a rainy day. That guy on the witness-stand yesterday was a nut. Wasn't he? You tell me. Or else he wanted some big headlines no matter what it cost him. It cost him fifty berries for contempt of court. At that it was cheap advertising for his book; for half a century he could buy about four inches on the literary page of the Times, and that's not even a chirp. But I guess the guy was a nut. He said he had done a murder, and all murderers have to confess, so he wrote the book, changing the characters and circumstances, as a means of confessing without putting himself in jeopardy. The judge was witty and sarcastic. He said that even if the guy was an inventor of stories and was in a court, he needn't try for the job of court jester. I'll bet the lawyers had a good hearty laugh at that one. Huh? But the author said it was no joke, that was why he wrote the book and any obscenity in it was only incidental, he really had croaked a guy. So the judge soaked him fifty bucks for contempt of court and chased him off the stand. I guess he's a nut? You tell me."   "Wolfe's great chest went up and out in a sigh; he put a marker in the book and closed it and laid it on the desk, and leaned himself back, gently ponderous, in his chair.   He blinked twice. "Well?"   I went across to my desk and got the paper and opened it out to the page. "Nothing maybe. I guess he's a nut. His name is Paul Chapin and he's written several books. The title of this one is Devil Take the Hindmost. He graduated from Harvard in 1912. He's a lop; it mentions here about his getting up to the stand with his crippled leg but it doesn't say which one."   Wolfe compressed his lips. "Is it possible," he demanded, "that lop is an abbreviation of lopsided, and that you use it as a metaphor for cripple?"   "I wouldn't know about the metaphor, but lop means cripple in my circle."   Wolfe sighed again, and set about the process of rising from his chair. "Thank God," he said, "the hour saves me from further analogies and colloquialisms." The clock on the wall said one minute till four--time for him to go up to the plant-rooms. He made it to his feet, pulled the points of his vest down but failed as usual to cover with it the fold of bright yellow shirt that had puffed out, and moved across to the door.   At the threshold he paused. "Archie."   "Yes, sir."   "Phone Murger's to send over at once a copy of Devil Take the Hindmost, by Paul Chapin."   "Maybe they won't. It's suppressed pending the court decision."   "Nonsense. Speak to Murger or Ballard. What good is an obscenity trial except to popularize literature?"   He went on towards the elevator, and I sat down at my desk and reached for the telephone.   Excerpted from The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.