This is one of those rare non-Nero Wolfe mysteries. It is the one and only appearance of Alphabet Hicks. After reading the book you’ll know why this was the only one. Despite it’s many flaws it got me to thinking about Stout’s creative process.
The premise relies on whether or not a voice on a recording is proof or not. What I believe posed a problem for Stout was that Nero Wolfe would have dismissed the evidence without even needing to listen to it. The other problem was that the villain in the story would have been spotted by Archie almost immediately as the square peg in the round society of the rich folks, despite the distraction of the lovely damsel in distress.
Stout needed a new detective. Someone who existed outside New York’s elite society. Someone intelligent but inexperienced at detective work. So he created Hicks. So far, so good. Hicks is a nice start on a character though not as sympathetic or endearing as Stout’s other creations.
The problem comes not from the characters, but from their presentation to us. Stout seems uncomfortable with the omniscient point-of-view and commits the crime of omission in several places. Archie as narrator is a much more satisfying experience.
While the book is a must-read for Stout fans, if this was your first Stout book it would not encourage you to read more of his works. Which would be unfortunate.