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A Right to Die

(Nero Wolfe #40)

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  2,237 ratings  ·  143 reviews
When a bright young heiress with a flair for romance and one too many enemies is found brutally murdered, Nero Wolfe and his sidekick, Archie, find themselves embroiled in a case that is not as black and white as it first appears.

Susan Brooke has everything going for her. Men would have killed themselves to marry her, and, in fact, one did.

Susan came to New York to find lo
Paperback, 190 pages
Published November 1994 by Crimeline (first published October 22nd 1964)
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  2,237 ratings  ·  143 reviews

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Bill Kerwin
May 21, 2007 rated it really liked it

One of the very best of the Nero Wolfe mysteries--and controversial for a mainstream detective novel written in 1964.

A white civil rights crusader has her head bashed in with a billy club--souvenir from a Southern demonstration--and her black fiancee is arrested and charged with the murder.

This novel is well plotted and continually absorbing, but I give it only four stars because Stout's diction and perspective--in spite of all his good intentions--sounds a bit racist forty years later.
Apr 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
The book was first published in 1964. Can you recall any notable historical events in the US at this time? Civil Rights movement, among other things.
Civil Rights
Civil Rights 2
You did not think Nero Wolfe would not get involved, would you? Twenty six years ago during the events of the novel Too Many Cooks a young black guy helped the detective and so the latter considers himself to be in debt. Now the guy all grew up, became a college professor, got marries and had a son.

The son wants to marry a white civil rights activ
Pamela Shropshire
Way back in the series, in Too Many Cooks, book #5 to be exact, published in 1938, we met a young man named Paul Whipple who was a waiter at the West Virginia resort where Wolfe is meeting with a group of gourmets. A murder takes place and Wolfe is certain that at least one of the employees had to have seen the murderer. All of the waiters and cook’s assistants are black and Wolfe convinces Mr. Whipple to admit he saw the murderer, also a black man.

Back to the present - publication date is 1964.
Bryan Brown
Apr 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mysteries
This is one of the exceptional Rex Stout novels. It was written in 1964 during what, to me, is the height of the civil rights movement in the United States. I, personally, was -6 years old. The theme of the book is deeply involved in that movement when a middle age black man appeared on Nero's doorstep. Nero had once been assisted by that man when he was young and Nero felt he had an obligation to assist him. Unfortunately the simple but unsavory request soon turns into a murder mystery with the ...more
Nov 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
I like to read Nero Wolfe mysteries for the time travel. One paragraph and BAM! It's NYC in 1940s or thereabouts. Yes, please. My reading is always informed by the TV series (and they are narrated, in my head, by Timothy Hutton), and it was my good luck that after I was hooked, a friend gifted me with his entire Rex Stout collection.

But Stout didn't stop writing in the 40s (and I love the WWII stories). He did move on with the times, which led to that weird swinging-sixties aspect of the later
Jan 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, mysteries
The beginning of this entry in the Nero Wolfe series brought to my attention something that I had not really considered much before (unrelated to the plot). This book was published 30 years after the first book in the series & in all that time, none of the inhabitants on the brownstone on 35th Street have really aged (none of the regular or semi-regular characters have). Archie is still going out dancing and flirting with the women he meets as he did in the early books. What brought this to my n ...more
Jerry Kimbro
Apr 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mystery
Any Nero Wolfe mystery is a guilty pleasure to read. But this one is especially well written and a real puzzler of a mystery. Written during the Civl Rights era of the 1960s it is still strangely topical today as it addresses the struggle of African Americans for justice in a white man's world.

Rex Stout is good enough of a writer to convincingly portray his dectective Nero Wolfe as being free from the prejudices of his time. In his pursuit of justice, Wolfe doesn't put up with flummery from A
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
My interest in Rex Stout books is always the characters over the mystery, although this mystery was sufficient. Today's reader will notice that America has changed markedly in the 45 years since this story was written; the n-word appears often, interracial relationships were daring and not without danger, and the idea of a black mayor of New York was startling (the idea of a black US President was not even considered). Long time fans will find it interesting to see how Stout takes his characters ...more
Vicki Cline
May 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nero-wolfe
This one is ususual, in that the client is a character from a previous book, Too Many Cooks. The client, Paul Whipple, was a Negro busboy in the previous book who gave Wolfe information which allowed him to solve that case. Now he asks Wolfe to find out what's wrong with his son's white girlfriend (since there must be something). Not long after, she's killed and the son is arrested. Much less use of the n-word in this one than in the previous one, but it's still jarring, as is the use of "Negro" ...more
Ginney Etherton
Jun 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I needed a quick pick-me-up to escape from reading-drudgery to which I'd committed, and a Nero Wolf case was just the ticket. I got the unabridged audio version for the added bonus of hearing Archie Goodwin's wonderful sarcastic voice (in the form of actor Michael Prichard). The period depicted, early '60s, was an excellent portrayal of the racism in the USA, and Rex Stout took some courageous steps with this story. ...more
Apr 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Nero and Archie meet the civil rights movement. As always, a great tale; I stand in awe of Rex Stout's ability to take me into that world. The fascinating thing about this book is how jarring to modern sensibilities the progressive and enlightened attitudes toward race of 1964 now are. It's depressing that race is still a problem at all. ...more
Edward Waverley
In A Right to Die, a decent story about the murder of a civil rights crusader, Rex Stout has botched his ordinarily masterful management of the Brownstone by allowing Archie and Wolfe to stray into the minefield of liberal white guilt. The fact that the two are treading unfamiliar and dangerous ground is obvious as soon as they begin the journey. Nearly every line spoken either by or about black people in this book is uniformly scripted by what were already (in 1963) well-entrenched codes of po ...more
Matthew Harrington
Jan 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
Overall, an enjoyable mystery and an interesting look at Wolfe and Goodwin's encounter with the current events of the 1960s Civil Rights movement. (How effectively Stout handled this has been addressed in other reviews.) My main struggle with the novel had to do with the assault on the suspension of disbelief required when reading the Nero Wolfe series. The novels are always set in the present day and span a period of forty years. The characters' ages seem to be fixed throughout the series. Ordi ...more
Apr 05, 2018 rated it liked it
I listened to this audiobook. Written in 1964 many would find the subject matter outdated. But, in 1964 a White/Black romance was very controversial. I listened to this keeping the times in context. A Black professor who had listened to an impassioned speech by Nero Wolfe decades in the past comes to Wolfe with a personal problem. His son is intending to marry a White girl. He wants Wolfe to investigate the girl and her background. Ordinarily Wolfe would refuse such a case, but he feels indebted ...more
Amy the book-bat
I had trouble getting into this one. The audio version I had was a digital recording of the cassette version, so there were a lot of long pauses between tapes. I didn't care for the narrator either. As for the story, it really had potential to be great. A black man wanted to marry a white woman in the 1960's. There was a lot of civil rights stuff, but none of it was really written about in depth. It was hard to care about the characters because they weren't developed very well. And the repeated ...more
Mar 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio, detective, 1960s
This is the Civil Rights Nero Wolfe, often awkward, trying hard to be productive without being mealy-mouthed and doing better than average at it. It was interesting to read it shortly after James Baldwin's "Another County," which is set in the same city at the same time and, in a very loose sense, "deals with some of the same issues." Needless to say they are very different books. ...more
Sep 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, audiobook
Wow. I like this Nero Wolfe.
But time has not been kind... or maybe it has. The book was written decades ago, when segregation and behaving in outrageous manners based on someone’s darker skin tone was still the norm. It’s awful to listen, yet if we remembered that all this racism happened not that long ago - when there are still people that are now in their 80s that had until their thirties to use the “colored” entrances, bathrooms, drinking fountains.... so many more stories to tell from that e
Mar 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: a-shelf-of-crime
Written in the early 60's this book deals with some of the issues of the civil rights movement, centring on the accusation of murder of an anglo-american by an african-american. Some of the language is striking when read today (though not as striking as "Too Many Cooks" - which this book is connected to) but was the language of the time so it makes a nice piece of history.

The characters are the same, and story is no radical departure from any other Wolfe book. What I appreciate in Stout was tha
Oscar Despard
Jul 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a superb mystery novel. It is the first time I have read a book by the author, and thus the first time I encountered Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Wolfe was a wonderful detective; irascible, with a small hint of comedy, he was interesting enough to read about on his own, even without the gripping storyline, while Goodwin was an great companion for him. The plot was completely absorbing, and I enjoyed the book from beginning to end. The different characters were individually intriguing, ...more
This book is a fascinating addition to the canon for two reasons...first of all, it's one of the rare cases that harkens back to one of the earlier books. Second, it deals with issues of civil rights, which is somewhat impressive since it was written in the early 60s, before it was certain which way the country would come down on the issue. While there are some questionable phrases and terminology, I think, at the end of the day, the book comes down to our villains being racist, while our heroes ...more
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: series, 2013, mysteries
Wolfe gets pulled into a murder investigation in payment of a debt incurred over 20 years ago. This one embroils him in a Civil Rights organization and a biracial marriage. Because of the setting, there are some strong racial terms in this one.
Jon Norimann
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime
A Right to Die is another solid work in Rex Stouts Nero Wolfe series. There are some race aspects in the book that may seem a bit dated by 2018 but nothing outrageous. Wolfe is at his most brilliant but least eccentric in this book. Those who read some Wolfe books before know what they get.
Charles H Berlemann Jr
Feb 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Before I had heard of the books, the only places that I had seen the name Nero Wolfe was with a TV show that starred Timothy Hutton and an Old-Time-Radio Show with Sydney Greenstreet (who was a famous actor of the 40s and 50s and opposite Bogart in the Maltese Falcon). It wasn't until a friend of mine mentioned that the author was Rex Stout and like the Saint, Bulldog Drummond, or Philip Marlowe there was a whole series of books and short stories that involved the character. I decided to go and ...more
Diane K.
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent book. As far as the race issue is concerned, quite an improvement over TOO MANY COOKS. I like to think that Archie changed his casually bigoted attitude from the earlier book after seeing Wolfe's dignified, matter-of-factly respectful attitude towards men who were, first and foremost, men. I'm reminded of a comment that I had read of another curmudgeonly character--can't recall who it was--along the lines of "he's not bigoted; he's equally obnoxious to everyone." Wolfe respe ...more
Christopher Rush
Jul 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nero-wolfe
This one has not aged very well, perhaps less so than the WW2-era mysteries. I wonder if Stout knew his time with Wolfe was coming to a close, as this story and others around it have a fair amount of references to earlier adventures, which almost never happens in the first thirty-some novels. For instance, Archie calls up and sees Lucy Valdon again, from The Mother Hunt, though again we are giving the impressions nothing serious is happening with them.

This very much '60s-era novel features the r
Aug 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started this yesterday and couldn't put it down until I finished today. So much to love in this book, not the least being the breaking of a lot of Wolfe's hard and fast rules. He invites someone up to the plant rooms to talk with him. He calls for the Gazette to be brought to him in the plant rooms. He even finds a way to discuss the case at the dinner table in a roundabout fashion by introducing a hypothetical question about Iago from Othello. He even sets aside his plant time one day in orde ...more
Sep 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Nero Wolfe meets the civil-rights movement. Published in 1964, A Right to Die is a fascinating literary-historical periscope into the language and attitudes of left-leaning successful white men (e.g., author Rex Stout) when the fight against racism was first gaining traction. The politics are muted, but there's a jaw-dropping racist outburst from one character whose prejudices have been hidden until Wolfe rips back the curtain.

This particular case enters the West 35th St. brownstone of the famou
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
My Grade = 84% - B

First Published 1964. 190 pages.

The Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout (co-starring and narrated by smartass gumshoe and man-about-town Archie Godwin) are all good books. I keep a stack around when I know I will have to go places where I may be stuck waiting for a while, and these small paperbacks are much more convenient to travel with than a 500 page tome.

In this 1964 book Wolfe’s help is asked by a college professor who is here referenced as a “Negro,” who did Wolfe a great servi
Sep 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is the second book in a row that I've read where the violence tends to take place mostly off-stage, as it were, and we hear about it via dialogue.
I've never read any Nero Wolfe books before, though I've certainly heard of the character and author. I like the way the story is narrated by Wolfe's offsider, so that Wolfe always appears to be slightly mysterious. And the narrator himself is a lot of fun, intelligent, and witty and almost as sharp as Wolfe.
The story is full of references to Af
Virginia Tican
May 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A black assistant professor at Columbia University was constrained to ask for Nero Wolfe's help to do a background check on his son's white volunteer civil rights girlfriend's past because of the strong objections of his wife against interracial marriage plus the strong and negative reactions that may forever follow the couple adversely affecting both their future life and happiness. Whipple also thinks Miss Brooke is crazy for wanting to marry a black man with no objection from Wolfe who thinks ...more
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Rex Todhunter Stout (1886 – 1975) was an American crime writer, best known as the creator of the larger-than-life fictional detective Nero Wolfe, described by reviewer Will Cuppy as "that Falstaff of detectives." Wolfe's assistant Archie Goodwin recorded the cases of the detective genius from 1934 (Fer-de-Lance) to 1975 (A Family Affair).

The Nero Wolfe corpus was nominated Best Mystery Series of t

Other books in the series

Nero Wolfe (1 - 10 of 47 books)
  • Fer-de-Lance (Nero Wolfe, #1)
  • The League of Frightened Men (Nero Wolfe, #2)
  • The Rubber Band (Nero Wolfe, #3)
  • The Red Box (Nero Wolfe, #4)
  • Too Many Cooks (Nero Wolfe, #5)
  • Some Buried Caesar (Nero Wolfe, #6)
  • Over My Dead Body (Nero Wolfe, #7)
  • Where There's a Will (Nero Wolfe, #8)
  • Black Orchids (Nero Wolfe, #9)
  • Not Quite Dead Enough (Nero Wolfe, #10)

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