Trio for Blunt Instruments

Trio for Blunt Instruments
Trio for
Blunt Instruments  
Author(s) Rex Stout
Cover artist Bill English
Country United States
Language English
Series Nero Wolfe
Genre(s) Detective fiction
Publisher Viking Press
Publication date April 24, 1964
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 247 pp. (first edition)
Preceded by The Mother Hunt
Followed by A Right to Die

Trio for Blunt Instruments is a collection of Nero Wolfe mystery novellas by Rex Stout, published in 1964 by the Viking Press in the United States and simultaneously by MacMillan & Company in Canada. The book comprises three stories:

  • "Kill Now — Pay Later," serialized in three issues of The Saturday Evening Post (December 9, 16 and 23–30 1961)
  • "Murder Is Corny"
  • "Blood Will Tell," first published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (December 1963)


Kill Now — Pay Later

Wolfe's aging Greek bootblack is accused of murder and Wolfe feels he owes him something since he (apparently) listens eagerly to Wolfe's disserations on ancient Greek culture during every shoe-shining session and moreover has told the police that "Wolfe is a great man"[1].

Murder Is Corny

Setting the stage

Inspector Cramer comes to Wolfe's front door unannounced and unexpectedly on a Tuesday evening in September, carrying a carton of freshly picked corn, normally provided by a farmer named Duncan McLeod up in Putnam County, with many questions about the death of Kenneth Faber, a part-time helper of McLeod's who should have delivered the corn much earlier that day, along with 9 other similar cartons to Rusterman's Restaurant, previously owned and run by Wolfe's childhood friend Marko Vukčič, but now in trusteeship to Wolfe under the terms of Marko's will (for the circumstances of Marko's death see The Black Mountain).

Archie Goodwin, who answered the door, tells Cramer he has met Faber briefly only, since he has been delivering Duncan's corn for the past 5 weeks, which Wolfe (and Rusterman's) order according to exacting standards. However, Archie knows that Faber likes Duncan's daughter Susan McLeod. Faber is actually a free-lance cartoonist, but prevailed on his friend to have her father give him a job at the farm. Later on, it transpires that real motive was not the extra money but the chance to see Sue on weekends.

Meanwhile, Wolfe, in an apparent disdain for Archie's situation, unpacks the carton of corn right on his desk, and informs Cramer that the corn is substandard: of the 16 ears of corn, 8 are substandard, 8 are acceptable.

Cramer asks Archie for an alibi for certain times in the afternoon just past. Archie says that he was with Saul Panzer (a long-timer Wolfe operative, but independent) at a ball game at Yankee Stadium. Cramer discounts the alibi saying Panzer would lie for Archie and Wolfe.

Eventually it develops that Susan McLeod found Faber's dead body, skull smashed in at the loading bay of Rusterman's, in the time in question, and has given a statement saying she had arranged to meet Archie there.

On the strength of her statement, Cramer takes him in as a material witness, with a hint that the charge will be escalated to first degree murder soon.

After being bailed out by Nathaniel Parker, Archie arrives home at 11:20 Wednesday morning, very short of sleep, he finds that Susan McLeod is at Wolfe's house (where Archie lives), waiting to see him, asking for his help, despite the fact that she just got him arrested!


This sets the stage where Archie, without at first help from Wolfe, must decide between helping a pretty girl in trouble and saving his own skin.

Along the way, we discover, among other things, that Miss McLeod herself used to deliver the corn, and that's how Archie met her two years ago, that Archie's friend (girlfriend) Lily Rowan had found her a place to stay in Manhattan and introduced her to Carl Heydt, a high-class couturier. Since then she has become a high class model, with five male admirers, in the suspicious eyes of the police: Faber, Archie, Heydt, Max Maslow, and Peter Jay. Faber, who exhibits the traits of a stalker, has apparently been spreading stories about his making Miss McLeod pregnant in order to force her to marry him to keep her reputation intact.


The story, apart from its crime detection aspects, is a story about how a simple, very beautiful, country girl comes to the big city, enters the world of high fashion, but cannot escape the risqué side of big city life. Nor is the country life in Putnam County devoid of moral failings, and they both play a part in the final resolution of this story.

Blood Will Tell

Archie receives a blood-stained tie in the mail from the owner of a small walk-up apartment building in lower Manhattan, who also lives on the top floor. Archie investigates, only to find yet another dead body[2] and now has to sort out the mess, preferably collecting a fee along the way since the other adventures in this volume have not earned the costly Wolfe operation a cent.

Reviews and commentary

  • Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor, A Catalogue of Crime — Of these, the first is a compendium of all the author's merits -- a fast tale of double murder, drama, conflict with officialdom, banter about love, and a violent ending on Wolfe's premises, where the vulnerable heroine is a refugee. The second has agricultural elements that do not go well with the quasi-sexual drama; and the third is a premeditated crime rather simply untwisted. Archie is good throughout."[3]
  • Anthony Boucher, The New York Times (May 17, 1964) — This time he offers, in addition to two solidly admirable specimens, one that may well be the finest Nero Wolfe case of the past decade. By no means fail to read "Blood Will Tell" — and look forward (like me) to even more impressive mastery from Mr. Stout when he reaches his eighties.
  • John Canaday, The New York Times (May 28, 1964) — Rex Stout, who gives his birth date as Dec. 1, 1886, is either the victim of false records or the beneficiary of a biological aberration, eternal youth. His new New Wolfe threesome, Trio for Blunt Instruments, keeps him right where he has been for so long — on top of the heap and the liveliest of all detective fiction writers.


A Nero Wolfe Mystery (A&E Network)

"Murder Is Corny" was adapted for the second season of the A&E TV series A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001–2002). Directed by George Bloomfield from a teleplay by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, the episode made its debut May 5, 2002, on A&E.

Timothy Hutton is Archie Goodwin; Maury Chaykin is Nero Wolfe. Other members of the cast (in credits order) include Colin Fox (Fritz Brenner), Bill Smitrovich (Inspector Cramer), R.D. Reid (Sergeant Purley Stebbins), David Calderisi (Carl Heydt), George Plimpton (Nathaniel Parker), Robert Bockstael (Max Marow), Bruce McFee (Duncan McLeod), Julian Richings (Peter Jay) and Kari Matchett (Susan McLeod).

In addition to original music by Nero Wolfe composer Michael Small, the soundtrack includes music by Derek Watkins, Colin Sheen and Jamie Talbot (titles), Ray Davies and Amilcare Ponchielli.[4]

A Nero Wolfe Mystery is available on DVD from A&E Home Video (ISBN 0-7670-8893-X).

La bella bugiarda (Radiotelevisione Italiana)

"Murder Is Corny" was adapted for a series of Nero Wolfe films produced by the Italian television network RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana). Directed by Giuliana Berlinguer from a teleplay by Edoardo Anton, Nero Wolfe: La bella bugiarda first aired January 7, 1971.

The series of black-and-white telemovies stars Tino Buazzelli (Nero Wolfe), Paolo Ferrari (Archie Goodwin), Pupo De Luca (Fritz Brenner), Renzo Palmer (Inspector Cramer), Roberto Pistone (Saul Panzer), Mario Righetti (Orrie Cather) and Gianfranco Varetto (Fred Durkin). Other members of the cast of La bella bugiarda include Gianna Serra (Susan McLeod), Mario Carra (Max Maslow), Leo Gavero (Felix), Giacomo Piperno (Carl Heydt), Marino Masé (Peter Jay) and Mario Carotenuto (McLeod).

Publication history

"Kill Now — Pay Later"

"Murder Is Corny"

"Blood Will Tell"

Trio for Blunt Instruments

In his limited-edition pamphlet, Collecting Mystery Fiction #10, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part II, Otto Penzler describes the first edition of Trio for Blunt Instruments: "Orange cloth, front cover and spine printed with blue rules; the front cover printed with blue lettering; the spine is printed with black lettering; rear cover blank. Issued in a mainly red pictorial dust wrapper."[9]
In April 2006, Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine estimated that the first edition of Trio for Blunt Instruments had a value of between $150 and $300. The estimate is for a copy in very good to fine condition in a like dustjacket.[10]
The far less valuable Viking book club edition may be distinguished from the first edition in three ways:
  • The dust jacket has "Book Club Edition" printed on the inside front flap, and the price is absent (first editions may be price clipped if they were given as gifts).
  • Book club editions are sometimes thinner and always taller (usually a quarter of an inch) than first editions.
  • Book club editions are bound in cardboard, and first editions are bound in cloth (or have at least a cloth spine).[11]


  1. ^ This story, along with The Golden Spiders and Too Many Clients, is a story where Wolfe goes out of his way to help "the little guy", in this a man who ekes out a meagre existence polishing shoes and boots door to door, who gets entangled in a crime merely by being on the premises when it happens when police prefer to believe the other better-heeled people with stronger motives. The story also goes out of its way to point out the inadequate circumstances of even the so-called middle class people in the story.
  2. ^ In the course of the Nero Wolfe stories, Archie discovers quite a number of dead bodies, not always in the course of an investigation. Before the events told in this story, Archie has already found more bodies than Inspector Cramer, Lieutenant Rowcliffe and other members of NYPD like.
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Derek Watkins, Colin Sheen and Jamie Talbot, "Cue the Glitz"; KPM Music Ltd. KPM 441, Putting On the Glitz (track 6). Ray Davies, "Clarinet Caprice"; JW Media Music Ltd., JW 2016, Big Band Box (track 3). Amilcare Ponchielli, "The Dance of the Hours" from La Gioconda; KPM Music Ltd. KPM CS 7, Light Classics Volume One (track 24). Additional soundtrack details at the Internet Movie Database and The Wolfe Pack, official site of the Nero Wolfe Society
  5. ^ Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, New York: Garland Publishing; ISBN 0-8240-9479-4), p. 77. John McAleer, Judson Sapp and Arriean Schemer are associate editors of this definitive publication history.
  6. ^ Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, New York: Garland Publishing; ISBN 0-8240-9479-4), p. 78
  7. ^ Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, New York: Garland Publishing; ISBN 0-8240-9479-4), p. 78
  8. ^ Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, New York: Garland Publishing; ISBN 0-8240-9479-4), p. 86. John McAleer, Judson Sapp and Arriean Schemer are associate editors of this definitive publication history.
  9. ^ Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #10, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part II (2001, New York: The Mysterious Bookshop, limited edition of 250 copies), p. 17
  10. ^ Smiley, Robin H., "Rex Stout: A Checklist of Primary First Editions." Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine (Volume 16, Number 4), April 2006, p. 35
  11. ^ Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I, pp. 19–20

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