Might as Well Be Dead

Might as Well Be Dead
Author Rex Stout
Cover artist Bill English
Country United States
Language English
Series Nero Wolfe
Genre Detective fiction
Publisher Viking Press
Publication date
October 26, 1956
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 186 pp. (first edition)
OCLC 1392369
Preceded by Three Witnesses
Followed by Three for the Chair

Might as Well Be Dead is a Nero Wolfe detective novel by Rex Stout, published by the Viking Press in 1956. The story was also collected in the omnibus volume Three Aces (Viking 1971).

Plot introduction

Nero Wolfe is hired to find a missing person, who soon turns up — under a new name — as a newly convicted murderer in a sensational crime.

Plot summary

As the book opens, James R. Herold, prosperous businessman from Omaha, Nebraska, consults Wolfe about re-establishing contact with his son, whom he had (as it eventually transpired) falsely accused of theft eleven years before. The son, Paul Herold, had consequently broken almost all ties with the family, changed his name and moved to New York City. Even the latter meagre information was only known because Paul has recently sent his sister a birthday card postmarked NYC. The father has already taken obvious steps such as an ad in the newspaper and consulting the Missing Persons Dept of NYPD.

Although the present name of Paul Herold is unknown, Wolfe suspects that he has at least retained the same initials, and therefore places an advertisement in the newspapers the following day advising PH that he is innocent of the crime of which he was once suspected.

Needless to day, more than one person with those initials thinks he his falsely accused of a crime, and the advertisement attracts many telephone calls to Wolfe's office the next day.

The advertisement is also silent about the crime of which the man is innocent.

Meanwhile, a man known as Peter Hays has been on trial for murder, and the case is already with the jury, and a verdict is expected soon. Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are sufficiently distracted by enquiries about Peter Hays being the man named in the advertisement (and that he is by implication innocent of the murder for which Hays is currently being tried) that Wolfe dispatches Archie to visit the court room to hear the verdict against Hays. By comparing the man he sees in court to photos supplied by the father, Archie tentatively identifies the two names as referring to the same man.

This sets up a confrontation with Hays' attorney, Albert Freyer, who suspects Archie of duplicity (since Archie earlier told Freyer, among others, that the advertisement referred to a different crime, not the murder of Michael Molloy for which Hays has just been tried), but Wolfe and Freyer, after some discussion, quickly come to an agreement on how to proceed to the best advantage of all concerned:

Later on, Wolfe sends some of his operatives, including Johnny Keems, to investigate some of the friends and associates of Michael Molloy. The next day, the body of Johnny Keems is found killed by a hit-and-run driver. Since his pockets lack $100 in money Archie gave him to bribe potential witnesses, Wolfe and Archie consider it to be linked the Molloy murder, but the authorities make no such connection since the apparent murderer of Molloy has already been convicted.

Cast of characters



Nero Wolfe (Paramount Television)

Might as Well Be Dead was adapted as the fifth episode of Nero Wolfe (1981), an NBC TV series starring William Conrad as Nero Wolfe and Lee Horsley as Archie Goodwin. Other members of the regular cast include George Voskovec (Fritz Brenner), Robert Coote (Theodore Horstmann), George Wyner (Saul Panzer) and Allan Miller (Inspector Cramer). Guest stars include Gail Youngs (Margaret [Selma] Molloy), Bruce Gray (Patrick Degan), A.C. Weary (Peter Hays), Michael Currie (Albert Freyer), Lana Wood (Delia Brandt), Stephen Elliott (Mr. Herold) and John de Lancie (Tom Irwin). Directed by George McCowan from a teleplay by Seeleg Lester, "Might as Well Be Dead" aired February 13, 1981.


Might as Well Be Dead (2017)

Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, Minnesota, commissioned a world-premiere stage adaptation of the novel to be presented June 16 – July 30, 2017.[1] The second stage production to be authorized by the estate of Rex Stout, Might as Well Be Dead: A Nero Wolfe Mystery was written by Joseph Goodrich and will be directed by Peter Moore. They were also responsible for a successful adaptation of The Red Box, presented at Park Square Theatre in 2014.[2]

Publication history

In his limited-edition pamphlet, Collecting Mystery Fiction #10, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part II, Otto Penzler describes the first edition of Might as Well Be Dead: "Bright blue-green boards, chartreuse cloth spine, printed with blue-green; front and rear covers blank. Issued in a mainly blue pictorial dust wrapper."[4]
In April 2006, Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine estimated that the first edition of Might as Well Be Dead had a value of between $200 and $350. The estimate is for a copy in very good to fine condition in a like dustjacket.[5]
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).[6]


  1. "Might as Well Be Dead". Park Square Theatre. Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  2. "Peter Moore, Director, Might As Well Be Dead: A Nero Wolfe Mystery". Park Square Theater. Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  3. Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, New York: Garland Publishing; ISBN 0-8240-9479-4), pp. 32–33. John McAleer, Judson Sapp and Arriean Schemer are associate editors of this definitive publication history.
  4. 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. 4
  5. Smiley, Robin H., "Rex Stout: A Checklist of Primary First Editions." Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine (Volume 16, Number 4), April 2006, p. 34
  6. Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I, pp. 19–20
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