Plot It Yourself

Plot It Yourself
Author Rex Stout
Cover artist Bill English
Country United States
Language English
Series Nero Wolfe
Genre Detective fiction
Publisher Viking Press
Publication date
October 30, 1959
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 183 pp. (first edition)
OCLC 1389319
Preceded by Champagne for One
Followed by Three at Wolfe's Door

Plot It Yourself (British title Murder in Style) is a Nero Wolfe detective novel by Rex Stout, published by the Viking Press in 1959, and also collected in the omnibus volume Kings Full of Aces (Viking 1969).

Plot introduction

I stopped because he was having a fit. He had closed his right hand to make a fist and was hitting the desk with it, and he was bellowing. He was roaring something in a language that was probably the one he had used as a boy in Montenegro, the one that he and Marko Vukcic had sometimes talked.
Fritz, entering with beer, stopped and looked at me reproachfully. Wolfe quit bellowing as abruptly as he had started, glared at Fritz, and said coldly, "Take that back. I don't want it."
"But it will do – "
"Take it back. I shall drink no beer until I get my fingers around that creature's throat."
Nero Wolfe on learning of yet another murder, in Plot It Yourself, chapter 13.

A group of authors and publishers hires Nero Wolfe to investigate a series of plagiarism claims. Wolfe, by his own admission, bungles the investigation so badly that three murders result.

In Plot It Yourself, Stout draws on his lengthy experience with book publishers, with authors (via, for example, his presidency of the Authors Guild), and with the writing process itself. Apart from the series' continuing characters, all the players in the book are directly associated with the publishing industry. Stout adds as subtext his take on the peculiar relationship between book authors and book publishers — part symbiosis, part animosity. Stout himself experienced at least one instance of contentious relations with his publishers.[1]

Plot summary

Someone has been getting away with a different spin on plagiarism. It's the old scam – an unsuccessful author stealing ideas from an established source – but it's being worked differently. Now, the plagiarists are claiming that the well-known authors are stealing from them (as Wolfe puts it, "plagiarism upside down."[2]). And they are making their claims stick: three successful claims in four years, one awaiting trial, and one that's just been made.

These claims have damaged both the publishers and the authors. The Book Publishers of America (BPA) and the National Association of Authors and Dramatists (NAAD) form a joint committee to explore ways to stop the fraud, and the committee comes to Wolfe for help. The first four claims have shared certain characteristics: in the first, for example, the best selling author Ellen Sturdevant is accused by the virtually unknown Alice Porter of stealing a recent book's plot from a story that Porter sent her, asking her suggestions for improvement. Sturdevant ignores the accusation until Porter's manuscript is found in Sturdevant's house. The writing and publishing industry is convinced that the manuscript was planted, but the case was settled out of court.

That scenario, with minor variations, is repeated four times, with other authors and by other plagiarists. The latest complaint has been made only recently, and the target of the complaint wonders when a manuscript will show up somewhere that it wasn't the day before.

Wolfe's first step is to acquire and read the manuscripts that form the basis for the complaints. Wolfe's love of literature turns out to be useful in his investigation: from the internal evidence in the manuscripts, Wolfe concludes that they were all written by the same person. Aspects such as diction, punctuation and syntax – and, most convincingly, paragraphing – point Wolfe directly to the conclusion that one person wrote all the manuscripts.

At first, this seems like progress, but then it becomes clear that it's the opposite. The task initially seemed to be to show that the first fraud inspired a sequence of copycats, and the universe of suspects was limited to the complainants. But now that Wolfe has determined that one person wrote all the fraudulent manuscripts, that one person could be anyone. Wolfe meets with the joint committee to discuss the situation.

A committee member suggests that one of the plagiarists be offered money, along with a guarantee of immunity, to identify the manuscripts' actual author. The committee concurs, and asks Wolfe to arrange for the offer to be made to Simon Jacobs. The next day, Archie goes to make the offer to Jacobs, but finds Sergeant Purley Stebbins at the Jacobs apartment: Mr. Jacobs has been murdered, stabbed to death the night before.

In short order, Archie discovers two more dead plagiarists. Wolfe blames himself for not taking steps to protect Jacobs and the others, who had been made targets by the plan to pay for information. The only one left is Alice Porter, who first worked the fraud successfully, and who is now repeating it with Amy Wynn and her publisher. Wolfe, concentrating on Porter, catches her in a contradiction that identifies the murderer for him.

Cast of characters

Reviews and commentary

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 Plot It Yourself: "Blue-green cloth, front cover and spine printed with red; rear cover blank. Issued in a mainly red pictorial dust wrapper."[6]
In April 2006, Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine estimated that the first edition of Plot It Yourself had a value of between $200 and $350. The estimate is for a copy in very good to fine condition in a like dustjacket.[7]
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).[8]


  1. A Right to Die, Bantam Crimeline edition, back matter titled "The World of Rex Stout"
  2. Plot It Yourself, chapter 2
  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. Pearl, Nancy, Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason (Seattle, Washington: Sasquatch Books, 2003, ISBN 1-57061-381-8); p. 226
  5. Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, New York: Garland Publishing; ISBN 0-8240-9479-4), pp. 35–36. John McAleer, Judson Sapp and Arriean Schemer are associate editors of this definitive publication history.
  6. 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. 10
  7. 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
  8. Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I, pp. 19–20

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