The Rubber Band

The Rubber Band
Author Rex Stout
Cover artist Winifred E. Lefferts
Country United States
Language English
Series Nero Wolfe
Genre Detective fiction
Publisher Farrar & Rinehart
Publication date
April 9, 1936
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 308 pp. (first edition)
OCLC 4962869
Preceded by The League of Frightened Men
Followed by The Red Box

The Rubber Band is the third Nero Wolfe detective novel by Rex Stout. Prior to its publication in 1936 by Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., the novel was serialized in six issues of The Saturday Evening Post (February 29–April 4, 1936). Appearing in one 1960 paperback edition titled To Kill Again, The Rubber Band was also collected in the omnibus volume Five of a Kind (Viking 1961).

Plot introduction

"He took his coat and vest off, exhibiting about eighteen square feet of canary-yellow shirt, and chose the darts with yellow feathers, which were his favorites."[1]
Wolfe still paid no attention to me. As a matter of fact, I didn't expect him to, since he was busy taking exercise. He had recently got the impression that he weighed too much—which was about the same as if the Atlantic Ocean formed the opinion that it was too wet—and so had added a new item to his daily routine. … He called the darts javelins.
Archie Goodwin in The Rubber Band, chapter 1

The Rubber Band opens with the revelation that Wolfe has added a workout to his daily schedule. He hurls yellow-feathered darts at a poker-dart board that Fritz hangs in the office from 3:45 to 4 p.m. Archie had joined in at first, but quit when he found he had lost nearly $100 to Wolfe in the first two months. "There was no chance of getting any real accuracy with it, it was mostly luck," Archie writes. On this particular Sunday, Wolfe exercises alone while Archie needles him by reading aloud, at length, from The New York Times Magazine.

The novel introduces Lieutenant Rowcliff, not one of the NYPD's finest (in the opinion not only of Wolfe but Inspector Cramer). Rowcliff's search throughout the brownstone for Wolfe's client, Clara Fox, earns Wolfe's enmity, which lasts until the final Wolfe novel in 1975. In addition, The Rubber Band contains the first documented death to occur in Wolfe's office.

Plot summary

During Nero Wolfe's daily exercise—a game of darts—Archie amuses himself by reading aloud from a magazine profile of the Marquis of Clivers, a British nobleman who has recently arrived in America on official government business. The next day, Archie meets with Anthony Perry, president of the Seaboard Products Corporation, who is concerned that one of his employees, Clara Fox, is being unjustly accused of theft. A package containing $30,000 held for a client by Ramsey Muir, the company's senior vice president, has gone missing, and Muir is accusing Clara. Despite the evidence pointing to Clara, Perry hopes that Wolfe will be able to clear her.

During their discussion, Archie and Perry are interrupted by Harlan Scovil, who has recently arrived in New York City from Wyoming and is one of a group that has a later appointment with Wolfe. At one point Scovil seems to mistake Perry for another man, Mike Walsh. Before Archie can attend to Scovil, he is summoned to Perry's company offices, where Muir—motivated by jealousy and spite after Clara rejected his advances—is threatening to call the police to arrest Clara. Archie's preliminary investigations turn up little, and he arrives back to the brownstone to learn that Scovil has left, summoned away by a telephone call.

Rico Tomaso illustrated the six-part serialized printing of The Rubber Band for The Saturday Evening Post (February 29–April 4, 1936)

The anonymous woman who made the second appointment arrives, and Archie is surprised to discover that it is none other than Clara Fox. She has brought with her another woman, Hilda Lindquist, and the actual Mike Walsh. Clara and her companions wish to hire Wolfe to recover a sum of money they believe is owed to them by the Marquis of Clivers. In Silver City, Nevada during the days of the Wild West, a group of men calling themselves the Rubber Band—among them Walsh, Scovil, the fathers of Clara and Hilda and a fifth man known as Rubber Coleman—helped the Marquis, then called George Rowley, escape a lynching in return for a share of the Marquis' substantial inheritance. Although Clara's father was later killed in action on the Western Front during the First World War, he told the tale to his wife after a brief encounter with the Marquis, then a British general, in the hopes that she might be able find some way of claiming their rightful share of the inheritance from Rowley. Clara has subsequently devoted her life to this pursuit.

The discussion is interrupted by a police detective who brings the news that Harlan Scovil has been murdered. In his pockets were found the contact details for the Marquis of Clivers, prompting the police to suspect him of blackmail. Wolfe also learns from Fred Durkin that the police have found the missing $30,000 in Clara's car, and a warrant has been issued for her arrest. Once the policeman has left, Wolfe questions Fox concerning the stolen money and the murder. Satisfied as to her honesty and innocence on both matters, he accepts her as his client, and persuades her to remain in the brownstone. During their discussion, Clara admits that she has already approached the Marquis to try and persuade him to honor his arrangement, but was dismissed by him. Mike Walsh rejects Wolfe’s offer of protection and storms out.

Having tracked Clara to the brownstone, two police detectives attempt to force their way in to apprehend her but are ejected by Archie. Wolfe contacts the Marquis regarding the Rubber Band's request for their rightful share of his inheritance and, in response, the Marquis sends his nephew, Francis Horrocks, to discuss the matter. Horrocks, however, appears more interested in the personal business he is there on—to see Clara Fox, for whom he has developed a romantic attachment and who called him from the brownstone earlier. Hot on Horrocks' heels are the police, represented by Lt. Gilbert Rowcliff, who have a search warrant to enter the brownstone and arrest Clara. Wolfe is outraged by Rowcliff's impertinence, but is forced to allow the police to search the premises. Clara, however, cannot be found, and once the police have left Wolfe reveals that he concealed her in the orchid rooms.

Wolfe receives a visit from the Marquis of Clivers himself, who reveals that he has already paid his debt to the Rubber Band. Several years before Rubber Coleman, the leader of the group, approached him with documentation supporting their claim and, upon receiving the money, provided him with a receipt apparently signed by all of the members of the band. The next day, Archie receives a phone call from Mike Walsh claiming that he has found Rubber Coleman, only for the call to be ended by a loud noise that sounds like a gunshot. He soon learns that Walsh has been found dead at the building site where he works as a night watchman—and none other than the Marquis of Clivers was found standing over the body. Wolfe arranges to contact Victor Lindquist, seemingly the only surviving member of the Rubber Band, and warns him to be prepared for any attempts on his life.

A party including Inspector Cramer, Police Commissioner Hombert and District Attorney Skinner arrive at the brownstone, demanding that Wolfe share what he has learned about the case with them. Wolfe produces Clara, asserting that she has been in the brownstone since the affair began and is not responsible for Walsh's death. The officials interrogate her, but are unable to determine anything that indicates her guilt in the affair. The next morning, Archie is surprised to find Wolfe apparently playing with rubber bands in the orchid rooms. After sending Saul Panzer to the drugstore down the street on an errand Archie is not privy to, Wolfe has him contact the Marquis of Clivers and summon everyone, including Ramsey Muir and Anthony Perry, to his office.

Once everyone has arrived, Wolfe enters his office with the Marquis, who recognizes Anthony Perry instantly — he is Rubber Coleman. Wolfe reveals that Perry, or rather Coleman, swindled the money from the other members of the Rubber Band and used it to fund his numerous business enterprises, only to come across an advertisement Clara Fox placed in the papers seeking information the Rubber Band. He hired her to keep her close, and attempted to discourage her from pursuing her claim but framed her for the theft of the $30,000 when he was unable to do so. Intending to hire Wolfe to cover his tracks and throw suspicion off himself, he had the misfortune to be recognised by Scovil at Wolfe's office. Coleman murdered Scovil to prevent him from remembering who he was, and then murdered Walsh after Walsh tracked him down, staging the phone call with the use of a rubber band to simulate the gunshot that killed Walsh.

Perry, cornered, attempts to shoot Wolfe but is gunned down by the Marquis and Archie before he can do so. Having proven Clara's innocence, Wolfe negotiates with the Marquis to claim her and Lindquist's fair share of his inheritance. Guilt-ridden by the deaths she believes have been caused by her quest, Clara attempts to turn it down, but Wolfe persuades her to accept it.

The unfamiliar word

"Nero Wolfe talks in a way that no human being on the face of the earth has ever spoken, with the possible exception of Rex Stout after he had a gin and tonic," said Michael Jaffe, executive producer of the A&E TV series A Nero Wolfe Mystery.[2] Nero Wolfe's erudite vocabulary is one of the hallmarks of the character. Examples of unfamiliar words — or unfamiliar uses of words that some would otherwise consider familiar — are found throughout the corpus, often in the give-and-take between Wolfe and Archie.

Wolfe sighed. "Really, Miss Fox, we are wasting time that may be valuable. Tell me, I beg you, about Mr. Perry and Mr. Muir. Mr. Muir hinted this afternoon that Mr. Perry is enjoying the usufructs of gallantry. Is that true?"
"Of course not." She frowned, and then smiled. "Calling it that, it doesn't sound bad at all, does it? But he isn't."
He looked at me. "Confound it, Archie. I have you to thank for this acarpous entanglement."
It was a new one, but I got the idea.
I would have tried some bulldozing if I thought he was merely dreaming of stuffed quail or pickled pigs' feet, but his lips were moving a little so I knew he was working. I fooled around my desk, went over Johnny's diagrams again in connection with an idea that had occurred to me, checked over Horstmann's reports and entered them in the records, reread the Gazette scoop on the affair at 55th Street, and aggravated myself into such a condition of uselessness that finally, at eleven o'clock sharp, I exploded, "If this keeps up another ten minutes I'll get Weltschmerz!"
Wolfe opened his eyes. "Where in the name of heaven did you get that?"
I threw up my hands. He shut his eyes again.

Reviews and commentary


Nero Wolfe (Radiotelevisione italiana S.p.A.)

Il patto dei sei (1969)

The Rubber Band was adapted for a series of Nero Wolfe films produced by the Italian television network RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana). Written and directed by Giuliana Berlinguer, "Il patto dei sei" aired July 27, 1969.

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 Il patto dei sei include Vittorio Sanipoli (Anthony Perry), Augusto Mastrantoni (Harlan Scoville), Carmen Scarpitta (Clara Fox), Cristina Mascitelli (Hilda Lindquist), Loris Gafforio (Mike Walsh), Sergio Reggi (Sergente Stebbins), Enrico Lazzareschi (Francis Horrocks) and Gastone Bartolucci (Lord Clivers).

Il patto dei sei (2012)

Roberto Jannone adapted The Rubber Band for the fourth episode of the RAI TV series Nero Wolfe (Italy 2012), starring Francesco Pannofino as Nero Wolfe and Pietro Sermonti as Archie Goodwin. Set in 1959 in Rome, where Wolfe and Archie reside after leaving the United States, the series was produced by Casanova Multimedia and Rai Fiction and directed by Riccardo Donna. "Il patto dei sei" aired April 26, 2012.[7][8]

Publication history

The Rubber Band was published as a Hillman Mystery, titled To Kill Again (1960). The book is dedicated, "To RS, my literary agent."[9]
In his limited-edition pamphlet, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I, Otto Penzler describes the first edition of The Rubber Band: "Turquoise cloth, front cover and spine printed with black; rear cover blank. Issued in a full-color pictorial dust wrapper … The first edition has the publisher's monogram logo on the copyright page. The second printing, in May 1936, is identical to the first except that the logo was dropped."[11]
In April 2006, Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine estimated that the first edition of The Rubber Band had a value of between $15,000 and $30,000.[12]


  1. The Rubber Band, chapter 14
  2. Quoted in Vitaris, Paula, "Miracle on 35th Street: Nero Wolfe on Television," Scarlet Street, issue #45, 2002, p. 36
  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. McAleer, John, Rex Stout: A Biography (1977, Little, Brown and Company ISBN 0-316-55340-9); p. 267
  5. McAleer, John, Rex Stout: A Biography, p. 299
  6. The Washington Post, Sunday, January 17, 1982
  7. Nero Wolfe, Casanova Multimedia; retrieved May 27, 2012
  8. Episodes, Nero Wolfe (TV series 2012), Italian Wikipedia; retrieved May 27, 2012
  9. Barbara Tuchman told biographer John McAleer about Rex Stout's "magnificent tirade" when he learned she had a literary agent. He adamantly believed everyone was as capable of handling their own business affairs as he was. (Rex Stout: A Biography, pp. 570–571) When McAleer asked Stout about Archie's dedication of To Kill Again — "To RS, my literary agent" — Stout replied, "I was having fun, I guess." (Royal Decree: Conversations with Rex Stout, p. 44) Archie also refers to Rex Stout as his literary agent in "The Case of the Spies That Weren't" (Ramparts Magazine, January 1966).
  10. Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, New York: Garland Publishing; ISBN 0-8240-9479-4), pp. 10–11. John McAleer, Judson Sapp and Arriean Schemer are associate editors of this definitive publication history.
  11. Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I (2001, New York: The Mysterious Bookshop, limited edition of 250 copies), p. 11
  12. Smiley, Robin H., "Rex Stout: A Checklist of Primary First Editions." Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine (Volume 16, Number 4), April 2006, p. 32
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