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Literature / Please Pass The Guilt

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The thirty-second Nero Wolfe novel by Rex Stout, published in 1973 but set in 1969.

Doc Vollmer visits the brownstone asking a favor: a psychiatrist friend of his reports having a patient fretting about seeing blood on his hands. After Wolfe sees the patient and learns his true identity, he realizes the man is one of those connected to the recent murder of Peter J. Odell, a television executive killed by a bomb in the desk drawer. But as the drawer belonged to Odell's rival Amory Browning and was known to contain only whiskey, Wolfe and Archie ask two questions: why did Odell open the drawer, and for whom was the bomb intended? After eliciting a client in Madeline Odell, the victim's widow with an eight-digit worth, Wolfe and Archie learn the answer to the first question. But in order to learn the murderer's identity, they need to answer the second, no matter how many days of unprofitable work it takes.

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Tropes in this work: (Tropes relating to the series as a whole, or to the characters in general can be found on Nero Wolfe and its subpages.)

  • Character Name Alias: Kenneth Meer uses the alias "Ronald Seaver" when visiting the psychiatrist's office. Archie quickly dissects the alias as the combination of two New York Mets players, Ron Swoboda and Tom Seaver.
  • If I Can't Have You...: Meer rigs a bomb to kill Helen Lugos because she was having sex with their boss instead of him.
  • Murder by Mistake: From the start of the investigation it isn't clear for whom the bomb was intended, so a good portion of the mystery is devoted to determining if this trope is in effect. It is — Odell was not the target.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Lt. Rowcliff doesn't get along with his wife's brother. Said brother-in-law gets Rowcliff in trouble by using confidential details about the murder investigation he learned from Mrs. Rowcliff to try and claim a reward, which likely worsens their relationship.
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  • Out, Damned Spot!: Meer reported hallucinations of blood on his hands, raising the consideration as to whether the hallucinations arose from his guilt. It takes the whole book to confirm they did.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Archie goes around polling network office employees about who they think the bomb was meant for and who they think put it there and gets the right answer once, although the motive was so well hidden that whoever told him that probably didn't guess why.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Odell triggers the bomb while trying to put LSD in Browning's whiskey bottle to make him behave erratically during a meeting to decide whether Odell or Browning will take over the company.
  • Villainous Breakdown: After being captured trying to bomb the Brownstone, the killer is too frightened to speak and starts shaking all over.
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