Friday, August 4, 2017

Forgotten Books: PRISONER'S BASE by Rex Stout (featuring the Missing Chapter and the Mysterious Captain)

1955 - 1st paperback edition, nothing missing here

If you're a Nero Wolfe fan, you've no doubt read Prisoner's Base. The Wolfe books are so good that most folks who read enough to consider themselves fans can't resist reading them all. (If you're not a Nero Wolfe fan, you have a lot of reading to do and should get started immediately, with Fer-de-lance.)

But shockingly, a lot of folks who've read all the books may not have read all the chapters. That's because way back in 1963, Bantam Books screwed up and omitted the final, 1 and 1/2 page Chapter 17 from their new paperback edition of Prisoner's Base. And, apparently, they kept on omitting it for 48 years, with no one getting wise until 2011.

1952 - 1st Edition, has Ch. 17

That, at least, is the story as told on Wikipedia, where Random House (who gobbled it up in 1998) gets the credit for catching the mistake. Did the legions of hardcore Wolfe fans really not notice? Did even Art Scott, for god's sake, fail to spot it? 

I was certainly clueless. My first reading, sometime in the '80s, was one of the faulty editions, and though I acquired a first edition paperback at some point, it was for collecting, not re-reading. In fact, I remained in the dark until a couple of weeks ago, when I was hipped to the jive by well-known Wolfe authority Tough Jim Gaston (thanks, TJ).

1953 - British 1st, has Ch. 17

Is Chapter 17 essential to the story? Nope. The mystery has already been solved. But it's another nice look at the often prickly relationship between Wolfe and Archie, and you deserve to see it. For your convenience, the entire short chapter is provided below.

1963 - New Bantam edition, Ch. 17 goes missing

But first, Mr. Gaston also poses a question about a character seen only briefly and described by Archie in Chapter 6. Archie is sitting in the police station, unsure whether or not he is officially under arrest, and someone comes to remove his handcuffs. Archie credits this to a police captain he appealed to on the previous page. The description goes as follows:

"I don't know his name, but if you ever get stuck in an alcove at headquarters with handcuffs on, ask for a captain around fifty to fifty-five with a big red nose and a double chin, wearing metal-rimmed glasses."

1969 - Ch. 17 still missing

So what do you think? Was Stout playing games here? Any suggestions who that character might be? Despite the fact that Mr. Gaston refuses to accept the perfectly obvious truth that the characters of Wolfe and Archie were inspired by Jeeves and Wooster (Stout waved a big red flag with the names Bertie Wooster and Archie Goodwin), his Wolfean instincts are otherwise good.

1992 - still missing Ch. 17


    One morning the following week Wolfe entered the office at eleven o'clock, got seated at his desk, removed the paperweight from the little stack of morning mail, and took a look.
     One of the office rules is that he is to see all incoming checks, whatever the source, before I stamp the endorsement on them and take them to the bank. That morning there were two. The first one was from a client for whom a confidential errand had been performed two months back. Wolfe put it aside, picked up the second one, frowned at it and then at me, and demanded, “What the devil is this?"
     "You have instructed me," I replied, "never to reply to a rhetorical question, but since it's you who ask it, that is my personal check on the Metropolitan Trust Company, dated today, to your order, for sixteen hundred twenty-four dollars and thirty-seven cents. Do you want me to go further?"
     "You told them that day in the DA's office that I was your client, and I know what you invariably do to clients when you get their job done, especially if you provide fireworks. I have waited ten days for you to soak me, but you have not given me a bill or told me to make one out. With my fingers crossed, which was an ordeal on account of my sore knuckles, I have made out that check for the amount of the expenses you incurred, and there it is."
     He grunted. "Do you remember what I said to Miss Eads about my self-esteem?"
     "I do. I remember everything."
     "Very well, I still have it. It's a costly indulgence, but I choose to keep it." He took the check, with thumbs and forefingers at the middle of its top edge, tore it across, put the halves together and tore again, swiveled, and drop shreds into his wastebasket.
     "Gee, that's wonderful," I said gratefully. "I appreciate that warmly. And knowing how much you value your self-esteem, I want to do all in my power to help you keep it. I myself spent close to two hundred bucks that week—taxis, phone calls, meals for myself and others, incidentals. I haven’t put in an expense account for it, but now I will, since you feel so strongly—"
     "You will not!" he roared. "Not a cent!"
     "Okay." I waved it away. "It's your self-esteem, not mine.”
     He’s a hard guy to please.

1955 - backside of the first paperback


Mathew Paust said...

Love that top cover. Another one I have to read!

Charles Gramlich said...

A weird little mystery. I have some Stout but am one of those folks who has never read him

Rick Robinson said...

My copy is one with the missing chapter. Who knew?

Evan Lewis said...

I'm betting Art knew, but he was laying back and smirking (in his merciless way) and waiting to see how long it took the rest of the world to catch up.

Yvette said...

I have one without the missing chapter. So thanks for including it on your post. :) PRISONER'S BASE is an odd book because it sort of makes it difficult to like Wolfe very much, considering how he behaves toward the prospective client at the beginning. I generally begin rereading it by ignoring the first chapter and jumping right into the aftermath of murder.

George said...

I think I own a hardcover edition of PRISONER'S BASE. I know I have at least one paperback edition with missing pages. I'll have to pick up an updated paperback version. Thanks for the heads up! I'm sure Art Scott knew all about this. But Steve Stilwell probably didn't.

TracyK said...

I have the 1969 edition with the skull. The skull is nice (I collect books with skulls or skeletons on the cover) but the condition of my copy is really bad. I don't know why I haven't picked up some other editions, since I have at least two and often more different editions of most Rex Stout novels. Thanks for including that last chapter, it is a nice little addition to the story.

Shay said...

I remember this chapter, so my copy must be one of the good ones.

Marc L. said...

The Chapter is also missing in the audiobook read by Michael Pritchard for Books on tape/AudioGo/BBCAudio.