The Red Box is the fourth Nero Wolfe detective novel by Rex Stout. Prior to its first publication in 1937 by Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., the novel was serialized in five issues of The American Magazine (December 1936–April 1937). Together with The League of Frightened Men, it was collected in The Nero Wolfe Omnibus (1944) by the World Publishing Company of Cleveland, Ohio.
In the midst of a murder investigation, one of the suspects visits Wolfe and begs Wolfe to handle his estate and especially the contents of a certain red box. Wolfe is at first concerned about a possible conflict of interest, but feels unable to refuse when the man dies in his office before telling Wolfe where to find the red box. The police naturally think that he told Wolfe somewhat more before dying.
The unfamiliar word
In most Nero Wolfe novels and novellas, there is at least one unfamiliar word, usually spoken by Wolfe.
- Ortho-cousin, chapter 1. Wolfe to Archie:
- More transparent was the reason for Mr. Frost's familiarity with so strange a term as 'ortho-cousin,' strictly a word for an anthropologist, though it leaves room for various speculations. ... Ortho-cousins are those whose parents are of the same sex — the children of two brothers or of two sisters; whereas cross-cousins are those whose parents are brother and sister. In some tribes cross-cousins may marry, but not ortho-cousins. Obviously Mr. Frost has investigated the question thoroughly.
The following examples of the unfamiliar word are spoken by Archie.
- Spiff. Chapter 3."He [Llewllyn Frost] stopped, smiling from Wolfe to me and back again like a haberdasher's clerk trying to sell an old number with a big spiff on it."
- Yclept. Chapter 8. "Boyden McNair, with his right elbow on his knee and his bent head resting on the hand which covered his eyes, sat near Wolfe's desk in the dunce's chair, yclept that by me on the day that District Attorney Anderson of Westchester sat in it while Wolfe made a dunce of him."
Reviews and commentary
- Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor, A Catalogue of Crime — Stout rarely has Nero Wolfe lured away from home on a case, but in this one Archie does it with orchids. Poisoning at a fashion show is the crime that Wolfe's method of exhaustive interrogation mixed with bluff is involved to solve. Archie is thinner and less amusing here than elsewhere, but we learn more about Wolfe from himself.
- Clifton Fadiman, The New Yorker — Nero Wolfe leaves his orchids for the first time to solve the case of the poisoned fashion model. This one has practically everything the seasoned addict demands in the way of characters and action; you may guess the motive, but the mechanism is properly obscure.
Edmund Wilson wrote that the novel was "somewhat padded ... full of long episodes that led nowhere," and left him with the feeling that he "had to unpack large crates by swallowing the excelsior in order to find at the bottom a few bent and rusty nails."
Veleno in sartoria (Radiotelevisione Italiana)
The Red Box
was adapted for the premier program in a series of Nero Wolfe films produced by the Italian television network RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana). Directed by Giuliana Berlinguer from a teleplay by Belisario L. Randone, Nero Wolfe: Veleno in sartoria
first aired February 21, 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 Veleno in sartoria include Garla Gravina (Helen Frost), Marisa Bartoli (Thelma Mitchell), Cecilia Todeschini (Molly Lauck), Andrea Lala (Lew Frost), Aroldo Tieri (Boyden McNair), Barbara Landi (Signora Lamont), Raffaele Giangrande (Dudley Frost), Marina Berti (Callie Frost) and Massimo Serato (Claude Gebert).
- In his limited-edition pamphlet, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I, Otto Penzler describes the first edition of The Red Box: "Gray cloth, front cover and spine printed with red; rear cover blank. Issued in a mainly black, gray, red and white pictorial dust wrapper … The first edition has the publisher's monogram logo on the copyright page.
- In April 2006, Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine estimated that the first edition of The Red Box had a value of between $15,000 and $30,000.
- 1937, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1937, hardcover
- 1937, London: Cassell, 1937, hardcover
- 1937, New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1937, hardcover
- 1943, New York: Avon Murder Mystery Monthly #9,1943, paperback
- 1944, Cleveland, Ohio: World Publishing Company, The Nero Wolfe Omnibus (with The League of Frightened Men), January 1944, hardcover
- 1957, London: Penguin #1175, 1957, paperback
- 1958, New York: Avon #T-216, 1958, as The Case of the Red Box, paperback
- 1964, New York: Pyramid (Green Door) #R-983, March 1964, paperback
- 1976, London: Severn House, 1976, hardcover
- 1979, New York: Jove #M-5117, July 1979, paperback
- 1992, New York: Bantam Crimeline ISBN 0553249193 January 1, 1992, paperback
- 1992, London: Scribners ISBN 0356201090 1992, hardcover
- 1994, Burlington, Ontario: Durkin Hayes Publishing, DH Audio ISBN 0886463777 1994, audio cassette (abridged, read by Saul Rubinek)
- 1995, Auburn, California: The Audio Partners Publishing Corp., Mystery Masters ISBN 157270053X June 1995, audio cassette (unabridged, read by Michael Prichard)
- 2009, New York: Bantam Dell Publishing Group (with The Rubber Band) ISBN 9780553386035 February 24, 2009, paperback
The unfamiliar word