If Death Ever Slept (Nero Wolfe, #29)

By Rex Stout

2,324 ratings - 4.05* vote

Millionaire Otis Jarrell can't even trust his family, it seems. He hires a reluctant Nero Wolfe to find out if his daughter-in-law is double-crossing him. Wolfe and Archie encounter a rogue's gallery of Jarrells and associates and discover one, then two, men killed by the old man's gun. But even Wolfe's distaste for everyone involved doesn't prevent him from assembling the Millionaire Otis Jarrell can't even trust his family, it seems. He hires a reluctant Nero Wolfe

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Book details

Audio CD, 6 pages
May 5th 2006 by AudioGO

(first published October 25th 1957)

Original Title
If Death Ever Slept: A Nero Wolfe Mystery
1572705310 (ISBN13: 9781572705319)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


A millionaire came to Nero Wolfe asking him to get a proof his daughter-in-law is - to use his own expression - a snake. He suspects her of selling his business secrets to outsiders, among other things. Usually even Archie Goodwin who is always eager to get a client does not touch such cases with a ten foot pole, but this time he just had fallout with Nero Wolfe and they were not on speaking terms.

So Nero Wolfe knowing Archie would have to impersonate the millionaire's secretary agrees hoping Archie would reject, but the latter agrees hoping the former would do so as Wolfe has to suffer some discomfort when his sidekick is not around to do countless minor chores. The net result of this? Archie moves in to the millionaire mansion undercover. He soon learns not only he is way over his head, but the developments might be too much even for Wolfe's genius. Dead bodies will make appearances.

Let me start my own musings by stating that I really do believe people who disclose the identity of the villain in their review of a mystery books without at least hiding it in spoiler tags bring huge amount of bad karma on themselves. It would take rescuing a truckload of kittens to just begin bringing some good karma for counterbalance:
I would also de-friend such people without a second thought. Really if you do this you suck, plain and simple. There, I said it.

As usual the interactions between two main characters, and between them and the police represented by head of Homicide in Manhattan Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Purley Stebbins are great and amusing. The mystery element was good enough to keep me glued to the book until the end.

Bill Kerwin

Wheeler-dealer millionaire Otis Jarrell thinks his daughter-in-law Susan is a "snake." Not only is she unfaithful to his son, Otis believes, but she is also leaking valuable evidence to his business competitors. Archie Goodwin poses as Jarrell's private secretary says he may observe the family dynamics first hand and to amass all available evidence. Soon a gun goes missing, somebody ends up dead, and the fun begins in earnest.

This adventure is definitely more Goodwin than Wolfe, and Wolfe has little opportunity to demonstrate his genius. Still, this is an enjoyable entry in the series.


One of the most enjoyable things about a Nero Wolfe story is life at Wolfe's residence at his brownstone on West 35th Street in New York City. Especially the interaction between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Wolfe rarely leaves his home, preferring to read his books; tend his orchids; and eat the gourmet meals prepared by his chef, Fritz Brenner. Archie is Wolfe's assistant and also the person who often goads him into actually doing occasional work so that he can read books, tend orchids, and pay Fritz to prepare gourmet meals. Unlike Wolfe, Archie enjoys getting out of the house.

This story opens with Archie returning home to an annoyed Wolfe. Apparently Archie changed his plans without informing anyone and the result is several phone calls to Wolfe's home looking for him. The phone calls have interrupted his reading and he is annoyed. Wolfe and Archie have some words and go to bed without saying "goodnight". This sets up how they get their next case.

The next day millionaire Otis Jarrell has an appointment. He wants to hire Wolfe to prove that his daughter-in-law, Susan, is "a snake". He wants his son and daughter-in-law to divorce, her out of the house, and his son to remain. He is convinced that Susan is selling business secrets and he wants her gone. His plan is to have Archie go undercover as his new secretary. Neither Wolfe or Archie like Jarrell or the case but "pride goeth before the fall" and since Wolfe and Archie are still somewhat resentful from the previous night Archie becomes Alan Green … Otis Jarrell's new secretary. Whether or not Susan is a snake it is safe to say that the Jarrell household is a real menagerie.

Since this is a Nero Wolfe story there is of course a murder or two and everyone winds up in Wolfe's office to be questioned. Since Archie is playing Alan Green the part of Archie Goodwin is played by Orrie Cather which was fun. Inspector Cramer, head of Homicide, makes an appearance and locks horns with Wolfe. Finally Wolfe gets tired of the entire mess, sends out private investigators to scour the city, and then brings everyone together in his office to reveal the indentity of the murderer.

This was a fun read. Nothing to keep you turning the pages or any great surprises. But, if you are caught in a pandemic or just looking for a book to read to pass the time you can't go wrong with Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin, and life at the brownstone on West 35th Street.

Jill Hutchinson

I have always thought that the Nero Wolfe books are all about the characters and not necessarily the plot. Stout has a way of fleshing out even supporting players that keeps the reader turning pages. His plots are usually all over the place but since Wolfe is a genius it all makes sense in the end.

This time Archie is inserted into a rich client's household, posing as a secretary, in order to prove that one of the family is leaking business secrets and ruining some big deals for the financier. But what is a Wolfe book without a murder and in this case there are two with which to deal. Of course, Wolfe leans back in his chair, closes his eyes, pushes his lips in and out, and nails the killer. One of the great detective series of all times and the verbal exchanges among Wolfe, Archie, and Inspector Cramer are priceless. A timeless corpus of work.

Sharon Barrow Wilfong

Another great Stout. As usual Wolfe is hired to find out if a man's daughter-in-law is trying to cheat him in business. He fires his secretary and has Archie Goodwin take his place so he can live in the house with the family and snoop around. Meanwhile the original secretary is found dead. While Archie is trying to figure out who did it and why, another man ends up dead.

Were they killed by the same person, if so, which of this man's crazy family members was it? And what of the daughter-in-law? Is the man telling the truth about her or does he have ulterior motives for trying to pin her with a crime?

Mary Holm

OK, when I was younger, I used to like to read the same books over and over, but these days I try not to do that. There are too many wonderful books waiting for me, taunting me, in my "to be read" pile. However, when it comes to Rex Stout, I make an exception. Visiting with Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin is such a pleasure, I can't help going back to them again and again. I have already read every one of the 33 Nero Wolfe books and 39 short stories at least once. Except for the last one. It sits on my shelf but I can't bring myself to read it, because if I do, there will be no more wonderful new Nero Wolfe books left for me to read.

Tom Donaghey

If Death Ever Slept (1955) by Rex Stout. A very successful private businessman, Otis Jarrell, tries to hire Nero Wolfe to get the goods on his daughter-in-law. He believes she used information she got through her husband to queer several deals he had been working on over the past year. She supposedly told a “friend” of hers who cut into the deal costing the Jarrell a million bucks or more. All the client wants is proof she did it and to separate her from his son without losing the son in the bargain. Archie gets sent undercover as secretary to Jarrell, given a room in the swanky duplex Jarrell shares with his wide, son and daughter-in-law, his own daughter, his brother-in-law Roger Foote and Nora Kent, Jarrell’s stenographer, a butler, cook and a pair of maids.
Soon there is the clever theft of a gun, murder and lies a plenty. Goodwin and Wolfe are in the wringer with the case, the cops are being stalled, and things get very complicated. Wolfe faces a deadline for solving the case before the police grab onto Archie as perhaps the gun hired for more than undercover work.
This is, as usual, a highly knit thriller that will have you wondering who the real killer is and just why it happened. A fun, fun read.

Pamela Shropshire

It’s well known that Wolfe doesn’t take domestic cases, and this at first seems to be one; in the end it is, but not in the normal way. As Archie would say, that’s clear as mud.

A wealthy businessman, Otis Jarrell, hires Wolfe to find evidence against his daughter-in-law, whom he calls “the snake”. Among other things, he suspects her of selling inside information through his former secretary (male) to an acquaintance and family friend. The daughter-in-law claims, and her husband backs her up, that FIL made a pass, or passes, at her and merely wants revenge. Archie poses as Jarrell’s new secretary to obtain facts.

Archie learns some very tricky facts that, as usual, has him two-stepping with Inspector Cramer.A couple of dead bodies later, Wolfe has no option other than returning the $10,000 retainer to his client and spilling the works to Cramer who, again as usual, in less than gracious and appreciative of said info.

Nothing that particularly stands out here, but a good solid Wolfe & Archie adventure. 3.5 stars, rounded up.

Alexis Neal

A clash of wills between Wolfe and Archie (compounded by mutual fits of stubbornness) results in Archie masquerading as a secretary in the home of millionaire Otis Jarrell-- a situation that neither Wolfe nor Archie relishes overmuch. Officially, Jarrell hired them to prove that his daughter-in-law stole (and sold) business secrets. But when Jarrell's gun turns up missing and his previous secretary winds up with a hole in the back of his head, the case rapidly escalates into a full-fledged murder investigation. But who done it? And with a house full of suspects with ample motive, means, and opportunity, how will Wolfe ever find the culprit?

This entertaining entry in the Nero Wolfe series boasts several strong and/or complex female characters. First, there's Trella Jarrell, second wife to client Otis Jarrell, who likes men to spend money on her and who has a habit of saying things she doesn't mean, but who also provides Archie with several noteworthy bits of information. Then there's Lois, Jarrell's unmarried daughter, who looks great in a tennis dress and dances like a dream, even if she did once write a poem about a squirrel (from which poem the title of this book was taken). Nora Kent, Jarrell's secretary, is cool and competent and definitely knows more than she lets on. And Susan Jarrell, the aforementioned daughter-in-law, seems to be fairly run-of-the-mill, but somehow possesses the ability to attract men like moths to flame. And fan favorite Lily Rowan even makes an appearance of sorts, as her antics are the source of Archie and Wolfe's initial quarrel.

Not that it's all women. Jarrell himself figures prominently in the story, as do his son, Wyman, and brother-in-law, Roger--to say nothing of ex-secretary Jim Eber and business competitor Cory Brigham. But, with the exception of the horse-mad racing junkie Roger, the women are far more interesting.

The mystery itself is nothing spectacular, but Archie gets to demonstrate his wit, charm, and humor, which makes the story worth reading. Probably not the best book to start with, but if you're already a fan, then you should definitely add this one to your list.

A note on the audiobook edition: I think I'm starting to warm to Michael Prichard's narration. It's still not spectacular, by any means, but I'm not actively distracted by it. His Wolfe is better than his Archie, but then Archie is always the toughest character to portray well.