Plot It Yourself


Plot It Yourself

Infobox Book |
name = Plot It Yourself


image_caption =
author = Rex Stout
cover_artist = Bill English
country = United States
language = English
series = Nero Wolfe
genre = Detective fiction
publisher = Viking Press
release_date = October 30, 1959
media_type = Print (Hardcover)
pages = 183 pp. (first edition)
isbn = NA
preceded_by = Champagne for One
followed_by = Three at Wolfe's Door
"Plot It Yourself" (British title "Murder in Style") is a Nero Wolfe detective novel by Rex Stout, published by the Viking Press in 1959, and also collected in the omnibus volume "Kings Full of Aces" (Viking 1969).

Plot introduction

quotation|I stopped because he was having a fit. He had closed his right hand to make a fist and was hitting the desk with it, and he was bellowing. He was roaring something in a language that was probably the one he had used as a boy in Montenegro, the one that he and Marko Vukcic had sometimes talked.
Fritz, entering with beer, stopped and looked at me reproachfully. Wolfe quit bellowing as abruptly as he had started, glared at Fritz, and said coldly, "Take that back. I don't want it."
"But it will do – "
"Take it back. I shall drink no beer until I get my fingers around the creature's throat."
Nero Wolfe on learning of yet another murder, in "Plot It Yourself", chapter 13.

A group of authors and publishers hires Nero Wolfe to investigate a series of plagiarism claims. Wolfe, by his own admission, bungles the investigation so badly that three murders result.

In "Plot It Yourself", Stout draws on his lengthy experience with book publishers, with authors (via, for example, his presidency of the Authors Guild), and with the writing process itself. Apart from the series' continuing characters, all the players in the book are directly associated with the publishing industry. Stout adds as subtext his take on the peculiar relationship between book authors and book publishers — part symbiosis, part animosity. Stout himself experienced at least one instance of contentious relations with his publishers ["A Right to Die", Bantam Crimeline edition, back matter titled "The World of Rex Stout"] .

Plot summary

Someone has been getting away with a different spin on plagiarism. It's the old scam – an unsuccessful author stealing ideas from an established source – but it's being worked differently. Now, the plagiarists are claiming that the well known authors are stealing from "them" (as Wolfe puts it, "plagiarism upside down." ["Plot It Yourself", chapter 2] ). And they are making their claims stick: three successful claims in four years, one awaiting trial, and one that's just been made.

These claims have damaged both the publishers and the authors. The Book Publishers of America (BPA) and the National Association of Authors and Dramatists (NAAD) form a joint committee to explore ways to stop the fraud, and the committee comes to Wolfe for help. The first four claims have shared certain characteristics: in the first, for example, the best selling author Ellen Sturdevant is accused by the virtually unknown Alice Porter of stealing a recent book's plot from a story that Porter sent her, asking her suggestions for improvement. Sturdevant ignores the accusation until Porter's manuscript is found in Sturdevant's house. The writing and publishing industry is convinced that the manuscript was planted, but the case was settled out of court.

That scenario, with minor variations, is repeated four times, with other authors and by other plagiarists. The latest complaint has been made only recently, and the target of the complaint wonders when a manuscript will show up somewhere that it wasn't the day before.

Wolfe's first step is to acquire and read the manuscripts that form the basis for the complaints. Wolfe's love of literature turns out to be useful in his investigation: from the internal evidence in the manuscripts, Wolfe concludes that they were all written by the same person. Aspects such as diction, punctuation and syntax – and, most convincingly, paragraphing – point Wolfe directly to the conclusion that one person wrote all the manuscripts.

At first, this seems like progress, but then it becomes clear that it's the opposite. The task initially seemed to be to show that the first fraud inspired a sequence of copycats, and the universe of suspects was limited to the complainants. But now that Wolfe has determined that one person wrote all the fraudulent manuscripts, that one person could be anyone. Wolfe meets with the joint committee to discuss the situation.

A committee member suggests that one of the plagiarists be offered money, along with a guarantee of immunity, to identify the manuscripts' actual author. The committee concurs, and asks Wolfe to arrange for the offer to be made to Simon Jacobs. The next day, Archie goes to make the offer to Jacobs, but finds Sergeant Purley Stebbins at the Jacobs apartment: Mr. Jacobs has been murdered, stabbed to death the night before.

In short order, Archie discovers two more dead plagiarists. Wolfe blames himself for not taking steps to protect Jacobs and the others, who had been made targets by the plan to pay for information. The only one left is Alice Porter, who first worked the fraud successfully, and who is now repeating it with Amy Wynn and her publisher. Wolfe, concentrating on Porter, catches her in a contradiction that identifies the murderer for him.

Cast of characters

*Nero Wolfe — The private investigator
*Archie Goodwin — Wolfe's assistant (and the narrator of all Wolfe stories)
*Philip Harvey, Amy Wynn, Mortimer Oshin — Representing the NAAD
*Gerald Knapp, Reuben Imhoff and Thomas Dexter — Representing the BPA
*Cora Ballard — Executive secretary for the NAAD
*Alice Porter, Simon Jacobs, Jane Ogilvy and Kenneth Rennert — Plagiarists all
*Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Purley Stebbins — Representing Manhattan Homicide

Literary significance and criticism

* Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor, "A Catalogue of Crime" — A plagiarism racket brings Nero and Archie into conflict with each other and with crime. Excellent repartee on all hands and strong suspense. The murderer's confession alone is below the surrounding perfection.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]

* Nancy Pearl, "Book Lust" — When Stout is on top of his game, which is most of the time, his diabolically clever plotting and his storytelling ability exceed that of any other mystery writer you can name, including Agatha Christie, who invented her own eccentric genius detective Hercule Poirot. Although in the years since Stout's death I find myself going back and rereading his entire oeuvre every year or two, I return with particular pleasure to these five novels: "The Doorbell Rang"; "Plot It Yourself"; "Murder by the Book"; "Champagne for One"; and "Gambit". [Pearl, Nancy, "Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason" (Seattle, Washington: Sasquatch Books, 2003, ISBN 1570613818); p. 226]

Release details

*2003, USA, The Audio Partners Publishing Corp., Mystery Masters ISBN 1572703016 January 2003, audio cassette (unabridged, read by Michael Prichard)
*1989, USA, Bantam Books ISBN 0553278495 April 1989, paperback
*1986, USA, Bantam Books ISBN 0553253638 1986, paperback

References


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