Proof positive that overnight literary sensations--like the launching of the Nero Wolfe blimp in the Thirties--don't really happen overnight, these fourteen magazine stories and two novellas give us Rex Stout twenty years before West 35th Street, already narrating in that conversational, confidential tone and already having his endearing smart alecks (like "a gazebo named Henderson") speak "nothing but United States." Some of the Stout preoccupations--money, con-women, blackmail, pompous lawyers, American ingenuity--are here too, along with some surprises: a glimpse of a future world (1970!) ruled by a schoolmarmy International Peace Congress ("Rules 207, 216, and 349. . . No contradictions, no personalities, and no loud talking") and a study of obsession that prefigures the serious, non-Nero How Like a God. One of the novellas, "Warner & Wife," foreshadows the spouse-lawyers of Hollywood's Adam's Rib and should not be read by feminists with heart conditions, while the other--the title tale--supplies the one real murder mystery and the only substantial hint of the Nero-Archie team ahead. All such hints (and a schmear of allegedly autobiographical allusions) are tagged and grouped in the long introduction by John McCaler, whose forthcoming Stout biography--if we can judge by the writing here--should be authoritative, comprehensive, academic, and humorless. And it's tough to be humorless about a writer who ends a Berkshire Mountains quasi-romance with '"I don't mind it a bit [that] you're not an earl, dear,' she said tenderly. 'You're stupid enough to be one.'