The first Nero Wolfe mystery opens with a scene showing Nero Wolfe deciding to give up bootleg beer, and sending out Fritz to purchase every beer that can be purchased legally for him to select a replacement. Maria Maffei, a family friend of one of his sometime employees Fred Durkin, appeals to Wolfe to locate her missing brother Carlo, a metalworker. Wolfe, affected by the Depression, decides to take the job, although it is unappealing to him. Archie locates Anna Fiore, a girl who listened in on a phone call Carlo received at his boarding-house. Wolfe learns from her that Carlo had clipped a story from a copy of the New York Times about the sudden death (apparently by stroke) of Peter Oliver Barstow, president of Holland College. Before Wolfe makes any more progress, Carlo Maffei is found stabbed in the back in the countryside. His sister says she will pay Wolfe to find his killer, so he keeps working.