Over My Dead Body (Nero Wolfe #7) ★★★★☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Over My Dead Body
Series: Nero Wolfe #7
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 189
Words: 70K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

Nero Wolfe is approached by Carla Lovchen, a young fencing instructor and illegal immigrant from Montenegro, on behalf of her co-worker and fellow “alien”, Neya Tormic. Neya has been wrongfully accused of stealing diamonds out of the coat pockets of Nat Driscoll, a wealthy student at the fencing studio where she and Carla work. However, Wolfe reacts with unusual hostility to Carla’s presence, storming out of the room and refusing to even consider her request.

After Carla leaves, Wolfe realises that she had an ulterior motive for visiting him; she has hidden a letter inside a book in Wolfe’s office. The letter, written in Serbo-Croatian, empowers Princess Vladanka Donevich, a Croatian aristocrat, to secretly negotiate with a foreign power over the rights to Yugoslavian forestry interests. When Carla returns, once more demanding Wolfe’s help, she shocks both Wolfe and Archie with a revelation — Neya claims to be Wolfe’s long-lost daughter, and has an adoption certificate as proof. Although skeptical, Wolfe admits that he adopted an orphan girl during his military service in Montenegro but lost contact with her during the political upheavals following the First World War. Nevertheless, Neya’s arrest would prove an embarrassing scandal for Wolfe, and he agrees to assist her.

Archie is sent to the fencing studio to investigate and meets Neya. Soon after, a British student at the studio named Percy Ludlow claims that Neya was simply recovering cigarettes from his coat, which is similar to Driscoll’s. Archie is surprised when Neya seems more confused than relieved by Ludlow providing her an alibi, but the matter is quickly resolved when Driscoll arrives, sheepishly confessing that the diamonds had never been stolen in the first place; he had simply forgotten where he had left them.

Wolfe asks Archie to bring Neya to him, meaning that Archie is present in the studio when Percy Ludlow is found dead, killed with an épée. Although the studio’s swords are blunted, the murderer has stolen a device called a cul de mort that can be attached to one, turning it into a deadly weapon. As the police arrive, Archie discovers that his coat has been tampered with; suspecting that the murderer has planted the cul de mort on him, he slips away and heads back to the brownstone, where he and Wolfe confirm his suspicions.

Neya Tormic is initially the main suspect in Ludlow’s murder; she was his fencing instructor and the last person seen with him. Although another student, Rudolf Faber, has provided her an alibi, it is weak. Her guilt seems to be confirmed when Madame Zorka, a mysterious Manhattan couturière who also studies at the studio, calls Wolfe claiming to have seen Neya plant the cul de mort. Although Zorka threatens to call the police, Wolfe calls her bluff by summoning her, Neya and the police to his office to reveal what has happened. Madam Zorka disappears, but Neya confesses that she did plant the cul de mort on Archie, claiming that it had already been planted on her and she merely panicked.

Inspector Cramer, already annoyed by Wolfe and Archie’s intrusion into the case, is further aggrieved when powerful interests begin to interfere with his investigation. Ludlow is revealed to be a British agent on confidential business, leading Wolfe to suspect that he was investigating the Yugoslavian forestry deal. His suspicions are confirmed when Rudolf Faber visits his office, claiming to be acting in Neya’s interests; when Archie and Wolfe both leave the office, Faber instantly tries to locate the letter in the book it was left in.

Donald Barrett, a banker and fencing student, approaches Wolfe also claiming to be acting in Neya’s interests. Barrett is the son of John Barrett, one of the partners of the firm involved in the deal, and Wolfe realizes that he is responsible for Madame Zorka’s disappearance. As the firm’s involvement with the deal is illegal under American law, Wolfe threatens to expose them unless Barrett produces Zorka. Capitulating, Barrett takes Archie to a love nest where he is housing Zorka. Wolfe attempts to question Zorka but she is apparently heavily intoxicated and incoherent. Wolfe eventually allows her to remain in the brownstone so that she can sleep it off, but when Archie goes to wake her the next morning he discovers she has slipped out via the fire escape. She is later found and brought back, where Saul Panzer reveals he has discovered her true identity – she is actually Pansy Bupp, a farm girl from Iowa who reinvented herself as Zorka in the hopes of achieving more success.

Neya demands the letter from Wolfe, who refuses to surrender except it with Carla as she was the one who hid it. Archie is sent with Neya and the letter to the apartment the two immigrants share, but when they arrive they discover Rudolf Faber murdered on the floor. Carla has fled, seemingly guilty, but Archie discovers that the police have managed to trace her to an office building where Nat Driscoll’s business is located; Driscoll is sheltering her. Archie contacts Carla and convinces her to come to Wolfe’s office, sneaking her away from the police by disguising her as a hotel bellboy.

Wolfe apparently surrenders the letter to Neya Tormic, who leaves with a police escort. Once she has gone, Wolfe reveals that Neya is actually the murderer; she is the Princess Vladanka, posing as an immigrant as cover for her deal with Faber. Ludlow uncovered her true identity, prompting Neya to murder him out of a panicked impulse. Faber discovered this and began to blackmail her for more favourable terms, leading Neya to murder him as well. The letter Wolfe gave her was actually a note informing her that she was no longer his client. Infuriated, Neya slips her escort and returns to attack Wolfe, but is killed when Wolfe cracks a beer bottle over her head in defense. Later, Wolfe reveals to Carla that he has realized that she is in fact his adopted daughter, and offers to support her in America.

My Thoughts:

This was a novel of international intrigue, politics and such. That aspect of this story was fine but it didn’t keep me glued to the pages. It did, however, have the advantage of allowing me to consider the writing itself.

In my last review of Nero Wolfe, Some Buried Caesar, I mentioned what a wordsmith the author, Rex Stout, was. But I was too busy enjoying that story to really be thoughtful about it. Here, I had the time. I think that for the most part, Stout transcends the genre and ascends to being a Great Writer. He allows his characters to be themselves. I’ve never felt that Wolfe or Archie or any of the other characters were simply a “type” to fill a void. In the same way, Stout doesn’t overdescribe the scenery and drag unnecessary words onto the page. He sets the scene, he doesn’t bore us to death with describing just what town he bought the paintbrush that he used to paint the door of the bathroom cupboard on the second floor of the yellow house of a tertiary character. At the same time, Stout isn’t so stingy with his descriptions that you feel like an 8 year old’s watercolor took the place of a Bob Ross masterpiece.

Technical skill isn’t enough though. The computer programs we have today can turn out technically correct stories. Not quite full novels, but even I could kluge something together. But a wordsmith has that something extra, just like some athletes have that innate skill. Stout doesn’t just use the technically correct word, but the word that flows with all of the others. A word can have several shades of meaning, which can be influenced by the words that came before or come after. It all depends on exactly what the author wants to convey, not just informationally, but emotionally as well. Words are weighted and just like Bob Ross knows exactly which shade of green to color his broccoli trees, so too does Stout know exactly what word to insert.

While I am not artistic, at all, I can appreciate those who are AND those can do things correctly. Combine both and you have a Word Smith. I salute you, Rex Stout. I enjoy your books.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Aunt Paradox (Reeves & Worcester Steampunk Mysteries #3) ★★★★☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: The Aunt Paradox
Series: Reeves & Worcester Steampunk Mysteries #3
Author: Chris Dolley
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Steampunk Mystery
Pages: 91
Words: 28K



Synopsis:

From the Publisher

HG Wells has a problem. His Aunt Charlotte has borrowed his time machine and won’t give it back. Now she’s rewriting history!

Reggie Worcester, gentleman’s consulting detective, and his automaton valet, Reeves, are hired to retrieve the time machine and put the timeline back together. But things get complicated. Dead bodies start piling up behind Reggie’s sofa, as he finds himself embroiled in an ever-changing murder mystery. A murder mystery where facts can be rewritten, and the dead don’t always stay dead.

My Thoughts:

This was SO MUCH FUN!!!!! Being familiar with HG Wells’ story The Time Machine, while not an absolute necessity, definitely makes everything that much funnier. And the author plays around a LOT with Babbage and uses him as the kind of “every genius”, as in Babbage’s Cat, ie, is it dead or alive? I’m sure you all know it wasn’t Babbage’s Cat, but since Babbage is the one who helped the automatons to be created, he gets to be the resident world genius.

Dolley gets right into the horror of Aunts that is prevalent in Wodehouse and really amps things up. Wells’ Aunt takes 40+ copies of herself from history for her upcoming birthday and obviously chaos insues. In fact, HG Wells turns into a girl in one of the iterations. It was hilarious.

I also thought Dolley did a good job of wrapping things up so that the timeline established was the only timeline. Nice and neat and orderly. Speaking of neatly, all of this was done in under 100 pages. For feth’s sake Sanderson, Gwynne and some of you other frakking authors, take note. A good story can be told without drowning me in your pomposity and super-overabundance of words. Mr Dolley, I salute you for your brevity and wit. More authors should be like you.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reggiecide (Reeves & Worcester Steampunk Mysteries #2) ★★★★☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Reggiecide
Series: Reeves & Worcester Steampunk Mysteries #2
Author: Chris Dolley
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Steampunk Mystery
Pages: 68
Words: 21.5K



Synopsis:

From the Publisher

Guy Fawkes is back and this time it’s a toss up who’s going to be blown up first – Parliament or Reginald Worcester, gentleman consulting detective.

But Guy might not be the only regicide to have been dug up and reanimated. He might be a mere pawn in a plan of diabolical twistiness.

Only a detective with a rare brain – and Reggie’s is amongst the rarest – could possibly solve this ‘five-cocktail problem.’ With the aid of Reeves, his automaton valet, Emmeline, his suffragette fiancée, and Farquharson, a reconstituted dog with an issue with Anglicans, Reggie sets out to save both Queen Victoria and the Empire.

My Thoughts:

I laughed almost the entire way through this book. Dolley has captured the spirit of PG Wodehouse and while I won’t say he’s improved it, he’s distilled it to its essence and captured it in under 100 pages. I hadn’t even realized how short it was until I went looking for the data. It didn’t feel like a long book but it still felt like a complete story. That takes some talent as far as I’m concerned.

I do like that Reggie is affianced and not a single guy bumbling around. So far there have been no marriage proposal shenanigans and I’m guessing Dolley is staying away from that particular aspect of the original Jeeves & Wooster. Emmeline makes for a great catalyst to “make things happen” as she’s a spitfire, dynamite and ball of wax all rolled into one.

A small part of me wants to complain that these novellas about Reeves & Worcester aren’t long enough, but if I am being honest, they are just the right length. Long enough to be funny but not so long that they wear out the humor and send the reader off in a bad mood.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Some Buried Caesar (Nero Wolfe #6) ★★★★✬

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Some Buried Caesar
Series: Nero Wolfe #6
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 202
Words: 75.5K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

While on their way to a rural exposition in upstate New York to show orchids, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are involved in a minor car accident. On their way to a nearby house to phone for help, they are threatened by a large bull but are eventually rescued by Caroline Pratt, a local golf champion, and her acquaintance Lily Rowan. The house and bull belong to Thomas Pratt, Caroline’s uncle and the owner of a large chain of successful fast food restaurants, and he has purchased the bull—a champion Guernsey called Hickory Caesar Grindon—in order to barbecue it as part of a publicity stunt.

While Wolfe and Archie enjoy Pratt’s hospitality, they meet several of Pratt’s family and neighbours—Jimmy Pratt, Pratt’s indolent nephew; Monte McMillan, the original owner of Caesar, who sold the bull to Pratt after falling into financial difficulties; Clyde Osgood and his sister Nancy, the children of Pratt’s neighbour Frederick Osgood; and a New Yorker named Howard Bronson, who is apparently a friend of Clyde. There is tension between the Pratt and Osgood families due to a bitter rivalry between Thomas Pratt and Frederick Osgood, and when tempers flare Clyde makes a bet with Pratt that the latter will not barbecue Caesar. As Pratt is already paranoid due to the hostility of local farmers opposed to his plans to cook Caesar, Wolfe offers Archie’s services as a guard for Caesar in exchange for a comfortable stay at Pratt’s house. During his watch that night, Lily Rowan shows up to keep Archie company, and together they discover Clyde’s body, gored to death in the pasture.

The local authorities assume that Clyde was simply gored by Caesar during an attempt to sabotage Pratt’s plans, but Wolfe believes that Clyde was murdered; the bull’s face was cleaner than it would have been had he fatally attacked Clyde. His suspicions are shared by Frederick Osgood, who knows his son to be an experienced cattle-man who would not have made the amateurish mistakes that would have caused his death had the bull been responsible. The elder Osgood consequently hires Wolfe to learn the identity of the murderer and agrees to house him in comfort for the duration of the investigation. Archie is also hired by Caroline Pratt to prevent what she believes to be Lily Rowan’s attempts to seduce her brother Jimmy.

In a meeting with Waddell, the local district attorney, Wolfe proposes that the murder weapon was in fact a digging pick that the murderer used to fake the attack, having first knocked Clyde out and dragged him into the paddock. Waddell, who has a petty rivalry with the elder Osgood, is skeptical but is nevertheless convinced to reopen the investigation. However, before the investigation can proceed far, sudden news comes that Caesar has died suddenly of anthrax. In order to prevent it spreading, this means that the bull will be automatically cremated. Wolfe dispatches Archie to either delay the cremation or take as many photos of the bull as possible before this, but Archie arrives too late to do either.

After interviewing Nancy Osgood, Wolfe learns that Bronson is in fact a New York loan shark who has been shadowing Clyde in order to ensure he receives $10,000 that Clyde borrowed to cover his gambling debts. When confronted by Wolfe and Archie, Bronson confirms this, but is vague and unhelpful when questioned regarding Clyde’s death, leading Wolfe to suspect that Bronson knows more than he is saying. Out of respect for Nancy Osgood, Wolfe has Archie recover the promissory note Bronson was holding over Clyde by force, but warns the loan shark to be careful.

The next day, Wolfe’s orchids win numerous prizes at the exposition, defeating a hated rival in the process. While following some of Wolfe’s instructions, Archie discovers Jimmy Pratt and Nancy Osgood in a secret rendezvous; the two are lovers, but have kept their relationship secret from their feuding parents. By chance, during their confrontation Archie also stumbles upon the body of Howard Bronson, gored with a pitchfork and hidden under straw. He manages to conceal the body and returns to Wolfe with the news. But when the body is discovered, Archie is detained by Captain Barrow, the bullying local head of the state police, and is imprisoned by the authorities as a material witness when he refuses to reveal what he knows.

The next day, Wolfe secures Archie’s release with the promise to that he knows who the murderer is and will soon expose him to the authorities. To Archie, Wolfe admits that despite knowing the murderer’s identity, the evidence that will enable him to prove it has been efficiently destroyed. Nevertheless, based on his memory and official records from the local farming authorities, Wolfe draws some sketches of the bull that he and Archie encountered and uses them to confront Monte McMillan. Wolfe has deduced that the bull that Thomas Pratt purchased and intended to barbecue was not, in fact, Caesar at all. The champion bull was killed in an anthrax outbreak that decimated almost all of McMillan’s herd, and the bull that was passed off as Caesar was in fact Hickory Buckingham Pell, a similar but inferior twin. Facing financial ruin, McMillan sold Buckingham as Caesar for an outrageous sum, but due to his experience with cattle Clyde realised the deception and was planning to expose it to win his bet. McMillan thus murdered Clyde to silence him, and later killed Bronson when the loan shark, realising that McMillan was the murderer, tried to blackmail him.

Although Wolfe admits that McMillan has covered his tracks well and is unlikely to be convicted of murder, the evidence Wolfe has manufactured is sufficient to convict McMillan of fraud, which would expose and ruin him nonetheless. Accepting defeat, McMillan reveals that he has infected himself with anthrax and agrees to write a confession out for Wolfe before dying. Months later, Archie records the case, revealing in the process that Jimmy Pratt and Nancy Osgood are engaged to be married and that he has begun a friendship with Lily Rowan, who has returned to New York.

My Thoughts:

First off, I am giving this the Best Book of the Year tag. This is the first time I felt a book was good enough to get that tag this year. I haven’t been paying that much attention to this kind of thing and when I don’t pay attention it tends to slip under the radar. With the end of the year fast approaching, that is always a wake up call for me.

Plus, I just had a rollicking good time for the entire book. Archie particularly made me laugh and smile again and again. In one instance, when he’s thrown in jail more reasons of clashing of wills between Wolfe and the police, he organizes a Union and elects a president and treasurer, etc and writes up a bunch of rules that they are going to submit to the Warden. It was pure cheek and was done simply to annoy the Warden. It was done in Archie’s easy going but tough way that you just had to enjoy it!

There is also the confrontational frission between Wolfe and his client. He warns the client to not hire him but that if he does X,Y and Z will happen. Sure enough, they do and Wolfe lambastes the client for complaining about them when he, Wolfe, had already warned him. At first glance Wolfe appears to be an arrogant jackass but when you take into account who we see him interacting with, it’s no surprise and the real wonder is that Wolfe hasn’t become a complete misanthrope to everybody he meets.

Finally, I enjoyed Archie’s romantic sparring with Lily Rowan. They both have no longterm use for the opposite sex or at least to push the idea of marriage as far down the road as possible and as such make great foils for each other. I don’t expect them to get married though and I even wonder if we’ll see Lilly again in future books or not. So far I don’t remember any recurring young women. As long as Archie doesn’t turn into some sort of cad, I’ll be ok with the trend though.

Overall, I just have to sit back and marvel that Rex Stout is such a wordsmith. To make characters like Wolfe and Archie, to craft scenes like the one near the beginning when Wolfe is stuck on top of a boulder while an angry bull stalks around the pasture, it just makes me glad that I did decide to read this series. Good stuff.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Incredulity of Father Brown (Father Brown #3) ★★★☆☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: The Incredulity of Father Brown
Series: Father Brown #3
Author: G.K. Chesterton
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 262
Words: 71K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

The 8 stories in this collection are:

“The Resurrection of Father Brown”

“The Arrow of Heaven”

“The Oracle of the Dog”

“The Miracle of Moon Crescent”

“The Curse of the Golden Cross”

“The Dagger with Wings”

“The Doom of the Darnaways”

“The Ghost of Gideon Wise”

The Resurrection of Father Brown

The scene begins with an American journalist named Paul Snaith critically assessing Father Brown’s church and the other clerics there. He quickly changes his mind to please the famous businessman, Mendoza, who walks in with a lavish respect for the Church. Snaith then goes on a journalistic quest to make Father Brown’s name great. Meanwhile in South America, Brown quickly begins to resent his growing fame and after dealing with his likewise growing workload (including endorsing a wine for a man named Eckstein and responding to a letter from a political rival named Alvarez), he goes out on a walk at night. During this walk, as he passes under a bridge, he is attacked by two mysterious men and left injured or killed.

The story shifts over to John Adams Race, an electrical engineer from America who was hired by Mendoza to improve the same small South American town in which Father Brown resides. Race, Chesterton says, is a man who is firmly attached to his Protestant and American background, despite not particularly being devoted to them, and in spite of himself, Race sees in Father Brown a reminder of what he loves about his upbringing. The story flashes back to show Race looking out his window to see Father Brown pass by in the night, soon followed by two other men. Race identifies these men as Eckstein and Dr. Calderon, a physician who attended to Mendoza. Race follows the two men out of suspicion, and immediately after they both disappear under the bridge after Brown does, where there are sounds of a fight.

A mob gathers around the scene and identifies Father Brown to be dead. As Race nears the bridge, Snaith comes out to confirm the story and describe what appears to have happened. As Race looks at the body of Brown, Alvarez, who is also near the body quickly claims to have no part in the murder. Mendoza and Dr. Calderon enter the scene as well, and again pronounce Father Brown dead.

A funeral is held for the simple priest, in which Mendoza decides to give a long, drawn-out speech. In his ramblings, he attacks all atheists, and is soon in a fiery argument with Alvarez, who rages against resurrection of the dead in part of his argument. Snaith silences the two by claiming that Father Brown is beginning to move. Father Brown then sits up and the mob attending the funeral becomes a frenzy of excitement about the event. Father Brown tries without success to calm the crowd, but when he is unable, he runs to the telegraph office to send to the Bishop’s secretary that there was no miracle that had happened.

John Race walks Father Brown back to the church, where Brown begins to attempt to solve his own murder case.

As Brown describes his assault, he seems to indicate that it was faked. He says the weapons used against him never actually hit him, but instead he seemed to collapse and faint of some unknown source. He mentions to Race that the wine from Eckstein may have been drugged, and Race, who started as a druggist before coming to engineering, confirms the suspicion. In a flash of intuition, Brown realizes the schemes of his would-be murderers and recounts the details to Race. The plan was to fake the priest’s death, then debunk it in order to show Brown as a sham. Brown concludes, saying he must go thank God that he was saved from disgrace and that he had so quickly contacted the Bishop with an unknowing counter-claim to the antagonists’ plot against him and inviting Race to a drink of un-drugged wine.

The Arrow of Heaven

The story opens with Father Brown stepping off of a ship into America. He is immediately assaulted by journalists, then finally, upon answering their many questions, spoke with a tall man in goggles. The man asked if Brown was looking for “Captain Wain” and introduced himself as Norman Drage. The goggled man rambled on a little while and the simple priest was left very confused. Soon the two were driving with Captain Peter Wain down the road, as Wain and Drage recounted stories of two recent murders connected with a mystical “Coptic cup” by a notorious man known only as Daniel Doom.

An associate of Wain’s uncle came into possession of this cup; the man was named Merton. As Wain explains, the previous two owners began receiving threatening letters from Doom before their murders, and at the death of the last victim, the widow was forced to sell many possessions the family had owned; Merton apparently purchased this cup, and presumably has begun to receive threatening letters.

When the three arrive at Merton’s enormous mansion, just as they are about to enter, Drage stops and says that Merton would be too happy to see him, and leaves. Father Brown is curious at this behavior and as he surveys the house, notes with a surprise how thoroughly guarded it is. Wain describes how important Merton is to the world and how vital it is that he is protected while Father Brown laments how caged he must be.

As the pair is about to go into a safe-room to meet with Mr. Merton, Wain’s uncle (Crake) and Merton’s lawyer walk out, having just talked with him about business for a while. Soon Mr. Wilton (the secretary to Mr. Merton) comes out of the safe room to announce that Merton will be available in ten minutes. He also tells the priest of Merton’s schedule and of having only fifteen minutes alone every day to worship the Coptic Cup. He brags of the defenses he apparently devised to protect Merton and claims them to be near- impenetrable. After Brown comments that Wilton seems to be more intent on catching the murderer than saving Merton, the secretary reveals that one of the previous victims of Daniel Doom was his father, so he means to protect Merton, but is very personally connected with catching the killer.

Father Brown remarks that it is time to go in to speak with the millionaire, and as he walks into the inner room, he reveals Merton to have been shot with an arrow and murdered.

Crake, having a history with Red Indian war tactics, along with his nephew Captain Wain, are implied to be suspects of Father Brown’s search to find the murderer and over the course of a few weeks, he speaks with each of them. Potentially, Wain flew a plane over or near the mansion, while his uncle shot Merton with an arrow through an open window. Both men are astounded to realize Brown’s possible story of the event, but the priest refuses to comment on his thoughts.

Soon a conversation with Drage ensues. Whereas previously he was very finely dressed and upbeat, he is now bitter and appears to be clothed much more shabbily. He seems glad that Mr. Merton has died, and praises old Eastern technology and religion that more or less would have helped kill him. Brown quickly dismisses the possibility of Drage having killed Merton, leaving Drage shocked at Brown’s statement that he had needed the victim and would never have killed him.

After another interlude, Father Brown meets with a council of many people who had contact with Merton. There he debunks the idea that Drage could have killed the man, and instead claims that the arrow that was found in the victim most likely had been used to stab him, and later configured to appear as if it had been shot. Further, the priest explains that Wain and Crake could not have been the murderer either. He breaks in to then say that after speaking to Wilton, that Wilton had killed Doom in some wild struggle. Everyone in the room applauds Wilton’s brash justice.

After much questioning, Father Brown reveals that Merton had been Daniel Doom and that Wilton, having hunted for so long to find him, finally killed him in vengeance of his father. The group becomes conflicted and angry, and Brown comments on the necessity of consistency in the case, pausing to mention that by now, Wilton is long gone.

The Oracle of the Dog

In the beginning of this story, Father Brown is petting a dog, next to a young man named Fiennes. The young man informs him of a recent murder and shows him a newspaper clipping describing the details of the case.

A man named Colonel Druce was murdered in his summer home on the coast of Yorkshire. Apparently, he was stabbed to death in his room, but the murder weapon is nowhere to be found. His son, daughter, and secretary all had no idea the murder took place, despite the home having only one entrance down a straight path through the garden. A man named Dr. Valentine (fiance of Miss Druce) was nearby and Druce’s lawyer Aubrey Traill had just met with the Colonel, and both confirmed this story as well. Shortly after Traill met with the Colonel, his daughter came in to see him, only to find his body on the ground.

Fiennes reveals he had been walking a dog with Druce’s nephews (Herbert and Harry) near the summer house when the man was murdered. He describes the secretary and the lawyer to Brown, and then goes on to tell of how ominous the walk felt and how the dog howled at just the moment before Druce’s daughter found the body, when previously it had been chasing a walking stick that Harry Druce had thrown into the water. As Fiennes and the nephews neared the house, Fiennes reports that Traill was just leaving and looked happy when normally he was downcast or unpleasant. Just then the dog had started barking furiously at the lawyer, who seemed to flee away.

The priest jumps up after this description and scolds Fiennes for being superstitious and believing that a dog could condemn a man. Fiennes argues by saying that the lawyer had a tie pin that potentially could have fit a stiletto into it. He then goes on to say that one of the nephews who was with him (Harry) had former training as a detective. Harry had seen the dog growl at a few people before, including the secretary (Patrick Floyd), and growling was a better predictor of a dog’s anger than barking. Additionally, Harry had found blood on the shears Floyd was using to trim the garden at the time.

At Brown’s prompting, Fiennes further reveals that Traill had been in the house to help revise the Colonel’s will and that the original witnesses of the signing were Dr. Valentine and the secretary. The secretary had gotten angry with Dr. Valentine for having changed his name at some point, which invalidated the will, to which Valentine made a comment attacking Americans. Druce was very angry at the doctor for this, and later Miss Druce and the doctor were seen whispering to each other something about murder.

Brown suggests perhaps the couple had worked together to kill the Colonel (the will was primarily favoring the daughter), at which Fiennes is appalled. Brown says he cannot do much to actually uncover the situation, but that Fiennes should continue searching and perhaps speak again with Harry Druce.

Several days later, Fiennes comes back, reporting Harry Druce to have committed suicide. Brown states that it was likely to have been the course of action after young Druce realized he had killed his uncle for nothing, after not having been written into the will. Fiennes is aghast and asks Brown to explain the murder.

As Brown describes it, the change of name by the doctor was from a French noble’s title to the old family surname (Brown had heard of the family before). As a point of French etiquette, he considered challenging the secretary to a duel because of the debate of his name, while the Colonel’s daughter tried to dissuade him from this.

Brown tells of how important the dog was to solving the crime, to which Fiennes remarks that it is surprising for him to suddenly trust in the instincts of a dog. The priest mentions that if people were not as superstitious about dogs as they were, then the animals could be used to actually help. He lays out the type of men that the secretary and the lawyer were: nervous, jumpy men; the type to scare suddenly and cut themselves on garden sheers when a girl screams, as well as the type that dogs would instinctively distrust.

Dogs are very straightforward, he says. They bark at people they do not like and people are afraid of dogs that do not like them. However, the murderer would have no fear of a witness who could not talk. Moreover, dogs pursue with everything they have in themselves. So the whine for not having found the walking stick that Harry Druce threw into the water was most likely because the stick had sunk and could not be found. That is, it had to house a sword used to kill the Colonel.

The Miracle of Moon Crescent

The story opens with a man named Warren Wynd sorting letters in an apartment in the town of Moon Crescent. Wynd is described to have an uncanny gift for snap decisions (apparently there is a story of him being approached by three beggars, two of which he immediately sent away, the third going on to be a useful personal assistant of his). A millionaire oil magnate named Silas Vandam is with him in the room, along with Wynd’s personal servant (Wilson) and private secretary (Fenner Collins). Soon, the man dismisses the three of them so he can attend to more work.

In the hall, a man named Alboin comes to speak with Wynd. He speaks of a new atheist religion that Wynd will want to know about. The secretary refuses him access, along with Father Brown who mysteriously appears as part of the group, with no explanation. Brown insists on getting into the room to ensure Wynd is alright, due to having spoken with a man he had helped previously who called some curse down upon Warren Wynd and after doing so, fired a blank shot under Wynd’s window.

Brown insists on checking, and Alboin soon strides forward to simply open the door. However, inside, Wynd is gone. Soon they call the authorities and answer questions until nightfall, at which point they leave and walk around Moon Crescent together. As they look into the distance, they see what appears to be a broken branch in a tree, but as the group gets closer to it, they soon recognize it to be the body of Wynd, who apparently hanged himself on the tree.

The police were soon pelting the group with questions again, making sure to avoid any superstition. Newspapers and magazines picked up the tale too, and attempted to give nearly the exact opposite effect, raving of Father Brown’s mysterious intuition and the superstitions involved in the group. The police hired a famous psychologist named Dr. Vair to speak with the witnesses in order to more accurately assess what happened in the events of Wynd’s death.

The professor begins to interrogate the group (without Father Brown) and attempts to convince them that Brown pulled some sort of trick in order to convince them to believe in a supernatural manner of Wynd’s death. Collins becomes fed up with these accusations of their apparent lunacy or whatever else, and brings the rest of the group to talk with the priest about why the events happened the way they did.

They bring Father Brown in to Wynd’s office a few days later to sign an official report of a miracle. They want Brown to sign first as an honor for having spotted it first; he politely refuses. The group is confounded and asks why, and Father Brown explains the whole event was in fact natural.

The shot, Brown explains, caused the victim to initially look out his window. Immediately, Wilson, who was a big strong man, from the floor above (where he was sent to collect papers) slipped a noose around Wynd’s neck and hoisted him up, killing him. An unknown third man likely helped to get the body out to the tree, far away from the apartment, where the group found him hanging. As Brown reveals, these men were likely the three homeless men that Wynd sized up many years ago and passed off without having known them.

The Curse of the Golden Cross

This mystery starts in the Moravia, a ship travelling to England. Immediately introduced are Professor Smaill and Lady Diana Wales, along with the ship’s register, Paul Tarrant. Also sitting at the table, Chesterton says, are Father Brown and a man named Leonard Smyth.

The group has a conversation on the Byzantine empire, Smaill’s specialty, and at the end, Brown points out that the professor mostly avoided the subject altogether. The professor seems to instantly trust Brown and launches into a description of some recently discovered tomb in Sussex. In it was found a special cross that has great importance to history, but a fabled curse as well. However, as he describes it, the curse seems more likely a conspiracy.

Smaill jumps into another tale of his own golden cross, the only one similar to the other that has just been uncovered. Upon finding it in a labyrinth in Greece, Smaill realized there was a man following him in the ancient catacombs. The man threatened him and promised that someday he would murder the professor, were the cross not given up. Every now and then, the man still sends the professor notes to tell him that the plans for murder are going well. Smaill describes him as a cold, methodical man, likely from the West, due to the detached sense of a collector simply trying to find the prize. With the discovery of the new cross, the mad-man apparently increased his threats sevenfold and is desperate that Smaill never get his hands on the second cross.

The professor and the priest disembark to go to the tomb and upon arriving, find the entire group from the dinner table already at the tomb with them. The group meets with the Vicar of the church under which the tomb was found, and begins to explore the dark caverns leading to the golden cross. They finally reach the room in which the cross is held, and just as Smaill reaches out to touch the cross, the large stone slab of the coffin the cross is lying in slams shut, smashing the professor painfully in the head.

It is found out, after the professor is taken to a nearby doctor, that the Vicar has committed suicide. Father Brown goes to speak with the dinner party group, who then is ranting about the curse and how it will destroy them all. Brown dismisses this notion and tells of the falsehoods in the history of the stories associated with the tomb. Additionally, the cross seemed to be rigged to a small wooden peg that was holding the casket open. When the professor pulled the cross, the peg fell out, shutting the coffin, and hitting him in the head. But Brown reveals it was really the vicar who had been in the coffin; the maniac who had been pursuing Smaill thought that he had finally committed the murder and wanted to end his own life abruptly. Smaill recovers after a while and the group is able to go on with their lives in peace.

The Dagger with Wings

The renowned priest is called up one day by a doctor/ policeman named Dr. Boyne. A man named Aylmer had three sons and an adopted son named John Strake; when he died, he left a great fortune to Strake, but the three sons disputed the case with the law and managed to get the inheritance. Strake swore he would kill all three, and so far two are dead. Arnold Aylmer is the last alive and he is requesting police protection. The other two brothers died of apparent suicide or accident, but there is a chance Strake had managed to simply kill them masterfully and get away with it. Aylmer is now demanding police protection after his servants left because of his increasing agitation and impatience. Boyne admits that Father Brown is called in to be a compromise to Aylmer’s demand.

When Brown gets to the mansion, it is dark and lonesome. He cannot get in, nor does there appear to be anyone at home. The place appears to have been barricaded. Finally, Father Brown manages to climb in through a window and is immediately confronted by a ragged Aylmer. The two begin to speak, and Aylmer recounted the deaths of both of his brothers and seeing a shadowy figure before their deaths, near the scenes of their murders. On the body of both men, notes were found with winged daggers on the notes, similar to threatening notes they had received before.

Aylmer brings the priest another note he had recently received with similar design and shows off a blunderbuss capable of firing silver bullets. He speaks a good deal about superstition and when he goes upstairs to get a picture of Strake to show Brown, the priest calls the police office to request backup.

Suddenly, there is a shout and the sound of gunfire, and Father Brown finds himself soon standing over the body of Strake along with Aylmer, who apparently shot him in some sort of confused vision of some sort. The man is satisfied that he has finally killed the apparent murderer of his brothers and goes back into his house to have a drink.

Aylmer tries then incessantly to convince Brown of some sort of universal existence among all things, which Brown denies. The priest then convicts Aylmer as the true John Strake for having killed the last of the brothers, just as the police arrive to detain Strake, who is even boastful of his murders.

As Boyne probes for answers, Brown uncovers the murder. Just as Brown had been entering the house, Strake had killed the last brother. He quickly swapped clothing and being much larger than Aylmer, hung the body in a cloak on the hat-stand, putting a hat over the head to cover it up. Then he put on the victim’s nightgown in order to pretend to be Aylmer, and went down to meet Brown.

My Thoughts:

Another good collection. The first story really struck home, what with people trying to “create” a miracle so they could later debunk it and lay all the blame on Father Brown. What really struck me though was Father Braown’s reaction. He wasn’t angry or upset, he was just glad that things hadn’t gone as planned and thus discredit Christ. I wish I had such concern myself.

In the previous books it was evident that Father Brown wasn’t interested in bringing the criminals to justice but in redemption. In this book he doesn’t even go that far. Many of the mysteries are simply figured out and left at that. While I was resigned to no justice in previous books, this was too much.

The stories were pretty good and I was really in the flow of them until it became evident about nothing happening. Once I realized it was becoming a pattern I kind of rushed through the rest of the stories just to finish up.

I really hope the next Father Brown collection works out better :-/

Rating: 3 out of 5.

What Ho, Automaton! (Reeves & Worcester Steampunk Mysteries #1) ★★★★☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: What Ho, Automaton!
Series: Reeves & Worcester Steampunk Mysteries #1
Author: Chris Dolley
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Steampunk Mystery
Pages: 143
Words: 52K



Synopsis:

From the Publisher

What Ho, Automaton! chronicles the adventures of Reggie Worcester, gentleman consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves.

Reggie, an avid reader of detective fiction, knows two things about solving crime: One, the guilty party is always the person you least suspect. And, two, The Murders in the Rue Morgue would have been solved a lot sooner had the detective the foresight to ask the witnesses if they’d seen any orang-utans recently. Reeves needs all his steam-powered cunning and intellect to curb the young master’s excessive flights of fancy. And prevent him from getting engaged.

The book contains two stories set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs.

What Ho, Automaton! – an 8,000 word novelette of how the two met.

Something Rummy This Way Comes – a 41,000 word novella chronicling their first case. When Reggie discovers that four debutantes have gone missing in the first month of The London Season and, for fear of scandal, none of the families have called the police, he feels compelled to investigate. With the help of Reeves’s giant brain and extra helpings of fish, he conducts an investigation that only a detective of rare talent could possibly envisage.

Mystery, Zeppelins, Aunts and Humour. A steam-powered Wodehouse pastiche.

My Thoughts:

Oh my! This hit my Wodehouse funny bone perfectly. This is a parody of PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves & Wooster series and I’m not sure it would really work if you’re not familiar with the original. However, I AM familiar with the original and this send up had me in stitches. If you’re not familiar with English English (as opposed to Real American English) Worcester is pronounced almost the same as Wooster, so even the names are a great parody.

This is not a timeless classic. But it is a boatload of fun and had me laughing out loud. It reminded me of my reaction to the first couple of Jeeves books. And since there are only four books in this Reeves and Worcester series, I don’t have to worry about going overboard and burning out on the humor (which is pretty much what happened to me with Jeeves, too much in a row).

The steampunk side of things was handled very lightly so it didn’t overwhelm the story but it had some big intrusions (the Queen is a cyborg and the Germans are trying to replace British royalty with robots) so if steampunk is your thing, this should fill that itch.

The only reason I’m not giving this 5stars is because there is one rather “swishy” character that really toed the line but didn’t cross it and a rather crude sentence near the end about body parts.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Too Many Cooks (Nero Wolfe #5) ★★★★☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Too Many Cooks
Series: Nero Wolfe #5
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 205
Words: 79K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

Nero Wolfe accepts an invitation to address Les Quinze Maîtres (“The Fifteen Masters”), an international group of master chefs, on the subject of American contributions to fine cuisine. The group is meeting at the Kanawha Spa resort in West Virginia (possibly based on the famous actual resort The Greenbrier.) To attend, Wolfe must suppress his loathing of travel and trains on the 14-hour train ride from New York City. As a courtesy to Wolfe, Archie has been invited to the gathering by Marko Vukcic, Wolfe’s oldest friend and one of Les Quinze Maîtres, so that he can accompany Wolfe.

During the trip, Vukcic introduces Wolfe to another member of Les Quinze Maîtres, Jerome Berin, the originator of saucisse minuit. Wolfe tasted the sausage once and has coveted Berin’s closely guarded recipe for years. Berin is flattered, but scorns Wolfe’s offer of $3,000 for the private use of the recipe. In the course of this discussion, Berin angrily denounces Philip Laszio, another Maître, who serves an inferior substitute for saucisse minuit in his restaurant. Laszio also stole Vukcic’s ex-wife Dina from him and the position of Head Chef at New York’s Hotel Churchill from Leon Blanc, another Maître. His passion inflamed, Berin threatens to kill Laszio.

The next night, at a welcoming dinner for Les Quinze Maîtres, Philip Laszio insults the host, Louis Servan, another Maître, and his head chef when he criticises the cooking. Tensions are further increased when Blanc refuses to tolerate Laszio’s company and Vukcic begins to succumb to the charms of his ex-wife, who appears to be seducing him. After the dinner, a tasting test is held, based on a challenge made to Laszio. Laszio prepares nine numbered dishes of Sauce Printemps, with each dish missing a different vital ingredient. The other nine Maîtres present, and Wolfe, are challenged to taste each dish, and write down the missing ingredients.

Wolfe is the last contestant to taste the dishes, but halfway through he summons Archie into the private dining room where the tasting is taking place; Philip Laszio has been murdered, stabbed in the back and hidden behind a room divider. The authorities are called, led by Barry Tolman, a local prosecutor who happened to arrive on the train with Wolfe and Goodwin. At Wolfe’s suggestion, Tolman examines the results of the taste testing, on the theory that the murderer, either tense before committing murder or shaken afterwards, would be unable to determine accurately the missing ingredients. Jerome Berin has the lowest score and, based on Wolfe’s theory, he is subsequently charged with murder. This drives a wedge between Tolman and Constanza Berin, Jerome’s daughter, who have been developing a romantic attachment.

The next morning, Wolfe receives a visit from Laszio’s employer at the Churchill, Raymond Liggett, and Laszio’s assistant Alberto Malfi. They want Wolfe’s help in securing a replacement for Laszio at the Churchill. Although Wolfe is scornful of Liggett’s request and refuses his employment, when Berin is arrested he is skeptical that Berin could be the murderer and sees an opportunity to get the master chef into his debt. Wolfe decides to investigate Laszio’s murder and exonerate Berin. Wolfe learns from Lio Coyne, the wife of one of the guests, that she saw two men in waiter’s uniforms in the dining room around the time of the murder, with one of them hushing another.

Consequently, Wolfe gathers together the African-American kitchen and serving staff and questions them. In contrast to the racist and abusive attitudes of the local authorities, Wolfe is courteous, respectful, and civil to the men, but they are nevertheless skeptical and uncooperative until he appeals to their sense of equity and justice. He argues that if they shield the murderer solely because of his skin colour then they are “rendering your race a serious disservice” and are “helping to perpetuate and aggravate the very exclusions which you justly resent.” Impressed by the speech, Paul Whipple—a waiter and college student—admits that he was one of the men in the dining room that night. But the other man was not African-American; he was wearing blackface. It is also revealed that Laszio himself had switched around the sauce dishes before Berin’s turn, to humiliate him; this explains Berin’s low score.

This information is sufficient to get Berin released from custody. Having accomplished his objective — to put Berin in his debt – Wolfe turns his attention to the speech he is to give. While rehearsing the speech in his room, however, Wolfe is shot through an open window. Wolfe is only grazed by the bullet but is enraged. He returns his attention to Laszio’s murder: clearly, the same person who killed Laszio tried to kill Wolfe, and Wolfe intends to deliver the murderer to Tolman. He initiates further inquiries, carried out mainly by Saul Panzer and Inspector Cramer in New York, and later presides over a dinner for the remaining members of Les Quinze Maîtres, composed exclusively of American cuisine. The Maîtres are very impressed by the quality of the dinner, and Wolfe has the chefs responsible brought to the room to be applauded by the diners — all are black men.

After the meal and despite the handicap of the facial wound, Wolfe delivers his speech on American cuisine, and — to the surprise of the gathered masters — continues by delivering the evidence that will convict Laszio’s murderer and Wolfe’s assailant. He reveals that the murderer was Raymond Liggett, who secretly flew into West Virginia the night of the murder, disguised himself as one of the wait staff, and murdered Laszio. He attempted to hire Wolfe to cover his tracks and to bribe Wolfe subtly not to interfere. When Wolfe secured Berin’s release, he panicked and shot him. Liggett was aided by Dina Laszio, whom he coveted; she betrays him and confesses her part in order to prevent arrest.

The same night, Wolfe and Archie depart for New York, once again on the same train as Berin, Constanza, and Tolman. While Archie helps Constanza and Tolman mend their fractured relationship, Wolfe reminds Berin that Berin is in his debt, demanding the recipe for saucisse minuit as payment. Berin is outraged, but is eventually shamed into providing the recipe.

My Thoughts:

I think this was the most enjoyable Nero Wolfe book yet. There are several possibilities as to the “why” and I am not sure if I can decide which factor had the upper hand. Maybe writing this down will help my subconscious to slip my conscious mind a secret note. It’s happened before after all!

First, there’s the fact that this is dealing with cooking and food. The murder is just an annoying by-product in Wolfe’s opinion. I’m no gourmand, not at all but I do like food and I like reading about it in conjunction with another subject. I was reading this on a Friday night and 10pm rolled around and I was so hungry from reading this that I made myself a couple of hebrew national hotdogs in potato buns with ketchup, mustard and dill relish. Oh, that hit the spot!

Second, Nero Wolfe has to travel. Call me a sadist, but watching someone else suffer, especially someone who thinks they are better than everyone else, is rather carthartic. It is a real ordeal for Wolfe to be outside of his brownstone house and while I was cackling with glee and rubbing my hands at his misery, a small part of me also understood it. If I was well enough to never need to leave my house again, I wouldn’t mind it one bit. I’ve been on the hermit side since my late teens and I suspect it will only deepen as I get older. But I did get a thrill from watching Wolfe suffer and I must admit, it felt good 😀

Thirdly, Archie Goodwin and his little romantic asides were at an absolute minimum. That man just needs to get married and settle down. He jokes in this book about his wife and 7 children, but that should be the reality, not just as a joke.

Looking at that, it’s definitely the food. Hands down.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Five Red Herrings (Lord Peter Wimsey #7) ★★★☆☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Five Red Herrings
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey #7
Author: Dorothy Sayers
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 295
Words: 112K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

The novel is set in Galloway, a part of Scotland popular with artists (Kirkcudbright Artists’ Colony) and fishermen. Sandy Campbell is a talented painter, but also a notoriously quarrelsome drunkard. When he is found dead in a stream, with a still-wet half-finished painting on the bank above, it is assumed that he fell in accidentally, fracturing his skull. Lord Peter Wimsey, who is in the region on a fishing holiday, suspects murder when he realises that something is missing from the scene which makes it impossible for Campbell to have worked on the painting. Sayers includes a parenthetical note at this point: “Here Lord Peter Wimsey told the Sergeant what he was looking for and why, but as the intelligent reader will readily supply these details for himself, they are omitted from this page”. A local doctor believes that the degree of rigor mortis suggests that Campbell died during the previous night.

Whoever killed Campbell also executed the painting in Campbell’s distinctive style, to contrive the appearance of an accident. Six artists in the area are talented enough to achieve this: Farren, Strachan, Gowan, Graham, Waters and Ferguson. All had recent public brawls with Campbell. One of the six is the criminal, and five are red herrings.

All the suspects behave suspiciously: some leave the district without explanation, others give obviously inaccurate statements or conceal facts. Wimsey investigates, with some assistance from his friend in London, Charles Parker. The task of identifying the culprit is made more difficult because of the complexities of the local train timetables, the easy availability of bicycles, and the resultant opportunities for the murderer to evade notice.

All six suspects are eventually traced and give statements in which they deny killing Campbell, but none are entirely satisfactory. The Procurator Fiscal, the Chief Constable and the investigating police officers meet with Wimsey to review the evidence. The police put forward several theories, implicating all of the suspects either as killer or as accessory. Asked for his opinion, Wimsey finally reveals that the true killer was in fact Ferguson, the only one of the artists who while painting often kept spare tubes of paint in his pocket and who absentmindedly pocketed a tube of white while creating the faked painting. It was the absence of that tube that Wimsey had noted at the start. The police are sceptical, but Wimsey offers a reconstruction, and over the course of twenty-four hours demonstrates how the killer contrived the scene above the stream and also established a false alibi.

Ferguson confesses, but states that Campbell’s death happened accidentally during a fight, and was not murder. When the case is tried, the jury brings in a verdict of manslaughter, with a strong recommendation to mercy on the ground that “Campbell was undoubtedly looking for trouble”.

My Thoughts:

Dear Lord in Heaven, WHY does Sayers do this to me? I’m beginning to think maybe she was a spiritualist who looked into the future and decided to write books that she KNEW would annoy me personally.

This whole book revolves around train schedules. It’s not that the mystery is bad, but we get in depth, detailed and stultifyingly dull descriptions of almost every possible scenario by which the murder could have happened. And Lord Wimsey spends an entire day recreating the scene and hop scotching about like a mad giraffe, to illustrate why HIS theory of the murder is correct. I skimmed PAGES!

I’m beginning to wonder if maybe this series isn’t for me. I simply don’t care about how the little puzzle pieces all fit together. I am not interested in figuring out the crime, I don’t want to figure out the crime, I want the fething detective to do his fracking job and the frelling author to do hers, which is to entertain me, not bore me to tears.

I’m going to be put the rest of the Lord Peter Wimsey books back on my tbr and hold off for a while before trying this again. I don’t dislike the characters or the stories or the crimes, there are just certain aspects in each book that drive me batty.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Red Box (Nero Wolfe #4) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: The Red Box
Series: Nero Wolfe #4
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 203
Words: 77.5K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

Molly Lauck, a beautiful model, has died after eating a poisoned Jordan almond, and wealthy socialite Llewellyn Frost has hired Nero Wolfe to investigate the case. His true purpose, however, is to ensure that his ortho-cousin Helen is freed from the employment of Boyden McNair, the owner of the fashion boutique where Lauck died. He pressures Wolfe to leave his home and investigate the crime scene directly, producing a letter signed by the directors of the Metropolitan Orchid Show urging him to do so. Although highly reluctant, Wolfe eventually relents and travels to the boutique with Frost and Archie Goodwin.

Wolfe and Archie interview McNair, who is noticeably ill and distressed by recent events, and several of the models including Helen Frost. Although the interview is apparently unhelpful, Wolfe is intrigued when Helen indicates that she knew the contents of the chocolate box containing the candy that killed Lauck despite claiming to have never seen it before. Llewellyn Frost, who has romantic feelings for his cousin and believes that Wolfe intends to incriminate her, tries to terminate his contract with Wolfe. Outraged by Frost’s actions, Wolfe refuses to drop the matter without being paid his full fee, despite being pressured by both Helen’s mother Calida and Frost’s blustering father Dudley.

Intrigued by Wolfe investigating a crime scene personally, Inspector Cramer tries to find out what Wolfe has learned. Although Wolfe offers him little, he does suggest that Cramer and Archie gather the people of interest in the case and one-by-one offer them a chocolate from a box similar to that which contained the poisoned item that killed Molly Lauck. Making note of who selects what, Archie notes that Boyden McNair’s response is different from the others in that he initially goes to select a Jordan almond, as the victim did, but then reacts skittishly and chooses something else. Wolfe and Archie also learn that Boyden McNair displays a particular fondness towards Helen, apparently due to her resemblance to his own long-dead daughter.

Boyden McNair meets with Wolfe and confesses that, as the chocolate box had been intended for him, he believes someone is trying to murder him. Although he refuses to identify a suspect, McNair reveals that he has made Wolfe the executor of his estate and has willed to him a red leather box containing papers relating to a shameful incident in his past. Before he can reveal any more, however, he is killed in front of Wolfe and Archie by a poisoned aspirin. Although this voids Wolfe’s original contract, Helen hires Wolfe to locate McNair’s murderer.

Wolfe determines that the red box will most likely reveal the culprit, and orders it found. As executor of McNair’s estate, Wolfe sends Saul Panzer, Orrie Cather, Fred Durkin, and Johnny Keems to McNair’s cottage in the country to search the grounds for the box, with orders to keep the police out should they attempt to interfere. Wolfe learns that Helen is the heir to the Frost family fortune, which is held in a trust managed by Dudley Frost until her 21st birthday, but if anything were to happen to her it would instead go to Llewellyn Frost.

Later that night, the operatives at the cottage catch Perren Gebert, a family friend of the Frosts with designs of marrying Helen, trying to break in. Archie is sent to collect Gebert and bring him to Wolfe for questioning, but before he can the authorities arrive to search for the red box. Archie manages to prevent them from doing so, but is forced to surrender Gebert to their custody. While the police are unable to get any useful information from Gebert, Cramer reveals to Archie that Gebert has been receiving monthly payments of $1,000 from Helen Frost’s trust fund. The next night, after being released from custody Gebert is murdered with a nitrobenzene trap set in his car.

A package arrives for Wolfe that prompts him to summon the main players to his office. Once everyone has arrived, Wolfe reveals that he has discovered that Helen Frost is in fact Glenna McNair, the daughter of Boyden McNair. The real Helen Frost was the child who had died years before, but Calida Frost bought Glenna from the then-impoverished Boyden McNair and raised her as Helen in order to eventually control the inheritance. Bitterly regretting what he had done ever since, McNair proceeded to make his fortune, formed an attachment with Helen/Glenna and planned to reveal the truth to her, but Calida Frost killed him to prevent this. Perren Gebert was also murdered because he knew of the arrangement and had been blackmailing Calida, and also planned to marry Glenna.

Wolfe produces the red box that he claims holds the proof of his accusations. In fact, it is a mock-up containing a bottle of cyanide, which Calida Frost uses to commits suicide. The actual red box is eventually found in Boyden McNair’s boyhood home in Scotland with plenty of evidence to support Wolfe’s theories but, as Archie notes, “by that time Calida Frost was already buried”.

My Thoughts:

Nero Wolfe is “forced” out of his brownstone home and pretty much spends the rest of the book complaining about it. You’d think he’d been forced to eat his mother’s pickled brains or something, the way he carried on. Of course, that type of behavior is exactly what the author is going for in the character of Wolfe. While it’s annoying, it’s also gratifying to see. It makes Wolfe feel very real.

One thing I found very interesting was the interactions with Wolfe and Archie against the police. Several times the police try to enter the premises without a warrant and Archie pulls a gun on them and there are no repercussions. A man’s home really WAS his fortress, unlike today 😦

The mystery itself felt rather sordid and tawdry. Models, poisoned candies, leches, amorous minded cousins, it just left a light smear across my soul. I probably would have felt better if Archie could have killed someone with his gun, but as that didn’t happen, I guess I’ll just soldier on.

I’ve come to realize, over the last couple of months that reading a very long series has to be handled differently than a trilogy or even a single digit series. I have 47 Nero Wolfe books available. That is simply too many to plow through even with my excellent reading rotation. I experienced this with Shakespeare and have been on the lookout for signs of “series burnout” with other double digit series. So I think I’m going to divide this up into 10 book chunks and take a break between chunks. That allows me to prevent series burnout AND has the added benefit of making sure my rotation doesn’t get clogged up with big series so that I can’t get to the smaller stuff. That all really isn’t about this book, but how I read is an integral part of the whole Book Experience and now you are wiser for it. Not as wise as Solomon, but wiser than you were before you read this.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Wisdom of Father Brown (Father Brown #2) ★★★☆☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: The Wisdom of Father Brown
Series: Father Brown #2
Author: G.K. Chesterton
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 268
Words: 73K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

“The Absence of Mr Glass”, McClure’s Magazine, November 1912.

“The Paradise of Thieves”, McClure’s Magazine, March 1913.

“The Duel of Dr Hirsch”

“The Man in the Passage”, McClure’s Magazine, April 1913.

“The Mistake of the Machine”

“The Head of Caesar”, The Pall Mall Magazine, June 1913.

“The Purple Wig”, The Pall Mall Magazine, May 1913.

“The Perishing of the Pendragons”, The Pall Mall Magazine, June 1914.

“The God of the Gongs”

“The Salad of Colonel Cray”

“The Strange Crime of John Boulnois”, McClure’s Magazine, February 1913.

“The Fairy Tale of Father Brown”

My Thoughts:

Another fine collection of short stories where Father Brown at least makes an appearance. I know I said it in the first book but to call these “mysteries” is rather misleading. At least in the sense of a detective sussing out the facts and figuring it out. Father Brown just kind of makes pronouncements based on what he thinks about the fallen nature of humanity and goes from there.

I feel like my schedule of alternating these with books by the Bronte sisters is working out well. If I were to read the Father Brown books too close together I suspect I’d get annoyed. While Chesterton and I both share the Christian Faith, his way of viewing the world, expressed through the character of Father Brown are very different. Personally, I’d box Father Brown’s ears and tell him to stop being so clueless. But since he’s not real and Chesterton is dead, that simply isn’t an option. Probably just as well as Chesterton could roll over me like a steamship both physically and mentally. Unless I got him with a surprise kidney punch first 😉

I chose this cover from the Librarything collection because it perfectly represents Father Brown. I think it is from the tv show (of which I’ve heard nothing good) and man did they choose someone just as Chesterton described. A brown shapeless potato. And that actor is the most potato’y that I’ve ever seen. Kudo’s to him for being such a potato! And the short story format is just like a baked potato too. Just enough to keep you full and happy but not so much that you become a glutton.

Rating: 3 out of 5.