Black Orchids (Nero Wolfe #9) ★★★★☆

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: Black Orchids
Series: Nero Wolfe #9
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 158
Words: 57.5K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

Black Orchids:

Millionaire orchid fancier Lewis Hewitt has hybridized three black orchid plants in his Long Island greenhouse. Nero Wolfe is wild to have one, so he and Archie Goodwin visit New York’s annual flower show, where Hewitt’s orchids are on exhibit. One of the other exhibits features a daily performance by a young couple miming a summer picnic. The woman, Anne Tracy, attracts the attentions of Archie, Hewitt, and a young exhibitor named Fred Updegraff.

During Wolfe’s visit to the show, Anne’s picnic partner Harry Gould is killed, shot in the head by a gun concealed in the foliage. The gun’s trigger is attached to a long string that reaches to a hallway well behind the exhibit.

After a little inquiry, Wolfe shows Hewitt how his walking stick was used to pull the string and fire the shot that killed Gould. Hewitt is horrified by the prospect of the publicity that would ensue should his part in the shooting, however indirect and unwitting, become known. Wolfe offers Hewitt this arrangement: in exchange for all three black orchid plants, the only ones in existence, Wolfe will solve the murder and deliver the criminal to the police, without publicly disclosing Hewitt’s connection to the crime. Hewitt terms it blackmail, but submits.

Earlier, Archie had noticed a woman waiting in the hallway behind the exhibit, at around the time that the murderer would have been deploying the string. He now finds her in the crowd that’s gawking at the murder scene. Archie steals her handbag, removes it to the men’s room, searches it for identification, and learns her name (Rose Lasher) and address. He returns the handbag to her – all without Rose or anyone else noticing.

The police want to know more about her and, finishing their questions, they let her go — but surreptitiously follow her. The police lose her trail but Archie knows her home address, where she has been living with Harry Gould. He arrives at Rose’s apartment just as she is about to flee the city, and takes her to Wolfe’s house. There Archie searches her suitcase and finds some printed matter that Rose cannot or will not explain: a clipping of an article by Hewitt on Kurume yellows,[a] a plant disease that is fatal to broadleaf evergreens; a postcard to Rose from Harry, postmarked Salamanca, New York (in the western part of the state); and a work order from a garage, also in Salamanca.

Wolfe gets Rose to discuss some of Gould’s unsavory qualities. Wolfe learns that although Gould was employed as a gardener, he suddenly acquired a bank account containing several thousand dollars[b] and what Miss Lasher terms “a big roll of bills.” From his general awareness of horticultural events, Wolfe knows that an attack of Kurume yellows devastated a plantation of a new hybrid of broadleaf evergreens, about eighty miles west of Salamanca and owned by Updegraff Nurseries. The same disease has affected the exhibit in which Anne and Gould were featured; W. G. Dill, one owner of the company sponsoring it, had asked Wolfe to investigate the source.

Weighing all this information, Wolfe assembles the principals in the fumigation chamber of his plant rooms. He accuses Hewitt of conspiring with Gould to infect the plantations of rival growers, and of killing Gould after the latter began to blackmail him. When a telephone call comes in for Hewitt, Wolfe sends Dill to answer it instead, closes the chamber door, and informs the rest of the group that Dill, not Hewitt, is the murderer. Dill is later found dead in the plant rooms, having turned on the flow of fumigation gas with the intent to kill everyone inside the chamber; however, Wolfe had anticipated this action and diverted the gas to fill the plant rooms instead.

Wolfe tells Cramer that Anne had previously confirmed his suspicions of Gould’s and Dill’s activities. He keeps the black orchids, but Cramer is unimpressed by their appearance, saying that he prefers geraniums. The orchids have a cameo role in the second novella in this collection, “Cordially Invited to Meet Death.”

Cordially Invited to Meet Death:

Bess Huddleston arranges parties for New York society. She has been in contact with Wolfe once before, when she wanted him to play the detective at a party that would feature a mock murder; Wolfe declined to participate. Now, she comes with one anonymous letter in hand and a report of another. They were not sent to her, nor do they threaten her directly: rather, one was sent to a client and the other to a member of the circle in which her clients move. The letters imply strongly that Miss Huddleston has been gossiping about her clients’ private lives.

She wants Wolfe to put an end to the smear campaign – if it continues, her monied clients will no longer trust her and will not hire her to arrange their parties. Miss Huddleston has two employees, an assistant party arranger named Janet Nichols and a secretary named Maryella Timms. Both have access to a box of stationery of the same kind used for the letters. The letters are typewritten, and appear to Miss Huddleston’s eye to have been typed on one of her typewriters. Wolfe tells Miss Huddleston to have Miss Nichols and Miss Timms come to his office.

They do so, and arrive at a moment when Wolfe and Fritz are discussing another attempt at cooking corned beef. This has long been a problem in the brownstone’s kitchen, one never satisfactorily resolved. Miss Timms hears about the dilemma and barges into the kitchen to help. Wolfe is so impressed by Miss Timms’ expertise that he later allows her to link arms with him, and writes to a professor at Harvard concerning chitlins and corned beef.

Apart from the culinary, though, Wolfe obtains no useful information from Nichols and Timms, and sends Archie to Miss Huddleston’s house and place of business to investigate further. There, Archie is bedeviled by a playful chimpanzee, two pet bears and an alligator. He also meets Miss Huddleston’s brother Daniel, her nephew Larry, and Alan Brady, an MD who has been spending time with Janet Nichols. Archie does not get much further at the house than Wolfe did in his office, but he has cocktails on the terrace with the various players. As the butler is bringing more drinks, the chimpanzee startles him and a tray of glasses crashes to the ground. Most of the broken glass is cleaned up, but Miss Huddleston’s foot is cut by a shard and, because of the presence of the animals, Dr. Brady treats the cut with iodine.

Less than one week later, Miss Huddleston is dead, having undergone an excruciatingly painful and drawn out death from tetanus. That, as far as Wolfe is concerned, ends his involvement, but Daniel Huddleston makes a nuisance of himself with the police: he believes his sister was murdered. Daniel is insistent enough that Inspector Cramer comes to Wolfe looking for information. Wolfe has none for him, but after Cramer leaves he drops Archie an exiguous hint: he thinks there is one thing that Cramer should have done during his investigation, and wonders if it has rained during the past week.

My Thoughts:

This collection of two novellas was perfect. Twice as much Wolfe and Archie is twice the fun. It is the essence of Stout’s writing that we get here. Even though this is number 9 in the series, I would recommend this to someone who wants to get a taste for Nero Wolfe (no, not that way. I don’t promote canniblism on this blog after all!) as you’ll get two stories to see if the setting and writing works for you.

While I wouldn’t want to live in the time period of Wolfe and Archie (I just realized, I use Nero Wolfe’s last name for him but Archie Goodwin’s first name for him. I wonder why?), I would be dead of my diabetes after all, I REALLY like how the author has Wolfe and Archie knowing their rights as citizens and forcing the police to abide by said rights and the police do it. They exist to solve the crime, not prevent it, and they take that job very seriously. What’s more, both Wolfe and Archie expect that, and nothing more, from the police. They’re not cowering in the brownstone waiting for somebody else to do everything for them. They take a whole heaping load of responsibility on themselves and don’t whine and complain (well, Archie does, but that goes with the job I think) and write letters to the editor, etc. Reading about mature people is refreshing, and it’s sickening that it’s refreshing too.

The writing is as good as ever and once again, I would highly recommend this book if you want to experience Rex Stout’s writing and to see if Wolfe and Archie will be your cup of tea. With two stories, you’ll know for sure one way or another by the end. And you don’t need to have read any of the previous books to understand anything here (I think). Stout does a good job of making each book stand on its own two legs. And there is only ONE perspective, Archie’s. I’d poke this book into John Gwynne’s eye if I could and make him eat dirt on the strength of that alone! (for those not in the know, Gwynne tends to have about 100 perspectives in his bloated novels and none of them are actually important or necessary)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Where There’s a Will (Nero Wolfe #8) ★★★★☆

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: Where There’s a Will
Series: Nero Wolfe #8
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 171
Words: 61.5K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

The famous Hawthorne sisters — April, May and June — visit Nero Wolfe in a body to ask his help in averting a scandal. After the shock of their brother Noel’s death three days before, they have been dealt another shock at learning the terms of his will. May, a college president, insists that Noel had promised to leave $1 million to her school; however, the will leaves each sister nothing but a piece of fruit and passes almost all of Noel’s estate to a young woman named Naomi Karn. The sisters want to hire Wolfe to persuade Naomi to turn over at least half of the inheritance so that Noel’s widow Daisy will not bring a case to court that would cause a sensation.

Daisy’s unexpected arrival interrupts the conference. She wears a veil at all times to cover the disfiguring scars left after Noel accidentally shot her with a bow and arrow. She discovered that Noel was having an affair with Naomi and now hates the entire Hawthorne family as a result. Wolfe assures her that he will consider her interests in addition to those of the sisters and attempt to negotiate with Naomi on their behalf.

Later that day, Inspector Cramer interrupts another meeting with the news that Noel had in fact been murdered. He had been killed by a shotgun blast while hunting on his country estate; it was assumed that he had tripped and discharged the weapon, but further analysis of the evidence has led the police to discard this theory. Archie is called away to help Fred Durkin keep an eye on a man whom Fred had been tailing – Eugene Davis, a partner at the law firm that drew up Noel’s will, who had been seen in a bar with Naomi. Davis is now drunk and passed out in a run-down apartment.

On Wolfe’s orders, Archie travels to the Hawthorne mansion on 67th Street, where he finds Wolfe, the family and other associated individuals gathered to meet with the local police. Archie finds, to his surprise, that there are apparently two Daisy Hawthornes in the house. One is meeting with Wolfe and accusing April of the murder, based on the fact that a cornflower was found next to the body and April had had a bunch of them with her. The other is speaking to Naomi in the living room. The one meeting with Wolfe turns out to be the real Daisy, and Wolfe later determines that the other was actually April in disguise, trying to get information out of Naomi about the will and the relationship between her and Noel.

Later in the day, Archie finds Naomi strangled to death, her body hidden in an alcove next to the living room. Wolfe slips out of the house without telling Archie and has Orrie Cather drive him back to Wolfe’s brownstone on 35th Street. After being confronted by the Hawthornes, Daisy spitefully claims to the police that April is the murderer, and she is arrested by the authorities. Meanwhile, June’s daughter Sara tells Archie that someone has stolen her camera. The film it contained had already been sent off to be developed, and Wolfe and Archie later retrieve the pictures. After examining them, Wolfe warns Sara that her life will be in danger if she returns to the estate and has her stay at the brownstone. Cramer threatens to arrest Wolfe as a material witness to Naomi’s murder, but Wolfe counters by threatening to turn evidence of the murderer’s guilt over to a local newspaper instead of the police.

With all of the principals assembled in his office, Wolfe accuses Davis of switching Noel’s actual will (which left generous bequests to Daisy, his sisters and May’s college) with a forgery that leaves nearly the entire estate to Naomi, in a plot to win her affections, and of killing Noel and Naomi. When Glenn Prescott, another of the law firm’s partners, agrees with this theory, Davis angrily accuses him of the murders. Wolfe then reveals his evidence: one of Sara’s pictures, which shows Prescott wearing a wild rose in his lapel, a flower that he could not have obtained in the city. He had picked it at the scene of Noel’s murder, discarding the cornflower he had worn (later found near the body), and had only remembered after Sara had taken the photograph. Prescott is placed under arrest, and Archie decides to keep the material witness warrant as a souvenir.

My Thoughts:

Here I am at the eighth book in the Nero Wolfe series and I am having a hard time not simply reading these one after another. I am REALLY enjoying these. What I find amusing is that the “mystery” of each book I can totally take it or leave it. I don’t try to solve what is going on or even care. I like the interactions between all of the various characters whether main or side.

Archie is still pretty starchy and it’s not worn on me at all. Wolfe continues to be as peremptive, eccentric and fat as ever and THAT hasn’t worn on me at all either. I am surprised he hasn’t died from a heart attack but some people have all the luck I guess. Each book introduces side characters who are great. In this one we have the fore-runner of the Hollywood Glam-Mom. Each of the Hawthorne sisters, while sharing a certain something, are not just 3 names give the author more room to maneuver. They are key individuals in the story and each one reacts differently and has different situational pressures on them. One is a mom, one is married to a high ranking political man and another is an actress. And then you have the lawyers Prescott and Davis. Oh, they are everything you want in lawyers in a mystery story like this. It was like giving someone a one-two punch and then doing a Rocky Balboa dance around the ring to read about them. And finally, the cops and various law enforcement officers. They have hassled Archie and Wolfe in every single book and most of the time Wolfe just throws utter defiance back in their face. While I am a law-abiding citizen and believe in law and order and that the officers of the law are to be obeyed and respected, I also like seeing citizens knowing their rights and using them properly. The Law IS at a disadvantage because it has to abide by the laws in place, and that has consequences. Badguys will get away or manipulate things, but once the Law starts changing itself to suit the situation, that way leads to tyranny. And revolution and bloodshed, which is not a good thing. So the first step to prevent that is an informed citizenry and Wolfe and Archie are stirling examples of that. Bravo boys!

Now, the one thing that bugged me. We have been told time and again that Wolfe is eccentric and won’t leave his house. We’ve seen examples of this. But so far, in these eight books, Wolfe has ended up leaving his house more times than he’s stayed. In this book he goes to the Hawthorne house and ends up doing most of his work there before running back to his house to keep out of the hands of the law. It isn’t a big thing, but all of these “exceptions” make it hard to accept that it is a big deal for him to leave the house. And that’s about my only problem with this book 😀

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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.

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.

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.

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 Rubber Band (Nero Wolfe #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 Rubber Band
Series: Nero Wolfe #3
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 208
Words: 80.5K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia.com
Click on the “Details” to see the Full Synopsis

Nero Wolfe is approached by Anthony Perry, president of the Seaboard Products Corporation, who is concerned that one of his employees is being unjustly accused of theft. A package containing $30,000 has gone missing, and Ramsey Muir, the company’s vice-president is accusing Clara Fox, Perry’s personal assistant. Perry’s meeting with Archie Goodwin is interrupted by Harlan Scovil, who has recently arrived in New York City from Wyoming and is one of a group that has a later appointment with Wolfe. At one point Scovil seems to mistake Perry for another man, Mike Walsh.

Before Archie can attend to Scovil, he is summoned to Perry’s offices, where Muir—motivated by jealousy and spite after Clara rejected his advances—is threatening to call the police. Archie’s preliminary investigations turn up little, and he arrives back to the brownstone to learn that Scovil has left, summoned away by a telephone call. However, the other members of his group have arrived, including the real Mike Walsh, and Archie is surprised to discover that Clara Fox is their leader. Clara wishes to hire Wolfe to recover a sum of money owed to the group by the Marquis of Clivers, a British nobleman in America on confidential government business. Years ago, the group (or in the case of Clara, her father) were a Wild West posse called “The Rubber Band”, and they saved the future Marquis from a lynching. The Marquis promised them a substantial share of his fortune in return but has rebuffed Clara’s claims.

The discussion is interrupted by a police detective who brings the news that Harlan Scovil has been murdered. In his pockets were found the contact details for the Marquis of Clivers, prompting the police — eager to avoid inconveniencing the Marquis and causing diplomatic issues with Britain — to suspect the group of blackmail. Wolfe also learns from Fred Durkin that the police have found the missing $30,000 in Clara’s car, and a warrant has been issued for her arrest. Once the policeman has left, Wolfe questions Fox concerning the stolen money and the murder. Satisfied as to her honesty and innocence on both matters, he accepts her as his client, and persuades her to remain in the brownstone. Mike Walsh rejects Wolfe’s offer of protection and storms out. Wolfe sends a letter to the Marquis informing him of the group’s claims and suggesting that legal action may be taken. He also informs Perry that he will not be investigating on behalf of him or the corporation.

For several days, the numerous charges that Clara is facing mean that Wolfe is forced to keep her as his guest in the brownstone. However the police, led by the obnoxious Lt. Rowcliff, soon arrive with a search and arrest warrant to enter the brownstone and arrest Clara for the theft of the $30,000. Wolfe is outraged by Rowcliff’s impertinence, but is forced to allow the police to search the premises. Clara, however, cannot be found, and once the police have left Wolfe reveals that he concealed her in the orchid rooms.

Wolfe receives a visit from the Marquis of Clivers himself, who insists that he has already paid his debt to the Rubber Band. He claims that the group’s leader, Rubber Coleman, approached him years ago representing the Band, and that on receiving the money Coleman provided him with a receipt signed by the other members. The next day, Archie receives a phone call from Mike Walsh claiming that he has found “him”, only for the call to be ended by a loud noise that sounds like a gunshot. Moments after the call Walsh is found dead, with the Marquis of Clivers standing over the body. Inspector Cramer, Police Commissioner Hombert and District Attorney Skinner arrive at the brownstone and demand that Wolfe share what he has learned about the case. Wolfe produces Clara and provides proof that she neither stole the $30,000 nor murdered Scovil and Walsh. He reveals to the authorities that he is almost ready to solve the case, but one lingering unresolved detail is troubling him.

The next morning, Archie is surprised to find Wolfe slamming wooden boards in the orchid rooms, to no purpose that Archie can see. Wolfe takes notice of Archie’s bundle of papers secured with a rubber band. After doing so, Wolfe has him summon everyone, including Ramsey Muir, Anthony Perry and the Marquis of Clivers, to his office. Once he arrives, the Marquis recognizes Anthony Perry instantly — he is Rubber Coleman. Wolfe reveals that Perry, or rather Coleman, swindled the money from the other members of the Rubber Band and used it to fund his numerous business enterprises, only to discover that Clara was pursuing the Rubber Band’s claim. Coleman hired her to keep her close, and attempted to discourage her from her pursuit but framed her for the theft of the $30,000 when he was unable to do so. Although intending to hire Wolfe to cover his tracks and throw suspicion off himself, Coleman had the misfortune to be recognised by Scovil at Wolfe’s office, and so murdered him and Walsh to preserve his secret. Coleman staged the phone call that purported to record Walsh’s death with the use of a rubber band to simulate a gunshot, thus giving himself an alibi.

Though Coleman is defiant, Wolfe reveals that he has obtained the “receipt” that Coleman used to forge the signatures of the other members of the band when claiming the money from the Marquis; even by chance he cannot be convicted of murder in New York, this will be sufficient to convict him of fraud in England, which will equally expose and ruin him. Thwarted, Coleman attempts to shoot Wolfe but is gunned down by the Marquis and Archie before he can do so. Having proven Clara’s innocence, Wolfe negotiates with the Marquis to claim the remainder of the Band’s fair share of his inheritance. Guilt-ridden by the deaths she believes have been caused by her quest, Clara attempts to turn it down, but Wolfe persuades her to accept it.

My Thoughts:

I’m scrabbling through my mind palace trying to find a shiny bauble to present to you all. Instead, all I’m finding is chairs and tables, food and drink, everyday ordinary kinds of things.

And you know what? That’s not such a bad thing. Maybe if you are a Golden Age Mystery buff you could dig through these stories and mine insights from them. But if you’re a normal reader (like me, the most extraordinary and best normal reader that has ever existed), these are just good stories.

That is what I want. A good story to engage my mind for a couple of hours. Yes, there are times I want “more”. There are times I want intricate plot points, super twisty plots and extremely developed characters. However, I don’t want to know these characters more than my co-workers or those I go to church with. What does it say about ME, as a person, if I know more about a fictional character in a book than I do about the couple with two boys in the pew across from us at church?

These books are entertainment only. Entertainment has a place in a Christian’s life. But that place shouldn’t be central in my life or the main reason for my life. And as odd as it sounds, Rex Stout writes that way. I appreciate that.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The League of Frightened Men (Nero Wolfe #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 League of Frightened Men
Series: Nero Wolfe #2
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 233
Words: 92K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

After reading a controversial new novel by an author called Paul Chapin, Nero Wolfe reveals to Archie Goodwin that he has been approached by Andrew Hibbard, a psychologist fearing for his life. Hibbard had received threatening poems from an individual he refused to name, but after reading a phrase in Chapin’s book that also appeared in the poems, Wolfe has deduced that the man Hibbard feared is Chapin. Wolfe orders Archie to contact Hibbard to offer Wolfe’s services, but when Archie does so he learns that Hibbard has disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Hibbard is a member of “the League of Atonement”, a group of college friends who once played a prank on Chapin that, to their lingering shame and remorse, left him permanently crippled. In addition to Hibbard’s disappearance, two other members of the group have also died under mysterious circumstances, and both Hibbard’s niece Evelyn and the police suspect that Chapin has murdered them. Wolfe acquires a list of the other men in the League and summons them to his office, where he proposes to both determine the truth behind the deaths of their mutual friends and remove the threat that they believe Chapin poses. The meeting is interrupted by Chapin himself, who claims innocence in the affair but refuses to provide evidence when Wolfe challenges him to do so. This prompts the League to agree to Wolfe’s terms.

Wolfe has Archie arrange for Chapin to be tailed as closely as possible, a search for Hibbard to be conducted, and the two deaths to be investigated. Archie discovers that another member of the League, Dr. Leopold Elkus, is also tangentially involved in the two deaths and, as Elkus is sympathetic to Chapin, begins to suspect that he is helping him commit the murders. He also discovers the existence of a mysterious man with gold teeth and a pink tie who also appears to be tailing Chapin. On bringing this man to Wolfe, they discover it is in fact Andrew Hibbard. Hibbard, driven to desperation by his fear and paranoia of Chapin, had faked his death and begun following Chapin to work up the courage to murder him.

Soon after, Paul Chapin is arrested for the sudden murder of Dr. Loring Burton, who is both a fellow member of the League and the man who married the woman Chapin was in love with. This prompts Wolfe to take the drastic step of leaving his home to consult with Chapin, while Archie gains the trust of Burton’s wife and learns that Dora Chapin, the wife of Paul Chapin and Burton’s former house-maid, had visited Burton before he was murdered. Believing Dora to be the murderer, Archie attempts to confront her but is taken by surprise, drugged, and incapacitated.

Upon regaining consciousness, Archie is alarmed to discover that Dora Chapin has apparently kidnapped Wolfe. On receiving a message from Wolfe, however, he learns that Wolfe has convinced Dora Chapin that he poses no threat to her husband and does not believe him to be guilty of murder. Wolfe then summons the members of the League to his office, where he produces Hibbard and reveals a confession he has apparently received from Paul Chapin. To the League’s surprise the letter confirms, as Wolfe suspected all along, that Chapin had no involvement in the deaths of their two mutual friends at all. The deaths were an unfortunate accident and a suicide respectively, but Chapin, psychologically incapable of murder but resentful of his friends for both their responsibility for his injury and their pity towards him, sent the poems to scare his friends and gain his vengeance on them that way.

Incredulous and skeptical of Wolfe’s claims, the League vote on whether to pay Wolfe. When the vote indicates that Wolfe will not receive his fee, Wolfe presses one member—Ferdinand Bowen, a stockbroker—to change his vote. When Bowen refuses, Wolfe reveals that Bowen is in fact Burton’s murderer. Burton had discovered that Bowen had been embezzling from him and other members of the League whose investments he managed, and Bowen used the fear and paranoia that everyone had of Chapin to stage Burton’s murder and throw suspicion on Chapin. Bowen is arrested, leaving Archie to realise that Chapin’s letter was faked. His vengeance thwarted, Chapin reveals to Wolfe that he will be basing a character on Wolfe in a forthcoming novel, and that character will meet a very unpleasant end.

My Thoughts:

Another thoroughly enjoyable read.

I skipped the introduction, as I found that the people who do that kind of thing are idiots and either spoil the heck out of the book OR are wannabe freuds and everything is about sex, even when it isn’t. My life is better when I just read the book for myself instead of being told what it is supposed to mean by some hack.

I do have to admit, I didn’t understand why everyone was so afraid of Chapin, the supposed villain of this particular story. A self-absorbed, selfish crippled gimp who is still in love with a woman who has been married for decades and has his own wife steal things from her? Of course, with him “claiming” to have done the murders through anonymous letters, you could see why they were concerned. But afraid? Ask Chapin to his face and get a yes or no. If you can’t, then you kill him yourself. Man, nobody in that group had one pair of balls between them all. Shameful. Thankfully, the title alerted me to what I was getting into so I didn’t get too steamed up about the group’s lack of manhood, but still, it was a sore point for me.

I did end up laughing out loud at the shenanigans Wolfe got up to at the end. What a dirty money grubber. I’m hoping he refutes his own statement about letting murderers go free if he’s not paid to catch them by future actions. If not, this series might have a much smaller chance of survival with me than expected.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Currently Reading & Quote: The League of Frightened Men

I do read books, but I never yet got any real satisfaction out of one; I always have a feeling there’s nothing alive about it, it’s all dead and gone, what’s the use, you might as well try to enjoy yourself on a picnic in a graveyard.
~ Chapter 1 (Archie Goodwin)

It’s tough to tell if Rex Stout is having fun with his characters and being ironic, or something else. I can’t imagine any other reason, but then, I can’t imagine anyone thinking they can make an actual living from writing books either. A Mystery, in a mystery book no less! (for the record, that was me being ironic)

Fer-De-Lance (Nero Wolfe #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: Fer-De-Lance
Series: Nero Wolfe #1
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 222
Words: 87.5K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia.com

Maria Maffei, a family friend of one of Wolfe’s free-lance men, offers to hire 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 shortly before his disappearance. 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. However, Anna refuses to provide any further details about Carlo, who is soon found dead in the countryside, stabbed in the back.

From reading the account of Barstow’s death, which occurred during a round of golf, Wolfe conjectures that one of his clubs may have been altered to fire a poisoned needle into his belly. An autopsy proves Wolfe right, and he and Archie begin to concentrate on the Barstow family and their acquaintances, E.D. Kimball and his son Manuel, who had both been part of the golf foursome. While trying to figure out the whereabouts of Barstow’s golf bag, Archie learns from the group’s caddies that he had borrowed a driver from E.D. during the round. This fact, coupled with E.D.’s accounts of his past in Argentina, leads Wolfe and Archie to conclude that Manuel had intended to kill his father, not Barstow, in revenge for the death of his mother years earlier. Archie confirms Manuel’s movements on the day Carlo was killed, making him a suspect in that murder as well. Manuel retaliates by having an associate plant a deadly Bothrops atrox viper in Wolfe’s desk drawer, but Wolfe and Archie find and kill it.

With Maria’s cooperation, Wolfe and Archie arrange a robbery in the countryside to scare Anna into telling what she knows. The trick works, and she hands over documents proving that Manuel hired Carlo to build the driver that killed Barstow. With the Kimball estate staked out, and a copy of the evidence delivered to Manuel, Archie leads the local police in so they can make an arrest. They learn that Manuel, an avid pilot, has taken E.D. up for a flight, and are shocked when the plane suddenly nose-dives into the ground; the impact kills both of them.

Wolfe collects both the $50,000 reward that Barstow’s widow had offered for the capture of his killer, and another $10,000 from a district attorney who had been skeptical of the murder theory. Wolfe comments that the climax of the case gave both E.D. and Manuel a chance to end their lives without any sense of bitterness or despair, but Archie notes that it also keeps Wolfe from having to leave his comfortable house in order to testify at a murder trial.

My Thoughts:

2021 has seen a marked decline in the percentage of SFF that I read. Nonfiction has increased with the Very Short Introduction series, Max Brand is keeping the Western genre alive in the rotation, Dickens has kept the Classics on a roll and tumbled into Chesterton and the Bronte’s, Shakespeare is keeping me firmly in the world of Literature and Lord Peter Wimsey is doing his dashin’ best to keep my interest in the Mystery genre. And now we have old fatso himself, Nero Wolfe, bringing back the Private Investigator. I’ve seen other bloggers change slowly and just wanted to stop and take a second to recollect that my reading is changing and is quite different from even 4 years ago. The reason I got all introspective was because of the main character in this book.

Nero Wolfe is an eccentric private detective who adores food, sleep and mystery and abhors people and leaving his house. As such, he’s hugely fat and I kept waiting for him to keel over dead from a heart attack. He’s a very smart man, able to reason out the much larger picture from just a fragment. He’s also immensely arrogant and beyond self-assured and if he’d been the narrator of the story I would have hated him and despised the author and you’d have gotten one long ranty review where I condemned Rex Stout to the stygian pits of darkness. But he was NOT the narrator. Thank goodness, we are told the story by one of Wolfe’s helpers, Archie Goodwin. Archie is a man’s man, full of vim, vigor and fisticuffs and not afraid to talk back to the police, tell a girl he’d like to pinch her cheeks and fake a robbery on his own client to get her to talk.

The mystery was interesting but seeing Nero orchestrate incidents and get people together or apart is what made this work for me. His manipulation of Archie is hard at times to stomach, but Archie trusts him (even while not necessarily liking him all the time) and Nero is proved right time after time. Nero is the brains while Archie is the foot and fist.

This was written in 1934 and as such is quite an interesting look into the times. The Great Depression, the after-effects of Prohibition, just life in general. I found it fascinating and led me down rabbit trails I wasn’t expecting. One such was the use of the word “spiggoty” by Archie. I could tell it was derogatory but I’d never heard of it before and couldn’t figure out HOW it was supposed to be derogatory. I basically had to chase down the etymology of the word and it turns out it is the predecessor of the slur “spic” today. Now, you’re not going to read books today that take you down trails like that.

There are approximately 47 books in this series. I think that is the longest series I’ve attempted to date. I am a bit concerned that it will go stale on me or, like the Brother Cadfael series, bore me by the end. My other concern is that I’m going to mix up the author with the main character. Nero Wolfe is the main character and he’s immensely fat. The author’s name is Rex Stout, another word for fat. I just know I’m going to mix up the two “fat” men at some point and I’m really concerned about it. What if I hurt their feelings? Fictional characters and dead men have feelings too! Oh wait, no they don’t. Ok, problem solved!

In ending, this was a great start to a series in a genre that hasn’t always appealed to me. Here’s to hoping it keeps me interested the whole time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.