Nero Wolfe had twice as many novels published as Sherlock before he ever broke into short fiction. However, author Rex Stout would create some of his most memorable stories in the Wolfe novellas. The first two of these are collected in Black Orchids.
The title story for the collection was originally published as Death Wears an Orchid. Archie has found himself assigned to flower show duty to watch a new Black Orchid bred by Lewis Hewitt to see whether it wilts or not. Wolfe finally makes a trip down in person to see it. But then fate takes a hand when Archie triggers the murder when he picks up a stick, triggering a Rube Goldberg style murder, which is the least practical part of the story.
The stick that served as the trigger belonged to Hewitt. Wolfe offers to solve the case and protect Hewitt in exchange for all three of the black orchid plants, insisting on them in advance.
To hold on to his plants, Wolfe has to not only sift through blackmail and jealousies of orchid growers, but he has to endure not one, but two women living under his roof, all while keeping his client’s name out of the press. Wolfe has a clever and somewhat shocking way of doing this that makes for a great twist ending.
Cordially Invited to Meet Death
New York’s Premier party planner, Beth Huddleston, engages Wolfe to stop malicious letters that are threatening to ruin her business. Wolfe has her entire household under suspicion and sends Archie out to investigate. Archie finds a virtual mad house with a Chimp that blocks his way in unless he plays tag with him as well as bears roaming around. Their investigation is cut short when Huddleston dies of a tetanus infection with Wolfe only having learned one key thing: the secret to preparing great Corned Beef hash which Wolfe achieved through a precedent-breaking decision to allow a woman suspect into the kitchen to help him.
However, her brother is convinced its murder. When Archie and the brother both get the same idea and proof is found that the death was no accident, Wolfe has little reason to be engaged as he has no client. However, when Cramer insults Wolfe by taking a dinner guest downtown for questioning, Wolfe not only resolves to solve the case. He plans to rub Cramer’s face in it.
Within the story, Archie offers a mystery as to why Wolfe sent some of the rare black orchids to Huddleston’s funeral and never answers the question. The question is left open though Archie offers readers their choice of potential theories. Archie confesses there may even have been some past association between Wolfe and Beth Huddleston, but that much of Wolfe’s past remains a mystery to him. And the puzzle of the black orchids only adds to Wolfe’s mystery.
Rating: Very Satisfactory
Collection Rating: Very Satisfactory
You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.
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