The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

26Jan/131

Book Review: Archie Meets Nero Wolfe

When Rex Stout took paper to pen to write the first Nero Wolfe story, the house hold at the old Brownstone was all ready mostly established. On the heels of the Maltese Falcon prequel Spade and Archer, Robert Goldsborough, author of seven Nero Wolfe books from the 1980s and 90s sets down the account of the first meeting between Wolfe and Goodwin guided by clues Stout left in his novels.

Goldsborough anchors the story in the 1920s which is a departure as Wolfe stories have always been set in the "present" but a story of a beginning requires a certain timeframe.  The book begins when Archie arrives in New York, gets a night watchman's job and has no choice but to shoot two thugs. Even though, his decision was appropriate, he was fired by upper management concerned about trigger-happy guards. However, Archie finds his ideal career when he snags a job at the Bascom detective agency.

Bascom is brought on a kidnapping case along with some other operatives including the ever-familiar Orrie Cather, Fred Durkin, and Saul Panzer. The initial goal is to merely ensure the safe return of the boy, who is the son of a wealthy New Yorker. But having done that, Wolfe is determined to catch the kidnappers. To facilitate this, Archie goes to undercover as the boy's bodyguard in hopes of uncovering some information that Wolfe can use to solve the case.

The book's strong point is its overall narrative that tells of the beginning of Archie Goodwin's legendary career and his first encounters with some of his best known associates and foils include Cramer, Stebbins, and the the detectives who worked with Wolfe and Goodwin the most including the teers as well as the less used Bill Gore and Del Bascom. We get to see them a bit more than we would in a typical Wolfe yarn.  While the mystery is not earth-shattering, it's fair and the resolution is handled well in typical Wolfe fashion.

The weak point in the story is that Nero Wolfe doesn't sound quite sound like himself and Archie sounds nothing like himself. Usually, Goldsborough's portrayal of Wolfe was close enough usually but a few times sounded dissonant. Perhaps, the most jarring section was when Wolfe made the statement that prohibition laws were wrong because they were attempting to "legislate morality." However, you feel about "legislating morality," it's become a modern cliche and Nero Wolfe certainly never spoke in cliches.   In addition, one Amazon review points out that Wolfe used "infer" as a synonym for "imply," something that Wolfe would never do.

It's even worse with Archie Goodwin. It would be unreasonable to expect a 19 year old fresh out of Ohio to sound the veteran New York Private eye Rex Stout wrote about for 40 years. However, there wasn't even a hint. This Archie Goodwin is a completely serious and respectful young man who helps to teach the father of the kidnapped the importance of spending time with this boy. To imagine this character developing into a wise cracking lady's man seems almost beyond belief. Whatever can be said of the corrupting influence of a big city or a big city changing someone, the change necessary in Goodwin is too incredible.

Overall, the story lacked the fun of the Stout Wolfe books. However, it answers a lot of questions fans have had about the characters particularly the lesser known ones and provides some satisfaction and Nero Wolfe is still mostly himself. Overall, this could have been a great book if Goldsborough had done a better job of capturing the essence of Stout's characters particularly young Archie Goodwin. As it was, it was only a fair-to-good one.

Rating: Barely Satisfactory

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12Jan/130

Book Review: The Return of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes was the character who would not die Sir Arthur Conan Doyle feared being stuck with Holmes and killed him off in "The Final Problem" published in 1893. Eight years later, he published another Holmes novel albeit one set before Holmes death. But in 1903, he relented and returned Holmes to life with the short story, "The Empty House." The story was followed by twelve others which were collected in The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

Coming upon this collection, I was somewhat surprised. Many literary critics speak of later Holmes stories as weaker than the first. I actually found this collection to be, if anything stronger than the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Stories such as "The Empty House," "The Norwood Builder," "The Dancing Men," and "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" are pure classics. From the first story to the last, Holmes is at his best as the master of deduction.

The flaws in this collection are minor. The ending to the "The Missing Three-Quarter" didn't quite live up to the build up and "The Golden Pince-Nez" was a tad melodramatic. However, this doesn't really subtract from the beauty of this selection. In the last story, "The Adventure of the Second Stain," Doyle trials to end the Holmes story by having Holmes forbid Watson from publishing further adventures. However, after this book, there was no way that would last.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

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1Dec/120

Book Review: Three Men Out

It's time to review another Nero Wolfe novella collection. "Three Men's Out" was published in 1954 and contains three novellas published originally in 1952 an 1953.

"Invitation to Murder" -A man hires Wolfe to have Archie investigate the women who may be the next wife of his brother-in-law who was married to his deceased sister. He suspects one of them of foul play. In the middle of Archie's investigation, he finds the client murdered and connives to get Wolfe himself to come and investigate. A decent enough story, though certainly not one of the bests with Wolfe leaving the house and an "okay" solution. Rating: Satisfactory

"The Zero Clue"-Wolfe declines a case from a man who puts himself out as being able to predict anything with mathamatics, though Archie goes to see him any way to see if he can get information to interest Wolfe. However,Archie ends up leaving without seeing the man. That night, Cramer arrives with news that the math whiz has been murdered and that he left a clue involving carefully arranged pencils and erasers that seems to point right towards Wolfe as having key information. Wolfe has a different take on the clue and will prove it if Cramer brings all the suspects to the Brownstone to be questioned.

This is perhaps the most problematic Nero Wolfe story I've read. Cramer agrees to the idea on the first night of the investigation which is something that seems unlikely the case had drug on for days and perhaps not for a week or more. Plus, the whole clue that was left behind was so improbable as to understand it required the use of Hindu mathematics  To add to that, the revelation of the murderer was unsatisfying and Archie's personality is mostly absent. So I've got to give this one a resounding: Rating: Pfui.

"This Won't Kill You"-Becaue a guest insisted on it, Wolfe is dragged to a decisive World Series game along with his guest. In the course of this, a murder happens and Wolfe investigates for the New York Giants Owner, a friend. The set up is (to be kind) somewhat hard to swallow particularly as this guest seems to disappear after conveniently having put Wolfe at the crime scene to investigate. The story is ultimately saved by some solid supporting characters in the form of an insane drugist and his niece plus a nice wind up that makes this story a: Rating: Satisfactory.

Unlike And Four to Gothe other Wolfe collection that contained a real stinker, there's not one great story, let alone two great stories to save the volume. However, I'm loathe to give a thumbs down to a Nero Wolfe collection. And in this case, I feel that the other two are solid stories with "This Won't Kill You" perhaps being more than average. So, rather than a Pfui, I'll give the overall collection a:

Rating: Barely Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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22Sep/120

Book Review: Homicide Trinity.

Homicide Trinity contained three Nero Wolfe Novellas originally published in magazine form in 1961 and 1962. Below, we take a look at each story.

"Eeny Meeny Murder Mo"

Bertha Aaron, the secretary to the Senior partner in a lawfirm comes to Wolfe's office because she suspects one of the other partners of colluding with an opposing client against the interests of the firm. Because the opposing client is involved in a divorce case, Archie knows he'll have a time convincing Wolfe to take the case.

Wolfe doesn't want the case but finds himself involved when he and Archie return to the office to find Aaron murderered with Wolfe's discarded necktie. Because it's Wolfe's necktie, the onus is on him to beat the police to the solution.

In some ways, this seems a variation on Disguise for Murder with Archie leaving a woman in the office and returning from the plantroom to find her murdered. They were so similar that A&E linked the two episodes for European syndication. Unfortunately, while this story has features, it's just not as good.  Still I'll give it a 

Rating: Satisfactory

"Death of a Demon"

Lucy Hazen shows up at Wolfe's office and offers him $100 for an hour of his time. She wants to tell Wolfe that she wants to murder her husband and to secure Wolfe's promise to report it to the police. Wolfe takes her upstairs to show her the orchids and while they're upstairs, Archie hears on the radio that her husband was shot.

Lucy ends up being arrested and hiring Wolfe to find out who did it. As is the case in the best Wolfe stories, Stout creates a memorable cast of suspects in the case of the murder of the blackmailing husband and Archie finds them all at the scene of the crime looking for the box of blackmail materials.

The characters are solid, particularly for a novella, and Wolfe solves the case in true master detective fashion.

Rating: Very Satisfactory


"Counterfeit for Murder"

A woman named Hattie Anniscomes to Wolfe's door looking quite disheveled and unlike the high value clients that Wolfe usually pays for and Archie's not inclined to let her in. However, Archie's willing to let her see the big guy because Wolfe is under the impression that he's a sucker for a certain type of woman and Archie thinks it'll be fun to show Wolfe up.  

Hattie has a stack of money that she found in her boarding house which shelters showbiz people whether they can pay their $5 a week rent or not. When Wolfe sends Archie to the boarding house to investigate, they find an undercover female Treasury Agent dead.

The cop-hating Hattie Annis is without a doubt Wolfe's most interesting client so far. Her speech and personality (she calls Wolfe "Falstaff") make the story one of the most enjoyable to read.

The mystery isn't half bad either. Throw in some T-men and the NYPD in a turf war and there are Few Wolfe stories of any length that can beat this one for pure entertainment value.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

The last two stories are simply superb and as good as the vast majority of Wolfe novels. The first one is solid as well and so I'll give this one a:

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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25Aug/120

Book Review: Triple Jeopardy

Triple Jeopardy contains three Nero Wolfe novellas originally published in 1951 and 1952. Without any further adieu, let's take a look at them: 

Home to Roost: 

A young man suspected of being a Communist but who had told his Aunt he was really an undercover FBI agent was murdered and his Aunt and Uncle believe Communist agents did it and want Wolfe to find out the truth. A less engaging story that still manages to pack a punch with a surprising ending.

Rating: Satisfactory

Cop Killer:

A classic Wolfe story that finds two refugees from the Soviet Union who are in the country illegally suspected of murder after fleeing the crime scene which is the shop of Wolfe and Archie's barber.  They take refuge in Wolfe's home without Wolfe fully understanding the police want them. Wolfe's sense of hospitality won't allow him to turn them over to the police and Wolfe and Archie have to find out who the real killers are.

This is a story with a lot of fascinating features with us seeing their Barber shop. Some great interactions, including the police entreating Archie for a help with a difficult manicurist and Wolfe and Archie snowing Inspector Cramer by telling him that the suspects were there but in such a way he wouldn't believe them. Archie explained to the frightened migrants, "They (Hitler and Stalin) tell barefaced lies to have them taken for the truth, and we told the barefaced truth to have it taken for a lie."

Rating: Very Satisfactory

The Squirt and the Monkey:

This one begins with some strained credibility. For once, Wolfe is willing to take a job and Archie doesn't want him to. A big shot on the Comic Strip, Dazzle Dan wants to use Archie's gun to help recover his own stolen gun. He's willing to pay Archie $500 for the use of his gun. Despite Archie pointing out that the most Wolfe could clear after taxes and expenses was $45, he's off to the strange house that produces Dazzle Dan complete with monkey and an unusual cast of characters.

Through a complex series of events, a man is murdered with Archie's gun, the client lies about why he'd hired Wolfe, and Cramer informs Wolfe that his license will be suspended. Once again you have to suspend disbelief as we've seen Wolfe insist on getting in writing what he's being hired for multiple times.

However, this is when the story gets interesting. Wolfe goes to work in earnest and has his lawyer file a lawsuit against the client for a million dollars and begins an earnest study of the Dazzle Dan comic to unravel the mystery of what goes in the house that created him. 

Overall, there is much about this story that makes it unique. Unfortunately, Stout, has a lot in here that's hard to buy, so I can only rate it:

Rating: Satisfactory

The stories vary in quality but solidly clever solutions and some great settings in the last two stories make this a solid read.

Collection Rating: Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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5Aug/121

Book Review: And Four to Go

What could be better than the numerous Nero Wolfe books including three Novellas? How about one featuring four? Well, it doesn't quite work out that way, but there are still some worthwhile stories in the lot:
 
"The Christmas Party"
 
Archie connives to get a fake wedding license for a dancing partner who wants her to boss to marry her. The boss is being stubborn so Archie gets a fake marriage license blank with both their names on it to force the issue.
 
When Wolfe starts to get bossy and unreasonable in demanding Archie drive him to meet an orchid expert, Archie springs the marriage license on Wolfe and tells him that he's getting married. Wolfe is displeased but Archie gets out of the errand.

Archie ends up attending the Christmas Party where the boss is murdered and Santa mysteriously disappears after the crime is committed. Archie also can't find the fake wedding license which has him at risk of a forgery charge. When Archie gets home he finds out that Santa was none other than Nero Wolfe, spying on him and his supposed fiancée. To make matters worse, a jealous young woman who believes the woman Archie helped was the murderess demands that Wolfe connive to help frame the woman. Otherwise, Wolfe will have to endure the embarrassment of being exposed as Santa. Wolfe and Archie are in a pickle and it'll take all of Wolfe's wits to get them out.
 
The story's plot is priceless and along with some memorable characters, I'll give it a:

Rating: Very Satisfactory

"Easter Parade"
 
A wealthy philanthropist, who is also an orchid grower has developed a new species of orchid that he's keeping under wraps. Wolfe has to see it, and the only chance he has is that the philanthropist's wife is wearing one of the orchids. So he has Archie hire a two bit hood to snatch the orchid as the lady is exiting the church and entering the Easter Parade. The orchid snatch is done right as the woman dies and Wolfe finds himself in a pickle, as police want to find the orchid snatcher.
 
The best part of this story is the look back at the Easter Parade, an event that was much more widely practiced both in New York and across the country in years past. In essence, Stout gives us a portrait of the Easter Parade in its heyday. 
 
The plot itself has problems. While Wolfe can tend to childish behavior in pursuit of his goals, this one takes the cake. The action has several accomplishments. Wolfe's reputation and his license are both put at risk. More than that though, the stunt is itself quite mean and both the lady and her husband are sympathetic characters who have dedicated themselves to the betterment of others and  have done nothing to agrieve Wolfe aside from refusing to let him look at a flower. The idea of hiring a criminal to assault two saintly people coming out of church on the holiest day of the Christian year does little to make one sympathetic as Wolfe and Archie try to avoid embarassment.
 
Of course, Stout could have turned this around a little bit with a clever solution, a dramatic stunt to find the real killer, some clever interaction between Wolfe and Archie. Unfortunately, the story is wrapped all too easily on the spur of the moment. with Wolfe barely moving a brain cell. The story was first published in the April 1957 issue of Look and has all the earmarks of being written to satisfy the commercial requests of a magazine wanting a story for its April issue rather than the cleverness of a typical Wolfe story. If another writer wrote it, I'd say it was flummery. However, as Stout wrote it, I must give it a:
 
Rating: Pfui
 
Fourth of July Picnic:
 
After the death of Marco Vukcic, Wolfe assumed a key role in ensuring the qualtity of Rusterman's restauraunt with Wolfe's cook Fritz providing some consulting assistance. A restaurant union leader seized on this to try and force Fritz into the union and this became an annoyance to Wolfe. In order to rid himself of the annoyance, Wolfe agrees to speak at the Union's 4th of July Picnic.
 
However, before Wolfe's speech, the man who'd been annoying him is murdered after having taken ill. Every speaker went in to the tent he was resting in for one reason or another including Wolfe, but police suspect someone came through the back of the tent because they'd rather not suspect prominent citizens of the crime (other than Wolfe and Archie). However, Archie knows that a woman was watching that back entrance and no one had gone in but withholds the fact because he's annoyed by the police and didn't want He and Wolfe to be held as material witnesses in rural New York. When Wolfe finds out about the witness, he has to solve the crime quickly or risk going back as a material witness to be held by a very unhappy and unfriendly district attorney.
 
While not up to the best standards of Wolfe Stories, it features a good amount of atmosphere and a clever enough solution to make it:
 
Rating: Satisfactory.
 
"Murder is No Joke"

If Murder is No Joke had been set at the fall, this would have been a four seasons collection. As it was, Stout appears to have abandonned the seasonal stories after two middling efforts. Murder is No Joke is a much more solid story.
 
A woman comes to Wolfe's office concerned that her brother's business is being destroyed by a woman who has some hold over her. She wants Wolfe to investigate her but doesn't have the money to pay him. However, she offers to pay Wolfe to call the woman. Wolfe dials the number and is promptly insulted by the woman and then hears sounds that indicates violence has occurred. Archie calls the woman's office and finds she has indeed been murdered with Wolfe and Archie as likely ear witnesses.
 
However, Wolfe has a sense that someone is trying to make a fool of him and sets out to uncover the truth of what really happened and how the suicide of a formerly promising actress plays into what happened. He sends Archie down to the office where the murdered woman worked to ask about correspondence from the actress who committed suicide.
 
The highlight of this story is when Archie wants to know why Wolfe is an investigating and Wolfe and Archie share a moment of detective zen when Wolfe opens Archie's eyes to a key clue. All in all, the story has a good cast of characters and a solution that really shocked me. 
 
Rating: Very Satisfactory
 
Overall, Four to Go features two middling stories in between two solid ones that make up for their lack.
 
Overall Collection Rating: Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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29Jul/120

Book Review: Beginning with a Bash

Beginning With a Bash was the first Leonidas Witherall novel written by Phoebe Atwood Taylor under the pseudonym Alice Tilton, published in the UK in 1937 but not in the US until 1972 due to some dubious advise from teh publisher.

The novels opens with Leonidas, former headmaster of a private school down on his luck even though he looks like William Shakespeare accept for his glasses.. The depression wrecked his retirement funds and now he's reduced to being a book store's janitor. A former pupil who is also down on his look comes in on a Saturday. He's been accused of stealing from his former employer and is wandering the streets with his last remaining valuable possession, a set of golf clubs. Very quickly, a body discovered near the store and it turns out to be the former employer, who was killed by a blow from a blunt object. The police quickly take Leonidas' former pupil into custody who conveniently had a grudge against the dead man and was carrying a bag of gold clubs that would be perfect to bludgeon the man to death.

However, Leonidas doesn't believe the young man is guilty and sets out to prove it by Monday morning and find the missing money to boot. Leonidas sets off with the book store owner but quickly acquires a motley crew of assistance including a Italian gangster and his star-crossed girlfriend who is also the sister of her boyfriend's Irish rival and the dead man's housekeeper, as well the widow of a former Massachusetts Governor.

This book is a classic vintage style madcap comedy mystery that sees Leonidas and friends going from one jam to another. The book is light reading with the gangster being more in the style of Damon Runyan than Francis Ford Coppola. The book does include a few regrettable uses of the n-word (although I should note that this may have been removed from some modern editions), but if you can get past that, it's a fun and exciting story full of improbable twists and turns sure to amuse you for hours.

This book has been re-released for the Kindle by St. Swithin Press which has also re-released the last Leonidas Witherall novel, The Iron Clew as well as several other novels in Taylor's Asey Mayo series.
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22Jul/120

Book Review: Red Threads

We continue our review of Rex Stout's non-Nero Wolfe mysteries with 1939's Red Threads.

Red Threads is often presented as an Inspector Cramer mystery: A case where Inspector Cramer is the star and solves the case without any aide from Nero Wolfe. It’s understandable to do that, but lets be clear Inspector Cramer is not the star of this book.

Millionaire Val Carew is founded murdered in tomb of his late wife who was an Indian princess. Carew, who was considering remarrying a white woman, was found scalped.

Jean Farris is in love with the dead man’s son, Guy but becomes angry when he asks her to return a skirt jacket she’d made with rare genuine bayetta thread that Guy had given her from his own jacket. Farris storms off from after this odd request and is then knocked out and wakes up in her underwear with the skirt and jacket gone. She then discovers the reason for the interest in the thread: the murdered man had a thread of bayetta in his hand.

Jean resolves who robbed her and who committed the murder and clear her beloved. It is Jean, not Inspector Cramer who is the heroine of the story and focal point of the story. She makes for a charming and intelligent amateur detective who dominates the narrative and lifts the whole work. Cramer is merely John Law. Stout saw no reason to work up another New York City Police Inspector when he’d created a perfectly servicable one for Nero Wolfe.

Inspector Cramer is not an entirely unsympathetic character in the story. Cramer is an honest cop, even if his methods are not necessarily laudable. Forced to return from his first real vacation in years, Cramer takes to the case with bulldog determination and shows a certain cunning in catching a suspect even if it turns out to be the wrong suspect. And once Jean sets him on the right track, he ties everything up neatly.

I can’t really blame Cramer for missing the solution to this case. At least five people including Jean withheld evidence from him and only one of them was in on the murder. Kind of hard to get the right conclusion without the  right information.

The book’s portrayal of Native Americans was a subject of some concern, indeed the whole foreword to the book was consumed with a critique of this aspect of the book. Woodrow Wilson, the only full-blonded Indian in the story talks like he’s ready to appear in a Republic Western or take up duty outside of a Cigar Store. Stout would treat a Native American character by the same name with far more sophistication and respect thirty years later in Death of a Dude. To me, it was only a minor distraction because the character’s part is relatively minor.

The final chapter is a bit silly and overdone, but overall the Jean Farris character carried the story through with a little help from Inspector Cramer making Red Threads an enjoyable 1930s mystery even without Nero Wolfe.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5.0

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8Jul/122

Book Review: Inka Dinka Doo

In Inka Dinka Doo, Jhan Robbins writes a biography of Jimmy Durante, beginning with his birth to a large immigrant family in the family’s kitchen to his early days playing dives in New York as a ragtime piano players to vaudeville success and motion picture hits and misses all the way to his death in 1980.

To Robbins, its a mystery. In the introduction, he lays out well what the mystery is, "Durante wasn't a singer like Sinatra any more than he was a comic technician like Bob Hope. He lacked the polish of Johnny Carson, the bluntness of Humphrey Bogart.  When malapropisms and errors were deliberately inserted into his scripts he would mispronounce the mispronunciations. Other entertainers squeezed laughs out of vulgarity but not he. What was his secret?"

Robbins had gotten to know Durante over more than 20 years. The book is chock full of stories that tell the tale of Durante’s uncommon decency and kindness. Robbins' book could seem one-sided but as Robbins stated, he looked desperately to find Durante detractors but couldn't find any. The secret to Durante's success was his genuine warmth and heart which spills out over the nearly 200 pages in Inka Dinka Doo. 

We learn of Durante's closest and deepest friendships with his longtime partners Lou Clayton and Eddie Jackson as well as Eddie Cantor. His rocky career during Prohibition and his even bumpier landing at MGM in the 1930s where he continually drew forgettable roles even after getting a high dollar star contract.  We learn of his career on radio and triumphant entry into the new age of television.

The book is littered with anecdotes that show Durante's heart and spirit. Durante was an extremely friendly person. In fact, Hollywood tour buses made a point to stop by his house knowing that he would run out and greet the bus, sometimes with a pitcher of lemonade to sell. It was Durante's friendliness that got him out of the speakeasy business as an undercover prohibition agent came to the door and asked for him. Durante came down and the agent greeted him by name and Durante responded warmly. Then the agent complained of not being admitted and Durante let the guy in and the agent gathered evidence and the The Club Durant was shuttered the next evening.

Robbins also wrote of Durante's loyalty and concern for others. When a fading Buster Keaton was released by MGM, Durante pleaded with Louie B Mayer on Keaton's behalf and won Keaton's reinstatement. When attending  a Dodgers' game, Durante silenced a heckler who was mocking young future Hall of Fame Catcher Roy Campanella because he was black. Durante was kind and considerate even though he pronounced Campanella's name as "Cantorbella."

The book is full of such stories and makes for a light and engaging read with chapters slice up perfectly in digestible chunks.

I'd offer two criticisms of the book. First, I think Robbins did a bit of an injustice to both Durante's first wife (who left Durante a widower in 1943) in the degree of his negative portrayal of her. Much of the source material for this information appears to be Durante's longtime friend Eddie Jackson who the first Mrs. Durante didn't get along with. What Robbins ended up with was a somewhat one side portrayal of Jeanne Durante. In addition, as Robbins stated, Durante never criticized or spoke negatively of Jeanne and so Robbins' portrayal of Jeanne wasn't quite in the spirit of Schnozolla.

In addition, the book has a somewhat uneven quality to it. For example, Robbins writes in painstaking detail about the one flop after another that MGM put Durante into. He then tells us that Durante's pictures from the mid-1940s were better, but mentions no film by name between In the Army Now (1941) and The Last Judgment (1961). The book also tells us little about Durante's latter day career as a ballad singer, a remarkable new direction for his that occurred at age 66.  Of course, Inka Dinka Doo was released before Sleepless in Seattle which created new interest in Durante's ballads with Durante's performance of "As Time   Goes By" and "Make Someone Happy" featuring prominently in the film.

Overall, there's more to Durante's life and career than this 200-page volume provides, however Robbins wrote with obvious affection for his subject and this book is not a bad place to start if you're interested in learning about one of America's best-loved entertainers. The book is out of print but may be available at your library (or through an interlibrary loan) or also as a used book through Amazon.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5.0 stars.

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1Jul/120

Book Review: Three Doors to Death

Three Doors to Death is a Nero Wolfe short story published in 1950 featuring three novellas published from 1947-49 in American Magazine.

It begins with a classic introduction from Archie Goodwin as he wants to avoid any confusion by strangers to the Wolfe genre who might think because Wolfe didn’t get paid in two of the cases that Wolfe makes a practice of solving murder cases pro bono. He also explains the symmetry of the stories. It does a great job setting the tone for what follows:

"Man Alive"

A fashion designer hires Wolfe because she believes she’s seen her Uncle at a fashion show. The problem? Her uncle committed suicide in spectacular fashion jumping into Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park a few months before his partner does himself in. It turns out she was right about him being alive but not for long. Her uncle is murdered in her office and she becomes a suspect even though the police have no idea who the victim is. Wolfe has to find out who did it.  This one is solved with a clever deduction based on the behavior of one of the heirs.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

"Omit Flowers"

As a personal favor to Marko Vukcic, Wolfe undertakes to clear a former great chef of the murder of the boss' husband and his heir apparent as head of a large chain of restaurants.  Wolfe has no lead, but  Archie makes a lucky guess that leads to startling information that the widow has been stabbed but she won't reveal the identity of the perpetrator.

This is a very well-balanced story that shows Archie's  intuitive reasoning in action. That allows him to uncover information another detective would have missed and that Wolfe absolutely needed.  The mystery is engaging and the identity of the actual perpetrator provided a solid surprise ending.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

"Door to Death"

Door to Death may be the crown jewel of this collection. When Theodore has to take care of his ailing mother and take an indefinite leave as orchid nurse for Wolfe, Wolfe is left with the full time job taking care of them. This because so intolerable that Wolfe not only leaves the brownstone, but gets in a car and travels to hire away Andy, the gardener of a wealthy family to tend the orchids. However, before Wolfe can get away with the replacement orchid tender, a dead body is discovered and Andy is the prime suspect.

Wolfe’s determination to find an acceptable replacement for Andy was enough to interest him in solving the case. However, when a young woman has the impertinence to call him Nero, Wolfe becomes determined to solve the case even as he’s being ordered out by the local police. Wolfe goes to extreme measures to get back into the house and obtain an opportunity to investigate it.

This was a very satisfying story that showed both Wolfe’s genius and self-awareness as Wolfe insists on staying away from home knowing that if he goes home, he’ll be impossible to get back out. And this is a case Wolfe wants to solve.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

You really can't go wrong with any of the stories.  The whole collection is Rex Stout at his best and the best novella collection I've read so far.

Overall 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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