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Book Review: The Scandal of Father Brown

This is the final Father Brown collection, containing eight stories (or nine, depending on the collection.) From my point view, G.K. Chesterton really hadn't lost a step in this last collection the year before Chesteron's death in 1936.

The stories all are wonderfully unexpected with a great twist. Why for example would the very orthodox priest seem to help a woman escape with her lover in the title story. Or what was the real misdoing of a radical professor in "The Crime of the Communist?" And who is the mysterious Mr. Blue? And why can't the combined duo of Father Brown and Flambeau solve "The Insoluable Problem?"

These are the some good little mysteries here. Others that I really enjoyed included, "The Quick One" and also if your edition includes it, "The Vampire of the Village" is probably the best story in the collection even though it was in the first edition as Chesterton published it.

Overall, this is a fine final collection and shows the enduring power of Chesterton and his little priest with the umbrella to surprise, amuse, and entertain us while also making us thing.
Rating: 4.75 out of 5.0

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Book Review: His Last Bow

His Last Bow was once again intended to be the last Sherlock Holmes Collection by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. However, it didn't quite turn out that way. Although he did get Holmes retired, there'd be many more adventures written of previously unchronicled cases.

This book has the fewest stories in it it of all the Holmes collections: seven in British version and eight  if you read the U.S. version. Mostly, it's a strong collection: "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge," "The Red Circle," "The Adventure of the Bruce Partington Plans," and "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot" are as good as any Holmes story out there. The best of these is Wisteria Lodge, there are so many great features in there: a great mystery, international intrigue  and perhaps the most clever official detective introduced in the Holmes Canon.

"The Disappearance of Lady Frances Fairfax," and "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" are good not great stories and "His Last Bow" is one that's enjoyable for its sentiment and patriotism far more than its cleverness or any sort of suspense.

The somewhat controversial story "Adventure of the Cardboard Box" was left out of American editions of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes because it dealt with marital infidelities. It's not for this reason that I didn't enjoy the story . Holmes himself asked not to have his name mentioned in association with it because it was so simple. And perhaps, Watson (or Doyle) would have done better heed it. The problem with the story is that Holmes doesn't do much and the focus instead becomes on a sensation and sordid crime rather than a mind of great detectives. The results are mediocre at best.

Overall, the book holds up pretty well and shows that Doyle was just as adept at writing great mysteries in the early 1910s as he had been in the 1880s and 1890s which is why he'd find himself writing several more Holmes adventures in the 1920s.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Book Review: Three Witnesses

This Nero Wofe novella collection published in 1956 contained Nero Wolfe stories originally published in 1954 and 1955.

"The Next Witness" finds Wolfe called as a witness to a peripheral matter in a murder trial. While being out and watching the trial, he becomes convinced that the prosecution's case is wrong and leaves the courtroom with Archie, with going on the run from the law while Wolfe tries to find the truth.

"The Next Witness" is truly a top notch story and it shows Wolfe at his wiliest and most resourceful as he's forced to stay in a strange house, travel around in a car, and question witnesses in strange places. The payoff scene in the courtroom is a brilliant strategem.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

"When a Man Murders"-

This is Nero Wolfe's Enoch Arden case as a millionaire husband returns from after being declared Killed in Action in the Army. However, the wife has a new husband and needs Wolfe's help in trying to reason with the old one. When the old husband's found murdered and suspicion falls on the couple that benefits most, Wolfe is hired to investigate. The Enoch Arden plot has been done quite a bit in mystery fiction. This one is fairly well thought out.

Rating: Satisfactory

"Die Like a Dog"

A man accidentally takes Archie's coat rather than his own. Archie goes to switch coats and finds homicide crawling detectives  all over the scene and given his history, he leaves. However, a dog follows him home.  Wolfe bends over backwards to try and keep the dog while making Archie the one to blame for it. However, Inspector Cramer throws a monkey wrench it when its revealed the dog belongs to the man murdered at the apartment.

This one is good for the characterization as  Wolfe's interplay with the dog is definitely a humanizing factor. The solution seems pretty simple in retrospect but if you read the whole story with everyone walking around it, it seems clever by the time you reach it.

Rating: Satisfactory

The last two stories are above average but the Next Witness is enough to carry the collection to:

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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Book Review: The Valley of Fear

The Valley of Fear is the last Sherlock Holmes novel. It was originally published in 1915 but is set prior to the events of "The Final Problem." Doyle ignores at least one fact stated by Watson in, "The Final Problem" where Watson claims not to have heard of Moriarity. Here, Holmes introduces Watson far before that as the two go to a castle to investigate the murder of a mysterious American.

The mystery at the castle is well-laid out with a lot of intriguing clues and some nifty deduction. However, the Holmes portion of this story is fairly light. It reads like a slightly longer Short Story rather than a novel. The rest of the novel, much like in A Study in Scarlet is consumed by a look at the back story of the crime which began in America.

The idea of solving a mystery and then telling us the story behind the crime is rarely a good writing method. I had to really slog through Doyle's use of in A Study in Scarlet. I put the book aside when I came on it when a child and didn't pick it up for 20 years. However, this story is more interesting with its focus on the Scowrers, an American secret society that terrorized Pennsylvania and a mysterious stranger that joined them. It was quite riveting reading, so I didn't mind the digression much.

However after that great story, the ending of the book left a bad taste. The 1935 movie, The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes was based on this story but gave a radically different end and with good reason. Without spoiling the end I will say, that  for the first time that for all concerned, everyone would have been better off had Holmes not investigated the case.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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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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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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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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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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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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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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