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

29Sep/120

You Ought to be on DVD: Nero Wolfe

Previous: Vintage Detective Movie Serials, I Heard it on Radio

If one great fictional detective has been slighted in terms of DVD and Home video releases, it is Nero Wolfe. The fine A&E Television series is available on DVD, but everything else isn't. The following are missing:

Two 1930s Movies
1959 TV Pilot with Kurt Kasner and William Shatner as Archie Goodwin
The 1979 TV movie with David Thayer
The 1981 TV Series with William Conrad

It has been a challenge to adapt Wolfe stories into popular visual media, so many of these efforts have not worked.

However, it won't do to say that poor quality should keep these adaptations off of DVD. After all, some fans may be right when they think William Conrad's Nero Wolfe is off-base. However, the rest of us should be able to decide the question for ourselves. Even Galactica 1980 has been given a DVD release.

Perhaps, the one film that looks dreadful based on clips and ratings is 1937's League of Frightened Men with a miscast Lionel Stander as Archie Goodwin and an equally poorly cast Walter Connolly as Nero Wolfe. The movie is only rated a 5.0 on IMDB which is the same as Henry Silva's unthrilling 1965 thriller The Return of Mr. Moto. (Which by the way did it make its way to DVD.)

Beyond this, those fans that have seen 1936's Meet Nero Wolfe (6.7), Thayer's Nero Wolfe TV Movie based on The League of Frightened Men (7.0) and Conrad's Nero Wolfe Series (7.3) have enjoyed them. And no doubt, a wider audience would enjoy them as well. They may not all perfectly match the tone of the books but even the A&E series doesn't do that.

Another great opportunity would be to put the foreign Nero Wolfe programs on Region 1 DVD. Nero Wolfe movies have been made in Russian, Italian, and Germany. My particular interest would be in the 1960s Italian Series. A few clips have shown up on Youtube and the show looks very well done in classic black and white. Personally, I'd love to watch these films with subtitles to enjoy the cadence of the original actors while still knowing what's going on. The best of that particular series is that of the ten stories they did, eight were not done by A&E, so it would make interesting viewing as would all of the unreleased Nero Wolfe material included the Kasner-Shatner pilot which hasn't been seen in more than fifty years.

There's a lot of Nero Wolfe that should be released and it's about time for Hollywood to get started.

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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.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

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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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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17Jun/120

Book Review: Curtains for Three

Curtains for Three was published in 1951 and featured three Nero Wolve novellas published from 1948-50. As usual, we’ll review the individual story and then include an overall rating for the book:

"The Gun with Wings": The title sounds similar to a Father Brown story (”The Dagger with Wings”) but the story has an unrelated plot. The police have included that an opera star committed suicide. However, his wife and her lover aren’t satisfied because they found the body and when they found the gun, it was across the room. When they returned and the police arrived, the gun had moved to the floor by his body. Wolfe has to find out how the gun was moved and he knows his clients are lying.

The story is perhaps the most claustrophobic Wolfe case I’ve ready. Archie only leaves the house in one scene. Other than that one scene, all the on-stage action is confined to the office.  This means that the vast majority of the story is composed of Wolfe questioning people. 2/3s of the way through, I was convinced this was going to be the first Wolfe story I gave a Pfui rating to. However, Wolfe recovers when he plays Inspector Cramer off of his lying clients in a hilarious way. Once the lies are cleared up, Wolfe provides a flawless sage solution. It’s not quite Before I Die or Help Wanted Male, but I’ll give it a

Rating: Satisfactory

"Bullet for One": An industrial designer is shot to death and his daughter and associates hire Wolfe to solve the case. One big problem for Wolfe is that the man his clients believe did it has an airtight alibi.

Some of the best Nero Wolfe novellas featuring a very memorable distinctive and it’s no different with Bullet for One and this one will always stand out as the one where everyone got arrested. One by one, Wolfe’s clients as well as their favorite suspect are arrested (most for issues not stemming from the murder investigation.) The story’s chocked full of humor and a solid conclusion typical of the best Wolfe stories.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

Disguise for Murder

This one was adapted for A Nero Wolfe Mystery and it was also done for CBC’s Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. So, it’s a stand out whenever anyone looks at adapting the Wolfe canon, and for good reason.

Wolfe has been talked into opening the Brownstone to a flower club. At the event, a woman takes Archie aside to confide him that she recognized a murderer at the party, but she’ll only confide it to Wolfe. It goes without saying that before Archie can get Wolfe back to the office, the woman is killed in Wolfe’s office.

This is not only unfortunate, but very inconvenient for Wolfe as Inspector Cramer peevishly orders the office sealed and Wolfe just as peevishly refuses to divulge a key observation to Cramer. He uses Wolfe’s dining room to interrogate the witnesses and Wolfe orders Fritz to make sandwiches for everyone but the police. The novella is far more subtle than the Television version for A&E, as it quietly shows the tension between Wolfe and the official police.

The story than features one of the most memorable climaxes in the Wolfe canon with Archie facing more physical danger than ever and a truly surprising solution. I’ve not read all the Wolfe novellas yet, but this one was the best so far. It makes the whole collection well worth reading.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

Overall Rating: very satisfactory

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

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

19May/121

Book Review: Please Pass the Guilt

Reading Please Pass the Guilt right after The Silent Speaker provided quite an interesting contrast. Both cases involve Archie and Wolfe drumming up business, but the times have changed in 25 years.

In the first place, technoligically things are quite different. In, The Silent Speaker, recording cylinders were a cumbersome  yet important part of the case that Wolfe and Archie didn't really understand. By the time of Please Pass the Guilt, Wolfe and Archie are recording nearly every conversation to occur in the office. (Them and Richard Nixon both.)

Perhaps, more striking is the cultural change. Archie has to compete with a television when trying to pitch the widow of a murder victim on hiring Wolfe. Wolfe for his part remains the same iconoclastic figures as always. When asked if he watches television, Wolfe responds curtly, "I turn on the television rarely, only to confirm my opinion of it."

Stout was clear that Nero and Archie had not changed in their basic temperment and behavior in the past thirty-eight years of the series while the world around them has transformed and that tension manifests itself. Stout even brushes with the more modern times and approaches (but back away from) edgier profanity when a women's libber obsessed with the supposed sexism of language asked. "What is one of men's favorite four-letter colloquial words that begins with f?" Archie demurred, claiming not to know what she was getting at. Acceptance of the use of that language may have been growing in the late 1960s and early 1970s but not in Rex Stout novels.

In a key moment, Archie expressed exasperation when unable to convince a female suspect go on a date as is his usual practice. Archie declared, "I'm done. Washed up. I've lost my touch, I'm a has-been. You knew me when."

Fritz provides a rare moment of sagacity. "Then she is washed up, not you. You are looking at the wrong side. Just turn it over, that's all you ever have to do, just turn it over" Perhaps, this served as a metaphor for the book and for Nero Wolfe and Archie's place in a rapidly changing world. If 1970s American readers reached the point where they could no longer appreciate these characters, then readers were washed up, not them.

As one reviewer pointed out on Amazon, this is as much a period piece as the Wolfe stories from the 1940s. For most of Wolfe's long-time fans, it's just not a period they like as well. The case begins when Doc Volmer asks Wolfe to do a favor for a friend of his. A young man has shown up at a local psychological clinic and states he has blood on his hands, but he won't even give his right name. He suggests Wolfe apply his skills to the problem to help unearth the truth. When the young man shows up, the most Wolfe is able to do is to connive to find out his real name. Wolfe discovers he's one of the figures in the murder of an executive who went into another executive's room and opened a drawer he kept whiskey in.

With the bank balance low and Wolfe having worked even less than usual the first five months of 1969, Archie goes on his own initiative to the widow of the executive to lobby her to hire Wolfe. She does so and answers a key question: What was her husband doing in another executive's private office? Simple, he was spiking his whiskey with LSD so his would blow his interview with the board to become the next president of the company. Welcome to the 1960s, man.

From there, Wolfe embarks on an investigation to find the truth. Along the way, he runs into a steady stream of lies: from employees of the firm, complete strangers who respond to an ad for information, and even from his client. Wolfe has never treated a client with such contempt as he does in Please Pass the Guilt. However, the contempt was well-earned. What's perhaps most astounding is that a truth embedded in one of the lies Wolfe's told leads him to the true solution of the case.

So, while it's not vintage 1940s Wolfe, Please Pass the Guilt shows the timeless power of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

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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12May/120

Book Review: The Silent Speaker

I hadn't planned on getting into Nero Wolfe novels that had been adapted to TV until after finishing the novels that weren't adapted (except for A Family Affair) and the novella collections. However, the Silent Speaker was included in the library edition of Black Orchids, so I thought to go ahead and enjoy the bonus.

The Silent Speaker starts is set in the aftermath of the World War II. The head of the federal Bureau of Price Regulation was bludgeoned to death just before he was scheduled to address the National Industrial Association, a group that bore him ill-will. Suspicion falls upon the NIA as culprits.

 

With Wolfe's banking balance suffering, Archie undertakes "Operation Payroll" to ensure that all of Wolfe's employees (including him) get paid, Archie cleverly horns in on the case after clearing it with Inspector Cramer and the FBI, neither of which are getting anywhere. So Wolfe is hired by the NIA to solve the case, which centers on a case of missing Dictaphone cylinders.

Wolfe is able to interview all the principle players in the case in a group interview, except for the dead man's secretary: a beautiful and extremely intelligent woman.  After Wolfe interviews her individually, he issues an unusual injunction to Archie. Archie's not to see the woman unless Wolfe order him to. Wolfe warns, "A woman who is not a fool is dangerous." Someone else agrees as she becomes the murderer's second victim when she's found dead outside the second gathering of the witnesses and suspects.

The case is fantastically written with plenty of red herrings. It all comes down to a search for ten transcription cylinders that disappeared on the night of the murder and finally just one. And Wolfe and Archie are initially duped by a very clever ruse.

 

This book is notable for many reasons. Wolfe's relationship with his client has rarely been more complicated, and his relations with Inspector Cramer have never been friendlier. When Cramer is relieved of command, Wolfe has to not only solve the case but to solve in it such a way as to restore Cramer and avoid having Cramer's pig-headed replacement permanently in charge of Homicide. This leads Wolfe to take some of the most extreme measures of his career to avoid police harassment. And before it's all over, Archie provides a revelation of its own. All in all, The Silent Speaker is one book that far exceeds the TV version.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

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

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

28Apr/120

Book Review: Black Orchids

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.

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.

Rating: Satisfactory

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.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

15Apr/120

Book Review: The Black Mountain

Having firmly established the rules of Nero Wolfe's first few books, Rex Stout felt free to force Wolfe to bend or break some of his rules.  Other than In the Best Families, Stout never forced Wolfe to break so many rules as he did in The Black Mountain.

Wolfe's lifelong friend Marco Vukcic is killed and Wolfe leaves the Brownstone in a cab to pay a visit the crime scene and goes to question witnesses. Then, tracing Marco's murder to his support of Montenegrin rebels opposing the Yugoslav Government under Tito, he and Archie  fly to Italy and cross the Adriatic an old boat and begin a hike to the place o f Wolfe's birth under assumed names with no passports. Archie doesn't speak any of the languages, so he has to rely on Wolfe's translations to even let us know what is being said.

This is definitely not the typical Nero Wolfe story, which is what some people don't like about it. However, I thought this story worked very well. It was thought provoking in many ways, not the least of which was how much of Wolfe's eccentricity was put on as he abandons many of them in order to complete this mission to track down Vukcic's killer. We also have a few hints of what Wolfe's life was like before he departed for America.  Stout as he does in countless novels, breathes life into his setting.

Stout's Yugoslavia is a Cold War backwater where you don't know quite who to trust and the oppression of the Communists has cowed the Montenegrin people, a fact that clearly pains Wolfe.  The story is filled with intrigue and espionage on multiple levels.

The story does lack the same level of influence for Archie. There's no girl for Archie to chase  as he can't understand one word of the languages, thwarting any romantic inquiries.  Archie also gets little chance to mouth off to authority except in the first few chapters which are set in New York.

However, this is one novel where the spotlight is rightly on Nero Wolfe, who shines. The story encounters Wolfe dealing with his most personal loss. Wolfe, ever the master of words, uses action instead to show his feelings about Marco as he travels half way around the world to bring Marco's killer to justice. Of course, words come in handy when, in the face of the lawlessness dominating his homeland, he decides to get killer back to the United States trial without extradition. To achieve this, he has to create one of his most elaborate and risky rouses he's ever undertaken. And even then, the action doesn't let up until the final page.

Overall, one of the best I've read yet.

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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