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
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:
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:
“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.
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.