Editor’s Note: A version of this review originally appeared 9 years ago.
How annoying can a client or set of clients get? Nero Wolfe finds out in Before Midnight.
After the death of a hotshot advertising executive, his firm hires Wolfe not to find the killer, but to locate the dead man’s wallet which contained the answers to a verse-guessing contest with $800,000 in prizes at stake.
The story plodded along. While some of the suspects were interesting, I couldn’t consider most of them as likely suspects for either the murder or taking the wallet. The focus was on the contestants, four of whom came from out of town. To go to a place you don’t know, commit a homicide, and evade detection by the police is a tough task, and nothing made me believe any of these out-of-towners would do it.
What held the story together was watching Wolfe’s clients from the advertising firm of LBA, who represented the most annoying and foolish clients Wolfe ever had the misfortune of taking on. There was a pleasure of seeing these guys in action that wasn’t unlike watching a trainwreck. Wolfe had been about his leisurely pace of crime solving for 20 years, LBA was in a mode of “hurry up and do something,” even setting a deadline for Wolfe.
Their battles with each other and Wolfe continue for most of the book. Toward the end, just when we’re expecting Wolfe to spend a few chapters and several glasses of beer unraveling the mystery, we’re thrown for a loop with a plot twist that leaves Wolfe reeling, embarrassed, and determined to get a daring soul who committed a murder right in Wolfe’s office.
The twist makes up for the weakness of the book, which was a letdown after the pure brilliance of Murder by the Book. Still with a twist ending and some classically annoying clients, I’ll give it a:
Rating: Satisfactory (4 stars)