Category: Book Review

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.

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Book Review: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Continuing on the success of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs offers up some more fantastic classic mysteries but also a few signs of Doyle burning out on the Holmes series.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is available for free download on Amazon and other sites.

The American version of the Memoirs includes eleven stories:

“Silver Blaze”
“The Adventure of the Yellow Face”
“The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk”
“The Adventure of the Gloria Scott”
“The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual”
“The Adventure of the Reigate Squire”
“The Adventure of the Crooked Man”
“The Adventure of the Resident Patient”
“The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter”
“The Adventure of the Naval Treaty”
“The Final Problem”

On the positive side there’s “The Silver Blaze” which was one of G.K. Chesterton’s favorite Holmes stories which is perfectly constructed.  “The Reigate Squire” shows Holmes at his craftiest as he has to solve the murder of a country while ailing. The “Resident Patient” allowed Holmes to show his cleverness even if a freak storm was called in to actually take care of justice. “The Navel Treaty” is the longest story in the collection and a completely satisfying story as we’re presented with a fascinating whodunit and a startling conclusion. “The Crooked Man” is a classic case of a false charge brought about by confusion and reminded me a little bit of “The Sign of Four.”

On the down side, I had to admit some disappointment with the end to “The Greek Interpreter.” Of course, this may have been because I saw the Grenada TV version first which “fixed” the ending. The “Yellow Face” was a somewhat slow story that’s been rarely adapted.

Beyond that, there s also a sense that Doyle was beginning to tire of the character.  “The Stockbroker’s Clerk” would have been a fine story had it not been a basic rehashing of “The Red Headed League.” Two stories were told to Watson by Holmes entirely without any actual action occurring in both “The Gloria Scott” and “The Musgrave Ritual.” While both stories were good, I missed Watson in them.

Of course, the styling of these entries with fits with the title and it brought home to me one of the appeals of Sherlock Holmes.  The story was not written in traditional fiction style but as Memoirs of Doctor Watson. It’s a point that can be missed because this device has been used so many times since and often not very well, but Watson’s writings sounded so true to life that we really don’t treat Holmes as a fictional character at all, if you see the way Holmes is quoted, it is rarely quoted as coming from a novel. No wonder that 58% of Britons believe Sherlock Holmes was a real historical character.

That brings us to “The Final Problem” a story that has never adapted well to other media without serious tweaks.  Even Grenada Television’s version looked absolutely silly when Holmes and Moriarty fought over the falls. A production may borrow from parts of Final Problem particularly as it relates to Moriarty, but the plot itself has serious problems not the least of which is the difficulty of making the fight look convincing.

Holmes flees London and then across the Continent to get away from Moriarty. The story rubs me as  simply wrong as you have a detective fleeing a criminal. While Holmes’ justification for the chase the first three days was to avoid messing up the prosecution of Moriarty’s gang. After the gang was apprehended and Holmes remained free, continuing to run from Moriarty into the heart of Switzerland was unnecessary.

Of course, this was Doyle’s attempt to free himself from demands for more Holmes’ stories by killing the character off.  What surprised me was that Doyle manages a remarkably poignant ending to the story with Watson, in effect, eulogizing Holmes,  and bringing out aspects of his character that are often overlooked. It was actually quite beautiful writing with which Watson bid farewell to his dear friend.

Overall, while it’s not quite as good as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Memoirs holds its own as a great classic short story collection.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Book Review: Hand in the Glove

Hand in the Glove features Dol Bonner, a young woman who has started her detective agency with the financial help of wealthy heiress Sylvia Raffray, who is on the cusp of taking over her family fortune. Her Guardian, P.L. Storrs, objects to Sylvia’s involvement in the detective business as it’s created some bad publicity. He persuades Sylvia to agree to quit the agency and her professional association with Dol which will essentially put Dol into a far less plush and favorable position. 

However, Dol gets her first solo job when P.L. hires her to rid his family of a cult leader who is draining his wife financially. She heads to P.L.’s home in Connecticut with this goal, but everything changes when she finds P.L. strangled and hung up by a wire. Dol sets out to solve the murder of her friend’s ward and prove herself as a detective.

Nero Wolfe doesn’t appear in this story, but Inspector Cramer does make a cameo.

Bonner actually shares one key feature with Nero Wolfe: a contempt for the opposite sex, though her’s is not so severe as to prevent her from having men work for her or from being a caring sister. She also has a verbal feature in common with Wolfe: how she tells subordinates to take notes. When I read her saying to a male detective, “Your notebook…” I got deja vu. I wonder if this was intentional or if Stout couldn’t think any other way a detective might tell someone to take notes.

In other ways, they are mirror images. Wolfe an experienced late middle aged man and Bonner a young pretty woman feeling her way in the art of detection. While Wolfe remains reticent about his past and we only get tiny glimpses throughout the Corpus, Bonner tells straight up her backstory and why she thinks so little of men: she was jilted by one.

Bonner’s efforts to solve the case are met with sarcasm, annoyance, and amusement. A police officer smirks when he sees Bonner getting her detection kit out of the car and Sylvia tells her to put it away.  Even Bonner’s not so sure of herself.   She  puts forth a strong front of absolute confidence, but she’s riddled with self-doubt. Is she really a detective or is she “just playing.” Thus Bonner mission is to prove herself to herself.

The story is weakened by a forgettable cast of 1930s stereotypes, the occult huckster,  the heavy-drinking newsman, the dutiful butler, and the aloof bohemian poet daughter. Only the psychologist who is in need of a psychologist provides any spark and not enough of that.  Sylvia Raffray fills the part of  spoiled rich kid and is completely useless to Dol. While everyone seems to like her, it’s a mystery to me why they do.

Even with a stronger cast of supporting characters, it’s doubtful Bonner would have ever made it in a series. Her disrespect for men was unlike to make her popular with men or women. Plus, her uncertainty in the face of challenge is unlikely to connect with modern women in the age of girl power. Hand in the Glove is a serviceable 1930s mystery. What sets it apart from other 1930s mystery that are gathering dust in libraries across America is that it was written by one of America’s most talented mystery writers and featured a character who  would go on to appear as a supporting character in one of the the greatest detective series ever.

I should also note that a TV adaptation of Hand in the Glove was produced by NBC in 1992 called Lady Against the Odds that featured Crystal Bernard (Wings) as Dol Bonner and is available on Netflix. The TV movie made a number of departures. The time period was changed to World War II (which is far more exciting to most viewers than 1937),  rather than having the case confined to the estate as the book does, Dol travel back and forth questioning witnesses. It also changed the character of Dol Bonner and removed the man-hating elements. While there was a bit of melodrama and some things that didn’t ring true to the period, after reading the book, I think they probably did the best they could with it.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5.0.

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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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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.

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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.

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Book Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes continues to be incredibly popular to this day. It’s near the top of the free download list on Kindle. The Librivox Audiobook version has been downloaded 1 million times on

The book remains the most popular literature featuring the great detective beating all the novels and other collections handily. It contains 12 classic stories:

1. A Scandal in Bohemia
2. The Red-Headed League
3. A Case of Identity
4. The Boscombe Valley Mystery
5. The Five Orange Pips
6. The Man with the Twisted Lip
7. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
8. The Adventure of the Speckled Band
9. The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb
10. The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
11. The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
12. The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

Other than the unsatisfactory ending to, “A Case of Identity” each story is a true gem. They all have this wonderful mix of exciting action, clear-headed deduction, with sensational situations occurring frequently.

If you’ve never read the collection and you’ve only seen or heard adaptations of the story, perhaps the greatest benefit to be derived from reading the book is that most adaptations take stories from all the collections. What you get when you read these stories in the order they were published is how fresh and exciting the Holmes story and character was. There had never been anything quite like it and its clear in this collection that Doyle was still enjoying the character. The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes represents Holmes and Doyle at their prime. I found myself imagining what it might be like to pick up a copy of the book or be reading the original stories in the magazine if you’d never read a detective story before or if all you’d was Edgar Allen Poe’s C Auguste Dupin. How exciting it must have been for the first readers to encounter Sherlock Holmes.

Of course, even 120 years after the collection was published in 1892, Doyle’s masterwork stands well against any modern competitor in fascinating its readers.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0 Stars.

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