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Archive for February, 2018

Mystery Monday Review – The Silent Speaker

Monday, February 26th, 2018

The Silent Speaker by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In this 1946 Nero Wolfe mystery, the head of the federal Bureau of Price Regulation has been beaten to death with a monkey wrench in the green room just before he is to give a speech to his adversaries, the National Industrial Association. Since the manufacturers disliked having their prices regulated, due to wartime contingencies, there are scores of suspects in the murder.

…the public, the people, had immediately brought the case to trial as usual, without even waiting for an arrest, and instead of the customary prolonged disagreement and dissension regarding various suspects, they reached an immediate verdict. Almost unanimously they convicted – this was the peculiar fact – not an individual, but an organization. The verdict was that the National Industrial Association had murdered Cheney Boone.

With public opinion inflamed against the captains of industry, the PR-conscious association hires PI Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, his sidekick, to find the killer. In an unusual twist, Wolfe does at the beginning of the case what he usually does at the end: he gathers all the suspects to his office in his famous brownstone which he rarely leaves. Wolfe’s mildly anti-business, pro-individualism stance makes him objective. Archie suspects business, but Wolfe also considers the victim’s co-workers as potential culprits. The first third of the book feels a little long. The gears were grinding, perhaps because this was the first full-length Wolfe mystery written in six years, as Stout had been doing war work.

There is a second killing, not to mention the vanishing of the bureaucrat’s last Dictaphone roll. In the last third or so, too much time is given to the search for the disappeared roll. However, for Stout and his fans like us, the puzzle is not really the thing, but characters and setting are. The interplay between Wolfe and Archie, as narrated by Archie, is as delightful as ever. They trust each other, but they are very different people.

What Wolfe tells me, and what he doesn’t tell me, never depends, as far as I can make out, on the relevant circumstances. It depends on what he had to eat at the last meal, what he is going to have to eat at the next meal, the kind of shirt and tie I am wearing, how well my shoes are shined, and so forth. He does not like purple.

The writing and plotting may make for what at times feels like a slow read, but this is still a satisfying addition to the series and would be enjoyed by any confirmed fan. Novices, not so much

 

 

 

 

Spy Thriller Review – The Great Impersonation

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In the 1970s and 1980s Dover Publications re-issued many forgotten classics in the supernatural and mystery genre, such as The Great Impersonation by prolific but now neglected E. Phillip Oppenheim. Readers who like Agatha Christie will get a charge out this old-timey spy thriller set on the eve of, but in fact written right after, WWI.

Scenes of cocktail bashes, shooting parties, and weekends in country houses warm us readers up with a familiarity we’ve gotten from Downton Abbey.

The characters are well-drawn: members of the English landowning class, German and Hungarian royalty, and their hired help. Particularly vivid were the German spymaster and a Hungarian princess, described, in terms not exactly kosher today, as “an impulsive, a passionate, a distinctly primitive woman, with a good deal of the wild animal in her still.”

The quaint prose generally balances the old-fashioned marker that characters rarely “say” anything but “agree,” “remark,” “declare,” “reply,” “protest,” “admit,” “pronounce,” “complain,” and on and on until the reader shakes her head in bafflement that English has so many verbs for “to express orally in words.”

The unfolding of the plot is steady, simple, and full of plausible surprises even if the premise (pulling off an impersonation) is inevitably far-fetched. What keeps both the writer on his toes and readers in suspense is that so many other characters are doubtful of the impersonator and say so aloud.