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Archive for June, 2018

Mystery Monday – Trouble in Triplicate

Monday, June 11th, 2018

Trouble in Triplicate by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This is a collection of three novellas that were first published in a weekly called The American Magazine: Before I Die (April 1947), Help Wanted, Male (August 1945) and Instead of Evidence (May 1946). I’ve thought for a long time that many of the novellas starring investigators Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin were perfect in their wit and force. The plot unfolds briskly with just the right amount of characterization, cutting but lively conversations, and Manhattan atmosphere.

The first one Before I Die is set during WWII. Because of food rationing, Wolfe is yearning for more animal protein in the form of meat so he cuts a deal with a black marketer. The gangster asks Wolfe to clear up family problems that border on absurdly implausible until we remember our own families probably look chaotic to outsiders. Not once but twice is Archie almost snuffed. A violent, funny story that alternates between making us readers tense and making us laugh.

At about 25,000 words the second one Help Wanted, Male is the longest of the trio here. It is also set during WWII. Archie is petitioning a general to assign him to combat service because he feels he is missing out on the signal event of his generation. Wolfe perceives a threat to his life so serious that he hires a double to distract a would-be killer. The upshot of that decision is hilarious. Sure, the plot is wildly implausible in this one, but it’s so much fun, who cares?

Instead of Evidence also starts with a victim trying to hire Wolfe to prevent more victimization. A successful manufacturer of novelties suspects his weird partner of plotting to kill him to take over the business. A murder in fact is committed: an exploding cigar takes out the victim in funny gruesome scene. A fine story, so giving more details would detract from the pleasure a reader would get on her own.

Stout valued clear thinking, justice, courageousness, and humor. He has Wolfe Wolfe crack wise about lawyers: “They are inveterate hedgers. They think everything has two sides, which is nonsense.” This is typical of Wolfe’s inflexible ethics which we simultaneously admire and know is nonsense. Hey, it’s only a story.

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – The Judge and His Hangman

Monday, June 4th, 2018

 

The Judge and His Hangman

by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In this 1950 whodunnit, it all starts with the discovery of a police detective’s corpse, in a car by a constable in a Swiss village. Commissioner Bärlach, an old, experienced detective takes the case despite ill health – he has been plagued with stomach pain that requires a surgery he’s been procrastinating.

When Bärlach discovers that the murdered man had assumed an alias and attended parties at the house of a certain Herr Gastmann in the village, Bärlach’s investigation is suddenly sabotaged by his superior Dr. Lucius Lutz. Lutz was put off by Gastmann’s lawyer who implied that Gastmann was getting protection from the highest levels of the Swiss government, which in turn was being pressured by politicians and arms manufacturers who do not want their lucrative business disturbed.

Bärlach quickly realizes that Gastmann was an old opponent, who, as a young man, had murdered an innocent man in cold-blood, on a bet. Since then, Bärlach had been following this man, who always took on new aliases, but could never pin anything on him. Bärlach realizes that he must continue his investigations in order to produce a just end which cannot be reached in legal ways.

Bärlach is a disillusioned individual who does not battle the ordinary unfolding of events with a belief system or bureaucratic protocol but with his own sense of right and wrong and his own conviction that criminals are caught because the police can exploit the criminal’ mistakes in planning, executing, and covering up a crime. Crooks are humans and humans are fallible because nobody can predict how reality will turn out in the wake of a crime. His nemesis Gastmann, however, argues that the chaotic “entanglement of human relationships” lends itself to unsolvable crimes and lack of proof that could stand in a court of law.

Again because it is very short, it is worthwhile to read it twice: the first time as a crime novel for the sake of untangling the plot’s the surprising twists and the second time as a jumping off point for curious philosophical questions, if that is the reader’s bent.