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Mystery Monday Review – And Four to Go

And Four To Go by Rex Stout

 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Some readers are fans of the Nero Wolfe novels, while others prefer the novellas. Me, I prefer the novellas since the novels (especially the early ones) suffer from padding. Plus, plots can be wafer-thin in Wolfe novels —  but skinny plots are enough for a novella.

First published in magazines such as Look, Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post, the novellas were then bundled in paperbacks with titles that included a number (like this one) or harkened to a number (Homicide Trinity).

Three of the four stories collected here are related to holidays. The last story, the best one, is the least fantastically unrealistic story. George Orwell said we readers are taken with the London created as a world of its own by Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens.  So it is with Rex Stout’s imagined New York City. Wolfe’s brownstone and office at 618 West 35th Street. Holiday parades and shopping and museums. Lively street scenes and restaurants. Even the long-gone telephone exchanges  – Algonquin, Gramercy, Swinburne – evoke feelings of nostalgia and the reassuring appreciation that the Wolfe stories are never going to change.

Christmas Party – Unconvinced that Archie is in fact engaged, Wolfe implements a bizarre strategy to leave the brownstone and spy on him. A monkey wrench is tossed into the gears of his tactic when a party guest is poisoned by cyanide. The one is hilariously satisfying for reasons I can’t possible reveal in a review.

Easter Parade – In a fit of orchid envy, Wolfe sends Archie to the Easter Parade to snatch a sample of a new variety from the corsage of the wife of Wolfe’s orchid enthusiast-rival. The problem is that the wife collapses dead, which attracts the attention of the authorities. The story is attractive mainly due to the absurdity of the premise.

Fourth of July Picnic (aka The Labor Union Murder) – Wolfe shows his colors by, shockingly, leaving the brownstone and giving a speech at a picnic of a union of restaurant workers. But one of the attendees gets knifed. To stave off being arrested, Wolfe has to trick the killer into betraying himself. A good puzzle, with fine scene setting.

Murder is No Joke (aka Frame-up for Murder) – This is an ordinary whodunit story that showcases Wolfe’s ability to associate unconnected facts and arrive at a parsimonious solution. Also, the story harks back to yesteryear when it was okay not to suffer churls or poor English. The elitist Wolfe gets in his digs at the grammar-challenged homicide detective. Cramer: And when I come and ask what you sent Goodwin there for, ask you plainly and politely, you say that you will — What are you laughing at?’ …. Wolfe:  ‘It escaped me, Mr. Cramer. Your choice of adverbs. Your conception of politeness.’

 

When it comes to Nero Wolfe, my order of preference is early novels good, later novels better, and novellas best. Thankfully, all are well represented at PBS, so order away.

 

 

 

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