Saturday, February 23, 2013

Rating the Nero Wolfe Novels

Most Excellent (A)

1. Too Many Cooks (1938) - Fifteen of the greatest chefs in the world meet at a West Virginia resort (modeled on Greenbrier) and Nero Wolfe is the guest of honor. When the chefs start dying off, Nero and Archie investigate. An excellent Wolfe mystery, full of twists and turns, interesting characters, and Wolfe's humorous eccentricities.

2 .And Be a Villain (1948) - The guest of a popular radio show is poisoned on-air. Who did it?
This one had me guessing till the very end and was also full of interesting characters.  Stout takes some satirical shots at commercialism and advertising.  Yes, boys and girls, there was a time when "liberals" actually disliked mass advertising and thought it at best ridiculous and vulgar, at worst manipulative and predatory.

Very Good (A-)

1. Some Buried Caesar (1939)  -  When his car breaks down in Upstate New York, Wolfe and Archie become involved in a murder and the death of a prize bull.  Its always interesting to see Wolfe out of NYC and the descriptions of rural New York are a highlight.  However, it drags at times, hence the lower rating.

Above Average (B)

1. Where there's a Will (1940) -  Nero Wolfe is hired to help settle a will and becomes involved in murder.  This one has all the makings of an excellent Nero Wolfe novel,  it was full of supporting characters, twists and turns, and a hard to solve murder mystery.  It just lacked something -  it wasn't witty or interesting enough to be rated with the best.

Mediocre (C)

1. Not quite dead enough (1942) - Two short novels "Not quite dead enough" and "Booby-trap" published under one title.  Both are set in wartime New York City. Archie is now "Major Goodwin" and Wolfe is working for the US Army. Written in part to support the war effort,  both seem much longer than their short length.   I had difficulty finishing "Not quite dead enough." On the other hand,  "Bobby-trap" contains some good elements, including an incredibly good ending,  But overall it was too repetitive and static.  Note:  By 1942,  Stout had come out publicly as a hard-core liberal and in "Booby-trap" he plugs the 1942 book "Undercover" - a smear-filled, phony,  "investigative report" on so-called Fascists, appeasers, and Nazi's lurking in the USA.

2. Black Mountain (1954) - An unusual Nero Wolfe novel.  After his friend has been murdered, Wolfe and Archie go to Yugoslavia to find the killer and get revenge.  While there are a few chuckles here and there, the overall tone is very serious, and the novel is less a murder mystery then an adventure/spy story.   However, story was too unbelievable to enjoy. 300 lbs Nero Wolfe scrambling over mountains and engaging in knife fights? Two Americans without official papers breaking into Communist Albania or Yugoslavia at the height of the Cold war? Wolfe by chance overhearing the whole story of who killed who and why?  And most unbelievably of all,  after getting the killer,  Wolfe insists on dragging him back to NYC to stand trial, and the Yugoslav secret Police let him do it! It goes without saying, that Wolfe and Archie would have shot or imprisoned as spies, or at the very least,  kicked out of the country sans money and killer.

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