Friday, April 29, 2011

the other Dynamic Duo of mystery

Title: Black Orchids
Author: Rex Stout
Bookmark: paper sleeve from chopsticks

Nero Wolfe is a big enough deal (no pun intended, but if you didn't know, besides brilliance, his defining trait is obesity) that other mystery writers mention him in their own stories on a parallel with Holmes. In fact, there is even a theory that Wolfe is the son of Holmes and Irene Adler, but that seems unlikely to me because... the dude's huge. They weren't.


Despite Wolfe's fame, and my long-standing love of mysteries, I'd never read any Wolfe, so I thought I was due. This book had two mysteries, linked only by the eponymous blooms. In the first, our rotund hero demands three pots of black orchids (a special hybrid, the only ones of their kind) as payment in clearing a client's name in a murder at a flower show. In the second, he has blooms from them delivered to the funeral of another client. Wolfe is both a gourmand and a gardener, and spends something like eight hours a day with his plants.

I get that the stories are mainly interesting for Wolfe's quirks (he doesn't like to be touched, he hates leaving his home, and he does not believe that "contact" should ever be used as a verb, among others) and the interplay between him and Archie Goodwin, his long-suffering Man of Action assistant. It seems like there is only enough information divulged to the reader to make guesses at parts of the solution, but never to solve it before the Great Man. It also seems like Archie deserves far more credit than he receives. He does all the legwork, observing, tailing, information gathering, and reports back to Wolfe, who puts the pieces together. Considering the amount of abuse he takes for his efforts, he must have an outstanding ego to keep working for that pompous ass.

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posted by reyn at 6:36 PM


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