Monday, May 30, 2011

Investigating the Footsteps of Nero Wolfe


One of the more unusual of the Nero Wolfe mysteries, The Black Mountain (1954) finds the great detective and right hand man Archie Goodwin traveling to Montenegro, the land of Wolfe's birth, to sort out the circumstances surrounding the murder of a close friend.

More than three decades later, in 1987, writer Ruth Gruber used this as the jumping off point for her own trip to Montenegro. Her article, Investigating the Footsteps of Nero Wolfe, was the result. Read the article in the Los Angeles Times archive, here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Choice of Evils, by E.X. Ferrars


Choice of Evils
E.X. Ferrars
1995


A popular novelist's deceased wife's sister is murdered and before long one of his former flames also meets with an untimely demise. Amateur detective Andrew Basnett happens to be on vacation in the area and starts snooping around to try to determine what happened.

One of the last of Ferrars' many mystery novels and the eighth and final one to feature Basnett, Choice of Evils came out in 1995, the same year Ferrars died. This is the second of Ferrars' novels that I've sampled and unless a whim strikes me it may be the last. In both cases I found her books to be well-written and the mysteries well-constructed, but overall the books were not all that interesting and a bit too slow-moving for me. And it's not that I'm the sort that demands a gun battle or a car chase on every other page. As a fan of traditional mysteries I'm aware that they may tend to be deliberately paced. Ferrars' were just a little too much in that vein for my tastes. Yours may vary.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Missing Chapter, by Robert Goldsborough


The Missing Chapter
By Robert Goldsborough
1994


The seventh and last (presumably) of the Nero Wolfe novels penned by Robert Goldsborough after Rex Stout's death has a clever premise that draws from the author's own circumstances. It deals with a mystery writer who has been tapped to continue a popular series of mystery novels whose own creator has died. When said writer, who certainly would not have won any popularity contests, is found dead, it's presumed to be a suicide. The man's publisher begs to differ. Nero Wolfe is brought in to sort the whole thing out and Archie has to take an info-gathering trip to Indiana before it's all said and done.

Cleverly done and worth a look.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Silver Spire, by Robert Goldsborough


Silver Spire
By Robert Goldsborough
1992


I've read three of the seven Nero Wolfe mysteries Robert Goldsborough wrote after Rex Stout's death in 1976. I'd rank Silver Spire as the best of these three. If it weren't for the fact that it were set in a more contemporary era than the Stout books I probably could have forgotten Silver Spire wasn't a Stout book at all.

The book has to do with some misdeeds committed at one of those mega-churches that have become all the rage in recent decades. When the second in command there is bumped off, freelance operative and occasional Wolfe employee Fred Durkin is tagged as the prime suspect. Wolfe and Archie swing into high gear to try to prove their assertion that he didn't do it and Wolfe makes one of his rare forays out of the brownstone to tie things up.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Two to Tango, by Peter Guttridge


Two to Tango
By Peter Guttridge
1998


I wouldn't call Two to Tango a traditional mystery but here are my thoughts nonetheless. There are apparently six of Guttridge's Nick Madrid series now in print and his web site indicates that he is working on a seventh. This is the first one I've read. It doesn't really resemble Simon Brett's Blotto, Twinks and the Ex-King's Daughter, which I recently reviewed in these pages, except for the fact that Guttridge, like Brett, seems always to be going for the big laughs.

This episode of Madrid's adventures finds him in the Amazon regions of South America, where he's tagging along with the Rock Against Drugs tour. The headliner of this tour is one Otis Barnes, a rather long in the tooth rocker who struggles with substance abuse and who is a bit erratic, to say the least. After assorted and sundry scuffles, kidnappings, murders and whatnot, matters come quite dramatically to a conclusion at an over the top concert at Peru Macchu Pichu site.

Which is not typically the sort of thing I gravitate toward, but it made for entertaining reading even so.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Blotto, Twinks and the Ex-King's Daughter, by Simon Brett


Blotto, Twinks and the Ex-King's Daughter
By Simon Brett
2009


I don’t have a wide experience of humorous mystery fiction but something I've noticed about the ones I have read is that they often are not very funny. Of course, we all like what we like and my mileage may vary from yours but most of the allegedly humorous mysteries I read never seem to get past the mildly amusing stage.

Not so for Blotto, Twinks and the Ex-King's Daughter, by Simon Brett, who pulls out all the stops in the first installment of this series. The prolific Mr. Brett has been doing this for a while now and counts this particular book as his eightieth. Practice may not make perfect but it apparently makes you very funny.

The loopy story, such as it is, takes place between the world wars and deals primarily with the kidnapping of the daughter of the deposed king of Mitteleuropia (though there's also a murder), who has been visiting at Tawcester Towers. This just happens to be home base for Blotto and Twinks, a brother and sister team who, in the interest of saving the family's honor, spring into action to try to retrieve Princess Etheline.

Which is all just really a framework on which Brett can hang an endless string of gags. Much of the comedy is at Blotto's expense, since he, unlike his brainy sister Twinks, apparently fell from the family tree and hit his head on every branch on the way down.

If you're not inclined to take your mystery fiction too seriously be sure to add this one to your reading list.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Last Coincidence, by Robert Goldsborough



The Last Coincidence
By Robert Goldsborough
1989


As of this writing, I've worked my way through about seventy-five percent of the Nero Wolfe canon. That is, the Nero Wolfe books that were written by his creator - Rex Stout. Until recently I had steered clear of the Nero Wolfe books that were written by Robert Goldsborough, after Stout's death, in the years between 1986 and 1994.

The Last Coincidence is the fourth of these seven books and for me it got off to a slow start, lacking for the most part the snappy writing - and particularly dialog - that Rex Stout was so good at. But about a third of the way through the book something seemed to kick in and I found myself drawn in. As for the plot, well, it's a Nero Wolfe book, so you could make the argument, as with any of them, that plot mechanics are subordinate to the interaction of the characters, particularly Wolfe, Archie Goodwin and the long-suffering Inspector Cramer.

Suffice to say that Lily Rowan's niece has been assaulted by a certain fast-living young fellow, who later turns up dead. While someone steps forward to confess to the crime it's up to Wolfe and company to determine whether they really committed it. Do you think they do? Come on...

Nine Man's Murder, by Eric Keith


Nine Man's Murder
By Eric Keith
2011


If imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery then I can imagine Agatha Christie spinning with delight in her grave over Eric Keith's Nine Man's Murder. If you're going to pick a mystery novel to imitate then you might as well aim high. Which Keith does, taking as his template Christie's And Then There Were None, perhaps one of the best-known mystery books of them all.

The plot of both books, for those who might not have had the pleasure, concerns a group of people called to some remote location, where they become cut off by circumstances and are bumped off one by one by someone who has a bone to pick with each of them. Which is a gimmick that was later adopted by Friday the 13th and a host of other teen slasher movies, but Christie and her imitator, Keith, do it up with a great deal more style.

Having said this much, I don’t see any need to go any deeper into the specifics of Keith's book, other than to say that it's brief and quite intricately constructed and a suitable paean to his great predecessor. I did actually sort things out well in advance of the climax. I'm not sure if that's because things were easy to sort out or I'm getting better at this kind of thing.

The Sherlockian, by Graham Moore



The Sherlockian
By Graham Moore
2010


A real page-turner, this one. I've read a pile of mystery fiction since re-discovering the genre about a year and a half ago, but I confess that there hasn't been any Sherlock Holmes in the mix yet. Which didn't affect my enjoyment of The Sherlockian even one whit. I'd put it at the top of that aforementioned pile.

So exactly what was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle up to in the years when Sherlock Holmes was in limbo, in other words between the time that his author killed him off and later resurrected him? Moore offers up his thoughts on the subject in a work that unfolds partly in Doyle's time, as he tackles a mystery of his own, along with his pal, Bram Stoker. The other part of the story takes place in the present day, in which a group of Sherlockians, most notably the somewhat nebbish Harold White, try to figure out the whereabouts of a volume of Doyle's diary that deals with these Holmes-less years.

Highly recommended, whether you're a Sherlockian or a civilian.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Legal Fiction, by E.X. Ferrars


A Legal Fiction
By E.X. Ferrars
1964


Elizabeth Ferrars apparently published mystery novels over the course of about six decades, ending in 1995. A Legal Fiction, which came out in the middle of all of this, is the first of her books that I've run across. It's a compact affair that deals with a painting that's gone missing some years earlier but has turned up again.

Complications arise, of course, as the man from whom the painting was originally taken jumps through various hoops to try to return it to its rightful owners - his elderly aunts. Features a somewhat interesting, albeit predictable, twist at the end. Overall, this one was not so bad but was marred by a few too many unlikable characters and a "veddy British" atmosphere that was a little much for this Yank.