Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Trust Me On This: Donald E. Westlake

Sara Joslyn gets a job at a phenomenal salary at the Weekly Galaxy, a supermarket tabloid newspaper. She refused the job the first time it was offered and took a job for much less pay at a small New England paper. Then that paper was taken over by another business and she is out of a job. So working for a tabloid turns out to be better than nothing.

On her first day at work, Sara drives by the scene of a crime on the isolated road to her new workplace.  A man has been murdered and she is the only witness. His body is half in and half out of the car, in the driver's seat. She thinks she has found her first story and is eager to impress her new employer. But when she arrives at the office no one is interested in a real crime. They want stories on fad diets or celebrity shenanigans or alien invasions.

The next time she goes by the same spot, on her way home, the body and the car are gone and she assumes that the police are investigating.  Later she realizes that nothing has shown up in the news about the death and the police have not interviewed her. She is curious and starts following up on the crime. Yet her job gets in the way and she is kept very busy.

Sara turns out to be very good at the work the Galaxy does, going after bizarre stories, even faking stories. Along the way, the crime that Sara witnessed fades into the background. She has no proof that it even happened. To be honest, once I got into the story, I did not really care who the murderer was. But the story comes together in the end.

The picture of the workings of the Galaxy is fascinating. The characters are great and there are lots of them, some more likable than others. In some ways this book is too weird to describe; you have to experience it. There are no offices in the working area; tape on the floor demarks "walls" and "doors" and "squaricles", sort of like a cubicles but with no real walls.

Sara's boss, Jack Ingersoll, is an editor whose squaricle has a window, because he is doing a decent job at getting stories in print. Initially they butt heads constantly, but eventually Sara gains some respect and admiration for Jack. They work well together although mostly he sends her out on expeditions alone and with teams to find or create stories. Sometimes I squirmed at the invasions of privacy and the effort they made to get any information, good or bad, on famous people.

But the real fun of the book is the descriptions of the Galaxy office, its editors and reporters, and the maniacal owner who is obsessed with one special celebrity, John Michael Mercer, and will move heaven and earth to get any information on his upcoming marriage. Everybody who works for the Galaxy has huge salaries, three times the going rate for their jobs. Even if the employees decide to move to a more traditional journalistic job, having the Galaxy on their resume doesn't look good. So most of the staff end up feeling like slaves, unhappy and stressed in their jobs but unable to give up the luxuries they have become accustomed to. That sounds like a downer, but Westlake tells the story with such humor and insight that the outrageous stories and the lengths they go to in order to get the stories keeps you reading.

This is Westlake's introduction to Trust Me On This:
A Word in Your Ear 
Although there is no newspaper anywhere in the United States like the Weekly Galaxy, as any alert reader will quickly realize, were there such a newspaper in actual real-life existence its activities would be stranger, harsher, and more outrageous than those described herein. The fictioneer labors under the constraint of plausibility; his inventions must stay within the capacity of the audience to accept and believe. God, of course, working with facts, faces no limitation. Were there a factual equivalent to the Weekly Galaxy, it would be much worse than the paper I have invented, its staff and ownership even more lost to all considerations of truth, taste, proportion, honor, morality or any shred of common humanity. Trust me.
I loved this book, and I hope to find a copy soon of the follow up to this book: Baby, Would I Lie? That book is set in Branson, Missouri and the country music world.


Publisher:  Mysterious Press, 1989. Orig. pub. 1988.
Length:     292 pages
Format:     Paperback
Setting:     Florida
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2013.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Reading in January 2016

This has been another wonderful month of reading. It was a good mix, with some older books and a couple of newer books, some sci-fi, and some espionage fiction.

The Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme is hosted at Mysteries in Paradise. Bloggers link to summary posts for the month, and identify a crime fiction best read of the month. 

These are the crime fiction books I read this month:

Blood Will Tell by George Bagby 
Black Orchids by Rex Stout
The Mountain Cat Murders by Rex Stout
Pashazade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Three Doors to Death by Rex Stout
A Red Death by Walter Mosley
A Murder of Quality by John le Carré
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le Carré

Half of my reading this month was vintage mysteries, written in 1950 or before.
  • Blood Will Tell (1950) is an Inspector Schmidt novel and George Bagby is the narrator of the novel and the author. George Bagby is a pseudonym used by Aaron Marc Stein, who also wrote mystery series under his own name and Hampton Stone. He wrote over 100 mysteries from the 1930s through the 1980s. I read many of the Inspector Schmidt novels in my younger years and it was fun to revisit this one.
  • The rest were by Rex Stout and were all rereads.  The Mountain Cat Murders (1939) is one of Stout's non-Wolfe mysteries, has a female protagonist, and is set in Wyoming. Very different from the Nero Wolfe series and I enjoyed it very much. (Most Rex Stout fans are not as kind as I am to this novel.)
  • Black Orchids (1942) collects two novellas, "Black Orchids" and "Cordially Invited to Meet Death." Both appeared in The American Magazine before being published in book format. These two stories are longer than most of Stout's novellas.
  • Three Doors to Death (1950) contains three novellas: "Man Alive" (1947, 70 pages); "Omit Flowers" (1948, 70 pages); and "Door to Death" (1949, 55 pages). I remember all of them fondly, but in all cases I did not remember who did it, so they were especially fun reads.
I finally read the 2nd book in Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins series, A Red Death. Easy Rawlins, first met in Devil in a Blue Dress, is now a landlord, but masquerades as a handyman and lets his associate Mofass manage the apartment buildings for him. He also does "favors" for people, finding missing persons or solving minor crimes in his neighborhood. Easy is targeted by an IRS agent because he has not reported the income that led to purchase of the buildings. That leads to him becoming a spy for the FBI and from there things get very complicated.

I read two books by John le Carré, the second and third books he wrote. Both featured George Smiley, but in A Murder of Quality he functions as a detective in a setting unrelated to espionage.

In The Spy Who Came In from the Cold he is in the background and the spy of the title is Alec Leamas. We recently picked up the Criterion Blu-Ray edition of the film adaptation of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold with Richard Burton. I haven't ever seen the film and I want to watch it as soon as possible. Thus, I rushed to read the book before watching the movie. I loved the book but I found it depressing.

Last but not least is Pashazade. The story starts with the investigation of a murder, but the chapters skip back and forth in time, sometimes a few days, sometimes going back years in flashbacks. The setting in the present time is El Iskandryia, a North African metropolis in an alternative future where "the United States brokered a deal the ended World War I and the Ottoman Empire never collapsed," as described on the back of the book. So this is an alternative history, sci-fi, coming of age thriller, and just my cup of tea. This is the second book I have read by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, and it confirms what I discovered with the first one: I love the way he writes. I was alternately confused and delighted and sometimes had no idea where the story was going, but I loved the journey.

In truth, almost all of the books I read this month would be in contention for top read, but I will narrow it down to two. I ended the month with one of my favorites, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. It is a shame I waited this long to read it, but on the other hand, it was well worth the wait and not a disappointment. The other favorite is Pashazade, and I was glad that it also lived up to my expectations.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tuesday Night Bloggers: The Nero Wolfe Novellas

The Tuesday Night Bloggers is a group of crime fiction fans who choose an author every month to blog about. This month the author is Rex Stout. I am participating because I am a big fan of Rex Stout, especially his Nero Wolfe series. In this post, I continue to focus on the novellas in the Nero Wolfe series, in general and specifically. Until I started rereading the books consisting of Nero Wolfe novellas recently, I was of the opinion that Stout's novellas were inferior to the novels. Yet, as I reread them, I have found that they have their own unique characteristics that I like.

A Nero Wolfe novel has the advantage of more time to work through a plot and more time to spend with Wolfe and Archie. But sometimes the investigations bog down in the middle in the novels. Wolfe gets frustrated or disgusted with his clients and just stops working for a while, which in turn irritates Archie to no end. For one thing, he has to deal with the criticisms and hostility from his clients or the police.

The novellas are more like a short story with extra time for the interplay between Archie and Wolfe. There is often one focus in the story and a specific element of the pair's relationship is developed. As in "Christmas Party" (which I reviewed here), where Wolfe is fearful that Archie is going to get married and (a) leave his employee or (b) move a woman into their household.

For this post, I reread Three Doors to Death, published in 1950. That book contains three novellas: "Man Alive" (1947, 70 pages); "Omit Flowers" (1948, 70 pages); and "Door to Death" (1949, 55 pages). I remember all of them fondly, but in all cases I did not remember who did it, so they were especially fun reads.

The very first page in the paperback edition I read (Bantam, 1970) had this description:
THE FIRST DOOR led into a greenhouse teeming with exotic flowers.  
THE SECOND DOOR opened into the chic world of models and high fashion.  
THE THIRD DOOR led into the plush, gilt recesses of a staid New York mansion.  
"Man Alive" 

Cynthia Nieder of Daumery and Nieder (clothing designer and manufacturer) approaches Wolfe to find her uncle. It was believed that he had committed suicide by jumping into a geyser at Yellowstone Park, but there were no witnesses. Then she sees him in disguise at a fashion show.

This one was fun because it was set in the fashion world and we get a peek at the egos and obsessions of those involved in that business. There are numerous wonderful quotes, but my favorite is Archie's comments on the new car Wolfe has just purchased. Not only does it tell us about Wolfe's antipathy to leaving his home, but it describes the functions of some of the denizens of the brownstone.
I felt like indulging him because he had just bought a new Cadillac sedan, which meant that I, Archie Goodwin, had a new car, because, of the four men who lived in Nero Wolfe's house, an old brownstone on West 35th Street not far from the river, I was the only one who drove. Wolfe himself, who suspected all machinery with moving parts of being in a plot to get him, rarely left the house for any reason whatever, and never - well, hardly ever - on business. He stayed in his office, on the ground floor of the house, and used his brain if and when I could pester him into it. Fritz Brenner, chef and supervisor of household comforts, knew how to drive but pretended he didn't, and had no license. Theodore Horstmann, curator of the orchids in the plant rooms on the roof, thought walking was good for people and was still, at his age, trying to prove it. 
That left me. In addition to being chief assistant detective, bookkeeper and stenographer, the flea in the elephant's ear, and balance wheel, I was also chauffeur and errand boy. Therefore the new car was, in effect, mine, and I thought I ought to show my appreciation by letting him call me a tomcat at least once.

"Omit Flowers"

This story is memorable for its portrayal of the friendship of Marko Vukcic and Wolfe. Marko is first introduced in Too Many Cooks and he and Wolfe have a long history together.  Also, I like the focus on food and cooking, which are both very important to Wolfe. Archie introduces the story this way:
      He might or might not have taken it on merely as a favor to his old friend Marko Vukcic, who was one of the only three people who called him by his first name, but there were other factors. Rusterman’s Restaurant was the one place besides home where Wolfe really enjoyed eating, and Marko owned it and ran it, and he put the bee on Wolfe in one of the small private rooms at Rusterman’s as the cheese cart was being wheeled in to us at the end of a specially designed dinner. Furthermore, the man in trouble had at one time been a cook. 
      “I admit,” Marko said, reaching to give me another hunk of Cremona Gorgonzola, “that he forfeited all claim to professional respect many years ago. But in my youth I worked under him at Mondor’s in Paris, and at the age of thirty he was the best sauce man in France. He had genius, and he had a generous heart. I owe him much. I would choke on this cheese if I sat on my hands while he gets convicted of a murder he did not commit.” 
The person who is accused of murder is Virgil Pompa, who has "forfeited all claim to professional respect" by working for a chain of restaurants instead of staying in the field of high cuisine. The story is very clever although I think the culprit is evident early on.

"Door to Death"

This one was published separately not only in American Magazine but in a Dell Ten Cent book, with a lovely cover illustration of Wolfe tramping in the snow with Archie following behind. The cover artist is Robert C. Stanley. Per Wikipedia:
As a realist artist, together with Gerald Gregg, he was one of the most two prolific paperback book cover artists employed by the Dell Publishing Company for whom Stanley worked from 1950 to 1959.
This is one of the stories in which Wolfe leaves his home and in this case, he ends up tramping through the snowy grounds of a large estate to pursue a temporary replacement for Theodore Horstmann, who tends Wolfe's orchids, another of Wolfe's special interests. When Wolfe arrives, he finds that the horticulturist he is pursuing, Andy Krasicki, had already decided to take the job, so his trip away from home was unnecessary.

Andy takes Wolfe through the greenhouse to show him a plant:
     It was quite a show, no question about that, but I was so used to Wolfe’s arrangement, practically all orchids, that it seemed pretty messy. When we proceeded to the warm room there was a sight I really enjoyed: Wolfe’s face as he gazed at the P. Aphrodite sanderiana with its nineteen sprays. The admiration and the envy together made his eyes gleam as I had seldom seen them. As for the flower, it was new to me, and it was something special — rose, brown, purple, and yellow. The rose suffused the petals, and the brown, purple, and yellow were on the labellum.
But shortly a body is discovered in the greenhouse, and soon Andy has been charged with murder. Wolfe has to prove him innocent so that he doesn't have to go home and do all the hard work of caring for the orchids himself.

From Eric W.'s review of Three Doors to Death at Goodreads, which is also included on the Wolfe Pack page for the book:
I suppose I could spend some time detailing the plots of these three novellas, but when it comes right down to it they are formulaic, but my, what a formula. I love Rex Stout, although the early novels are probably better than those toward the end of his life. Nevertheless, if you have never read any Nero Wolfe stories, you must. The characters are classic and the word interplay between them is wonderful. 
Stephen Harkleroad at Crank Crank Revolution noticed an interesting item that I did not catch when I was rereading these stories. All three of these stories at one point or another involve evidence manufactured by Wolfe. As he rightly points out, there is nothing wrong with this as a ploy, but repeated in three stories published together, it becomes trite. Except of course, that I did not notice it, but probably because I was reading not for the puzzle but the overall story and experience.


Publisher:  Bantam, 1970. Orig. pub. 1950.
Length:     181 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Nero Wolfe, #17
Setting:     New York
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copies.

In addition to being a contribution to the Tuesday Night Bloggers posts for Rex Stout this month, this post is also submitted for the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the "Two People" category.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Last Good Place: Robin Burcell

Summary at the publisher's web site:
Sgt. Al Krug and his younger, college-educated partner Casey Kellog are investigating a string of strangulation killings when another victim is found at the Presidio…but a surprising, violent incident at the crime scene makes them wonder if everything is what it seems. The two mis-matched cops, with sharply conflicting approaches to detective work, are under intense pressure to get results. It’s a race-against-the-clock investigation that propels them into the deadly intersection of politics, real estate, media and vice… the fertile, fog-shrouded killing field of a ruthless murderer.
This book is a continuation of a police procedural series from the 1970s, written by Carolyn Weston, which formed the basis for the TV series The Streets of San Francisco. When Brash Books acquired all the rights to Weston’s books from her heirs, they also decided to continue the series and they chose Robin Burcell to write it for them.

The original series was set in Santa Monica, California. I read the 2nd book in that series, Susannah Screaming. In my review, I described the two police officers:
Casey Kellog and Al Krug are two homicide detectives working for the Santa Monica Police Department. Kellog is young and has a college education; Krug is older, cranky, and curmudgeonly... and very resistant to new ideas.
The first book in the series, Poor, Poor Ophelia, was the basis for the pilot of the TV series. Both the book and the TV series were released in 1972. In the TV series, the older cop, Lieutenant Mike Stone (played by Karl Malden), is a kinder and gentler character, a mentor to his younger partner; the younger cop, Steve Keller (played by Michael Douglas), is much like the character in the book, headstrong and brash but intelligent.

As Burcell says in J. Kingston Pierce's excellent article and interview at Kirkus Reviews, this novel is not so much a continuation of the original series by Carolyn Weston as a complete reboot. The route to this new series is circuitous due to the fact that it is drawing on both Weston's books and the TV series.

In the new series, Burcell keeps the names and general relationship of the cops from Carolyn Weston's books. She bases the story in San Francisco like the TV series, but she has updated the story to the present day. It works very well, and the story is accessible to readers who have no familiarity with either Weston's books or the TV series.

A quote from the interview at Kirkus Reviews, re the character of Al Krug in The Last Good Place:
In the end, I made the command decision to bring in the best of both worlds. I took the qualities of Krug that I could live with (grizzled, old-school cop, doesn’t always operate by the books, but knows when it is necessary to do so), then added a dash of Karl Malden and ended up with the modern-day Krug from my book.
Our family are great fans of The Streets of San Francisco and have watched the first two seasons of that show over the last couple of years. As we began watching the shows, we noticed the credit given to Carolyn Weston on each episode, but I never followed up until I noticed that Brash Books was putting out new editions of her books. And I was very interested to hear of a new continuation novel coming out.

The biggest draw that this novel has for me is the setting and the connection to the TV show. But as I have already mentioned, it is a fine police procedural in its own right, and readers don't need to have any knowledge of either the prior series or the TV show.

Other aspects of the book that I like:

  • Burcell does a great job of portraying San Francisco, and that only makes sense as she has lived in the area and has a previous series set in that city.
  • Burcell sticks with the framework used in both Weston's series and the TV show, where we follow the investigation but also get detailed glimpses of the other participants in the story: neighbors, co-workers, investigative reporters. This makes for a complex story with unexpected twists, especially near the end.
  • The story has a good pace without feeling rushed. 

I do hope Burcell continues with this new version of the series. I would like to see her flesh out the characters of Krug and Kellog more.

I will end with a few quotes from other authors:

"Robin Burcell, both a writing and law enforcement veteran, takes hold of novelist Carolyn Weston's baton to create a twisty mystery worthy of the iconic team's homicide investigation. The streets of San Francisco come alive in this new installment, and I hope that there are more to come. A definite winner!"
 -- Naomi Hirahara, Edgar Award winning author of Murder on Bamboo Lane

"Robin Burcell has expertly updated the Krug & Kellogg series for old and new readers alike. She knows her stuff and puts it to good use in this entertaining and authentic police procedural,"
 -- Alafair Burke- New York Times Bestselling Author of All Day and a Night.


Publisher:   Brash Books, 2015
Length:      289 pages
Format:      e-book
Series:       Casey Kellog and Al Krug
Setting:      San Francisco, California
Genre:       Police Procedural
Source:      Provided by the publisher for review via NetGalley

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Blood Will Tell: George Bagby

I read a lot of books by George Bagby when I was younger -- he wrote at least fifty books in the Inspector Schmidt series -- but I am sure I did not read them all. I do remember liking them a lot, so over the last few years I would pick up one now and then in used bookstores.  Blood Will Tell was my first foray into the Inspector Schmidt series in many years.

This is one of those series where the author name is the same as the name of one of the characters; in this series George Bagby narrates the books. In Blood Will Tell, a very rich and obnoxious man has been murdered at the Basingstoke building on Park Avenue. Inspector Schmidt is not looking forward to the investigation because the upper crust think that no one in their circles could be responsible for such a crime.

The main players are: Rudolf, the princely doorman; Simon H. Merrill, the victim, described on the dust jacket as "a very dirty man with lots of even dirtier lucre"; Diane Leggett, engaged to Merrill; and Sybil Swain, another friend of Merrill's. Both Diane and Sybil have apartments at the Basingstoke.

Bagby describes Sybil, when they first meet her at her apartment:
She filled in the outlines of my mental picture too perfectly. A tall woman of ripe and handsome figure, she displayed to even the most casual glance the fact that nature had endowed her generously and that she had freely and fancifully indulged her every whim to improve upon nature. She had the longest lacquered fingernails I have ever seen. She had hair the color of a Halloween pumpkin. She wore a fiery red negligee of some diaphanous stuff that gave you the illusion that if you looked you might see everything she might have to show.
The story is told almost entirely via interviews at the Basingstoke apartment building with various suspects or persons who were familiar with Merrill's routine. Bagby also gives his views of how the inspector works and the various characters.

Much of the story depends on the way the building is designed. Merrill's body is discovered on the fire stairs, which is a set of stairs behind the apartments that allow access only from the apartment (the door only opens one way). Another key element is an elaborate ruse carried out by a mother and her daughter to represent their apartment as large and sumptuous to impress people (especially Simon Merrill). They are clearly trying to give the impression that they are doing well financially.

At least based on this book, the only parts of police procedure that are chronicled in the Inspector Schmidt series are interviews and gathering evidence from the scene. The author was quoted in his New York Times obituary as saying "I don't go in for descriptions of what police labs do and that sort of thing. My books pretty much depend on the mental processes of the detective."

As I read this book, I realized that George Bagby's narration resembles that of Archie Goodwin in the Nero Wolfe series. There are other similarities. In both series, the novels are primarily set in New York City and they often feature prosperous people who have no idea how the rest of the world lives. There are differences, of course. Archie actually works for Wolfe and participates directly in the investigation. Bagby is more of the Watson type, telling the story, giving his thoughts on the investigation as it proceeds, but not taking part in the investigation.

In Whodunit? A Guide to Crime, Suspense, & Spy Fiction (1982, ed. H.R.F. Keating), the series is described:
The stories are upbeat, the New York background as real as being there, and for about fifty years Bagby has never aged, always a pleasure to read.
For me, this book was partially successful. The story was a little convoluted and unrealistic for my tastes; but possibly the story isn't that unrealistic, even for these days. The telling of the story is entertaining, but I wanted more variety. Either spending more time outside of the building. Or more reporting on police procedures. I have a few more George Bagby books, published in 1952, 1956, 1965, and 1980. I will try those and see how I like them. There were at least 15 books in the Inspector Schmidt series published in the 1930s and 1940s. I would like to find some of those.

George Bagby is one pseudonym used by Aaron Marc Stein, who also wrote mystery series under his own name and the pseudonym Hampton Stone. He wrote over 100 mysteries from the 1930s through the 1980s.

This book is my submission for Past Offences' monthly Crimes of the Century feature. This month the year chosen was 1950.


Publisher:   Crime Club, 1950.
Length:       219 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Inspector Schmidt
Setting:      New York City
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tuesday Night Bloggers: Black Orchids: Rex Stout

In addition to the over 30 full length novels in the Nero Wolfe series, Rex Stout wrote 41 novellas about the private detective and his assistant, Archie Goodwin. I believe each novella was published first in a magazine, and all were later released in book format, each book containing two, three or four novellas.

The Bantam Crime Line edition (1992) of Black Orchids has an introduction by Lawrence Block. He has this to say about rereading the Nero Wolfe books, and he is describing me perfectly.
I know several men and women who are forever rereading the Nero Wolfe canon. They read other things as well, of course, but every month or two they have another go at one of Stout’s novels. Since there are forty books, it takes them four or five years to get through the cycle, at which time they can start in again at the beginning. 
They do this not for the plots, which are serviceable, nor for the suspense, which is a good deal short of hair-trigger even on first reading. Nor, I shouldn’t think, are they hoping for fresh insight into the human condition. No, those of us who reread Rex Stout do so for the pure joy of spending a few hours in the most congenial household in American letters, and in the always engaging company of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

Black Orchids collects two novellas, "Black Orchids" and "Cordially Invited to Meet Death." Both appeared in The American Magazine before being published in book format. These two stories are longer than most of Stout's novellas. In the Bantam Crime Line edition, "Black Orchids" is 100 pages long, and "Cordially Invited to Meet Death" is 90 pages. Most of the other Stout novellas are 50-60 pages.

In the book format, the two stories have an introduction by Archie Goodwin speculating on the link between the two stories... the black orchids. Although such introductions are rare in the series, it serves to let us know that Archie is chronicling Wolfe's cases, just as George Bagby was chronicling Inspector Schmidt's cases in that series (by George Bagby, who is both the author and the character).

"Black Orchids"

This novella was originally published as “Death Wears an Orchid.” It is one of the stories that takes Wolfe outside of his brownstone, although only briefly to a flower show nearby, and it focuses on one of Wolfe's prime interests in life, orchids.

Wolfe is obsessed with a black orchid that has been bred by Lewis Hewitt. He has sent Archie out to a flower show to observe the black orchids on exhibit there, and Archie has amused himself by watching a staged exhibit of various plants around a pond with a beautiful young lady sitting by the pond. Wolfe finally determines he has to see the orchids himself, and while he is there, the other participant in the exhibit is murdered. After having to endure some questioning by the police, Wolfe and Archie are allowed to go home. Later, they endeavor to determine who the culprit is.

I will admit that Archie irritated me in this one with his obsession with Anne Tyler (the lady in the exhibit), just because of her shapely legs and other parts of her anatomy. The other woman in this story, Rose Lasher, is an example of the hard-boiled elements in the Nero Wolfe stories, an immoral woman (judged by the times in which this was written) whose main goal is to hide her behavior from her family.

Even with the outdated (I hope) attitudes toward women, I enjoyed this novella quite a bit and it is one of my favorites. Archie teases Wolfe with his infatuation with Anne. The plot is quite complex for such a short piece. And Inspector Cramer shows up, one of my favorite secondary characters in the series.

"Cordially Invited to Meet Death"

The second story in this book starts out as an investigation into poison pen letters sent to a well-known party planner, Beth Huddleston.  Wolfe stays at home while Archie investigates. In the middle of the investigation, the client dies, so the case is dropped. Wolfe does not work when he isn't going to get paid. Of course, eventually Wolfe does get involved in the investigation of Huddleston's death.

This one feels more like one of the full length novels to me. Archie spends a lot of time on the investigation by himself, and we see more of his interaction with various characters. At Huddleston's residence, a large estate up in Riverdale, NY, a chimpanzee and some alligators roam the grounds unguarded. Some of the suspects are offbeat, especially her brother, a chemist who can't keep a job.

A unique aspect here is Wolfe's interaction with one of the female characters who offers to help with the cooking. Wolfe is so eager to find a solution to the mystery of making corn beef hash that he allows her into the kitchen, which antagonizes Archie no end.
"... corned beef hash is one of my specialties. Nothing in there but meat, is there?”
“As you see,” Wolfe grunted.
“It’s ground too fine,” Maryella asserted. 
Wolfe scowled at her. I could see he was torn with conflicting emotions. A female in his kitchen was an outrage. A woman criticizing his or Fritz's cooking was an insult. But corned beef hash was one of life's toughest problems, never yet solved by anyone. To tone down the corned flavor and yet preserve its unique quality, to remove the curse of its dryness without making it greasy—the theories and experiments had gone on for years. He scowled at her but he didn't order her out.
Wolfe is very interested in food and cooking. The tidbits about cooking in these stories are fascinating.


Publisher:  Pyramid Books, 1963. Orig. pub. 1942.
Length:     190 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Nero Wolfe, #9
Setting:     New York
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copies.

In addition to being a contribution to the Tuesday Night Bloggers posts for Rex Stout this month, this post is also submitted for the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the "Spider or Spiderweb" category. Although I have no idea what connection the illustration of a window with a spiderweb has with these stories.