Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Death of a Doxy: Review

Death of a Doxy marks a few unusual passages for Rex Stout's famous orichid-loving sleuth. Nero Wolfe finds himself taking on a case with no pay in sight and, more importantly, he stands in the presence of a woman. That's something he does rarely in the presence of men, let alone ever in the presence of sex that he is so uncomfortable with. And, by the end of the book, she is calling him Nero. Not Mr. Wolfe. This is one of the few times that Stout invested more of his creative energy in one of the non-series characters and he did so to good effect. Julie Jaquette more than gives Wolfe a run for his money With so many out-of-the-ordinary factors, one might think that this book would not sit well with a tried-and-true Stout fan. Not so. This winds up being one of my favorite Wolfe books.

In this one, Wolfe finds himself involved in a murder case when Orrie Cather, one of his sometime operatives, is collared for the death of a doxy--mistress or paramour to a rich man. Orrie had been fooling around with Isabel Kerr but decided to end the affair when he fell in love with a stewardess. Only Kerr didn't want things to end and kept a few mementos in her apartment. When she is found dead in her apartment and the items pointing to Cather are found as well, the cops put two and two together and get five. Nevermind that Nero Wolfe has told them that Cather is innocent (haven't they learned yet that Wolfe is never wrong?)--they've got all the circumstantial evidence they need and look no further. It's up to Wolfe--aided by Archie Goodwin and other legmen, Saul Panzer and Fred Durkin--to dig up the clues that will lead to the real culprit.

It doesn't take them long to discover that Miss Kerr had been the kept woman of a very prominent man of business and that there were several people who might not have wanted that fact to get out. Also in the picture is a nasty blackmailer and a sexy lounge singer. Wolfe starts out to solve the crime purely out of obligation to Orrie Cather (and with no fee in sight) at the end he finds himself faced with the puzzle of how to earn fifty thousand dollars--which he can only do if certain facts are not made public. Can he do that and still see justice done?

The puzzle itself is not a difficult one. I actually stayed neck and neck with Wolfe on making deductions--that's rare enough. What made the book for me was the character of Julie Jacquette and her interactions with Nero Wolfe. And her scene with Inspector Cramer was worth the whole book in and of itself. Four stars out of five.


J.G. said...

Sounds like perfect recovery reading! Glad to hear you are on the mend. Enjoy the downtime as much as you can, I say.

Rick Mills said...

My last read of this book was 1997 (!) and I had forgotten how good it is. Your review is on point, and I agree thoroughly. Wolfe gets enamored with a night club singer, and elevates her to a place of honor in his home. Wolfe's method of exposing the killer is clever, and Archie adds a unique tweak to solve multiple problems all at once; including earning a substantial fee. Inspector Cramer only has a couple brief appearances, as Wolfe and Archie do most of the legwork. Great characters, and now I know what a hedgehog omelette is (it has almonds stuck in it which resemble the hedgehog's spines). I won't let 24 more years elapse before reading again!