With beginning of year happenings at the university where I work, finding a moment to gather my thoughts for in-depth analysis just isn't working. So, instead, I am offering you a peek at the reviews of a couple of my favorite Stout books.
I read Cordially Invited to Meet Death (aka Invitation to Murder; 1942) back in 2011. This mystery was packaged together with Black Orchids because the orchids themselves play a minor role.In this one Nero Wolfe is asked by Bess Huddleston, party-planner for the rich and famous, to find out who is sending anonymous messages aimed at ruining her. Wolfe sends Archie Goodwin to begin the investigation, but before Goodwin can make much headway, the famous hostess is dead from an innocent case of tetanus. Or so it seems. Her brother is adamant that she has been murdered, but it isn't until Inspector Cramer rudely drags the brother away from an invitation to the Wolfe dinner table that our detective becomes involved. Another murderous attempt using the same method is all it takes for Wolfe to have all the facts at his fingertips and once again he hands Cramer the murderer and necessary evidence after a final showdown in Wolfe's office.
I found this second mystery to be much better plotted than Black Orchids. A nifty little murder method and a murderer that I never suspected...at least not seriously. It made for a very pleasant afternoon of reading. Four and a half stars (the highest rating I've given a Stout book so far).
Here we have a group of frightened men who are certain that their college friend, Paul Chapin, is set on a path of revenge for a crippling injury he suffered at their hands during a hazing incident. Two of their number have already died and each of them received a poetic message following the deaths. Messages in which Chapin seems to be claiming responsibility for the deaths and which tell the group that they should have killed him when they had the chance. A third member of the group, Andrew Hibbard, approaches Nero Wolfe and asks him to keep Chapin from murdering him--but he doesn't want the man turned over to the police. Wolfe tells him that he can't help him under those conditions.
Not too long after, Hibbard disappears and another note is delivered saying that Chapin has killed him as well. Hibbard's niece comes to Wolfe with more information about the league of men, but he also tells her that he can be of no help--abstracting a list of the men involved from her materials before she leaves. His plan is to approach the group and promise to remove any threat from Paul Chapin, discover who (if anybody) really killed the first two men, and prove what happened to Hibbard. Anyone who knows Wolfe knows that he'll fulfill his promise (and collect his huge fee in the bargain).
This is going to be a short review--I listened to this one on my way back home for a family get-together back in 2014. While I enjoy listening to books on tape occasionally (especially on long drives), I find it more difficult to review them. I just sit back and enjoy the show, so to speak, and don't really concentrate on the details. Let me start by saying that Saul Rubinek, who is the reader for this particular version, does an excellent job. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him and he was excellent in the male parts. Fortunately, there weren't many female speakers--because he had one voice for all of them.
The story itself was a good one--entertaining, finely drawn characters, a nice twist ending, and worth the price of admission just to listen to (or read) the scene where Archie is drugged and then tries to fight his way out of the stupor. Four stars.