Friday, October 19, 2018

Before Midnight: Review

I would appreciate it if they would call a halt on all their devoted efforts to find a way to abolish war or eliminate disease or run trains with atoms or extend the span of human life to a couple of centuries, and everybody concentrate for a while on how to wake me up in the morning without my resenting it. It may be that a bevy of beautiful maidens in pure silk yellow very sheer gowns, barefooted, singing Oh, What a Beautiful Morning and scattering rose petals over me would do the trick, but I'd have to try it. ~Archie Goodwin (a man after my own heart) Before Midnight (1955) by Rex Stout

Archie Goodwin never dreamed he'd wake up one morning to find four men from Lippert, Buff, & Assa (LBA), the advertising company which handles Pour Amour, would show up on the brownstone's doorstep the day after he'd shown the perfume's ad to Nero Wolfe. But there they were, in living color, on the other side of the one-way glass panel in the door, clamoring to come in and see Wolfe before he was due to finish in the plant rooms.

LBA has been running a promotional million dollar (total prizes) contest for Pour Amour that has involved contestants solving clues, offered five quatrains, which point to the identity of famous cosmetic-using women. There have been several rounds--which opened with millions of contestants--that have resulted in a final round with five remaining prize-seekers. The last round of quatrains was just given to the contestants, in person, last night. So what has these four men in such a tizzy? Louis Dahlman, the brilliant--if difficult--young up-and-coming ad man whose brainchild the contest was and the only man who knew the answers to the contest, is dead. There were two copies of the answers. One set was locked in a safe deposit box that no one has accessed and the other set was in Dahlman's wallet last night. The wallet is now missing. LBA wants to hire Wolfe. Not to solve the murder, but to find out who took the wallet and the answers. If the thief is the killer, then Wolfe is welcome to hand him/her over to the authorities. But all LBA cares about is the integrity of the contest.

Does that bit of hardheartedness towards their former colleague bother Wolfe enough that he doesn't take the case? Of course not. A blank check fee has just been offered to him. So he sets about interviewing the contestants and the members of the firm and believes that he is shaping the case up nicely...until the murderer has the audacity to commit another murder in Wolfe's own office right under his nose. Cramer accuses him of having changed his job from finding the thief to finding a murderer and warns him to stick to his original contract.

Confound it, can a man kill with impunity in my office, with my liquor in my glass?

But, after being hoodwinked (Wolfe's word), the great detective is determined to finish the job he was hired to do. And he's pretty sure he'll be taking care of Cramer's job as well. And if he has to leave the brownstone to do it...well, that's just the price he'll have to pay. After all--he can recoup his losses in that blank check...

Cleverly plotted with a range of interesting characters--particularly the contestants. It's worth it just for the conversation between Wolfe and the history professor. One drawback--Archie has so little to do. In fact, until the wrap-up at the end, nobody does much of anything. Lots of interviews and talking. Fortunately, Stout knew how to write dialogue and the interactions are interesting, humorous, and enjoyable. ★★

[Finished 10/4/18]

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