I read this book for the Mount TBR reading challenge 2014.
Too Many Cooks – Rex Stout
Consulting detective Nero Wolfe must leave his beloved brownstone in New York City in order to deliver the keynote address at a meeting of master chefs. One of masters has a sausage recipe that Nero has been seeking for decades so this allure tempts him to the Kanawha Spa resort in Marlin County, West Virginia. A wicked chef who steals recipes, jobs and wives ends up the murder victim, presenting us with a virtual locked room mystery. Nero investigates.
One stand-out scene is when Nero speaks to a group of black cooks and waiters. To persuade them to open up, he delivers Stout’s enlightened (for the late 1930s) views on social justice. He is so effective that he persuades a college student to speak up and tell what he witnessed in the murder room – a white man in blackface due to burnt cork.
This scene gives a necessary balance to Archie’s casual tossing around of terms like “shines” and “pickaninnies.” The local sheriff, a creep who squints, assures Nero they know how to handle “n-word.” It tells something about us nowadays in 2013 that Goodreads and Amazon reviewers seem to cringe at the time-bound racism, but don’t even note Nero’s stand-out scene.
This was the fifth novel in the series. To my mind, it shows that after the first 3, which were very long in the golden age tradition, Stout was starting to tighten up his plotting. His sentences are still long, with copious phrases and clauses. Taking Nero out of the brownstone, of course, lends itself to ‘fish out of water’ situations. Highly recommended.