Friday, August 4, 2017

Mount TBR #39

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2017. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Three Doors to Death – Rex Stout

Mystery writer Rex Stout made handsome change writing about 30 novelettes for The American Magazine, a slick nicely illustrated weekly that lasted from 1904 to 1956.  Featuring his series hero PI Nero Wolfe, he wrote "Man Alive" for the December, 1947 issue, "Omit Flowers" for November, 1948, and "Door to Death" for June, 1949. Then Bantam Paperbacks collected the novellas in cheap paperback re-issues.

In "Man Alive" a young, up-and-coming fashion designer consults Wolfe after she spots her uncle, in disguise and sporting a new beard, attending a show for her new line. This would not be so weird if everyone understood that a year before the uncle had topped himself by jumping naked into a hot spring geyser in Yellowstone Park (Stout could be gruesome – even if playfully so - despite the predominantly female readership of The American Magazine). Wolfe’s legman, Archie Goodwin, is often deputized to attend outlandish events like flower shows so he ends up going to another fashion show with the mission to identify and nab the father. The inevitable killing occurs. In the classic fashion, Wolfe gathers all the suspects in a room, and their alibis notwithstanding, gets to the bottom of things. This is a very satisfying story.

In "Omit Flowers," Wolfe’s oldest friend Marko Vukcic prevails upon Wolfe to take up the cudgels for Virgil Pompa. Once an excellent chef, Pompa was seduced by the big bucks to become a high level manager for a chain of family restaurants called Ambrosia. The founder of the chain has been murdered. The cops have nailed Pompa, but Marko is sure it was a member of the founder’s family, who had much to gain. The family is a lot of fun: grasping, devious, unlovely. The strong plot, though, is undermined by a slow pace and gloomy tone.

"Door to Death" is the best of trio even though it is not really a detective story. Wolfe’s orchid guy Theodore Horstmann has to leave the brownstone to do caregiving for his sick mother. A desperate Wolfe must leave the residence and brave a car ride to remote Westchester in order to tempt a young botanist to come work for him temporarily. He and Archie discover the corpse of a young woman in the greenhouse. They then question various people to get the young orchid guy off the hook, since the vic was his trampy fiancée. Commenting on the sad single-mindedness of some middle-aged men, a rustic says to Wolfe “I don't know why -- when a man starts turning gray why don't he realize the whistle has blowed and concentrate on something else? Take you, you show some gray. I'll bet you don't dash around crowing and flapping your arms.” Archie reports, “I tittered without meaning to. Wolfe gave me a withering glance."

For me, there is no better mystery than a Nero Wolfe novelette by Rex Stout. It is ideal for the beach and deck in summer, for sheer reading pleasure.

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