The Rubber Band (Nero Wolfe #3) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: The Rubber Band
Series: Nero Wolfe #3
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 208
Words: 80.5K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia.com
Click on the “Details” to see the Full Synopsis

Nero Wolfe is approached by Anthony Perry, president of the Seaboard Products Corporation, who is concerned that one of his employees is being unjustly accused of theft. A package containing $30,000 has gone missing, and Ramsey Muir, the company’s vice-president is accusing Clara Fox, Perry’s personal assistant. Perry’s meeting with Archie Goodwin is interrupted by Harlan Scovil, who has recently arrived in New York City from Wyoming and is one of a group that has a later appointment with Wolfe. At one point Scovil seems to mistake Perry for another man, Mike Walsh.

Before Archie can attend to Scovil, he is summoned to Perry’s offices, where Muir—motivated by jealousy and spite after Clara rejected his advances—is threatening to call the police. Archie’s preliminary investigations turn up little, and he arrives back to the brownstone to learn that Scovil has left, summoned away by a telephone call. However, the other members of his group have arrived, including the real Mike Walsh, and Archie is surprised to discover that Clara Fox is their leader. Clara wishes to hire Wolfe to recover a sum of money owed to the group by the Marquis of Clivers, a British nobleman in America on confidential government business. Years ago, the group (or in the case of Clara, her father) were a Wild West posse called “The Rubber Band”, and they saved the future Marquis from a lynching. The Marquis promised them a substantial share of his fortune in return but has rebuffed Clara’s claims.

The discussion is interrupted by a police detective who brings the news that Harlan Scovil has been murdered. In his pockets were found the contact details for the Marquis of Clivers, prompting the police — eager to avoid inconveniencing the Marquis and causing diplomatic issues with Britain — to suspect the group of blackmail. Wolfe also learns from Fred Durkin that the police have found the missing $30,000 in Clara’s car, and a warrant has been issued for her arrest. Once the policeman has left, Wolfe questions Fox concerning the stolen money and the murder. Satisfied as to her honesty and innocence on both matters, he accepts her as his client, and persuades her to remain in the brownstone. Mike Walsh rejects Wolfe’s offer of protection and storms out. Wolfe sends a letter to the Marquis informing him of the group’s claims and suggesting that legal action may be taken. He also informs Perry that he will not be investigating on behalf of him or the corporation.

For several days, the numerous charges that Clara is facing mean that Wolfe is forced to keep her as his guest in the brownstone. However the police, led by the obnoxious Lt. Rowcliff, soon arrive with a search and arrest warrant to enter the brownstone and arrest Clara for the theft of the $30,000. Wolfe is outraged by Rowcliff’s impertinence, but is forced to allow the police to search the premises. Clara, however, cannot be found, and once the police have left Wolfe reveals that he concealed her in the orchid rooms.

Wolfe receives a visit from the Marquis of Clivers himself, who insists that he has already paid his debt to the Rubber Band. He claims that the group’s leader, Rubber Coleman, approached him years ago representing the Band, and that on receiving the money Coleman provided him with a receipt signed by the other members. The next day, Archie receives a phone call from Mike Walsh claiming that he has found “him”, only for the call to be ended by a loud noise that sounds like a gunshot. Moments after the call Walsh is found dead, with the Marquis of Clivers standing over the body. Inspector Cramer, Police Commissioner Hombert and District Attorney Skinner arrive at the brownstone and demand that Wolfe share what he has learned about the case. Wolfe produces Clara and provides proof that she neither stole the $30,000 nor murdered Scovil and Walsh. He reveals to the authorities that he is almost ready to solve the case, but one lingering unresolved detail is troubling him.

The next morning, Archie is surprised to find Wolfe slamming wooden boards in the orchid rooms, to no purpose that Archie can see. Wolfe takes notice of Archie’s bundle of papers secured with a rubber band. After doing so, Wolfe has him summon everyone, including Ramsey Muir, Anthony Perry and the Marquis of Clivers, to his office. Once he arrives, the Marquis recognizes Anthony Perry instantly — he is Rubber Coleman. Wolfe reveals that Perry, or rather Coleman, swindled the money from the other members of the Rubber Band and used it to fund his numerous business enterprises, only to discover that Clara was pursuing the Rubber Band’s claim. Coleman hired her to keep her close, and attempted to discourage her from her pursuit but framed her for the theft of the $30,000 when he was unable to do so. Although intending to hire Wolfe to cover his tracks and throw suspicion off himself, Coleman had the misfortune to be recognised by Scovil at Wolfe’s office, and so murdered him and Walsh to preserve his secret. Coleman staged the phone call that purported to record Walsh’s death with the use of a rubber band to simulate a gunshot, thus giving himself an alibi.

Though Coleman is defiant, Wolfe reveals that he has obtained the “receipt” that Coleman used to forge the signatures of the other members of the band when claiming the money from the Marquis; even by chance he cannot be convicted of murder in New York, this will be sufficient to convict him of fraud in England, which will equally expose and ruin him. Thwarted, Coleman attempts to shoot Wolfe but is gunned down by the Marquis and Archie before he can do so. Having proven Clara’s innocence, Wolfe negotiates with the Marquis to claim the remainder of the Band’s fair share of his inheritance. Guilt-ridden by the deaths she believes have been caused by her quest, Clara attempts to turn it down, but Wolfe persuades her to accept it.

My Thoughts:

I’m scrabbling through my mind palace trying to find a shiny bauble to present to you all. Instead, all I’m finding is chairs and tables, food and drink, everyday ordinary kinds of things.

And you know what? That’s not such a bad thing. Maybe if you are a Golden Age Mystery buff you could dig through these stories and mine insights from them. But if you’re a normal reader (like me, the most extraordinary and best normal reader that has ever existed), these are just good stories.

That is what I want. A good story to engage my mind for a couple of hours. Yes, there are times I want “more”. There are times I want intricate plot points, super twisty plots and extremely developed characters. However, I don’t want to know these characters more than my co-workers or those I go to church with. What does it say about ME, as a person, if I know more about a fictional character in a book than I do about the couple with two boys in the pew across from us at church?

These books are entertainment only. Entertainment has a place in a Christian’s life. But that place shouldn’t be central in my life or the main reason for my life. And as odd as it sounds, Rex Stout writes that way. I appreciate that.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Capital Murder (Arcane Casebook #7) ★★★★☆

Capital Murder

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Capital Murder
Series: Arcane Casebook #7
Author: Dan Willis
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 336
Words: 110K





Synopsis:

Alex Lockerby gets snagged into going to Washington, DC (the capital of the United States of America) with one of the Sorcerous Six. Of course, he immediately gets sucked into multiple investigations, all of which are “Top Priority” by the clients.

Then it turns out his girlfriend Sorsha is involved in one of the cases and the papers are publicly speculating that she can’t solve it without Alex’s help. As a top FBI agent, this doesn’t sit well with her. Placing more strain on an already irregular relationship, Alex and Sorsha have to figure out if they can both have their careers and each other.

The main case ends up involving The Legion, a secret society of Runewrights dedicated to Evil, wanting to abscond with a whole military base’s worth of secret runewright papers. They partially succeed but Alex manages to stop the majority. In doing so, he gets a target on his back from the Legion and the book ends with Sorsha in a coma and an up and coming Legion member preparing to hunt Alex down.

My Thoughts:

Another thoroughly enjoyable entry in the Arcane Casebook series. As convoluted, over the top and larger than life as usual, this hit all the points that continue to intrigue me about this series.

I do hope that Willis can slow down the pace here a bit. Alternate World War II is looming and it’s obvious Runewrights will be largely involved. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, I don’t like intensive ramping up of the plot “just because”.

Sorsha and Alex’s relationship hits the skids and while they haven’t broken up and have decided to really make it work, they haven’t addressed the issues that are causing the problems in the first place. I’m concerned that Willis will treat it shallowly. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since the series is pretty light but you can’t treat a heavy subject lightly without a disconcerting dichotomy in your literary tone.

Willis is really churning these out and I’m pretty happy at the pace he’s setting. Book 8 is already scheduled for April of ’22. Yee-haw!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

ps,
the bleeping editor has changed YET AGAIN. I hate wordpress for their continual messing about under the skirts. Having to re-learn the damnable block editor every couple of weeks or months, it’s too much. I need stability in my blogging platform.

Lord Peter Views the Body (Lord Peter Wimsey #5) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Lord Peter Views the Body
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey #5
Author: Dorothy Sayers
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 235
Words: 94K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia
(click the Details arrow to see the synopses)

The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers

Members of London’s “Egotists’ Club” are telling stories of odd things that happened to them, when one of the member’s guests, a cinema actor named Varden, relates that he was invited to model for a wealthy sculptor, Eric Loder, and spent several months at Loder’s New York mansion. A few years later, after the war, Loder invited Varden back to New York, and Varden noticed that Loder’s mistress, Maria Moranno, had disappeared, though a life-size gilded sculpture of her now occupied the living room. One night, Varden was wakened by a “funny-looking man” wearing a monocle, who told him his life was in danger. For explanation, the man smashed the arm of the “statue” with a fireplace poker, and Varden saw a human arm bone beneath the gold plating. Varden fled the house immediately, though to this day he is not certain whether he really did narrowly escape death or whether someone played an elaborate practical joke on him.

Then the “funny-looking man” – Wimsey, also a member of the club – appears and explains the mystery: while Wimsey himself was a guest in Loder’s mansion, a small night-time accident led to him occupying a sofa in the living room, where he observed Loder entering a secret chamber. Entering the chamber himself, Wimsey found an apparatus for electroplating and diagrams drawn by Loder, revealing his plans to kill Varden and encase him in a gilded statue. After further investigation, Wimsey concluded that Loder killed Maria in jealousy, believing that she and Varden were lovers during his first stay in New York, and planned to kill Varden in the same fashion after he returned from his war service.

Wimsey goes on to relate that after Varden fled the house, Wimsey confronted Loder with a pistol in the secret workshop. Loder tried to outmaneuver Wimsey by shutting off the lights and then rushing him, but tripped and fell into the vat of cyanide to be used in the electroplating process, dying almost instantaneously. While Wimsey fumbled to turn the lights back on, he inadvertently switched on the current to the copper wire Loder was gripping, which transferred copper plating to his hands. Loder was found the next morning, and his death was ruled an accident, while Wimsey took Maria Moranno’s encased body to a local cemetery and gave it a Christian burial with the aid of a sympathetic priest.

The Entertaining Episode of the Article in Question

Peter and Bunter are waiting in line at Saint-Lazare in Paris, when Peter overhears a conversation from a young woman in line that makes him curious, particularly when he notes that the woman and her companion are also taking the same train to Calais, and crossing the Channel to Dover. After patient investigation, Peter meets with his mother’s friend, the Dowager Countess of Medway, warning her that someone is planning a burglary during her granddaughter’s upcoming wedding. He believes he knows who the thief is, but cannot prove it unless the theft is allowed to take place.

Peter also alerts Charles Parker, who has men on guard during the wedding. A brief uproar arises when the bride’s famous diamond necklace, brought out of the family vault for the occasion, is reported stolen, but the thief and her accomplice are caught red-handed. Peter shocks the assembled wedding party by exposing the Dowager Countess’s French lady’s maid as a man in disguise, Jacques le Rouge, a.k.a. Jacques sans-Culotte, a notorious safecracker, burglar and female impersonator. Jacques admits defeat, asking Peter how he knew. Peter explains that while waiting in the line at Saint-Lazare, he overheard Jacques, while dressed as a woman, use the masculine article “un” instead of the feminine “une.” Jacques congratulates Peter for a mastery of the French language probably unique among all English people.

The Dowager Countess is initially outraged that Peter knowingly allowed her to be dressed, undressed, and assisted to bed by a man, but then laughs off the whole affair, reminiscing that she was a famous beauty in her youth, who attracted the attentions of many young men.

The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager’s Will

The disposal of a dead man’s fortune depends on his penchant for cross-word puzzles.

The Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag

A high-speed chase and a lost bag converge with a gruesome discovery.

The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker

A lady pleads for Lord Peter’s help in retrieving a valuable necklace, and more importantly, a portrait with an indiscreet inscription.

The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention

Lord Peter, visiting friends in the country, sees a ghostly carriage, hears rumours of an odd will, and deduces that foul play is afoot.

The Vindictive Story of the Footsteps That Ran

Lord Peter deduces the whereabouts of a cleverly hidden murder weapon.

The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste

Lord Peter’s celebrated palate exposes two impostors seeking a secret formula.

The Learned Adventure of the Dragon’s Head

Viscount St. George appears as a boy as Lord Peter uses clues from a rare book to find a treasure.

The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach

Involving several Scotsmen, a digestive organ, and a handful of diamonds.

The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face

Prompted by a discussion with strangers on a train, Lord Peter investigates the murder of a man whose face was disfigured after death.

The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba

Lord Peter infiltrates a den of ruthless thieves; notable for unusual technology.

My Thoughts:

This was a good entry in the series. A selection of short stories worked perfectly for me and kept my attention without making me feel “Ok, get on with it already”.

Some stories worked better than others and the last one did NOT work for me. Faking his own death for 2 years just to catch a gang of high tech thieves seemed a bit ridiculous to me. And it made me realize how old he is. He was 37 at the time of his fake death. I also don’t understand why he’s still single. I seem to vaguely recollect that he’s married in later books but might be confusing him with his official detective partner Charles Parker. Either way, he’s not Batman/Bruce Wayne so he should be married. And that’s my final answer.

Other than those odd complaints, this was just what was needed. I really like collections of short stories if they are done well. None of this 800 page “world building” crap where the author destroys any chance of allowing the reader to use their imagination. None of this 800 pages of “character development” where the author makes the character more important than the story. Sayers tells a story using the titular character and she does it well. But they are the vehicles and the story is the point. I appreciate, so much, that approach to story telling. It is sadly lacking in today’s books and is probably one of the reasons I’m not drawn so much into modern SFF.

Going slightly off topic here. I don’t understand why authors like Sayers, and McKillip, aren’t mentioned more by those who want more women writers. They seem to be completely ignored by the very people I would have thought would be searching them out and bringing them to a new generation. Part of it, I suspect, is the style of writing. “Kids these days” just don’t want this sparse, utilitarian and yet excellent kind of writing. Heaven help us, they might have to use their imaginations! Maybe it’s a genre thing? Most of the mystery series that I’ve dipped my toes into have been penned by women but I don’t hear their names bandied about at all nowadays. Ok, I’m done blabbering.

The main reason this got a 3.5 instead of a 4 is because in one of the stories Wimsey is talking with someone who’s french and Sayers doesn’t translate it. She expects her readers to be able to read french. She obviously was NOT part of the Freedom Fries movement of the 00’s, otherwise she’d know better. To be honest though, I don’t feel like I really missed out on anything by not being able to read a couple of paragraphs.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The League of Frightened Men (Nero Wolfe #2) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: The League of Frightened Men
Series: Nero Wolfe #2
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 233
Words: 92K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

After reading a controversial new novel by an author called Paul Chapin, Nero Wolfe reveals to Archie Goodwin that he has been approached by Andrew Hibbard, a psychologist fearing for his life. Hibbard had received threatening poems from an individual he refused to name, but after reading a phrase in Chapin’s book that also appeared in the poems, Wolfe has deduced that the man Hibbard feared is Chapin. Wolfe orders Archie to contact Hibbard to offer Wolfe’s services, but when Archie does so he learns that Hibbard has disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Hibbard is a member of “the League of Atonement”, a group of college friends who once played a prank on Chapin that, to their lingering shame and remorse, left him permanently crippled. In addition to Hibbard’s disappearance, two other members of the group have also died under mysterious circumstances, and both Hibbard’s niece Evelyn and the police suspect that Chapin has murdered them. Wolfe acquires a list of the other men in the League and summons them to his office, where he proposes to both determine the truth behind the deaths of their mutual friends and remove the threat that they believe Chapin poses. The meeting is interrupted by Chapin himself, who claims innocence in the affair but refuses to provide evidence when Wolfe challenges him to do so. This prompts the League to agree to Wolfe’s terms.

Wolfe has Archie arrange for Chapin to be tailed as closely as possible, a search for Hibbard to be conducted, and the two deaths to be investigated. Archie discovers that another member of the League, Dr. Leopold Elkus, is also tangentially involved in the two deaths and, as Elkus is sympathetic to Chapin, begins to suspect that he is helping him commit the murders. He also discovers the existence of a mysterious man with gold teeth and a pink tie who also appears to be tailing Chapin. On bringing this man to Wolfe, they discover it is in fact Andrew Hibbard. Hibbard, driven to desperation by his fear and paranoia of Chapin, had faked his death and begun following Chapin to work up the courage to murder him.

Soon after, Paul Chapin is arrested for the sudden murder of Dr. Loring Burton, who is both a fellow member of the League and the man who married the woman Chapin was in love with. This prompts Wolfe to take the drastic step of leaving his home to consult with Chapin, while Archie gains the trust of Burton’s wife and learns that Dora Chapin, the wife of Paul Chapin and Burton’s former house-maid, had visited Burton before he was murdered. Believing Dora to be the murderer, Archie attempts to confront her but is taken by surprise, drugged, and incapacitated.

Upon regaining consciousness, Archie is alarmed to discover that Dora Chapin has apparently kidnapped Wolfe. On receiving a message from Wolfe, however, he learns that Wolfe has convinced Dora Chapin that he poses no threat to her husband and does not believe him to be guilty of murder. Wolfe then summons the members of the League to his office, where he produces Hibbard and reveals a confession he has apparently received from Paul Chapin. To the League’s surprise the letter confirms, as Wolfe suspected all along, that Chapin had no involvement in the deaths of their two mutual friends at all. The deaths were an unfortunate accident and a suicide respectively, but Chapin, psychologically incapable of murder but resentful of his friends for both their responsibility for his injury and their pity towards him, sent the poems to scare his friends and gain his vengeance on them that way.

Incredulous and skeptical of Wolfe’s claims, the League vote on whether to pay Wolfe. When the vote indicates that Wolfe will not receive his fee, Wolfe presses one member—Ferdinand Bowen, a stockbroker—to change his vote. When Bowen refuses, Wolfe reveals that Bowen is in fact Burton’s murderer. Burton had discovered that Bowen had been embezzling from him and other members of the League whose investments he managed, and Bowen used the fear and paranoia that everyone had of Chapin to stage Burton’s murder and throw suspicion on Chapin. Bowen is arrested, leaving Archie to realise that Chapin’s letter was faked. His vengeance thwarted, Chapin reveals to Wolfe that he will be basing a character on Wolfe in a forthcoming novel, and that character will meet a very unpleasant end.

My Thoughts:

Another thoroughly enjoyable read.

I skipped the introduction, as I found that the people who do that kind of thing are idiots and either spoil the heck out of the book OR are wannabe freuds and everything is about sex, even when it isn’t. My life is better when I just read the book for myself instead of being told what it is supposed to mean by some hack.

I do have to admit, I didn’t understand why everyone was so afraid of Chapin, the supposed villain of this particular story. A self-absorbed, selfish crippled gimp who is still in love with a woman who has been married for decades and has his own wife steal things from her? Of course, with him “claiming” to have done the murders through anonymous letters, you could see why they were concerned. But afraid? Ask Chapin to his face and get a yes or no. If you can’t, then you kill him yourself. Man, nobody in that group had one pair of balls between them all. Shameful. Thankfully, the title alerted me to what I was getting into so I didn’t get too steamed up about the group’s lack of manhood, but still, it was a sore point for me.

I did end up laughing out loud at the shenanigans Wolfe got up to at the end. What a dirty money grubber. I’m hoping he refutes his own statement about letting murderers go free if he’s not paid to catch them by future actions. If not, this series might have a much smaller chance of survival with me than expected.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Innocence of Father Brown (Father Brown #1) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Innocence of Father Brown
Series: Father Brown #1
Author: G.K. Chesterton
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 269
Words: 78K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

“The Blue Cross”, The Story-Teller, September 1910; first published as “Valentin Follows a Curious Trail”, The Saturday Evening Post, 23 July 1910

“The Secret Garden”, The Story-Teller, October 1910. (The Saturday Evening Post, Sep 3, 1910

“The Queer Feet”, The Story-Teller, November 1910. (The Saturday Evening Post, Oct 1, 1910)

“The Flying Stars”, The Saturday Evening Post, 20 May 1911.

“The Invisible Man”, The Saturday Evening Post, 28 January 1911. (Cassell’s Magazine, Feb 1911)

The Honour of Israel Gow (as “The Strange Justice”, The Saturday Evening Post, 25 March 1911.

“The Wrong Shape”, The Saturday Evening Post, 10 December 1910.

“The Sins of Prince Saradine”, The Saturday Evening Post, 22 April 1911.

The Hammer of God (as “The Bolt from the Blue”, The Saturday Evening Post, 5 November 1910.

“The Eye of Apollo”, The Saturday Evening Post, 25 February 1911.

“The Sign of the Broken Sword”, The Saturday Evening Post, 7 January 1911.

“The Three Tools of Death”, The Saturday Evening Post, 24 June 1911.

My Thoughts:

While this series is categorized as a mystery, it’s not Sherlock or Wimsey or even Wolfe. Father Brown doesn’t go around looking at a thread caught on a bush and extrapolate the life story of the perp and then reveal him to the authorities. No, Father Brown studies the nature of fallen humanity, discovers the culprit and tries to get them to do the right thing, whether repentance or turning themselves in.

Chesterton was a converted Catholic and as such, Father Brown is pretty strong on his catholic doctrine. At the same time, it really didn’t come across as Chesterton trying to preach or convert his readers. He was trying to tell a great story first and for me, it worked.

The main thing that worked best for me though was the short story aspect. Chesterton wrote each story for a magazine back in the day and then had them collected later. I didn’t have to power through a whole novel and I could stop between stories without losing anything. I appreciate that simplicity and lack of tangled complexity that a lot of modern books seem to deliberately aim for.

One interesting aspect that stood out to me was that in several of the stories the villain of the piece took poison rather than face public justice. That happened in one of the Lord Peter Wimsey books too and I wonder if it was a “sensibility of the times” thing? I don’t think of the bad guys of today taking poison but either fighting or flight’ing or of readers caring one way or the other. I’ll be keeping an eye out to see if it happens in any more stories.

A good addition to my reading rotation. Since I am also reading several other mystery series, I am going to be switch hitting the Complete Works of Chesterton with the Complete Works of the Sisters’ Bronte. That way I don’t Mystery myself out 🙂

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Fer-De-Lance (Nero Wolfe #1) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Fer-De-Lance
Series: Nero Wolfe #1
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 222
Words: 87.5K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia.com

Maria Maffei, a family friend of one of Wolfe’s free-lance men, offers to hire Wolfe to locate her missing brother Carlo, a metalworker. Wolfe, affected by the Depression, decides to take the job, although it is unappealing to him. Archie locates Anna Fiore, a girl who listened in on a phone call Carlo received at his boarding-house shortly before his disappearance. Wolfe learns from her that Carlo had clipped a story from a copy of The New York Times about the sudden death (apparently by stroke) of Peter Oliver Barstow, president of Holland College. However, Anna refuses to provide any further details about Carlo, who is soon found dead in the countryside, stabbed in the back.

From reading the account of Barstow’s death, which occurred during a round of golf, Wolfe conjectures that one of his clubs may have been altered to fire a poisoned needle into his belly. An autopsy proves Wolfe right, and he and Archie begin to concentrate on the Barstow family and their acquaintances, E.D. Kimball and his son Manuel, who had both been part of the golf foursome. While trying to figure out the whereabouts of Barstow’s golf bag, Archie learns from the group’s caddies that he had borrowed a driver from E.D. during the round. This fact, coupled with E.D.’s accounts of his past in Argentina, leads Wolfe and Archie to conclude that Manuel had intended to kill his father, not Barstow, in revenge for the death of his mother years earlier. Archie confirms Manuel’s movements on the day Carlo was killed, making him a suspect in that murder as well. Manuel retaliates by having an associate plant a deadly Bothrops atrox viper in Wolfe’s desk drawer, but Wolfe and Archie find and kill it.

With Maria’s cooperation, Wolfe and Archie arrange a robbery in the countryside to scare Anna into telling what she knows. The trick works, and she hands over documents proving that Manuel hired Carlo to build the driver that killed Barstow. With the Kimball estate staked out, and a copy of the evidence delivered to Manuel, Archie leads the local police in so they can make an arrest. They learn that Manuel, an avid pilot, has taken E.D. up for a flight, and are shocked when the plane suddenly nose-dives into the ground; the impact kills both of them.

Wolfe collects both the $50,000 reward that Barstow’s widow had offered for the capture of his killer, and another $10,000 from a district attorney who had been skeptical of the murder theory. Wolfe comments that the climax of the case gave both E.D. and Manuel a chance to end their lives without any sense of bitterness or despair, but Archie notes that it also keeps Wolfe from having to leave his comfortable house in order to testify at a murder trial.

My Thoughts:

2021 has seen a marked decline in the percentage of SFF that I read. Nonfiction has increased with the Very Short Introduction series, Max Brand is keeping the Western genre alive in the rotation, Dickens has kept the Classics on a roll and tumbled into Chesterton and the Bronte’s, Shakespeare is keeping me firmly in the world of Literature and Lord Peter Wimsey is doing his dashin’ best to keep my interest in the Mystery genre. And now we have old fatso himself, Nero Wolfe, bringing back the Private Investigator. I’ve seen other bloggers change slowly and just wanted to stop and take a second to recollect that my reading is changing and is quite different from even 4 years ago. The reason I got all introspective was because of the main character in this book.

Nero Wolfe is an eccentric private detective who adores food, sleep and mystery and abhors people and leaving his house. As such, he’s hugely fat and I kept waiting for him to keel over dead from a heart attack. He’s a very smart man, able to reason out the much larger picture from just a fragment. He’s also immensely arrogant and beyond self-assured and if he’d been the narrator of the story I would have hated him and despised the author and you’d have gotten one long ranty review where I condemned Rex Stout to the stygian pits of darkness. But he was NOT the narrator. Thank goodness, we are told the story by one of Wolfe’s helpers, Archie Goodwin. Archie is a man’s man, full of vim, vigor and fisticuffs and not afraid to talk back to the police, tell a girl he’d like to pinch her cheeks and fake a robbery on his own client to get her to talk.

The mystery was interesting but seeing Nero orchestrate incidents and get people together or apart is what made this work for me. His manipulation of Archie is hard at times to stomach, but Archie trusts him (even while not necessarily liking him all the time) and Nero is proved right time after time. Nero is the brains while Archie is the foot and fist.

This was written in 1934 and as such is quite an interesting look into the times. The Great Depression, the after-effects of Prohibition, just life in general. I found it fascinating and led me down rabbit trails I wasn’t expecting. One such was the use of the word “spiggoty” by Archie. I could tell it was derogatory but I’d never heard of it before and couldn’t figure out HOW it was supposed to be derogatory. I basically had to chase down the etymology of the word and it turns out it is the predecessor of the slur “spic” today. Now, you’re not going to read books today that take you down trails like that.

There are approximately 47 books in this series. I think that is the longest series I’ve attempted to date. I am a bit concerned that it will go stale on me or, like the Brother Cadfael series, bore me by the end. My other concern is that I’m going to mix up the author with the main character. Nero Wolfe is the main character and he’s immensely fat. The author’s name is Rex Stout, another word for fat. I just know I’m going to mix up the two “fat” men at some point and I’m really concerned about it. What if I hurt their feelings? Fictional characters and dead men have feelings too! Oh wait, no they don’t. Ok, problem solved!

In ending, this was a great start to a series in a genre that hasn’t always appealed to me. Here’s to hoping it keeps me interested the whole time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (Lord Peter Wimsey #4) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey #4
Author: Dorothy Sayers
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 208
Words: 76K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

On the afternoon of 10 November, ninety-year-old General Fentiman is called to the deathbed of his estranged sister, Lady Dormer, and learns that under the terms of her will he stands to inherit most of her substantial fortune – money sorely needed by his grandsons Robert and George Fentiman. However, should the General die first, nearly everything will go to Lady Dormer’s companion, Ann Dorland.

Lady Dormer dies the next morning, Armistice Day, and that afternoon the General is found dead in his armchair at the Bellona Club. Dr Penberthy, a Club member and the General’s personal physician, certifies death by natural causes but is unable to state the exact time of death. As the estate would amply provide for all three claimants, and as it is unknown whether the General or his sister died first, the Fentiman brothers suggest a negotiated settlement with Ann Dorland, but she surprisingly and vehemently refuses. Wimsey is asked to investigate.

Unusually, nobody saw the General arrive at the Club at his usual time of 10 am. His manservant reports that the General did not return home after visiting his sister the day before. An unknown man by the name of Oliver telephoned to say that the General would be spending the night with him. Robert Fentiman says that he knows of Oliver, and much time is spent chasing the elusive individual though several countries before Robert admits that he does not actually exist.

Wimsey discovers that after seeing his sister the General had felt ill and had consulted Dr Penberthy. He then travelled to the Club, meeting George Fentiman en route. There he informed Robert of the terms of the will and very shortly afterwards was found dead in the library, apparently of natural causes. Piqued at losing his inheritance, Robert concealed the body overnight, and invented Oliver to cover up the death. The next day, while the Club members had stepped outside to observe the usual two minutes’ silence at 11 am, Robert moved the body to an armchair to be found later.

Wimsey is still unsatisfied as to the cause of death, and has the body exhumed and re-examined. The General had been poisoned with an overdose of the heart medication digitalis. When this becomes known, Ann Dorland, who has an obvious motive, suddenly and suspiciously agrees to the proposed compromise with the Fentimans.

Wimsey finds Ann Dorland distressed by the callous and humiliating behaviour of Dr Penberthy, to whom she had been secretly engaged. It was he, with an eye on her expected inheritance, who had insisted she should refuse the compromise and fight for the whole estate. However, as soon as it became known that the General had been poisoned he broke the engagement off, ensuring Ann’s embarrassed silence by giving highly insulting reasons.

Wimsey works out what had happened. When the General had consulted Dr Penberthy after seeing his sister, he had mentioned the will, and Penberthy realised that if the General did not die at once his fiancée would not inherit. He gave the General a massive dose of digitalis, to be taken later that evening when Penberthy would not be in attendance. He was however present next day when the body was discovered and, in spite of Robert’s intervention which confused the time, was able without raising suspicions to certify a natural death.

Penberthy writes a confession publicly exonerating Ann Dorland, then shoots himself in the Club library. In an epilogue, it is revealed that the three original claimants to the estate have divided it equitably, and that Robert is now dating Ann.

My Thoughts:

Another good entry, hurray!

This was a great murder(or was it?) mystery and the obvious suspects were so obvious that I had to dismiss them even while having no way to figure out who actually did. That type of thing was annoying to me when Poirot would do that to the readers, but here, we’re getting things from Wimsey’s view so of course our knowledge is limited. So for whatever reason, not knowing or being able to figure stuff out didn’t bother me. Probably helps that Wimsey isn’t a self-righteous, arrogant, piece of crap like Poirot. Detective Parker is a good foil to Wimsey and I have to admit I wish he’d been a little more involved

I don’t have a lot to say about this even while thoroughly enjoying the story. While not a palate cleanser (mainly because I was looking and my SFF reading, while still a majority, has taken a steep nosedive in terms of percentages) it was just a nice, undemanding, relaxing and generally pleasant read. Wimsey’s ego doesn’t impinge in my own, so we’re going to get along famously.

And I suspect I will be able to copy/paste that previous paragraph for all the books, unless more french letters and lawyers get involved!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Unnatural Death (Lord Peter Wimsey #3) ★★★✬☆


This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Unnatural Death
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey #3
Author: Dorothy Sayers
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 222
Words: 81K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia.com

Lord Peter Wimsey and his friend Chief Inspector Parker are told about the death, in late 1925, of an elderly woman named Agatha Dawson who had been suffering from terminal cancer. She was being cared for by Mary Whittaker, her great-niece and a trained nurse. Miss Dawson had an extreme aversion to making a will, believing that Miss Whittaker, her only known relative, would naturally inherit everything. Wimsey is intrigued in spite of the fact that there is no evidence of any crime (a post-mortem found no sign of foul play), nor any apparent motive (on Miss Dawson’s death her estate did indeed pass, as she had expected and wished, to her great-niece).

Wimsey sends his private investigator, Miss Katharine Climpson, to the village of Leahampton to investigate. She discovers that shortly before her death Miss Dawson had dismissed her maids, the sisters Bertha and Evelyn Gotobed. Wimsey places advertisements in the press asking them to get in touch. A few days later, Bertha is found dead in Epping Forest. On the body is a £5 banknote, originally issued to a Mrs Muriel Forrest who lives in an elegant flat in South Audley Street, Mayfair. Wimsey and Parker visit her. She claims not to remember the banknote, but thinks she may have put it on a horse. Wimsey tricks her into providing her fingerprints on a wineglass. In a drawer he finds a hypodermic syringe with a doctor’s prescription “to be injected when the pain is very severe”.

Evelyn Gotobed tells Wimsey of an episode shortly before the sisters were dismissed in which Miss Whittaker had tried to get them to witness Miss Dawson’s will, without the latter’s knowledge. A mysterious West Indian clergyman named Hallelujah Dawson had also turned up, claiming to be an impecunious distant relative.

Mrs Forrest asks Wimsey to visit her at her flat in London where she clumsily makes advances to him. Wimsey suspects blackmail. He kisses her and realises that she is physically revolted by his caress.

Wimsey discovers a motive for Miss Dawson to be killed before the end of 1925: a new ‘Property Act’ coming into force on 1 January 1926 will change the law of inheritance, resulting in an intestate’s property no longer passing to a closest-relative great-niece but being forfeit to the Crown. Much play is made of a fictionalised uncertainty in the meaning of the word “issue”.

Mary Whittaker – who Miss Climpson has concluded “is not of the marrying sort” – disappears from Leahampton along with Vera Findlater, an impressionable young woman who is besotted with her. Several days later Miss Findlater’s body is found on the downs, apparently killed by a blow to the head. Mary Whittaker has it seems been kidnapped. There are indications that the culprit is a black man, and a distinctive cap found nearby is linked to Hallelujah Dawson. However, a post-mortem finds that Vera Findlater was already dead when she was struck, and Wimsey realises that the whole scene has been faked in order to frame the entirely innocent clergyman. Tyre tracks from Mrs Forrest’s car are found nearby, and Wimsey suspects her and Mary Whittaker of acting in collusion.

Wimsey’s manservant, Bunter, realises that the fingerprints on Mrs Forrest’s wineglass are identical to those on a cheque written by Miss Whittaker. Wimsey at last understands that Muriel Forrest and Mary Whittaker are one and the same person, and that she carried out the murders by injecting air into her victims’ bloodstream with a hypodermic syringe, causing blockage and immediate death through heart failure. Meanwhile Miss Climpson, unable to contact Wimsey, heads to South Audley Street where she is attacked by Mary Whittaker. Wimsey and Parker arrive just in time to save Miss Climpson from becoming the final victim. Whittaker is arrested, and commits suicide in prison.

My Thoughts:

Much, much, much better than the previous book. No french letters, of any kind! Or any stinking lawyers either!

Of course, Lord Peter screws up and gets a woman killed. Which leads to some serious soul searching on his part. It is easy to forget that Sayers was a lay theologian in her own right but she really delves into some aspects of the moral rights and responsibilities of someone who is not authorized by the Law to investigate crime. Wimsey really shows that he’s not just a bored toff looking for a thrill. He has a sincere desire to see justice done.

It is also interesting to see how crime was investigated about a century ago. The issues they had to deal with (missed communications, travel issues, the press, inter-departmental rivalry, etc) made me realize that while investigation methods might have changed due to technology, people are still exactly the same and act the same then as they did then. As the Teacher of Israel says, there is nothing new under the sun.

With this book, my hope for this series is re-kindled. I tore through it one Saturday too, so I wasn’t dillydallying around.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Wicked Bronze Ambition (Garrett, PI #14) ★★☆☆☆


This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Wicked Bronze Ambition
Series: Garrett, PI #14
Author: Glen Cook
Rating: 2 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 438
Words: 127K



Synopsis:

From Kobo.com

Garrett is a human detective in the fantastical city of TunFaire. And now he’s getting tangled up in the worst sort of laws…

In-laws.

Garrett is set to stow his wandering heart with his fiancée, Strafa Algarda. But for Garrett, even true love comes with its share of headaches—namely, the Algarda family.

Strafa’s family needs Garrett’s unique skills in the worst way. Rumors are spreading that someone is organizing a Tournament of Swords—a brutal contest that magically compels the children of sorcerers to battle until only one is left alive. The winner will absorb the power from those he has killed and thus become a demigod.

Strafa and her family want to protect her daughter, Kevans, from being forced to take part in the lethal contest…and they’ve asked Garrett to find out who is organizing the tournament and nip it in the bud. The only problem is that finding the culprit is most likely impossible. But the Algardas are used to getting what they want….

My Thoughts:

This is the final Garrett PI book and I have to admit, it wasn’t good. Garrett’s new almost-wife (they’re going to be married in a week or so) is killed right from the get-go and then is returned/resurrected/whatevered right at the end. I really disliked her being killed, but to have her return was even worse.

Then Garrett is about the stupidest I’ve ever seen him in the series. Cook uses the old “I’m in shock, I’m stressed, I’m excuse, excuse, excuse” but it was total caca. He wrote Garrett dumb and then shut the Deadman out of the picture to make this last longer. Pile on that many other characters DO seem to know what is going on but are not telling Garrett because of “you have to figure it out on your own” caca and you had a LOT of caca in this book.

Everything in this book felt like a whimper instead of bang. A series shouldn’t end like that. Bleh.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Clouds of Witness (Lord Peter Wimsey #2) ★★✬☆☆


This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Clouds of Witness
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey #2
Author: Dorothy Sayers
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 243
Words: 92K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia.com

Lord Peter Wimsey’s brother, the Duke of Denver, has taken a shooting lodge at Riddlesdale in Yorkshire. At 3 o’clock one morning, Captain Denis Cathcart, the fiancé of Wimsey’s sister Lady Mary, is found shot dead just outside the conservatory. Mary, trying to leave the house at 3 am for a reason she declines to explain, finds Denver kneeling over Cathcart’s body. Suspicion falls on Denver, as the lethal bullet had come from his revolver and he admits having quarrelled with Cathcart earlier, after receiving a letter (which he says has been lost) informing him that Cathcart had been caught cheating at cards. He maintains that he stumbled across the body after returning from a walk on the moors, but will say no more.

Wimsey arrives to investigate, along with his friend Inspector Charles Parker, who will find himself becoming increasingly attracted to Lady Mary throughout the novel. They find a series of unidentified footprints and a discarded jewel in the form of a cat. It is clear that both Denver and Mary are hiding something: Denver refuses to budge from his story that he was simply out for a walk, while Mary is feigning illness to avoid talking to anyone.

Wimsey investigates several false leads. The footprints turn out to be those of Mary’s secret true fiancé, Goyles, a socialist agitator considered ‘an unsuitable match’ by her family. He had crept into the grounds for a pre-arranged rendezvous at 3 am, when the couple had intended to elope. Mary assumed that he was the killer and has been covering for him, but when she learns that he had fled in terror after discovering the body, she breaks off their engagement in disgust at his cowardice.

Wimsey’s investigations lead him to a violent local farmer, Grimethorpe, with a stunningly beautiful wife. Wimsey finds the lost letter that was sent to Denver wedged in the window of the Grimethorpes’ bedroom, proving that Denver had been visiting Mrs Grimethorpe on the night of Cathcart’s death. This is what he has refused to admit, being determined to shield his mistress even at the price of being wrongfully convicted of murder.

Eventually, the jewelled cat leads Wimsey to Cathcart’s mistress of many years, who had left him for an American millionaire. Wimsey travels to New York to find her, makes a daring and dangerous transatlantic flight back to London, and arrives just in time to present his evidence at Denver’s trial in the House of Lords. Wimsey brings a letter that Cathcart had written to his mistress on the night of his death. After hearing that she was leaving him, Cathcart had written back stating his intention to commit suicide. He had then taken Denver’s revolver from the study and gone out into the garden to shoot himself. The confounding factor in the investigation had been the coincidence of Denver returning from Mrs Grimethorpe’s, just in time to find the body, at the same time that Mary had emerged from the house for her rendezvous with Goyles.

Denver is acquitted. As he is leaving the House of Lords, Grimethorpe appears, shoots at him, flees, and is knocked down and killed by a passing taxi. Mrs Grimethorpe, finally free of her husband, declares that she has no interest in continuing her affair with Denver. In the final scene of the book, Inspector Sugg finds Wimsey, Parker, and a friend on the street after midnight, hopelessly drunk, celebrating the end of the case. Sugg assists them into cabs, and reflects, “Thank Gawd there weren’t no witnesses”.

My Thoughts:

This started out so strong. I was highlighting quotes a lot (for me) and the story was moving right along. Lord Peter wasn’t missin’ his “g’s” as much and I was seriously thinking about giving this 4 to 4.5stars.

Then I came to the last 10% of the book. Which is where the trial of Peter’s brother takes place. And everything screeched to a complete halt and bored me to death. Lord Peter isn’t involved. We get pages of the lawyer pretty much summing up the entire book and showing the “jury” (ie, the readers) what really happened. A linchpin of his argument was a letter from the dead man to his mistress. In french. Fething pages of french letter. Sayers does provide an interpretation after the fact, but the original had no place in the novel. I kept hitting the “next page” on my kindle and it kept going and going and going. The lawyer had slowed the pace to frozen molasses but the french letter? It dammed up the flow completely. It was like the Hoover Dam suddenly appeared from out of no where!

Up to that point, I saw why this series is held up as great writing and great story telling. I was enjoying myself immensely. Sadly, the ending killed this book for me. Bleh and poop!

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.