Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Champagne for One (Nero Wolfe, #31)Champagne for One by Rex Stout
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rex Stout's "Champagne for One" (1958) is the second Nero Wolfe mystery that I have randomly chosen to re-read in a quest to find out whether my reception of the novels that I highly praised when I read the entire set (46) of Wolfe mysteries in the Eighties and Nineties has changed. I review the first one, "The Mother Hunt" here .

Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe's right hand, is invited to sit in for the sick nephew of a very rich woman who sponsors a famous annual charity party for unmarried mothers. Archie is to play a chevalier to one of the women. One of the attendees dies during the event, poisoned by cyanide. While the police and the hosts of the party maintain that the death is suicide, Archie insists it is murder. A rich guest of the party, afraid that certain events from his past may influence the police's thinking, hires Nero Wolfe to investigate.

I find the plot convoluted, quite clumsy, and the whole story rather implausible. Coincidences galore. As usual, I am annoyed by the excessively theatrical conferences in Wolfe's office, attended by all the protagonists and, sometimes, the police. It gives the author a chance to show pontificating Mr. Wolfe at his best (which is also his worst). One sentence made me smile: "A man who would never see eighty again came out hobbling over, squeaking at me, 'What's your name?'" The novel is a pleasant and very fast read (about two hours), but I believe Mr. Stout's average level is higher. Now I will conclude my experiment by reading Mr. Stout's "Murder by the Book", which I considered a masterpiece a long, long time ago.

Two stars.

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