Saturday, January 31, 2015

Too Many Cooks (Nero Wolfe, #5)Too Many Cooks by Rex Stout
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rex Stout's "Too Many Cooks" is my fourth recent reread of a book in the Nero Wolfe series about the fat genius of detection and his extremely able and worldly assistant, Archie Goodwin. When I first read this book, about 45 years ago, I was very impressed. Not really so now, but the reread has been worthwhile for reasons different than the plot.

Mr. Wolfe almost never leaves his house, yet we find him and Archie on a train traveling to Kanawha Spa, W.Va., for the meeting of Les Quinze Maitres, Fifteen Masters (of culinary arts). A murder occurs during the festivities, a murder that has been predicted by several characters in the novel, and Mr. Wolfe, quite reluctantly, has to solve it. The plot is competent, nothing more than that.

The action takes place in 1937 (Mr. Stout published the book in 1938), and what is absolutely revealing is the portrayal of how black people - the cooks, waiters, kitchen helpers - were treated in the Southern state of West Virginia at that time. They were, universally, considered not equal to white people. By today's standards, the language is particularly offensive, and I do not believe the book could be published now, at least without a series of disclaimers, even if it just presents the realities of naked racism of the times (I find today's racism exactly as deep as in those times, yet it is more refined and thus harder to see).

Three stars.

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