Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Some Buried Caesar

"It's my opinion. I am careful with my opinions, sir; they are my bread and butter and the main source of my self-esteem."

Rex Stout's creation Nero Wolfe is beloved by many mystery readers.  He appears in 33 novels and 39 short stories published between 1934 to 1974.  While his love of food, beer, orchids, and home seem to make him seem the person least likely become involved in complex crimes, that is just where he finds himself.  With his personal assistant (and narrator) Archie Goodwin, Wolfe uses his extensive knowledge and careful planning to catch the perpetrators.

The Plot:

Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are on their way to an agricultural fair north of Manhattan for the purpose of exhibiting Wolfe's prize orchids when their car is run into a tree.  They are stranded in the care of Thomas Pratt, the owner of a fast-food chain who is the owner of a prize bull named Caesar.  His plan to barbecue the bull has caused an uproar among the local cattle owners, including Frederick Osgood.

When Osgood's son Clyde is found gored to death in the pasture, it is assumed that he was trying to kidnap Caesar who then turned on him.  Wolfe, however, believes this to be a case of murder.  With Archie's help, he sets out to prove his case and bring closure to the community.

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

What amazed me as I worked my way through these detective stories was that no matter how similar they were, there is always something that sets them apart.  Some Buried Caesar is no different.  While it has many of the traditional elements of an Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers novel, it also has that distinct American feeling found in the works of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.  More than anything it seems to be an unlikely marriage of both the old world and the new.

The detective himself seems to represent the old school.  Born in Montenegro, Wolfe embodies all of the eccentricities and interests of an old world detective.  He has a most discerning palate and employes a gourmet chef to satisfy it.  He is also particular about beer and books and he tends his prize orchids with the utmost care.  He is larger than life in every sense of the word and gives the book that distinctly European touch.

But more than our detective, it is our narrator whom the story really seems to revolve around.  Though Archie Goodwin is not the so-called "brains of the outfit", neither is he a moon to simply reflect the brilliance of the detective (a-la-Dr. Watson).  He is the tough, street-smart, and rough around the edges man that we have come to expect the an American detective story.  His fully developed personality really sets him apart from other foils which in turn sets the story apart from other detective novels.

This story is well-told, interesting, and engaging.  If you are into mystery novels, this Nero Wolfe novel is certainly one that I can recommend that you add to your list.          

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