Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Family Affair: A Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin mystery by Rex Stout

Fooling around with my Mac photo tools.  I also have some news that I'll relate at the end of my post.

A young man who I have performed with since he was in high school, going with him to state levels in solo and ensemble juries for many years has just been appointed as principal trombonist for the Met.  I messaged him recently if he would still be willing to record a couple of duos with me.  

He said yes, but it had to be during the summer.  So here's hoping he will be able to work with me in a year.  Luckily I live in the same town as his parents.

One of the works I want us to record is John Davison's Sonata for Trombone and Piano.  Here is the first movement called, Fantasia.

A Family Affair (Nero Wolfe, #46)A Family Affair by Rex Stout

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the last novel Stout wrote. He wrote around seventy novels and short stories all starring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Stout died around six months after A Family Affair was published.

Plot: Pierre, a waiter at the restaurant Rusterman's has come to Nero Wolfe's Brownstone at night. Pierre is familiar to the Wolfe household because Rusterman's is not only a favorite restaurant, Wolfe is a trustee.

Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's leg man answers the door (for those of you unfamiliar with the story, Nero Wolfe rarely leaves his home, yet has the uncanny ability to be on top of information and solve mysteries. Suspects are brought to the Brownstone to be questioned). Pierre begs to be let in because he needs to talk to Wolfe. He refuses to divulge any information to Archie except that his life is threatened.

Wolfe has already gone to bed and as fans of our portly detective know, Wolfe does not have a flexible schedule. His bedtime, dinner times, and time spent on the roof in his green house with his orchids are not flexible. In fact, there is practically nothing about Wolfe that is flexible .

So Pierre cannot talk to Wolfe that night and he won't talk to Archie but refuses to leave because he fears for his life. Archie puts him in a free room, opposite his own.

After seeing Pierre to the room, Archie crosses the hall to his own room and proceeds to undress and go to bed. Before he half way gets his trousers off an explosion shakes the entire Brownstone. Archie, re-adjusts his pants and runs back across the hall.

The windows have been blasted out, but from the inside. Pierre is lying down, quite dead, and with no face. A little investigating reveals that Pierre was opening a small tube containing a cigar which detonated the bomb.

Who did this and why? That is what the rest of the book will tell you. Wolfe is livid this happened in his own house and takes it personally.

This book was written in 1975 which is about forty years after the first Wolfe mystery was written. However, the characters have not aged, which makes it difficult to imagine them since I still see them dressed for the 1930s.

There are a few differences, some of them not positive. Trying to be relevant and current (I suppose) Stout entangles the current crisis of the day, Watergate, into the story. So as Archie imparts his discoveries to us, we are to wonder, as he does, if the murder is in anyway connected to the national scandal.

I don't want to spoil the mystery in case anyone has not read the story, but I found one aspect of the conclusion unsatisfying and I don't know how to say without giving the culprit away, so I won't say anything, only to say, I disagree with authors employing this method.

Something else occurred to me as I read this story. Murders must be interesting on every level. Not only must finding the guilty party be interesting, but the murder has to be committed for an interesting reason. A number of mysteries, even by my favorite authors often fail at this end.

Whether anyone out there will find the motive for the murder to be interesting or not will be a matter of opinion.

Now a couple of things I liked was how, while keeping the witty banter that bounces back and forth between the main characters, Stout has added in a streak of darkness. Wolfe is not so arrogant or omniscient as previous stories have him; he shows vulnerability. The police are shown greater respect, this is a great improvement from the almost Keystone Cop cartoons, especially Inspector Cramer, in his earlier stories.

There is an overtone of sadness as though things were coming to an end. Perhaps Stout knew that this would be his last story and he would be telling Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin, their detectives Saul Panzer, Fred Derkin, Orrie Cather, and Inspecter Cramer good bye.

Luckily, we don't have to since they stay alive between the pages of our books.

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And here is a small bonus review:

rouault les maitresrouault les maitres by Rouault

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A tiny gem written in French, German and English. Gives a brief overview of the French artist, Georges Rouault's life and work.

Rouault belonged to the Fauvist school, which took place in the early years of the 20th century, with Henri Matisse who is considered the leader of this movement. His paintings of clowns and prostitutes are considered social and moral commentaries.

Later his paintings became increasingly spiritual and existential.

There are about 60 prints in black and white of his paintings. His work shows his deep commitment to his Christian faith and also his compassion for the people he saw in his native Paris.

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And now I would like to introduce you to Lt. Columbo:

 Hercule was not being very nice to Lt. Foyle and Foyle very much wanted to be buddies with Hercule.  We did not want him to be lonely so we got him a friend his own size.  This is Lt. Columbo.  Isn't he pretty?  I've not seen a tri-colored parakeet before.


mudpuddle said...

congratulations on your trombone player associate's new job! that's pretty exciting! would that be the Metropolitan Opera? impressive, he must be really good, and able to be sociable also; the last is more important than one might think. Columbo is really small; i hope the others don't pick on him... i read the Nero book but it's been a long time ago and i don't remember it; time i should reread, i guess... i've heard of Roualt, but not familiar with his work... lovely and informative post, Sharon, tx...

Brian Joseph said...

I remember liking the Nero Wolfe television series. It is interesting that Stout wrote so many books but only in this series. I wonder if he was ever tempted to write anything else. Lt. Colombo is beautiful and has a great name!

Marcia Strykowski said...

Your bird family is growing, hope they all get along now. That's quite the fun photo at the top of your post, too. Best of luck with your summer duos!

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Mudpuddle. Yes, John is now chair Trombone for the Metropolitan Opera. He is fantastic. He plays with the greatest ease of anyone I've known. He's quiet but very nice and down to earth. Unlike some musicians, he does not think too highly of himself.

Columbo has actually kind of taken over. It's funny how that happens. But everyone is getting along, fortunately.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Brian. I don't know. Josh and I have remarked on how both Stout and Gardner wrote hundreds of stories. Pretty amazing.

And Columbo says, "thank you."

Sharon Wilfong said...

Thanks Marcia! Hope your book is doing well.

mudpuddle said...

i used to be acquainted with Richard Woodhams, the first chair oboist of the Philadelphia Symphony for a long time, now... he played like that when he was only thirteen and was admitted to the Curtis Institute of Music... i applied there and interviewed with Anthony Gigliotti, but wasn't accepted... old memories... life sure takes strange turns and directions...

Sharon Wilfong said...

Wow. You auditioned for the Curtis Institute? Good for you! I have found that the really big wigs in the music world are also the most down to earth. The worst people to have to work with are those that think they're better than they are. They have to constantly prove it by putting you down. I've learned not to work with those people.

mudpuddle said...

it took me about 60 years to learn that lesson... good for you...

Sharon Wilfong said...

Well, I'm still learning it.

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

Jumping in here, Brian and Sharon, to let you know that Stout wrote quite a few books that are not part of this series, actually. He wrote more than a dozen non-Wolfe novels, and a great number of non-Wolfe short stories. I've read some of them, and while I prefer the Wolfe/Goodwin books, the others I've read were nice too.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Hamlette! Thanks for the info. I'm going to a giant book fair this Thursday in a nearby town. I will definitely be looking for any and all Stout books, with or without Nero Wolf.

Thanks for visiting my blog!

freeshoelessjoe said...

Generally regarded as the best mystery writer of the twentieth century, and so nominated, I'll take your remarks for not having read much of the corpus. Hoover was in the series and the local FBI semi-regularly.