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 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.