Thursday, March 18, 2010

And Be a Villain

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of And Be a Villain (Viking, 1948).

I wonder whether future generations will still be able to make any sense of this novel at all. The murder that gets Nero Wolfe involved happens live on the air during a radio talk show, during a sponsor's segment where the hostess, Manhattan socialite Madeline Fraser, and her guests drink some cola called Hi-Spot and tell the audience how wonderful it is. That's such a strange little relic of the past that even I have difficulty imagining it. Amazingly, the murder - poison slipped into one of the bottles - wouldn't have worked had the patient guests not played along, rather than insisting they be served a scotch and soda. It's radio; who'd know the difference?

Yet the book has a timeless zing anyway, thanks to the presence of a teenage fangirl who adores Miss Fraser, talks a mile a minute in some remarkably entertaining late '40s slang, and who quickly drives Wolfe to distraction with her firecracker attitude and surly petulance. Sixty years later, this same character could be dropped into a murder mystery about Twilight fans with minimal alteration. Highly amusing, entertaining, and recommended.

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