Monday, September 27, 2010


What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Gambit (Viking, 1962).

I won't say that Gambit is anywhere near my favorite of the Nero Wolfe series, because I do enjoy the stories for their breezy and light touch. This one, nevertheless, has such a fascinating structure that I found it compelling even as it descends into something really dark and ugly towards the end. It honestly reminded me more of the bleaker examples of hard-boiled noir that I have read than anything else in this series.

The story begins in a very light-hearted fashion, with Wolfe, in a fit of pique, burning the newest edition of a dictionary because he disagrees with a definition. Hired to look into the poisoning death of a chess master, which has left an innocent man under arrest for want of any other suspects, Wolfe sends Archie to look into the Gambit Club, and for a good while, the book is every bit as lighthearted and funny as its predecessors.

Things get a lot darker when it becomes evident that Wolfe knows who did it but, in a matter that reminded me of PD James' later novel A Certain Justice, he will never prove it. The ending is quite unforgettable, and for once I found myself pretty sympathetic to Inspector Cramer, whose fury this time out is pretty justified. Did Stout intend for things to play out this way, or did he write himself into a corner with a murder this perfect? Recommended.

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