Monday, September 6, 2010

Plot it Yourself

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 Plot it Yourself (Viking, 1959)

Interestingly, the previous novel in the Nero Wolfe series, Champagne for One, left me pretty cold, but the next one up, Plot it Yourself, is a real treat, one of my absolute favorites. In it, a consortium of publishers and agents have uncovered a plot to force authors to cough up settlements in bogus plagiarism claims, the sort of thing that J.K. Rowling has had to fight more than once. Everybody agrees that the authors are being scammed, but nobody can figure how the perpetrators are getting their "proof" into the authors' homes or agents' files.

It usually doesn't take long for a body to turn up in these stories, but this one is an entertaining slow burn watching Archie and Wolfe at work on a very different sort of case for them. When somebody does get killed, it's a result of Wolfe planning a trap for their unknown enemy, using one of the fellows who claimed to have been ripped off as bait. But somebody blabbed and someone is killed and Wolfe responds with a very entertaining rage and fury.

It's always very enjoyable when an author can take a series with as many formulaic elements as these and subvert readers' expectations. While I never manage to guess whodunit in these books - I don't try to guess, but it occasionally happens in other writers' fiction - this is a rare example of a novel where I genuinely could not guess anything that would happen next. Wolfe admits that he's firing in the dark and that his investigation could be long and expensive, but I had no clue where it would go, and when the first murder victim appeared, it seriously surprised the daylights out of me. Simply a triumph, and one of the best novels in the canon. Highly recommended.

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