Monday, September 13, 2010

Too Many Clients

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 Too Many Clients (Viking, 1960).

The classic film Chinatown begins with Los Angeles PI Jake Gittis being hired by a lady who is not the woman that she claims to be. Chinatown was such a major influence on the genre of detective fiction that upon reading a book that predates it by a good fourteen years, I knew exactly what was going on when a client calls on Archie Goodwin for an unusual tailing job. In Too Many Clients, he's the first of what would be several individuals wanting to hire Wolfe and Archie. One or two of them are even who they claim to be.

Of course, Chinatown goes off in its own direction. Too Many Clients sees the real gentleman turn up dead the same evening that an impostor has hired Archie, leaving a lot of awkward questions and the discovery of a very interesting windowless apartment, its interior covered in racy pin-ups, ostensibly used for late-night "dictation." This is a somewhat more action-oriented adventure than many of the other novels. Archie plants one of the firm's reliable freelance operatives in the apartment to see who will turn up, and this generates a few laughs.

Would "entertaining, but unmemorable" be too great a cliche? I am a little behind on writing these reviews, but I find details from the heavier plot of the next book in the series overwhelming my memory of this one, a book I read just a week ago. Too Many Clients arguably features an atypical flow for a Nero Wolfe adventure, but it's still amusing and while I enjoyed it, it seems after just a very short time to be a little more of a "popcorn" sort of story, and unsatisfying in the long term. That's the problem with being sandwiched between two better books, I suppose.

No comments: