Thursday, October 21, 2010

Death of a Doxy

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 Death of a Doxy (Viking, 1966).

Interesting how different readers can see a character so differently. This is apparently the Nero Wolfe adventure that my wife likes the least, because she finds one of the characters, a nightclub singer named Julie Jacquette, incredibly shrill and shallow. I thought she was a complete hoot instead, and I loved the way that she instantly took a needle to Wolfe's pomposity upon meeting him by bursting out into song. I was surprised, however, when I popped over to Amazon for the link above and saw a customer review that described Jacquette as a stripper. I didn't get that impression at all; I thought she was more of a Lanie Kazan type. Maybe the discretion of Rex Stout's prose in the sixties was obscuring what he intended.

I enjoy the stories where there's a more personal stake for our heroes. In this one, regular supporting player Orrie Cather asks Archie to break into one of his girlfriends' apartments. Orrie is fixing to settle down with a stewardess, but one of his ladyfriends objects and is threatening to bust up the nuptials with some proof that Orrie is a regular visitor to her little love nest, a place paid for by a wealthy banker named Ballou. But Archie breaks in to find the ladyfriend's corpse waiting for him. Orrie is arrested and the details of the lady's life come spiraling into the brownstone on West 35th Street. Ballou, the obvious suspect, isn't responsible - in fact, he becomes, unexpectedly, a recurring player in some of these last five novels - leading the team down very surprising avenues.

I thought this one was really fun, and it dug into the relationship between Wolfe and Archie and the three operatives whom they most frequently hire for surveillance and other jobs. (There had been four; an operative named Johnny Keems, seen in several of the earlier stories, quite surprisingly exited the series about halfway through it.) I'm actually writing this little review a few weeks after having read the book, so as to spread out the Nero Wolfe books' appearances on this blog. I actually finished the last of Stout's Wolfe novels two days ago, and I certainly would not have enjoyed it as much had I not read Death of a Doxy, where these characters open up and relate to each other better than in any previous book. Great stuff; I'd love to see the A&E adaptation sometime soon.

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