Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Bloodied Ivy

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 The Bloodied Ivy (Bantam, 1988).

It's true that Rex Stout always made his Nero Wolfe novels a product of the time that they were written. Wolfe and Archie Goodwin and most of the rest of their cast - there was one returning character from the fourth novel, Too Many Cooks, who showed up three decades later having aged three decades while our heroes somehow didn't - were always modern. Well, Archie was modern. Wolfe, grouchily demanding his schedule and disapproving of the world outside his brownstone, would have been just as happy to have remained in prewar New York City as to have moved along with a world that, in Robert Goldsborough's third continuation novel, includes personal computers for Archie to enter his germination records, and a celebrity culture that includes references to David Letterman, Madonna, and Vanna White. If you had told me when I finished Fer-de-Lance last year that at some point in these books, we'd run into a Vanna White reference, I'd have called you a liar.

This time out, a nebbish professor at a small private college eighty miles north of town has come to Wolfe and Archie with a long-winded story about how a controversial right-wing colleague and mentor could not possibly have fallen to his death, but was murdered. Cast Woody Allen and John Huston in those roles and suddenly the whole book turns into less of a novel and more like the big, annual TV movie on CBS with a host of celebrity guest stars in the whodunit. There's even a part here for Stephanie Beacham, generously. That's honestly what reading this book felt like. You remember when Raymond Burr returned to all those Perry Mason TV movies on NBC in the late eighties? I'm going to hope this effort was an aberration, because while Goldsborough's first two novels were reasonably good, this one fell down a crevice steeper than the one that killed the professor. Not recommended.

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