Friday, February 4, 2011

The Missing Chapter

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 Missing Chapter (Bantam, 1994).

I briefly had a Wikipedia username and was interested in contributing edits to that worthwhile project. I soon learned that the overwhelming majority of Wikipedia editors are self-obsessed lunatics, not worth association, and consequently almost never edit or update Wikipedia pages any longer. I made an exception with Robert Goldsborough's The Missing Chapter, which some wag had previously claimed on the Nero Wolfe page had been the last "and least" of the author's seven novels. I spent the whole book waiting for some evidence that would back that claim, but, happily, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Then I went and edited the Wikipedia page. If you're going to make an NPOV claim, you'd better be able to back it.

This book is about the definition of "meta." In it, Wolfe is hired to find out who killed a grouchy novelist with an impossibly high opinion of himself and his hackwork. He'd been hired to write continuation novels in the successful series of "Orville Barnstable" mysteries. These have been much loved by millions of readers, including a fan group called PROBE, the Passionate Roster of Orville Barnstable Enthusiasts. Perhaps the wag on Wikipedia who didn't like this book was a member of "The Wolfe Pack" and thought the comparison was unflattering. Anyway, after the original author passed away, Charles Childress took the reins, and made a few enemies, but enough people think that there is more to his apparent suicide for Nero Wolfe to be hired.

It did feel a little different from the rest of Goldsborough's novels. There's an obvious, twinkling affirmation of the author's own tropes and interests, but it never really feels like he is saying goodbye to the characters, not in the same, torch-it-all-down way that Rex Stout bid them farewell in A Family Affair almost twenty years previously. It felt more like he was saying goodbye to the readers, and Nero Wolfe's many fans, leaving the brownstone intact for the next continuator hired to work on the series. Actually, Goldsborough left the brownstone somewhat improved. In a series that was punctuated most amusingly by heaping aggravations upon Nero Wolfe, the installation of a new elevator, and the attendant demands on Wolfe's patience while the crew disrupts his schedule, is one of the funniest.

It's a shame that there has been nothing since. Strangely, despite the evident success of Bantam's series, no new novels have emerged since 1994. As for that Wikipedia editor's thoughtless commentary, The Missing Chapter is certainly not the least of Goldsborough's books - that would be either The Bloodied Ivy, or, possibly, Silver Spire - and while it was not his best, it was a good enough capper for the author's time in charge. I was glad to have had the extra few weeks with Archie and Wolfe, and look forward to rereading the corpus in a couple of years' time. Recommended.

No comments: