Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Some Buried Caesar

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 Some Buried Caesar (Farrar & Rhinehart, 1939).

I began rereading Rex Stout in early November, and while I don't intend to regularly feature (or, in many cases, re-feature) these books on this blog, I thought that I'd like to have the chance for a note or two when I stumble upon a neat trick or two that surprised me the second time around. Frequently, you find things that you missed the first time through.

In Some Buried Caesar, the sixth Nero Wolfe novel, the normally house-bound eccentric is in upstate New York to exhibit orchids at a county fair to show up a rival, and circumstances have led him and Archie Goodwin to a large farmhouse, where they are enjoying the hospitality of the wealthy owner of a chain of inexpensive restaurants. He has purchased Caesar, a prized Guernsey bull, for $45,000 and intends to have the bull butchered and served to a hundred guests at a barbecue for the publicity, outraging a cattlemen's association that wants to continue Caesar's bloodline.

So Wolfe is on Pratt's back patio and Pratt introduces a nephew, almost with the words "This is my nephew, WHO HAS A MOTIVE TO KILL ME." Almost immediately, furious representatives of the cattlemen's association show up and express their displeasure with his publicity stunt, pretty much saying "WE'VE GOT MOTIVES TO KILL YOU." Then Pratt's neighbor's son stops by with a friend, for not much other reason than to tell Pratt "I'VE GOT A MOTIVE TO KILL YOU." It's contrived and, had Pratt ended up the corpse, it would have felt as artificial as Agatha Christie. Pratt doesn't die. The neighbor's son does.

It's also interesting to see Archie's long-running flame, Lily Rowan, in her first appearance. She's introduced through the eyes of other characters and not at all flattered by their descriptions. As she develops into a sympathetic recurring character, the judgments expressed about her here seem very harsh and very strange.

The book is just great fun from start to finish, with Wolfe finding something to appreciate in the chicken fricassee at the Methodist tent to Archie-the-Agitator starting a labor movement in the county jail. That there's a murder to solve is just frosting on a very entertaining cake. Highly recommended.

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