Saturday, October 20, 2012

Please Pass the Guilt

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 Please Pass the Guilt (Viking, 1973).

When I first read Rex Stout's considerable body of work, I found myself running out of steam at the end, and it felt like there were at least four books that I just blew through as quickly as possible to get to the last one, the masterful Family Affair. If I may express an unpopular opinion, Stout really did write too darn many of these stories, and he began repeating himself even before the 1960s, but his plots and the sparkling wit of his storytelling went a long way toward papering over the problems.

On my second read, I was in no hurry, perceived or otherwise, and I resolved to do right by Please Pass the Guilt, the penultimate of the stories, and which suffered the worst of my impatience a couple of years back. But the reality is that it's incredibly dreary, just Wolfe-by-the-numbers. There is, briefly, the twist that the television network executive who was killed in an explosion might not have been the intended target, but Stout wasn't able to drive the storyline past the interminable delays and roadblocks caused by the rules around the characters.

A good quarter of the book is spent just drumming up somebody to serve as the client, and then there's the long-winded problem of tediously getting everybody to Wolfe's office for another of his meetings... at this point, it really feels like Stout was completely bored and fed up with his own structure, and, restless and aggravated by all the hoops that he had to jump through to play by these rules, he put his characters through the same grind in every bit as bad of a mood.

Desperate for some levity or humor, I found myself casting the roles of the players with actors who were active in Hollywood in 1973. I figured parts for David Janssen, Peter Falk, Ed Asner and Loretta Swit before concluding that any book that gives a fellow nothing more to do but pretend it's one of those old Million Dollar Movies of the Week doesn't have a lot to say at all, really. Not recommended.

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