Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Murder in the Ball Park

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 Murder in the Ball Park (The Mysterious Press, 2014).

While enjoying a Giants-Dodgers game at Polo Field in 1950, our hero Archie Goodwin and his longtime friend and fellow detective Saul Panzer witness the murder of a state senator. They leave before they get pulled into a police investigation, but after a few days, the widow hires Archie's boss, the grouchy genius Nero Wolfe, to look into the killing. Business as usual at the old brownstone, in other words.

Robert Goldsborough has been writing Nero Wolfe adventures off and on since the mid-1980s. This is the ninth, and the second since a long hiatus. Like its predecessor, which let me down greatly with its tame adherence to the structure of the books, it's a period piece. This is the first time that any of Goldsborough's books have been set within the long timeline of Rex Stout's original series - all the others were set after or prior to Stout's corpus. You could probably place it not long after Wolfe's final confrontation with his recurring enemy Arnold Zeck.

2012's Archie Meets Nero Wolfe failed for me because I wished to see the characters outside of both the confines of the traditional Wolfe narrative, and of the ironclad rules of Wolfe's precisely-maintained household routine. Setting this story when Goldsborough did deflates those desires. A book set around the time of Prisoner's Base should absolutely feel like a book written around that time, and Goldsborough does his usual expected research and brings the period and the tone to life quite well.

The story is familiar and the beats are predictable, but that's perfectly fine for what this book is. It's revisiting old friends in a comfortable setting. After a stumble in the opening chapter - Saul and Archie, noticing the senator in attendance at the game, discuss without subtlety the man, his relationships, and a controversial road project as if to assure the readers that the man is about to be killed and to stay tuned for other important clues to come - the author captures the voices of the regular characters really flawlessly, adding several amusing new players for Archie to bounce off. The mystery is fun, confusing, and pleasantly satisfying. Not without its flaws, but not without considerable charm, either. Recommended with a smile.

(After some years out of print, The Mysterious Press has obtained the rights to Goldsborough's first seven Wolfe novels and reissued them in dress to match their two new books. Kudos to them for a job well done. They look superb.)

An advance NetGalley copy of this book was provided by the publicist for the purpose of review. If you'd like to see your books (typically comics or detective fiction) featured here, send me an email.

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