Nov 19 2007
There's certain comfort in the familiar read. My husband can't understand why, with a stack of new books piling up on my night stand, I can often be found with a book I've read hundreds of times before in my hands. I love new books, but sometimes you just want something safe that you know you love, with characters that are trusted friends. One such favorite is the Nero Wolfe mystery series by Rex Stout, staring the private detective Nero Wolfe and his confidential assistant and man about town, Archie Goodwin. These are narrated in the first person by Archie who employs a conversational, slightly sarcastic tone complete with period slang (Rex Stout wrote about one a year from 1934 until 1975). What I love so much about this series is the very sameness of it. Nero is always Nero and Archie is always Archie, no need to read the books in any order because they never change. Nero's New York City brownstone which doubles as office and home for the duo is as familiar to me as my own home. I know Nero's exacting schedule better than my own. (Nero, although never labeled as such, seems to have a combination of agoraphobia and OCD. He hates leaving the brownstone almost as much as he hates deviations from his schedule). Which makes it someone surprising that my favorite Nero Wolfe is “Some Buried Caesar“, written in 1938, which takes place outside of the brownstone.
From the back cover:
An automobile breakdown strands Nero Wolfe and Archie in the middle of a private pasture- and a family feud over a prize bull. A restauranteur's plan to buy the stud and barbecue it as a publicity stunt may be in poor taste, but it isn't a crime…until Hickory Caesar Grindon, the soon-to-be-beefsteak bull, is found pawing the remains of a family scion. Wolfe is sure the idea that Caesar is the murderer is, well, pure bull. Now the great detective is on the horns of a dilemma as a veritable stampede of suspects- including a young lady Archie has his eye on- conceals a special breed of killer who wins a blue ribbon for sheer audacity.
One of the joys of “Some Buried Caesar” is seeing Nero out of his element, away from the brownstone, his beloved orchids, his gourmet chef Fritz, and his favorite chair. His discomfort is a source of both amusement and irritation for Archie. A greater pleasure for me though, is that this is the book where Archie's long-term girlfriend Lily Rowan is introduced. Lily doesn't get more than a passing mention in most of the other books, the primary relationship is always that of Archie and Nero (true hetero lifemates). Even in this book, the romance between Archie and Lilly is underplayed, but Lily still manages to jump off the pages.
Lily is first described to Archie by a friend of hers as “a vampire. She's dangerous.” … “I used to think that talk about some women being dangerous, you know, really dangerous, was romantic hooey, but it isn't. Lily Rowan is one. If she wasn't too lazy to make much of an effort there's no telling how many men she might ruin, but I know of at least three she has played the devil with.”
Of course she falls for Archie and they indulge in some banter (not a lot simply because Lily just doesn't get as many pages as I'd like her to have). Their first kiss is decidedly unromantic but makes me smile every time I read it.
“Lily held her hands out. “Help me up.”
I grabbed hold, gave a healthy jerk, and she popped up and landed flat against me; and I enclosed her with both arms and planted a thorough one, of medium duration, on her mouth, and let her go.
“Well,” she said, with her eyes shining. “You cad.”
“Don't count on that as a precedent,” I warned her. “I'm overwrought. I may never feel like that again. I'm sore as the devil and had to relieve the tension somehow.”
“Go climb a tree,” she said, and got her arm through mine, and we went to the house that way, though it is a form of intimacy I don't care for, since I have a tendency to fight shy of bonds.”
I love how Archie tries to play it off, but she isn't having any of it. Lily knows what she wants and she goes after it.
I can't say much about the mystery itself because strange as it sounds, I don't actually read this series for the mysteries, just for the characters and the whole world that Rex Stout created. I highly recommend any of the books, but this one is my particular favorite.
~ Jennifer, long time lurker
This is part of our Favorite Things series. Please consider sharing a story about your favorite book. Email jane at jane at dearauthor dot com.