Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Rex Stout, Some Buried Caesar

Rex Stout, Some Buried Caesar
© Copyright 1938 Rex Stout Copyright renewed 1967
This edition by Bantam Mystery, 1994

This is one of my favorites in the Wolfe Saga, partly because it’s one of the few in which I could keep up with Wolfe from the very beginning.  And also because it has Wolfe heading to upstate New York, to exhibit orchids at the North Atlantic Exposition, in Crowfield.  What has driven Wolfe to such an extremity if the behavior of another orchid grower, one Charles E. Shanks, who, Archie tells us, has refused to trade albinos with Wolfe and has refused to exhibit at the (New York) Metropolitan Orchid show.

Just before arriving at Crowfield, the Heron blows a tire and it crashes (with substantial damage).  Wolfe and Goodwin set off across a fenced pasture, where they are confronted by a very territorial bull.  This leads to Wolfe being perched atop a boulder as Archie fails in an attempt to lure the bull away.  Wolfe is soon rescued, however, by a young woman (Caroline Pratt) in her car.  Wolfe and Archie are taken to the Pratt home, where they meet Tom Pratt, the founder and owner of a chain of low-end restaurants (I keep thinking Howard Johnson, but that could be way off).  Ah—at the pasture, Archie meets Lily Rowan.

Pratt expounds to Wolfe on the value of publicity, explaining that he has purchased the bull in the pasture, Hickory Caesar Grindon, from a dairy farmer (Monte McMillan) whose best bull it was, for $45,000 (about $350,000 today).  (McMillan agreed to the sale because he lost most of his cattle to anthrax.)  And Pratt intends to slaughter the bull, barbecue it, and feed it to gourmets, rich people, and, of course, reporters and public relations people.  The local defenders of the sanctity of the breed descend on Pratt, to buy the bull and prevent him the atrocity.  Pratt refuses, and McMillan, who has has arrived with the refuses to cooperate with the would-be preservers of the breed.  They are followed almost immediately by Clyde Osgood, the son of one of the local gentry—perhaps it’s better to say, the luminary of the local gentry.  He’s accompanied by sister Nancy and a fish-out-of-water Howard Bronson (a hustler from NYC).  Clyde proposes a bet with Pratt--$10,000 even that he will not barbecue Hickory Caesar Grindon.

The bet is made, Archie is recruited for guard duty that night (Wolfe offered his services, and they get to stay in the Pratt home instead of a second-rate hotel).  While on guard duty, Lily shows up, one thing leads to another, when strange noises disturb the night.  Archie investigates, and finds Clyde Osgood, dead and bloody, with a blood-smeared bull nearby.  And the first time I read the book, at this point I knew who murdered Clyde, and why.  The problem, of course, becomes how to prove it, despite what could be a development that could make proving it impossible.  In the course of the investigation, there’s another murder, Archie gets arrested, and has some fun with the local law enforcement establishment.

Wolfe does find a path to a resolution, with the help pf Lily, and the ending is even, to a large degree, morally and emotionally satisfying.  For me, this is one of Stout’s top 10.