Josh Pachter (ed.), The
Misadventures of Nero Wolfe
Copyright © 202 Rex Stout Literary Properties
Open Road Integrated Media
I have found that, generally, compilations like this tend to be disappointing, either because the concept doesn’t work or because the individual stories don’t measure up. And, being something of a Rex Stout/Nero Wolfe devotee, I was inclined to be skeptical. But, I am happy to be able to say, this was, as Mr. Wolfe would have said, satisfactory.
The book is divided into four sections:
“Tribute in Triplicate: Introductions” (3 introductions)
“Part I: Pastiches” (6 shorter pieces in which Wolfe appears explicitly or implicitly as a character))
“Part II: Parodies” (7 longer pieces whose main characters are more-or-less homages to Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe)
“Part III: Potpourri” (5 shorter, unclassifiable pieces)
Speaking solely for myself, I found the stories in Part II to be the most interesting and best realized, with the material in Parts I and III being interesting and readable, but not as interesting. So I’m going to focus mostly on Part II.
The seven parodies are, as I have already suggested, really homages. In all seven, there is a detective whose adventure is chronicled by his employee/assistant in the detective business. In several of them, Wolfe (and Archie) are off-stage presences. Of the seven, a few really stand out. For example, “The Case of the Disposable Jalop, (by Mack Reynolds)” in which three scientists (Clarke, Aldiss, and Brunner—and if you have read much SF, you’ll know where those guys came from) need is assistance in recovering a rather remarkable motor vehicle in a world that reminded me of Frederik Pohl’s story “The Midas Plague.” It’s a world in which work as we know it has more-or-less been eliminated, but greed continues. They want to hire him to find yet another scientist, named Azimov and another guy named Asimov(hint, hint). And a secretary named Mata Hari Le Guin.
And there’s Lawrence Block’s story of a Christmas party (“As Dark As Christmas Gets)” in Wolfe is hired to recover a stolen manuscript written by Cornell Wolrich that appears to have been stolen from a mystery bookstore in Manhattan. Our narrator is Chip Harrison, and our detective is Leo Haig (formerly a breeder of tropical fish for a living, but, as a result of a large legacy, a detective—who wants to be so successful that Wolfe invites him to dinner). (They also appear in novels by Block) Of course you know exactly which mystery bookstore in Manhattan this is based on. Right?
Loren Estleman’s contribution features Claudius Lyon (chronicled by a small-time con man trying to go straight, Arnie Woodbine),a detective (unlicensed) who works for free, to avoid having to get a license. Lyon is “hired” to find a past winner (Noah Ward) of a prestigious poetry award, in order to be able to include the poet’s prize-winning poem in an anthology. In the course of things, they run afoul of one of the nastier members of the NYPD’s finest. The solution is what one might call poetic justice. (Or maybe not.()
Dave Zeltserman [who is, for some reason, not indexed on SYKM, but can be found at a Wikipedia entry (Dave Zeltserman - Wikipedia)] has written a series of stories featuring a wealthy sometime PI named Julius Katz and his virtual assistant. This is considerably darker (and with higher stakes) than the others. Katz is in imminent danger of being killed, as his Boston townhouse has been bombed. And that is aa consequence of his being paid being paid a $20 K retained by the dog food king, Allen Luther. Someone is apparently trying to kill him, and he wants Katz to make sure that, should he be killed, the perp is caught.
Michael Bracken presents us with what might be termed the last days of his take on the duo in “The Possibly Last Case of Tiberius Dingo.” Dingo is old, in failing health (the office has been turned into a bedroom), and, basically, waiting to die. His aging assistant (Jughead, which is a nice touch) has arranged for Ruth Entemann to seem Dingo (he declines to take her case (she thinks she’s being stalked, but Jughead has his ways). Dingo winds up in the hospital. Jughead pursues the stalking case, and something in Ruth Entemann’s past seems to be involved.
The final section had, for me, somewhat less interest—except for Robert Lopresti’s take on what it might have been like to live next door to Wolfe. What with one thing (machine gunners destroying the greenhouse) and another (J. Edgar Hoover turning up at the wrong brownstone), I could see that Wolfe might be less than the perfect neighbor, even if it could also lead to Interesting times.
I enjoyed this book a lot. I think that any fan of Nero Wolfe (or Archie Goodwin) would also.