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Black Orchids

Page history last edited by Jon 12 years, 1 month ago

Review of Rex Stout’s Black Orchids

Alternate titles “The Case of the Black Orchids”, “Death Wears an Orchid”

A Nero Wolfe novella of @34,000 words

Published in book form in BLACK ORCHIDS in 1942


Wolf’s lust for a unique black orchid combined with his envy of the orchid fancier who hybridized it impel him to attend the annual New York flower show. A nursery/seed company employee is murdered at the show. Wolfe offers to solve the murder in exchange for the rare plant; and he does solve it with some clear thinking and a dramatic stratagem.


There is much to recommend this story: Humor, snappy dialogue, witty narration, nice pace, strong plot, good puzzle, clever misdirection, insightful deductions and all this in less than 100 pages. There is even an appearance by the smirking, cocky Johnny Keems, one of Wolfe’s lesser ops, who aspires to one day replace Archie, though he never quite measures up to Archie no matter how hard he tries.


This story is an ideal starting point for a Stout newcomer to begin reading the Nero Wolfe saga. It’s relatively short (though it is the longest of the novellas). It was written just seven years after FER DE LANCE so it can be classified as Early Stout. It lacks most of the faults Stout’s critics like to harp about.


Two minor quibbles: The dramatic effect of the ending is slightly lessened for Stout fans who have read more than a few volumes because one of the prime suspects is a recurring character in later stories. Stout could not have foreseen this but the story works better if you cannot eliminate this character as the murderer.


The two female characters are present for two purposes: sex objects and secret-keepers; planted in the story to complicate the plot and help bamboozle the reader. Stout could and did create strong, vibrant female characters but these two are not among them. Nothing wrong with using cardboard characters to further the plot—hey, this is a murder mystery not MADAME BOVARY--but it would have been nice to find more meat on the bones of these women.


Final note: Stout here echoes, believe it or not, Gladys Mitchell. I will not spoil the story by going into too much detail but Mrs. Bradley would have been quite amused by one of Archie’s unintentional actions and quite pleased by Wolfe’s grand stratagem.


Even with the quibbles this story is so good I have to rate it an A.



Review of Rex Stout’s Cordially Invited to Meet Death

A Nero Wolfe novella of @ 31,000 words

Published in book from in BLACK ORCHIDS in 1942


Wolfe is hired by a society party planner to find out who is writing poison pen letters about her and sending them to her clients and potential clients. Since it appears that the letters are coming from a member of the party planner’s household, Archie is sent up to her Riverdale mansion to investigate. The client dies a few days into the investigation. Was it an accident or murder? Is there a connection between the death and the letters? If it was murder how was it done?


Here we have yet another dysfunctional family/household consisting of: suspicious servants, sponging relatives, jealous employees and scheming heirs. Stout had me guessing right up to the end. The clues are fairly placed along with plenty of red herrings. Wolfe solves the complex puzzle using deductive reasoning. The pace is a bit slow. The characters were well drawn. There could have been more fireworks between the feuding females. The estate’s animal menagerie was a bit hokey, and the animal’s behaviors were questionable but Stout needed them to advance one of the plot points. The story is evocative of a Christie/Queen type effort.


A good read. Rating A-


Bob Schneider


Best Wolfe line in the story: “Archie . . .tripped on an alligator and scratched his hand.”


Question: Why was Archie wearing a coat during an August heat wave?


See also: http://at-scene-of-crime.blogspot.com/2011/10/mr-wolfe-steps-out.html


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