Some Buried Caesar

And it’s back to the Nero Wolfe mysteries for the 15th book of the season. This one gets its title from The Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam, specifically the line “I sometimes think that never blows so red The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled” – although in this case the Caesar in question is a prizewinning bull named Hickory Caesar Grindon.

Nero Wolfe is out of his element in this book. He’s actually left the brownstone for an extended trip to upstate New York to embarrass a rival orchid grower at the North Atlantic Exposition. Orchids being one of the few things that would tempt him out of his comfort zone, with petty vindictiveness providing the rest of the necessary impetus.

And Wolfe is incredibly petty. And manipulative. And arrogant. During the story he has plenty of opportunities to show off all the rest of his phenomenally unpleasant personality traits. When someone is found dead in an enclosure with a bull, Wolfe looks over the scene, determines that the man was murdered, finds the weapon, deduces the motive and then doesn’t tell anyone because he’s not being paid to investigate anything.

With a detective like that, it’s no wonder the author has Archie Goodwin around as a sympathetic foil.

And speaking of Archie, there’s a bit of throwaway dialogue that has been a puzzle for readers for years. While chatting with the book’s femme fatale, there’s the following bit of banter:

“…What’s the difference between a Catholic and a river that runs uphill?”
She didn’t know, and I told her, and we babbled on.

The thing is, Archie doesn’t tell us what that difference is. And it doesn’t seem to have been any kind of common joke from the late 1930’s either. Fortunately, according to this article, one of the people puzzled by it was the Science Fiction author Alfred Bester. He got the chance to meet Rex Stout at one point and wrote about the interview in the introduction to his short story collection, Star Light, Star Bright:

When I met Rex Stout at last, I reminded him of the conundrum and asked for the answer. He burst out laughing. ‘How the Hell do I know? I just invented it for the scene.’

Page Count: 274

Total page count: 4655

One response to “Some Buried Caesar

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I’m in the middle of the book now, and was wondering about the answer to the joke, too. I thought I’d look it up on the internet, and here I am.

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