We did some traveling this weekend, and I’m one of those fortunate people who can read on a plane without suffering from motion sickness.
As part of our travel prep, we went book shopping. I was lucky enough to find another Nero Wolfe double volume paperback – “Too Many Cooks” and “Champagne For One” in a handy trade-paperback sized tome. The two stories were written about 20 years apart, but one of the things I may have mentioned before about the series is that Rex Stout maintains very little inter-book continuity. Archie Goodwin has always worked for Nero Wolfe for about ten years, no matter if it’s the 30’s, the 50’s or the 70’s. The background and technology may change, and they may mention past cases in an offhand fashion, but the characters themselves never age.
Still, this story does show a few startling signs of when it was written – this one dates from the late 30’s. Setting the scene at a high-class hotel in the South turns a really blistering spotlight on the language and attitudes of the white characters toward the non-white hotel staff. For modern readers, this can be kind of shocking. To Rex Stout’s credit, he doesn’t gloss over the whole issue – some characters are more tolerant than others, but the backdrop of the Jim Crow South is a major issue in dealing with the potential witnesses and the local authorities.
Which reminds me – I haven’t mentioned why Wolfe has left the brownstone for this particular adventure. He’s the guest of honor at a meeting of “The Fifteen Masters” – the greatest chefs in the world. Next to petty vindictiveness, incredible food is the strongest of the very few levers which can pry him out of his comfort zone. The only thing I wish this book had was a recipe or two. Stout has been known to include them in other books, but I suspect that having something that is supposed to reflect the creativity and cooking abilities of some of the greatest chefs in the world was a bit daunting.
Page count: 179
Total page count: 6940