Champagne for One

Book 23 is the second half of the Nero Wolfe double-feature that I finished yesterday. This was kind of an odd book to read – it was one of the stories adapted for the A&E Mystery series, so there was no surprise as to whodunnit or how it was actually done. On the other hand, it was fun to see what was kept and what was changed between the page and the screen.

One of the things I wound up doing with this book (and the previous) was flagging passages that were outstanding examples of Nero Wolfe’s foibles and failings, and this book had some beauties. At one point, he gets up and walks out on a client in the middle of an interview to go spend his regularly scheduled time in the orchid room. On the other hand, he’s loyal and confident in Archie Goodwin’s powers of observation to the degree that he’s perfectly comfortable defying the wishes of the police and the district attorney’s office; they want to declare a poisoning death a suicide, while Goodwin is sure that it was a case of murder.

This is a late 50’s book, with a couple of late 50’s touches that seem a bit quaint. The spring which drives the story is a high-society dinner involving a charity for unwed mothers. The interplay of scandal and privilege is fun to watch, especially when some characters defy the whole stereotype. The daughter of the stuck-up society matron is a fun example.

There’s also a nice little pair of scenes which were in the book that I wish had been translated to the screen, although I’m not sure how they would have done it. When Archie Goodwin attends the charity dinner, he is admitted to the high-society house by the butler, who he knows from a previous job involving the family. This time though he’s a guest rather than an employee, and his coat and hat are attended to with formality and propriety. Later, when the butler is among a group of guests at Wolfe’s brownstone, Goodwin deliberately reverses their roles and relieves him of his hat and coat with equal aplomb.

Page count: 206

Total page count: 7146

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