Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Christmas Party" by Rex Stout


There were 74 mysteries in the Nero Wolfe series: 33 full-length novels and 41 novellas. Most of the novellas were published first in magazines, then published in sets of 2, 3 or 4 in books.

This story, "Christmas Party," is one of four novellas in the book And Four to Go.  This novella was first published in Collier's, January 4, 1957, as "The Christmas-Party Murder".

Nero Wolfe is an eccentric private investigator who only works when he needs money to pay for his hobbies (orchids and food) or to support his household. All of the Nero Wolfe mysteries are narrated by Archie Goodwin, a private investigator who also serves as Wolfe's secretary when a case is not going.

The story starts with Archie refusing to accompany Wolfe to a meeting with a well-known horticulturalist. He reminds Wolfe he already has plans to attend a Christmas party at a ex-client's business, as a guest of one of the employees. As we can guess, a death occurs at the party.

This one is not especially satisfying as a mystery. More attention is paid to the relationship of Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe, which is fine with me because that is what I enjoy most about the Nero Wolfe mysteries. With such a short story I don't want to tell more but I do recommend it, at least for those who enjoy the interplay of Wolfe and Archie.

The reviewer at www.eyrie.org considers this the weakest story in the book. I have not re-read the other stories in the book, so I won't comment on that. He does note that it "may be more appealing to someone who has read a lot of Nero Wolfe." But I really like what he has to say about the series in general:
Wolfe mysteries, to note, are not the sort where the reader is given all the evidence and can try to solve the mystery before the investigators. Usually, Wolfe goes into the final confrontation with only a tactic to discover the murderer, not the final understanding of the mystery. These stories are about the process, and about Wolfe's thoroughly enjoyable speeches and Archie's infuriation of the police.

The three other novellas in this book are:
  • "Easter Parade"
  • "Fourth of July Picnic"
  • "Murder Is No Joke"

Since two of them are set around holidays, I decided to save them for those holidays. Let's just hope I remember. The introduction by Jane Haddam in the Bantam Crime Line edition is also very entertaining.

14 comments:

  1. I love the Bantam editions with the intros and in fact have this one on my shelf - so I think I'll dig it out right now. Thanks as always Tracy - have a great christmas chum.

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    1. I like the intros on those editions too, Sergio. I have a lot of them and would like to try to get copies of all of them. You have a good Christmas also.

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  2. Tracy - I think Stout was really quite good at the novella format. He really found ways to make it work. Thanks for your take on this collection.

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    1. Margot, I have been wanting to re-read more of the books of novellas. I think I have read those less times, so they would be new to me. And a lot of them were adapted in the Nero Wolfe mystery series, including this one.

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  3. Mystery, schmystery! The mystery's little weak but this is the one with Goodwin's marriage license gambit and the conundrum of how to keep a Santa Claus costume from costing Wolfe his dignity . A classic.
    Merry Christmas!

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    1. True, Rob, those are the elements that I love about this story. Merry Christmas to you too.

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  4. Tracy, I'd lined up Rex Stout for reading in 2014 but that never happened. Now I'm definitely going to read his novels and novellas next year, probably for my own "First Novels" challenge.

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    1. Prashant, I had a few authors I planned to read in 2014 and never got to. Elmore Leonard is one of them. I do hope you try a Rex Stout book this year.

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  5. It's the Archie Goodwin - Nero Wolfe relationship which I enjoy most too, so a weak mystery wouldn't bother me too much. I just like being in Archie's company particularly.

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    1. Same here, Katrina. That is why I can re-read them with enjoyment, even though I often know who did it.

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  6. Love that cover, it must be a great addition to your collection! The Wolfe/Goodwin relation is what I most like about this series, and I do like a holiday theme story (good call that they asked Jane Haddam to introduce this...) so I might try this.

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    1. I remember really liking the Easter story in this book, but don't remember the other two. Of course, I am totally indiscriminate when reading any mystery by Rex Stout. And so many lovely covers. I actually have had a list for years of all the various paperback editions for each title, so that I can collect them.

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  7. I think I would pick this up if I crossed paths with it, though I think that's kind of doubtful. I don't really need it, but never say never.

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    1. I will keep pushing Rex Stout books, Col, but reading the novels would probably appeal to you more... if you like them at all.

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