Sunday, April 5, 2015

"Easter Parade" by Rex Stout

Briefly, if you are not familiar with the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout, Nero Wolfe is a genius, a lover of orchids and fine food, who supports himself as a private detective. Archie Goodwin, the narrator of the stories, is both his assistant and a private investigator, and he does most of the legwork. They live in a New York brownstone and share the house with Theodore, the plant expert, and Felix, Wolfe's cook.

There are 32 full length novels featuring this pair, and over ten books which collect between two to four novellas per book. In And Four to Go (1958), there are four novellas; "Easter Parade" is the second novella in the book.

Jane Haddam wrote the introduction to the Bantam Crime Line edition of And Four to Go, and she is very complimentary of his short fiction here.
Someone looking for a chance to spend time with Wolfe and Archie at their most vivid could hardly pick a better volume than this one. Short detective fiction is often very frustrating. Restricted to a few thousand words, even the best of authors choke. Characters strongly drawn in the longer fictional forms become thin. Plots made intricate by twists and turns over the course of two hundred pages turn out to be obvious and feeble when confined to twenty. Maybe my third-grade teacher was right. Maybe Mr. Rex Stout was perfect. There are none of the weaknesses of your run-of-the-mill mystery story here.
Of the novellas that I have read recently, the stories seem to focus more on the Wolfe - Goodwin relationship and less on the process of detecting. I do enjoy them just as much as the full length novels, but readers who want a good mystery might be disappointed.

The second paragraph of this story reads like Archie's job description . Archie is refusing to stoop to thievery, which he thinks is what Wolfe is after.
"If you wanted me to hook something really worth while, like a Mogok ruby, I might consider it. For what you pay me I do your mail, I make myself obnoxious to people, I tail them when necessary, I shoot when I have to and get shot at, I stick around and take every mood you've got, I give you and Theodore a hand in the plant rooms when required, I lie to Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Stebbins whether required or not, I even help Fritz in the kitchen in emergencies, I answer the phone. I could go on and on. But I will not grab an orchid from a female bosom in the Easter parade. There is--"
Wolfe is not asking Archie to break the law and steal a very rare orchid, but he does want him to find someone who is "adroit, discreet, resolute, and reliable" for the job. The orchid will be worn in the Easter Parade, and Wolfe's lust for it will lead to problems for both him and Archie.

As Haddam mentions in her introduction, "Easter Parade" was first published in the April 16, 1957, issue of Look magazine, and it included color photos with clues to the mystery. You can see the illustrations that were in Look magazine at the Wikipedia page for this story or at The Wolfe Pack website.

Three of the stories in And Four To Go feature holidays, and I reviewed one of them, "Christmas Party," in December.


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I have that collection but have not read the story - must remedy this later today! Thanks TracyK. And as we say in the old country, Buona Pasqua.

Anonymous said...

What a great choice for the time of year, Tracy! You make an interesting point too about the difference between Stout's full-length novels and the novellas. I'll have to re-read some of these stories with that in mind. Thanks for the 'food for thought.'

Clothes In Books said...

I guess Jane Haddam would appreciate holiday-themed stories as she does them herself! Will you cover the remaining two stories at the appropriate times of the year?

col2910 said...

I still haven't got anywhere near Stout day!

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, I'm with Col. I'm yet to read Rex Stout though I have been reading a lot about him on blogs such as yours.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Sergio, Buona Pasqua to you too. Now I have learned some Italian and will have to save it for next year. (although we don't really celebrate Easter)

TracyK said...

Margot, I am not sure how true it is for all the novellas, but it has made me want to re-read more of the novellas and see.

TracyK said...

Moira, I had forgotten that her earlier books were holiday themed. That was the perfect choice for her. Her introduction is great... She lived in the same area as Stout did when she was growing up.

TracyK said...

Col, I don't even know if you will like his books and they are variable... although I love them all. But you should read at least one.

TracyK said...

Prashant, I do think you would like the Nero Wolfe books and hope you get to try one someday. They are sort of like cozies but not.

Anonymous said...

What a treat it is to curl up with the denizens of the West Side brownstone and read of their shenanigans and the incredible repartee between the two main characters, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

And what a reminder it is here and at Yvette Can Draw to pick up these books again and be entertained and drawn into the world of the eccentric curmudgeonly genius and his good-natured assistant.

And the TV episodes are a lot of fun, too. It is sheer entertainment.

TracyK said...

I agree with all you say, Kathy. I have several Nero Wolfe books I want to read soon.

I enjoyed Yvette's latest post about the Nero Wolfe series. And all the comments on it. I have been rewatching the TV episodes a bit at a time. It doesn't hurt that I am a big fan of Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin.