April 2023

REX STOUT – Death of a Doxy. Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin #42. Viking Press, hardcover, 1966. Reprinted several times.

   The word “doxy” is no longer a common word, certainly not one in everyday language today. To get this review started, allow me to quote from page 45 of the 1995 Bantam paperback edition:

         â€œMy sister was a what?”

         “D, O, X, Y, doxy. I happen to like that better than concubine or paramour or mistress….”

   Or a “kept woman,” perhaps, but maybe that’s a phrase that’s outdated and old-fashioned, too.

      Dramatis personae:

Isabel Kerr, the doxy, formerly in show business
Avery Ballou, rich businessman and Isabel’s sugar daddy
Orrie Cather, private investigator
Jill Hardy, Orrie’s fiancée, an airline stewardess
Stella Fleming, Isabel Kerr’s sister
Barry Fleming, Stella’s husband, a mathematics professor
Amy Jackson, a.k.a. Julie Jaquette, a night club singer and Isabel’s best friend
Archie Goodwin, private investigator and assistant to
Nero Wolfe, private investigator

   Orrie Cather, one of three freelance PI’s Wolf calls upon when needed, is suspected of killing the doxy, with who Cather had has an ongoing relationship and who was using it to threaten his current engagement with Jill Hardy (see above). Conferring with Sanul Panzer and Fred Durken, the other two of Wolfe’s staff of standby PI’s, he and Archie agree that Orrie is innocent, and that they must take his case, even though he is not a paying client.

   And so they do. The real killer identifies him/herself quickly. Evidence to support their conclusion is non-existent. The problem is threefold: (1) find such evidence, but in such a way that (2) the sugar daddy (see above) is not identified, and if possible (3) get paid.

   All of which requires quite a bit of finesse, which is accomplished in a most exemplary fashion, assisted in large part by one of the most fascinating female characters I’ve ever encountered in one of Wolfe and Archie’s cases, that being Julie Jaquette, the dead woman’s best friend who agrees to pull off a huge bluff to entice the killer out into the open, a ploy that involves more than a hint of danger.

   Not only is she gutsy, but she’s a woman who’s also not shy, can think on her feet (listen in on her conversation with Inspector Cramer when he becomes a little too inquisitive, for example). She goes toe-to-toe in banter and other conversation not only with Archie but Wolfe himself. She may be the only woman who’s ever stayed in the brownstone overnight and called Wolfe “Nero” in the morning.

   And what’s more, the ploy works to perfection.

   Right now this has become my favorite Nero Wolfe-Archie Goodwin novel, and that’s saying something. I don’t want to crowd in on Matthew Bradley’s ongoing series about the TV adaptations of the books and stories, so I’ll just mention in passing that Death of a Doxy was shown in two parts on the A&E Nero Wolfe series, and that the first ten minutes of it (all I’ve seen so far) is pitch perfect in execution.



K. FERRARI – Like Flies From Afar. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, hardcover, 2020. Picador, softcover, 2021.

   So, yeah. I’m an idiot. A dupe. I fall for it every freaking time. Like a fish on a hook. But a quote out there on your dust jacket saying stuff like:

      “This amazing mix of crime novel and detective story—think Jim Thompson—is even more of a nightmare—think Kafka—stunning in its power and originality.” —David Keymer, Library Journal (starred review)

      “A darker shade of absurdist noir featuring an Argentine businessman, as contemptible as he is successful, who finds his life inexplicably falling apart . . . a madcap mixture of Kafka, Bukowski, and Jim Thompson.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Not only is Like Flies from Afar a tough, perfectly constructed novel, it was written with the understanding that the noir is the new protest novel of the twenty-first century.” —Paco Ignacio Taibo

      “This novel should come not with blurbs but with a hazardous-material warning: There’s bone and gristle here, be ready for that taste in your mouth you can’t spit out. First words to last, it’s strong stuff.” —James Sallis

   I fall for it every time.

   So nobody’s fault but my own I guess. But the book just isn’t that good. It’s not. When you throw Kafka and Jim Thompson out there you’re setting a pretty high bar, man. Be careful throwing that crap around or you lose your credibility. Right? You can’t give every restaurant five freakin’ stars. Amiright?

   So the book’s about a rich capitalist pig. The book opens with the blonde mane of his ‘secretary’ bobbing between his legs, telling his wife on the phone he’s gonna be a bit late.

   The pig, Machi is his name, but he’s so freakin’ 1-D cardboard you can see nothing but his front. He treats everyone like dirt, and when you see inside his mind it’s all dirt in there too.

   This is the one thing Thompson teaches us. Rule number 1. The bad guy isn’t a bad guy. The bad guy is just a guy like you and me. He’s doing the best he can. Knowing what he knows, thinking what he thinks, he’s NOT a bad guy. He’s making the only choice that makes sense to him at the time. You can almost see where he’s coming from. Yes, you know the protagonist probably deserves the hell that is his ineluctable fate. But you kinda root for him or feel sorry for him or at the very least, you can understand where he’s coming from and how he, as a human, came to behave the way he does.

   The idea that there is pure unadulterated evil in the world is a comfort. Because it allows one to repress the knowledge of the evil that resides in every single one of us. All of us have a dark side, a shadow side, a death instinct, however much we refuse to acknowledge it. (And ironically, those who doth protesteth too much are frequently the worst perpetrators of evil of all).

   So anyway, the capitalist pig Machi is a completely vulgar unredeemable swine. All he does all day is take a shit on his workers, literally screw every female subordinate in his staff every time his wife turns her back. And sometimes not even waiting til she turns. He alienates his kids and shits on them as well.

   And then, after having made everyone in the world hate him (and after hammering you on the head for an hour about what a horrible piece of crap he is you hate him too, dear reader; you’d have to), he starts to put the asshole thru purgatory.

   So of course you love it, right? Schadenfreude is fun! The detailed purgatory suffered by a one dimensional bourgeois scumbag is delightful. This is my problem with Tarantino’s recent output. Yes it’s great fun to watch Nazis and Slavedrivers and the Manson Family get their comeuppance. But the problem is that it’s bullshit. Not just historical bullshit. It’s bullshit in the sense that it makes the villains a caricature. (I won’t even mention Spielberg here as another grand offender)

   The scariest thing to acknowledge is that evil resides within. And the corollary: the most redemptive thing is to acknowledge is that goodness resides without. That is to say (without being an apologist for the atrocities of slavery, Nazism and Charles Manson) that there was not pure evil there either — nor anywhere.

   A wonderful example of this is the movie Das Boat. All you see in the film is the struggles of the people on the submarine to stay alive. That’s it. There’s no ideology. They just want to make it back home. It doesn’t even occur to you until afterwards that they were Nazis.

   There’s also a great Roald Dahl short story showing this poor Austrian woman having a terribly difficult childbirth, such a struggle to save the baby who surely will be stillborn. You’re rooting so hard to mom and baby both. Til he’s born and named Adolf Hitler.

   So anyway, to get to the point: The McGuffin in this book is that the asshole capitalist pig is driving down the highway when his tire blows out on his top of the line BMW. He checks the trunk for a tire and finds a dead body. He doesn’t wonder who it is because that’s the kind of guy he is. The body’s face is shot off. We never find out who it is either. Because the whole book is happening from the limited perspective of this asshole (along with occasional commentary from the author reminding us of what an asshole this guy is — in case we didn’t notice on our own).

   So the capitalist pig is thrown into great turmoil by his paranoia about who put the body in the car, why they put the body in the car, when did they put it in the car, how am I gonna get rid of it, and blah blah blah. He’s worried he’s being backstabbed. But why? He can’t understand it. He’s just a businessman. Why would anyone do this to a plan old ever-loving businessman? He’s got no enemies. (But again, montage this with one dimensional scenes from his past making mortal enemies left and right thru his cutthroat, tone-deaf, humiliating treatment of everyone in his orbit.)

   Anyway. I hate this book. I hate everything about it. To me, it’s everything that’s wrong with the world today. We dehumanize our political opponents. When you dehumanize someone it’s okay to torture them, to kill them, to put them thru the proverbial wringer. Because they’re not really human. There was a Nazi propaganda film called “An Existence Without Life” that tries to convince the viewer that mental defectives aren’t really alive — they simply exist. Thus rather than paying for mental institutions we should just incinerate them. It’s not really killing because they’re not really alive. They’re not really human. Same with Jews or any other scapegoated enemy.

   It’s coming to that today. To our current polity. On the right and on the left both. All over the world. It’s way too easy to dehumanize your adversaries and then to destroy them. You would never kick a dog. But Satan? Hitler? You turn your adversary into Hitler and all of a sudden all bets are off. Who gives a crap? Kill them. Do whatever. They deserve to die.

   Except they don’t. No one deserves to die. From their own perspective anyway. Most of the time.

   And until we acknowledge that our enemies are human too we will never understand them. And we will never have any peace. Just more and more wars with enemies we cannot understand and make no efforts to do so.



  HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION. Universal TV / NBC; made for TV, 1967.) Robert Wagner, Peter Lawford, Lola Albright, Walter Pidgeon, Jill St. John, Michael Ansara, and Len Lesser. Written by Gene Kearney. Directed by William Hale.


   This has an adolescent appeal I find irresistible, tinged with Man from UNCLE gimmickry, and a “This Week’s Guest Star” cast.

   Robert Wagner, pushing 40 and still exuding boyish charm, plays Jack Washington, all-American bad-luck-boy, who starts the show by falling into the clutches of arch-villain Walter Pidgeon — these were the days when arch-villains plotted in tacky resplendence, amid blinking switchboards and uniformed stuntmen who specialized in falling down — and then flashing back to the series of bad choices that got him where he is today.

   Wavy images, harp music…. and we’re somewhere on The Continent, or maybe the Universal back lot, where Jack, fresh out of the Army and bumming around, chance-encounters an old girlfriend (Jill St John) who invites him to spend a week on the Family Yacht with Mummy and Daddy (Lola Albright and Peter Lawford.)

   Which unravels quickly. Mummy has an unbreakable veneer of politeness, Jill looks to Jack for diversion, but Daddy doesn’t like him because… well there are any number of reasons, all centered around Jack being gauche, untalented, and not terribly bright… in short, a Loser. And Daddy shows what he thinks of losers, in a series of calculated humiliations that leave our hero looking foolish and insignificant – in short, like a teenager.

   And as in a teenage fantasy, Jack soon discovers that the man belittling him is evil. Objectively evil: a crook or smuggler of some sort, as well as a liar and a cheat. And here comes the adolescent appeal, because Jack sets out to bring down Lawford, armed with little more than a camera and notebook.

   The result is a messy thing, but firmly planted in the post-childhood-but-not-quite-grown-up swamp of youth. And it blossoms into gaudy fireworks entirely appropriate to that age range.

   Don’t let my affection for this silly trifle over-sell you; I’m not saying Vacation is actually any good – just that it once appealed to my pulp-fiction mind, and I remember it fondly.


EDWARD MATHIS – Dark Streaks and Empty Places. Dan Roman #2. Charles Scribner’s Sons, hardcover, 1986. Ballantine, paperback, February 1988.

   PI Dan Roman’s base of operations is a town in Texas called Midway City, but his cases seem to take him to all sections of the state, including the timberlands. Between 1985 and 1992 eight of these cases were recorded in print, with up to half of them published after author Edward Mathis’s death in 1988.

   The books made a small splash at the time, but I’m sure both the books and Edward Mathis have been long forgotten. (But not by me nor the people who frequent this blog. You can find reviews of three of the books on this blog. I’ll add links to then in the first comment.)

   Roman has had quite a few tragedies in his life, including the deaths of his first wife and their son. He seems to be handling it well, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t get melancholy about it from time to time, and in that regard it can affect his perspective on life.

   In this case he’s hired to find the granddaughter of a high-powered businessman who’s now retired and has allowed her to become the CEO of his still remaining business holdings. Otherwise it’s a distinctively dysfunctional family, all of whom Roman gets to meet up close and sometimes personal. (Texas somehow seems to bring out the dysfunctionality in families, but in this case, more than perhaps is normal.)

   The book becomes surprisingly violent toward the end, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. Surprised, that is. Roman’s investigation is something akin to poking a stick into a hornets’ next and seeing what happens. It’s a valid way of proceeding if you survive it. (As well as Roman’s non-stop habit of lighting up another cigarette.)

   Rating on my recently reinstated H/B (had-boiled) scale: 7.2

THE SCARLET CLAW. Universal Pictures, 1944. Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Nigel Bruce (Doctor Watson). Based on the characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle (and bearing some resemblance to the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles). Directed by Roy William Neill.

   Or, Sherlock Holmes in Canada. When the wife of a famous occultist is fund murdered, her throat slashed by some unknown phenomenon, the disbelieving Mr. Holmes takes on the case. Lots of foggy marshes nearby, and all the Canadian village folk wear plaid shirts.

   The slasher is of the human variety, of course, just another homicidal paranoiac. His identity is discovered early on – who he’s disguised as, that’s the question. (Not a tough one, No self-respecting mystery fan will miss the hint tossed out halfway through.)

– Reprinted from Movie.File.2, June 1980.



MAXINE O’CALLAGHAN – Set-Up Delilah Wesr #4. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1991. Worldwide, paperback, 1994.

   Delilah West’s write-up on the Thrilling Detective website begins thusly:

    “Orange County, California is the stomping ground of street-smart private eye DELILAH WEST, who’s been around longer than even Sharon, Kinsey or V.I. She made her first appearance in a short story in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine way back in 1974, predating all of them.”

   On the basis of Set-Up, this the fourth novel in the series, it’s clear that an injustice has been done. It is as good as any of those featuring those other PI’s above, but neither the author or Delilah West herself ever caught the eye of readers in meaningful way that I know of.

   After successfully closing the case on a secretary whom she has found embezzling funds from her boss, Delilah’s next case concerns a bomb threat a environmental activist has received. In one of those coincidences that really do happen in the real world as well as fiction, the two cases ar connected, and her new client is suspect number one in the death of the woman convicted in Chapter One.

   It’s quite a complicated case, with suspects and entangled relationships all over the place, but O’Callghan’s smooth and easy prose make the whole affair go down smooth and easy. There is, I warn male readers, a hint of coziness when Delilah ruminates a notch too often about the men in her life, most of whom are carry-overs from the earlier books (and can easily be ignored, if you are so inclined), but the case itself carries on in fine old PI fashion, whether male or female. (And the bomb threat is quite real throughout the book.)

      The Delilah West novels —

Death Is Forever (1981)
Run From the Nightmare (1982)
Hit and Run (1989)
Set-Up (1991)
Trade-Off (1996)
Down For the Count (1997)

   â€“ plus seven scattered short stories.

DOUG HORNIG – The Dark Side. Loren Swift #3, Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1986; paperback, 1987.

   PI Loren Swift works out of Charlottesville, Virginia, and this is the third book of his adventures. He’s hired in this one to find out why carbon monoxide detector failed to operate properly. A man is dead.

   His current lady friend is in a hospital in a coma, and it gets a little sticky when he’s assigned a female assistant. It’s an intense sort of book, full of highly charged emotions and entangled relationships – including sexual ones – and, yes, murder.

– Reprinted from Mystery.File.6, June 1980.


      The Loren Swift series —

Foul Shot. Scribner 1984
Hardball. Scribner 1985
The Dark Side. Mysterious Press 1986
Deep Dive. Mysterious Press 1988

by Dan Stumpf:

   This is not a review of

LONELY ARE THE BRAVE. Universal, 1962. Kirk Douglas, Gena Rowlands, Walter Matthau, Michael Kane, Carroll O’Connor, William Schallert, and George Kennedy. Screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, from the novel The Brave Cowboy by Edward Abbey. Directed by David Miller.

   This is not a review, because I haven’t seen Lonely Are the Brave in its entirety. Nor do I intend to. No, this is more of a reminiscence and reflection on what I HAVE seen of it, and not to be taken for a serious evaluation.

    Lonely aired on the 9 PM Saturday night movie back in 1972. I remember the approximate date, because I was working 3rd shift that night and had to leave for work at 10 PM. I wasn’t particularly keen on watching it, because I knew how it ended –


   Indeed, every reviewer in the Free World seems to have felt duty-bound to reveal the ending of the film, and if I mention it here, well you got your !!!WARNING!!! )

   –and I had no taste for the pre-fab defeatism of a story like that. But this was in the days of very limited choices, before cable, VCRs, and all that, so I settled in to watch the first half of Lonely Are the Brave.

   And it wasn’t half bad! Kirk Douglas stars as a shiftless cowboy who wanders in to visit his old buddy (Michael Kane) and learns from his wife (Gena Rowlands) he’s in jail for helping out some migrant workers. There’s real power in this scene, what is commonly and conveniently called Chemistry between the actors as they convey longing, frustration, and rueful passion between them. So Kirk, being soft of heart and head, decides to spring his old buddy from jail.

   A terrific (and quite brutal) bar fight lands him in the pokey with his friend and a file to cut away the window bars (No, I didn’t believe it either!) Come to think of it, Kirk gets three nasty thumpings in this movie, and ends up with nothing worse than a few scratches and makeup-man-made bruises, but I digress; things don’t go as planned because his childhood buddy is too mature for anything as dumb as a jail-break.

   Which leaves Kirk at loose ends and looking kind of childish. Also, he should get out of town pretty quick. But he makes a final stop to see Gena, reflects thoughtfully on old times, his inability to grow up with them, and the love that might have been… Then saddles up his horse and rides off into the sunrise, down the way to Mexico. At which point I had to buckle on my gunbelt and head into Night Shift.

   But the more I thought about Lonely, the more I liked it right there, ending with that image of the sadder-but-wiser hero on his way to some mythical fade-out always just beyond the end credits.

   And so I have been content to leave it that way. I know the ending of Lonely Are the Brave, and it just doesn’t interest me.

   But I highly recommend that first half!


TRIAL WITHOUT JURY. Republic Pictures, 1950. Robert Rockwell, Barbra Fuller, Kent Taylor, Audrey Long, Barbara Billingsley, Dabbs Greer, Jack Larson. Directed by Philip Ford.

   A playwright [Kent Taylor] finds himself in a jam after the producer he has just had an argument with is found murdered. Worse, his girl friend’s brother is the police lieutenant assigned to the case, and he is convinced the writer did it. Solution: turn amateur detective.

   Rockwell, more famous in some circles for his career on TV, does not make very convincing [homicide] detective. The real star is Kent Taylor as the prime suspect, but any story in which you find a killer by making yourself bait does not have very much going for it.

– Reprinted from Movie.File.2, June 1980.


Nero Wolfe on Page and (Small U.S.) Screen:
The Silent Speaker
by Matthew R. Bradley


   The Silent Speaker (1946) was Rex Stout’s first Nero Wolfe novel after a wartime hiatus, and the first from Viking, his publisher for the rest of his life, during which he wrote only of Wolfe. Titular victim Cheney Boone, the director of the government’s Bureau of Price Regulation (BPR), is found in a small room off the stage of the Waldorf-Astoria’s Grand Ballroom, bludgeoned to death with a monkey wrench — an exhibit for the speech he was about to deliver to the National Industrial Association (NIA). The court of public opinion having convicted the NIA, which is bitterly opposed to Boone’s policies, president Frank Thomas Erskine hires Wolfe to investigate, for which he convenes the interested parties.

   On one side of his office, Erskine is joined by son Ed, NIA assistant P.R. director Hattie Harding, Dinner Committee Chairman Don O’Neill, and Executive Committee members Breslow and Winterhoff. On the other are Boone’s wife, Luella, and niece, Nina; Alger Kates of the BPR’s Research Department; and Deputy — now Acting — Director, Solomon Dexter. “In between the two hostile armies were the neutrals or referees,” i.e., Inspector Cramer (whose initials, contradicting the previous novel, are indicated as “L.T.C.”), Sgt. Purley Stebbins, and the FBI’s G.G. Spero, although Wolfe’s telegram inviting them is not accepted by Boone’s confidential secretary, Phoebe Gunther, or the Waldorf’s Rohde.

   Everybody has an alibi and nobody has an obvious personal motive, with no clues given by the text of the speech, although a case containing cylinders from a dictating machine, which Boone made after a mysterious emergency conference in Washington and wanted Phoebe to transcribe, is missing.

   Ed displays apparently nonreciprocal interest in Nina, while Archie — sent to fetch Phoebe after they disperse in acrimony — finds Kates there, but her interview with Wolfe is inconclusive. Archie watches O’Neill retrieve the leather case from the parcel room at Grand Central Station, bringing them both to Wolfe; O’Neill arranges for the loan of a Stenophone, but is ejected by Archie before they listen to them.

   The case contains 10 cylinders dictated before the day of Boone’s murder, but although it was presumably switched for another of the 12 he used, Wolfe has Archie transcribe their seemingly innocuous contents.

   Desperate due to a lack of progress, Cramer agrees to his request to have Lt. Rowcliffe (sic) reconvene everyone, yet as the party is getting started, Fritz finds Phoebe by the basement gate; friend and neighbor Doc Vollmer confirms that she’s been bludgeoned with a piece of iron pipe, so now, nobody has an alibi, and all had opportunity. Nine cylinders are found in her Washington apartment, none with anything useful, but on a scarf in Kates’s coat, Phillips finds microscopic traces from the iron pipe.

   It belongs to Winterhoff, who claims it was stolen on his last visit, yet it could have been put there by anybody, so Cramer is again forced to disperse the group; Wolfe hires Saul, Bill Gore, and 20 men from Del Bascom’s agency, sans explanation, and asks Archie to gain Nina’s confidence.

   Wolfe declines a $300,000 offer from lawyer and self-described errand boy “John Smith” to pin the killings on Dexter or Kates, presumably on behalf of the NIA, and equally willing to toss O’Neill to the wolves. Commissioner Hombert says that Cramer has been relieved and replaced by Inspector Ash, one of his former captains, now in charge of Homicide in Queens, who summons Wolfe to Centre Street police H.Q.

   Ash gets a literal slap in the face, from Wolfe, and a figurative one, from Hombert, who says he’ll handle it with D.A. Skinner; Wolfe is impressed when told Cramer was fixating on the 10th cylinder. Luella says Phoebe confided that she knew who’d murdered Boone, had the cylinder, and would use it after maximum damage was done to the NIA, to whom Wolfe has tendered his resignation.

   To avoid the fallout, he has Vollmer certify that he is having a nervous breakdown until realizing that Phoebe hid the cylinder in his office, and Boone, living up to the title, reveals a warning from O’Neill’s VP, Henry A. Warder, that O’Neill was buying information from Kates, who killed Boone in an angry confrontation.

   â€œThe Silent Speaker” (7/14 & 21/2002), a two-part second-season episode of A Nero Wolfe Mystery, was adapted and directed by Michael Jaffe (tripling as an executive producer); soap star Cynthia Watros and Second City Television legend Joe Flaherty make their only appearances as, respectively, Phoebe and Vollmer.

   Most other parts were, as usual, filled by repertory players such as James Tolkan, returning as FBI Agent Richard Wragg, a role he created in “The Doorbell Rang” (4/22/01), also written by Jaffe. Stout used Wragg in that book, but had yet to introduce him here, so in a logical move, Jaffe makes Wragg, in effect, a composite of Spero and another federal agent, Travis, from The Silent Speaker.

   Unlike the William Conrad series, Maury Chaykin’s has no uniform title theme or credit sequence. After a brief pan across a New York skyline, each episode opens with a unique Michael Small score and animated montage introducing “The Players,” in which Timothy Hutton, also the show’s most frequent director and an executive producer, is significantly billed first.

   â€œThe Silent Speaker” segues from a drawing of the BPR to an informational film about the NIA, symbolizing a conflict mirroring that between the real-life Office of Price Administration (OPA), run by Chester Bowles — note the similarity in name — and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

   When Archie (Hutton) requests permission from Cramer (Bill Smitrovich) to examine the “murder room,” Jaffe interpolates his wife (Nicky Guadagni), who reveals his first name; his bank balance low, Wolfe (Chaykin) baits the hook, having Archie “accidentally” drop the memo in Hattie’s (Christine Brubaker) office and ask Wragg for any reason he should not take interest.

   A montage conveys the time Archie wastes fencing with Hattie before Wolfe receives Erskine Sr. (David Schurmann), Jr. (Matthew Edison), Breslow (George Plimpton) and Winterhoff (Bill MacDonald). Later, Wolfe denies to O’Neil (sic; Richard Waugh) that he was asked to shift attention elsewhere, and invites him to their discussion.

   This is well choreographed with Cramer, Wragg, and Purley (R.D. Reid) observing while they face Luella (Debra Monk), Nina (Manon von Gerkan), Kates (Julian Richings), and Dexter (Robert Bockstael); in her solo visit, Phoebe makes an impression on Archie, with whom she flirts, and Wolfe (“A woman who is not a fool is dangerous”). Jaffe supplants Gore with series regular Fred Durkin (Fulvio Cecere), and gives Fritz (Colin Fox) a more active role in O’Neil’s humiliation.

   Lunching with Nina at the Tulip Room, Archie gets a call from Wolfe, livid at being served by Ash (Doug Lennox), and repertory players Gary Reineke and Steve Cumyn make one-off showings as Hombert and Skinner, respectively.

   The comic potential of Vollmer’s diagnosis is maximized, with Jaffe adding “some tests to rule out any sort of neurological problems here,” e.g., inkblots identified by Wolfe as “an Eastern European village where the inhabitants have coins as heads” and “a piece of veal,” and a search for phrenologic bumps. The denouement is delicious: Wolfe, having returned the NIA’s fee, still collects their $100,000 reward for the killer, and after Archie posits his finding the cylinder days earlier, he hypothesizes the delay to further Phoebe’s ends (having told her in the novel, “I don’t like the NIA. I’m an anarchist”). Vindicated, Cramer gives Wolfe an orchid in gratitude for handing the murderer directly over to him.

            — Copyright © 2023 by Matthew R. Bradley.

Up next: Trouble in Triplicate

      Edition cited

The Silent Speaker  in Seven Complete Nero Wolf Novels: Avenel (1983)

      Online source

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