Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Tuesday Night Club: Rex Stout and Christmas

January has arrived, and the Tuesday Night Bloggers have moved on to Rex Stout.

We are a loose group of crime fiction fans choosing a new author to write about each month – Stout is our new centre of attention. New and occasional writers always welcome to join in – just send one of us the link to your piece.




Christmas Party by Rex Stout

published 1957







“Archie!” a voice called. “Come and help us sample!” It was Margot Dickey. In a far corner was a gold-leaf bar, some eight feet long, and she was at it on a gold-leaf stool. Cherry Quon and Alfred Kiernan were with her, also on stools, and behind the bar was Santa Claus, pouring from a champagne bottle. It was certainly a modern touch to have Santa Claus tend bar, but there was nothing modern about his costume. He was strictly traditional, cut, color, size, mask, and all, except that the hand grasping the champagne bottle wore a white glove. I assumed, crossing to them over the thick rugs, that that was a touch of Bottweill elegance, and didn’t learn until later how wrong I was. They gave me the season’s greetings, and Santa Claus poured a glass of bubbles for me. No gold leaf on the glass. I was glad I had come. To drink champagne with a blonde at one elbow and a brunette at the other gives a man a sense of well-being,




commentary: Although it is January, I thought there’d be no harm looking at this Christmas story for my first Stout entry. It was first published in Collier’s Magazine, then collected in a book called And Four to Go.

It deals with a work Christmas party in the office of a fancy interior decorator - the Bottweill mentioned above.

It is a fairly extraordinary short story: I wasn’t terribly interested in the murder, or who did it, nor was I surprised or astounded by the solution. But – in this really not-very-long story, there were two huge, completely other, surprises for me. No wonder the end revelation was an anti-climax.

The first surprise is that Nero Wolfe’s trusty assistant Archie Goodwin announces he is getting married: I feel that this comes up on the first page so that’s not a spoiler. I know enough of the series to see that this must be a facer for everyone. (Wolfe’s reaction reminded me of the response of Sheldon in Big Bang Theory to Leonard’s marriage plans.) What can be going on here….? The other surprise I wouldn’t dream of revealing. It was very satisfying.

My good friend Tracy, over at Bitter Tea and Mystery, read and reviewed this story last Christmas – you can find her views here. She is an experienced and knowledgeable reader of Rex Stout, and this is her helpful summing up of the set up of this long and much-loved series:
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.

My knowledge of Stout is very similar to my relation with Ellery Queen, the November author: I must have read a dozen books by him over the years, but have never gone at them systematically, and I don’t know much about Stout. I’m looking forward to finding out more over the next month – through my own reading, but much more via the posts of my fellow Tuesday-Nighters, who I feel will have a lot to say, all of it very much to the point….


22 comments:

  1. I haven't read that many Stout's either but I liked your look at this story, which I think I read a while ago. Especially liked the Nero/Sheldon parallel, though at least Sheldon is prepared to leave his home... most of the time.

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    1. True enough! I am aware of the Wolfe/Goodwin foibles, and look forward to finding out more about them in my January reading...

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  2. I'm so glad you'll be doing some Rex Stout books, Moira. I've always loved the dynamic between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, and some of the stories are, in my opinion, pretty ingenious. Looking forward to your posts.

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  3. ps. I love that illustration you've done for the Tuesday Night Bloggers! Very clever!

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    1. Noah Stewart gets the credit for the logo Margot - it's brilliant isn't it? And I'm really looking forward to more Stout - the combination of good crime stories and a funny and entertaining relationship between the main characters is a very promising one.

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  4. Well, since this is a blog about clothes and book you should know that Rex Stout's wife, Pola Stout, was a famous designer of textiles. You can read about her here: http://americanagefashion.com/?p=3493

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    1. Thanks for the information - I didn't know that. I looked at the website, and the details were fascinating. I must try to look at more of her fabric designs.

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  5. Moira, thanks for the shout out in this post. I am definitely an experienced reader of Stout, but I wish I was more knowledgeable.

    I have a post today for the Tuesday Night Bloggers on Too Many Cooks. I do love that he has several titles like that... Too Many Clients, Too Many Women....

    The link is:
    http://bitterteaandmystery.blogspot.com/2016/01/too-many-cooks-rex-stout.html

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    1. Excellent news Tracy! So glad you are joining us this month, you are always my goto expert on Stout....

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  6. Believe it or not, I have just read this, Moira! Felt as you do - it's fun, isn't it?

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    1. Coincidence! Yes, a fun read is the perfect description.

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  7. Moira, I hope to be a new Rex Stout convert this year.

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    1. Tracy and I will get you there Prashant!

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    2. Great! I'll probably need the extra push.

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  8. Oh, wow, Rex Stout, writer about my favorite New York agoraphobic genius, lover of gourmet food, good beer and orchids. And creator of some of the wittiest dialogue contained in mysteries.

    I didn't know about this focus on Wolfe and Goodwin. I'll have to dig out my books. Is there an order or list of what is being read?

    By the way, Stout was a progressive guy in general, although he was a bit inconsistent at times.

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    1. There's a group of us writing about a different mystery author each month, and Rex Stout is January choice. No order or menu - we can all write anything we want, and every one is welcome to join in. If you felt like writing something, do a guestpost for me! Noah Stewart is collecting the links this time, at http://noah-stewart.com/ each Tuesday.

      I heard that he was quite lefty, though some of the hints in the book suggest other views. I am hoping to track down something on that for one of my posts.

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  9. One day I'll read him. I actually picked one up in a Charity shop before Christmas! Bargain.

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    1. There you go. You could try for this month and take part in the meme...

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    2. Hmm, I've kind of picked my books for the month - sans Stout! A tiny teeny maybe....

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    3. Go on! Be unpredictable, change things round....

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  10. Thanks for the invitation, but I'm taking a break from such tasks right now, but I'm gladly read some of the Wolfe pack's books now.

    Stout was progressive, was with the early American Civil Liberties Union, but he was a mixed bag, as we say, sometimes good, sometimes not. Wikipedia has information about him at its post. I read that he supported the Vietnam war, which
    is disturbing, especially since the anti-war, anti-draft movement was gigantic here, involving people from every walk of life.

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    1. Very interesting, thanks Kathy, look forward to finding out more. Hope you enjoy the Tuesday Bloggers' Month.

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