Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone – 3 Good Reasons: Immune to Murder

Monday, February 24th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

ImmuneMurder_IllustrationWelcome to the third installment of 3 Good Reasons. With a goal of eventually tackling every tale of the Corpus, I’ll give three reasons why the particular story at hand is the best Nero Wolfe of them all. Since I’m writing over seventy ‘Best Story’ essays, the point isn’t actually to pick one – just to point out some of what is good in every adventure featuring Wolfe and Archie. And I’ll toss in one reason it’s not the best story. Now – These essays will contain SPOILERS. You have been warned!

The Story

“Immune to Murder” can be found in Three for the Chair. Wolfe and Archie travel to a hunting lodge in the Adirondacks, owned by oil baron O.V. Bragan. Theodore Kelefy, an ambassador to the US from a third-world, oil-rich country, has requested that Wolfe cook some freshly caught trout. Archie goes fishing while a cranky Wolfe begins cooking lunch – and finds the body of Assistant Secretary of State David Leeson; murdered while out fishing. As has happened in other stories involving important persons as potential suspects, the local authorities aim their suspicions at Wolfe and Archie.  Wolfe is forced to solve the case so he can get back home. And also because the killer offends his pride.

3 GOOD REASONS

Classic Curmudgeon

I have read a few criticisms of Maury Chaykin, in the Nero Wolfe Mysteries television show, for yelling far more than Wolfe did. I think that’s a fair assessment. Though, Wolfe certainly could express his anger somewhat loudly, when he wanted. But over the course of the entire Corpus, it didn’t happen as frequently as the tv series would lead you to believe. However: it is still quite believable for Wolfe, and I don’t think it detracts at all from the performance.

Chaykin (who, sadly, passed away in 2010), through his speech, facial movements and body language, absolutely did convey Wolfe’s demeanor as a cranky curmudgeon. Rex Stout, through Archie, gives examples of Wolfe time after time over the forty-ish years of tales. And “Immune to Murder” absolutely opens up with just such an incident.

After a 328 mile drive from the Manhattan brownstone, to River Bend, a sixteen-room mountain lodge in the Adirondacks, Wolfe’s back hurts. Since he always sits totally stiff and erect when traveling in a motor vehicle, “even with me at the wheel,” as Archie says, that’s not a big surprise. But Wolfe, even more cranky than when he’s at home, says he has lumbago and refuses to leave his room and join the dinner group.

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: The Careworn Cuff – Part Three (The Greenstreet Chronicles)

Monday, February 17th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

And it’s the final installment in our three-part adaptation of “The Careworn Cuff,” from the old Nero Wolfe radio show staring Sidney Greenstreet. It’s not going to make much sense of you don’t read Part One, and Part Two, first.

The Careworn Cuff – Part Three (of Three)

Chapter Five 

Nero Wolfe TrainI was back at my desk as Wolfe related what I had missed. It seemed that the brownstone had been pretty busy while I was taking Miss Spencer to her temporary lodgings. Wolfe was nearly as good as me at reporting, though, not surprisingly, he tended towards lazy. I had told him to give it all to me.

“So, I awoke to a noise. It was not the front door.”

Wolfe – “Archie?”

Intruder – “No, not Archie.”

“A man moved to the office doorway. I cannot say that I was surprised at who it was.”

Wolfe – “Ah, our impatient and nonmusical friend. I did not hear the bell. You must have come in through a window. I hope you didn’t break anything.”

Wolfe – “How are you Mister…not Porter, of course.”

Intruder – Where’s the girl?”

Wolfe – “That question is beginning to bore me. I don’t know.”

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: The Careworn Cuff – Part Two (The Greenstreet Chronicles)

Monday, February 10th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Nero WolfeWe’re back this week with the second installment in our three-part adaptation of The Careworn Cuff, from the old Nero Wolfe radio show staring Sidney Greenstreet. If you missed Part One, you really need to read it first. It might not make Part Two any better, but at least it will make sense!

The Careworn Cuff – Part Two (of Three)

Chapter Three

I found four Dorothy Spencers listed in the phone book; any of which might be our non-client. Wednesday morning, while Wolfe was upstairs for his morning session with the orchids, I eliminated three of them. I couldn’t get a hold of the fourth, so she was still a possibility. I had just made another unsuccessful attempt when I heard the elevator, struggling under Wolfe’s seventh of a ton. If I worked as hard as that elevator, I would definitely demand a raise.

“Good morning Archie. Did you sleep well?”

It’s the same greeting, every day, even if we had already talked that morning. He went to his desk, carrying the day’s orchid. I had already changed the water in the vase on his desk. That’s one of my daily duties. He must have finished the Van Doren book in his room this morning. He had a new one tucked under his arm as he entered.

Sitting at my desk, I had watched him cross the room, returning his greeting as he reached his own oversized one. I was silent until he was settled in his chair, the book placed on the desk. I now saw that it was The Age of Reason, by Thomas Paine. I had a pretty good idea that the discussion at lunch was going to involve Colonial America. History was not one of my favorite subjects as a boy, so I would mostly be listening.

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: The Careworn Cuff – Part One (The Greenstreet Chronicles)

Monday, February 3rd, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

WolfeRadio_GreenstreetI’ve previously mentioned the radio show, The Adventures of Nero Wolfe, starring Sidney Greenstreet. And back in 2017, to middling results, I had written up one of those episodes, Stamped for Murder, as a novella. I tried to stay too true to the dialogue, and to Greenstreet’s rather un-Wolfean portrayal. But, you only have to kick me in the head three or four times before I catch on, so I decided to try again. Below is the first installment of a three-part adaptation of another episode, The Case of the Careworn Cuff. This time, I think I did a much better job of emulating Stout, rather than Greenstreet. Read on, and enjoy!

The Careworn Cuff – Part One

Chapter One

Nero Wolfe was the most brilliant, and also the laziest, detective in the world. He rarely left his brownstone on West 35th Street, and never on business. I lived there, eating the amazing grub prepared by Fritz Brenner, a wonderful chef (do NOT call him a ‘cook’) and a gentle soul. But also a good man in a pinch. His war experiences had hardened him more than appearances might indicate, and he had the scars to prove it. The fourth and final occupant was Theodore Horstmann: more on him in a moment.

Wolfe used his brain, which was only slightly smaller than his prodigious waistline, and his even more massive ego, to pay for the upkeep. Which was considerable. I doubt too many other citizens of New York City ate as well as Wolfe did. And he probably could have bought his own brewery with his beer bill. And of course, there were the orchids.

No matter what some detective stories might lead you to believe, crimes can’t be solved solely from an armchair. Another surprise: crimes don’t only take place while you’re a guest at a country estate. Although, there was that affair of the missing rubies while I was staying at Lily Rowan’s Westchester digs. But that’s another story for another session at the typewriter.

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January 2020

Monday, January 20th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Garrett_SweetsilverEDITED“Say, Bob, it’s been an ENTIRE month since you told us what you’ve been reading lately. The suspense is keeping me up at night.” OK – so nobody said that to me. I’ll tell you some of the stuff I’ve taken off of the shelves lately, anyways.

GLEN COOK – SWEET SILVER BLUES

I’ve already written about Glen Cook’s terrific hardboiled, fantasy PI series featuring Garrett. It combines Raymond Chandler, Nero Wolfe, and Terry Pratchett in a terrific fashion. I have a hard time imagining a better series. I’ve talked to a couple fellow Black Gaters about a round-robin look at several books in the series: So many ideas, so little time.

I’m working on this essay on Sunday evening, mere hours ahead of deadline, because I spent a couple hours yesterday re-reading book one, Sweet Silver Blues, instead of sitting at the keyboard and writing. I like it quite a bit, but it’s in book two, Bitter Gold Hearts, that the series really settles in. I’ve read most of the series at least twice before over the years. A few of my friends didn’t care for 2013’s Wicked Bronze Ambition, the last (but hopefully not final) book. It’s definitely not one of my favorites, but it’s still Garrett, and I hope there will be at least one more.

This is one of my favorite series’ in both the fantasy and private eye genres. HIGHLY recommended. And I’m also a huge fan of Cook’s The Black Company, which is light years away in tone and style. He’s simply a very good writer. Black Gate buddy Fletcher Vredenburgh did a fantastic walk-through of the entire series last year.

JOHN D MACDONALD

John MacD has been my favorite author for about three decades now. I enjoy his standalones, his short stories, and his Travis McGee books. I’ve written about him several times, and if all I did was write for Black Gate (sadly, I need to pay my bills and other such nonsense), you’d be reading a LOT about him here.

Earlier this month, after holding off for over twenty-five years, I finally watched the 1970 adaptation of Darker ThanAmber, with Rod Taylor as Travis McGee. Then, I went and re-read the book over the next couple of days. Taylor grew on me as the movie progressed, and they followed the book fairly faithfully. The final fight scene between McGee and Terry was really something to see.

I think this is a better version of a McGee novel than the 1983 film starring Sam Elliot (why in the world would you transplant McGee to California?!).

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Bob’s Books: “Fast, Loose Money” by John D. MacDonald

Monday, January 6th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

MacDonald_EndTigerCover2EDITEDJohn D. MacDonald broke in near the end of the Pulp Era, writing for science fiction and mystery magazines. He appeared in Dime Detective his first year of writing, and made it into Black Mask the next. Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw became his agent after the legendary editor left the magazine. He quickly became a staple for Fawcett Gold Medal’s paperback origscoinal novels, while still writing short stories, including for slicks like Redbook and Cosmopolitan. With seven stories in 1958 (the same as in 1957), Macdonald effectively ended his run as a short story writer and shifted almost completely to novelist.  He would only write that many short stories in a year twice more for the rest of his life.

The last story published in 1958 was “The Fast, Loose Money,” in the July issue of Cosmopolitan. It was included in the 1966 collection, End of the Tiger and Other Stories. One of the fourteen other stories in that book is “The Trap of Solid Gold,” which I think is one of his best; and which Steve Scott used to name his blog – the best John D. MacDonald site on the web. You can read Steve’s two-part essay on MacDonald’s Park Falkner, here.

At eleven pages of tightly spaced small print, it’s a little longer than almost every other story in the book.

During World War II, MacDonald was an ordnance officer in the India-China-Burma Theater, working in procurement. He was initially assigned to New Delhi, and he did not like India, writing over forty years later, that it “was a sorry country, full of sorry people.”

He was transferred to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which became the CIA. He worked out of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Burma, and China. MacDonald would use his experiences and knowledge of his wartime service in the Far East, in several of his short stories. 1958’s “Taint of the Tiger” was expanded into a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback, Soft Touch. Another ‘war-roots’ story from that year is “Fast, Loose Money.”

Something has gone very wrong in Jerry Thompson’s day. Jerry owns three parking lots in a nearby city. He and his wife Marie live well enough off of them, but as he says, “If you play by the rules, you’re a sucker.” So, Jerry had been using a duplicate ticket scheme to grab some off-the-book income, totaling about $26,000, which he kept at home in a wall safe, and spent low-key, to avoid the danger of getting caught.

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A (Black) Gat in The Hand: Bill Crider Reviews ‘The Brass Cupcake’

Monday, December 30th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Crider_BillEDITEDYou’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

If you asked me to name the nicest person I’ve encountered since becoming a writer/blogger/whatever I am, I’d immediately fire back, “Bill Crider.” I have yet to come across one person who had anything bad to say about Bill. He was always friendly, and generous with his knowledge and advice. Bill was an excellent writer of mysteries and westerns, best known for his Sheriff Dan Rhodes series.

His ‘Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine’ was a fun blog, full of all kinds of short posts about books, music, advertisements, history – pop culture stuff. I’m pretty sure that Bill would have liked A (Black) Gat in the Hand. And I think he would have contributed an essay. So, for the final entry in round two, I’m reposting Bill’s review of John D. MacDonld’s The Brass Cupcake. Swing by his blog and read some great stuff!

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: December/2019

Monday, December 16th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Oden_MenBronzeEDITED“What have I been reading lately, you ask?” Oh. You didn’t say that. Well, I’m going to tell you anyways.  When I ‘get into’ something, I jump in full-bore for a short time: up way past my elbows. That’s how most of my series’ here at Black Gate start. Fortunately, I can be reading a couple different books simultaneously, and I also listen to audiobooks to help cover more ground (though I ALWAYS prefer reading to listening).

SCOTT ODEN

And I recently went on a short Sword and Sandals kick. Scott Oden and I have become friends through our mutual love of Robert E. Howard: he did the “Devil in Iron” entry for Hither Came Conan. I grabbed the digital version of Men of Bronze (a STEAL at $3.99!). It’s historical fiction (non-fantasy) set in 529 BC in ancient Egypt. It’s near the end of the time of the Pharaohs and Egypt is trying to hold off the encroaching Persian Empire. As is often the case with faltering empires, it is relying heavily on mercenaries to keep order.

Hasdrabal Barca is the protagonist; the deadliest mercenary of them all, leading the fight to stop the betrayal of Greek mercenaries, and the ambitious Persians. I had trouble keeping the various names straight, but I very much liked this book. It’s got a grand sweep, and I love Scott’s depiction of Egypt. There’s a rough scene early on, but fortunately, that not the norm for the rest of the book. Much recommended. I also bought his Greek historical novel, Memnon, at the same time (same price). It’s on my massive To Read list.

HOWARD ANDREW JONES

Of course, I couldn’t just read one book of a type, and move on. That’s not me! Howard Andrew Jones was Black Gate’s first Managing Editor (a post recently assumed by Seth Lindberg) and is currently receiving rave reviews for his epic fantasy, The Ring-Sworn Trilogy. I had not yet read his two fantasy Sword and Sorcery novels, featuring the wise and learned scholar Dabir and the brave man of action, Asim (I was not totally unfamiliar with them – more on that below).

So, I got the audiobook for Desert of Souls, the first novel. The adventures take place in a fantasy-real version of Arabia, with sorcery and monsters. And there’s a Robert E. Howard Easter Egg near the end. I like the main characters, and their world, so I have started on the audio book of Bones of the Old Ones.

I had already read The Waters of Eternity; a collection of six short stories featuring the two men. I re-read it, and I actually prefer it to the novels. They are really mysteries, set in that fantasy Arabia. I like the mix of fantasy and detective work, and also the shorter length. You should check them out.

NORBERT DAVIS

For months, I have been listening repeatedly, to an audiobook of the five Max Latin short stories. I simply never get tired of them. The woefully under-appreciated Davis, who I wrote about last week, as well as last year, is on my Harboiled Mt. Rushmore. And the stories about the not-as-crooked-as-he-pretends Latin are the best of the bunch. I listen and read them throughout the year.

I also picked up volumes one and two of The Complete Cases of Bail Bond Dodd, the first series character that Davis created for Dime Detective Magazine. The Dodd and Latin collections are from Steeger Books. You should be reading some Davis.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Spillane & John D. MacDonald

Monday, December 2nd, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

MacDonald_SpillaneCoverEDITED

You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Fans of my writings here at Black Gate (both of you!) know that John D. MacDonald is my favorite author. And I think he’s one of the best in any genre. So today, I’m going to talk a bit about two times that Mickey Spillane, millions-selling author of Mike Hammer, entered into the JDM story.

THE ENDORSEMENT

Especially before the success of his Travis McGee series, MacDonald was “looked down at” during his time because his books were paperback originals. It was rare that he received reviews or high-profile comments. His work sold, but critics ignored it, or dismissed it with a sneer.
Many of his books were published by Fawcett, part of the (still-collectible) Gold Medal paperback line. His first novel, The Brass Cupcake (more on that below) came out in 1950. It was followed in 1951 by Murder for the Bride, Judge Me Not (Hammett-esque and one of my favorites), Weep For Me, and the science fiction novel, Wine of the Dreamers. Which leads us to 1952’s The Damned.

Ralph Daigh, editorial director at Fawcett, let Mickey Spillane read a set of galleys for The Damned. After I, The Jury, in 1947, every other crime writer out there wished he had Spillane’s sales. When the writer came back in to Daigh’s office and returned them, he said, “That’s a good book. I wish I had written it.”

Daigh was a good book man and he wrote it out on a piece of paper and asked Spillane to sign it, which the latter did. And that endorsement was prominently displayed on the cover of the book when it came out.  Spillane’s agent, editor, lawyer (possibly even his pool guy) contacted Gold Medal and said that Spillane didn’t endorse books, and they had to take that quote off of the cover

Unintimidated, Daigh told them all that he had Spillane’s signature, dated, to back it up. They went away. MacDonald remained a fan of Spillane’s.

The book sold two million copies and MacDonald was continuing to hone his novel-writing ability and increasing his sales.  The Damned is as packed full of tension (leading to an explosion) as any book I can remember reading.

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: 3 Good Reasons – Murder is Corny

Monday, October 21st, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Nero WolfeAlas – the home front is a bit…chaotic, with my wife halfway around the world on a mission and trip and the eleven-year old still needing school transportation – among other things. I didn’t get to finish editing this week’s A (Black) Gat in the Hand post – so, here’s the second entry in a feature which I hope will be part of a Nero Wolfe column next year. You can read my first try, covering “Not Quite Dead Enough.”

With a goal of eventually tackling every tale of the Corpus, I’ll give three reasons why the particular story at hand is the best Nero Wolfe of them all. Since I’m writing over seventy ‘Best Story’ essays, the point isn’t actually to pick one – just to point out some of what is good in every adventure featuring Wolfe and Archie (BTW – I got the idea from Hither Came Conan from this Wolfe series!). And I’ll toss in one reason it’s not the best story. Now – These essays will contain SPOILERS. You have been warned!

The Story

Today’s story is “Murder is Corny,” from Trio for Blunt Instruments. Nero Wolfe is upset because the weekly delivery of fresh corn is late. It finally arrives in the hands of Inspector Cramer, who got it from the scene of the murder of the delivery man. Archie had had a few dates with Susan McLeod, the farmer’s daughter, and she has unintentionally framed him for murder. Cramer arrests Archie, and to preserve his comfort level, Wolfe takes on the case, with Archie as his client.

 

3 GOOD REASONS

ONE – The Corn

This story contains one of my favorite openings. Every Tuesday, from July 20 to October 5, sixteen ears of just-picked corn are delivered to the brownstone from the farm of Duncan McLeod. Wolfe, of course, is very particular about the corn, including the requirements that it must be picked not more than three hours before he receives it, and that it must arrive between 5:30 and 6:30. Fritz prepares all of it for that evening’s dinner. But on this September Tuesday, the corn never arrives and Fritz has to make do with stuffed eggplant. Oh, the horror!

Wolfe is out of sorts and doesn’t engage Archie in their usual post-dinner conversation, over coffee in the office. He is standing at the giant globe, whirling it and scowling at it. This is unwarranted physical exertion on Wolfe’s part!

Inspector Cramer rings the doorbell and is admitted, carrying a carton with Wolfe’s name on it. He marches down the hall, deposits it on Wolfe’s desk and cuts the cord around the box. As Wolfe comes over to his desk, Cramer opens the flaps, holds up an ear of corn and says, “If you were going to have this for dinner, I guess it’s too late.”

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