Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: 2020 Stay At Home – Days One and Two

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

Nero WolfeAssuming you’re one of the eight people (three of whom are not related to me) who regularly read my posts here at Black Gate, you know that my favorite series of all is Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. I love John D. MacDonald and Robert E. Howard and harboiled and Solar Pons and Glen Cook and a LOT more: but Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are number one.

When Ohio issued its ‘Stay at Home’ order, it got me to thinking about how Archie and Wolfe would do under New York’s order, which had been issued a day or two earlier. Now, all of the Wolfe fiction I’d written had been set somewhere between the thirties and the sixties. Modern-day Wolfe, with cell phones and whatnot, just doesn’t interest me. But I thought that it made sense to be contemporary, for the lockdown. For the characters, and for us to relate to them. So, here we go!

I’m posting these over on Facebook at The Wolfe Pack’s group page. If you’re on FB, and you like Nero Wolfe, you really should join this group. I’m going to combine two at a time and run them as posts here at Black Gate. Hopefully folks will find something to smile about. And maybe you’ll even become a new Wolfe fan. They’re really great books.

I’ve decided to daily update my notebook with thoughts on Stay at Home (henceforward, SaH). We’ll see which happens first: life returns to normal, or I kill Nero Wolfe in his office.

DAY ONE – 2020 Stay at Home

I don’t think Wolfe even noticed that SaH has begun. Newspaper and mail delivery continued, so his morning routine was unchanged. While special deliveries of some ingredients that Fritz uses to do his magic are going to impact the variety of offerings, the larder is loaded, as it were. The groceries and markets are still open, so Fritz will be able to resupply for at least a while. I may go with him to get supplies as a way to not be stuck here in the brownstone.

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Black Gate Fiction: “The Case of the Murdered Silk Trader” (Casablanca Chronicles)

Monday, March 23rd, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Casablanca_RenaultSeriousOkay. I had never seen a Humphrey Bogart movie until my early twenties. Then, I went to the Ohio Theater, an amazing place on the National  Register of Historic Places, to see Casablanca on a HUGE screen. There was even organ music during the intermission. I was hooked for life and I now own almost every movie Bogart appeared in. And from that very day, Casablanca has remained my all time favorite movie, through at least two dozen viewings. I’ve got two stories set around the events of the movie, and I’m running them here in my spot today, and next Monday. This one is my favorite of the pair, and if you picture the great Claude Rains, along with the other actors from the film, I think it works pretty well. Enjoy!

I

It was early and the heat of the desert city had not yet enveloped the occupants like a suffocating blanket. Some sellers were taking their wares to the market, but it was generally quiet in the dusty streets of Casablanca as Rick Blaine sat at a table in front of his café, drinking a cup of strong Moroccan coffee. He wasn’t thinking about much of anything as a dapper little Frenchman joined him. The man sat down with a weary sigh, looking slightly rumpled.

“Good morning, Louie. Coffee?”

Captain Louis Renault, Prefect of Police in Casablanca, declined with a wave of his hand. “No thank you, Rickie. I have already had my share this morning.”

Rick grinned at him. “So, what is the final word on the late Major Strasser, of the Third Reich?” Rick asked with an easy nonchalance, but there were a few new worry lines etched in his forehead. Two nights ago he had shot and killed the German at the airport when the major had tried to stop the Lisbon plane from taking off. But Ilsa Lund had been on the plane with Victor Laslo, and Rick would do anything to see her safely out of Casablanca. So he gunned down the German as the man had tried to radio the control tower. When two cars full of local police showed up, Louie had covered for him by telling them to “Round up the usual suspects.”

Rick hadn’t seen Louie since then. He had expected the authorities to take him away for some very unpleasant questioning at any moment during the past few days, but no one had come. Now, Louie was sitting here, looking not much worse for wear.

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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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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Ten

Friday, January 3rd, 2020 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

MOKF 44Master of Kung Fu #44 kicks off an eight-part story arc that builds upon the events of the series’ preceding six issues while also serving as the culmination of the ongoing storyline involving Shang-Chi’s father Fu Manchu and sister Fah lo Suee and their decades-long battle for control of the Si-Fan. Marvel approved a six-part story with some reluctance, but the team of writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy were making the series one of Marvel’s very best of the 1970s and had the clout to push boundaries further so long as sales and critical recognition continued. Of course, the first thing the two men did was plot a prelude and epilogue which extended the story from six chapters to eight. The results are both more and less than what one might reasonably expect, though they certainly succeed in terms of ambition and scope.

The principal difference in quality is Gulacy’s art. While never disappointing, he simply fails to match the standard of the previous five issues he illustrated. The challenge of maintaining such a high standard month after month was wearing and would result in Gulacy’s decision to leave the series that had brought him such acclaim. Likewise, Moench remained one of Marvel’s most overworked writers and despite the care he took in structuring the story, it was inevitable that moments appeared rushed and even underwritten. It was never a question of Moench’s skills, simply that he also could not maintain the same high level of quality writing when juggling so many titles each month.

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Back to the Books for the Theater of the Mind

Friday, December 20th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Johnny Dollar tradeI came to Old Time Radio late in life. My parents were born in 1940 and 1942, respectively. They remembered radio shows from their childhood, but the advent of television made more of an impact on them. During my teen years, one of our local UHF stations briefly picked up reruns of the jazz noir detective series Peter Gunn (1958-1961) in the mid-1980s and I was instantly hooked. A set of Peter Gunn episodes on VHS followed in 1989 from Rhino Records. Before long, I was hunting for Henry Kane’s well-written paperback tie-in and the goofy Dell Comic (where Pete tracks down villains trafficking in counterfeit collectible postage stamps). 2002 would bring the first DVD sets of Peter Gunn. By the time the entire series was on DVD, so was its companion series, Mr. Lucky (1959-1960); and then I discovered the imitation series, Johnny Staccato (1959-1960) which successfully blended concepts from both series before adding a healthy dose of angst-ridden method acting to the mix.

I couldn’t stop there of course, not with gray market sets of Peter Gunn‘s progenitor, Richard Diamond (1957-1960) and Mr. Lucky‘s successor, Dante (1960-1961) circulating among collectors. Eventually, I discovered a terrific, but nearly forgotten television adventure series, Hong Kong (1960-1961) and reached back to find Dante had actually preceded Mr. Lucky via an earlier series, Dante’s Inferno (1956). Having reached the end of the line for the uniquely sophisticated and stylish Golden Age of Television detective and adventure series that appealed most to me, I decided to venture into the largely unknown waters of Old Time Radio.

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Of Phibes and Androbots I Sing

Saturday, October 12th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

phibes 5Phibes 4Dr. Phibes is far more than the evocation of the great thriller characters of its creator’s childhood; he is a character that stands proudly alongside Dracula, Moriarty, Nikola, Fu Manchu, Fantomas, and Mabuse as an equal in inventiveness and execution. William Goldstein, as screenwriter and novelist, created an immortal as only the best storytellers do. Phibes is a character who transcends his era, defines his own archetype, and is firmly established in his own mythology to pass from one generation, century, and millenium to the next. The best news for fans is The Master’s work continues with the fifth and latest book in the ongoing series, The Androbots – Book I of The Dr. Phibes Manifest.

Those who have read the first four books in the series or, at the very least, my other Black Gate articles covering these titles, are aware there is a significant tonal difference between the two Vincent Price Dr. Phibes films of the early 1970s and William Goldstein’s novels. The books retain the films’ eccentricities, but are far more tragic than comedic. I do revere the two AIP releases. Director Robert Fuest and his production crew imbued both pictures with a sardonic touch that allowed Vincent Price and several of his co-stars to turn in subdued performance that carefully balance extreme bursts of horror, tragedy, and comedy. One never knows quite what to expect as one scene ends and the next begins when watching the films.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Five

Friday, August 16th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Master_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_29Master of Kung Fu #29 was the beginning of the much-promised new direction the series would take. Having carefully established warring factions of the Si-Fan with loyalties divided between Fu Manchu or Fah lo Suee, writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy now set aside this key storyline they had developed and expanded since replacing Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin on the book and took Shang-Chi in a decidedly different direction, albeit one that would guarantee the series’ longevity.

While Moench had taken pains to ensure a greater fidelity to Sax Rohmer’s work, he would still deviate from it at key points. Part of this was in shaving twenty-some years off the back continuity inherited from Rohmer to make elderly characters like Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie a bit more viable in the 1970s than they would be as men who should have been in their nineties. More importanly, Moench chooses to make Petrie an MI5 agent the same as Smith rather than simply Sir Denis’ lifelong friend and amanuensis.

Shang-Chi is summoned to Sir Denis’ New York estate where Black Jack Tarr and Clive Reston have already gathered along with Dr. Petrie. Smith offers Shang-Chi a place among his operatives in taking down heroin dealer Carlton Velcro. Reston is the key man in the operation as he has taken the identity of Mr. Blue, the New York connection in Velcro’s heroin pipeline. Reston’s personality has been softened to make the character more mature and more of a team player with Tarr, Smith, and Petrie.

Shang-Chi is torn between his pacifist philosophy and his trust in Sir Denis as a good man who desires to eradicate evil from the world. A visit to a Manhattan rehab clinic is enough to convince Shang-Chi that stopping the powerful heroin dealer is justification enough to use violence against the greater social ill. Of course, this Machiavellian decision is one that will bring Shang-Chi much grief. It is to Moench’s credit that the reader immediately understands that choosing to be a hero brings Shang-Chi closer to the the philosophy his father has embraced – a philosophy Shang-Chi has sworn to reject. Choosing Sir Denis as a father figure illustrates that Shang-Chi, like the traditional reader of Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series,  fails to perceive just how much of a mirror image Sir Denis is to his venerable foe.

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New Treasures: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter-small The Affair of the Mysterious Letter-back-small

Have you ever picked up a book in a bookstore and known instantly it was coming home with you? That’s exactly what happened with The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall when I plucked it off the shelf on Saturday. Glancing over the top-rated Amazon reviews (kimbacaffeinate sums it up as a “Sherlockian based tale set off planet and filled with magic, vampires, gods and limitless worlds,” and Sherry M. calls it “Clever and very funny queer mashup of Holmes/weird fantasy”) when I got home reassured me I’d definitely made a wise purchase.

But it was this blurb from Ruthanna Emrys, author of Winter Tide and Deep Roots, that convinced me I’d found my reading project for the week.

This book is so far up my alley that I discovered new, non-euclidean corners of the alley that I didn’t previously know existed. The world has heretofore suffered from a sad lack of queer consulting sorceresses, prudish-yet-romantic Azathoth cultists, existentially surreal urban planning, and post-colonial Carcosan politics.

Alexis Hall pays homage to Sherlock Holmes with a new — very new — twist on some of the most famous characters in literature, in a book that’s equal parts homage to Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft. The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is not the kind of book I expect to see from Ace Books these days, but that’s their logo right there on the spine. It was published by Ace on June 18, 2019. It is 340 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Adam Auerbach. Read the first six chapters (29 pages) here.


Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone – 3 Good Reasons: Not Quite Dead Enough

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

NotDeadEnoughPBjpgI have written a LOT about Sherlock Holmes and Solar Pons — some of it here at Black Gate. I even write newsletters about each one. And I had a pretty neat hardboiled/pulp column here. But my favorite mystery series, bar none, is Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. I’ve read and re-read each story multiple times and never tire of them. I even adapted one of the old Sidney Greenstreet radio shows into a pastiche (more of those are coming).

The genesis of Hither Came Conan (which I’m sure you’re following here at Black Gate) was actually an essay I wrote for my first (and so far only) Nero Wolfe Newsletter: 3 Good Things. Since I have far more writing projects (including a similar Robert E. Howard Newsletter) planned than, you know, actually written, issue two of The Brownstone of Nero Wolfe isn’t in the immediate future. So, as time allows, I’m going to write up some new 3 Good Reasons entries and post them here under the Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone moniker. I’d read and write REH and Wolfe just about all day, if I could. So, here we go…

Welcome to the first installment of 3 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

It’s World War II and Archie is ‘Major Goodwin’, working for military intelligence. The Army wants Nero Wolfe to help with a particularly tricky issue, and the corpulent detective won’t talk to anyone. Archie is assigned back to the Brownstone to talk some sense into Wolfe. He finds the world’s most ordered household routine turned upside down and is dragged into a case brought to his attention by Lily Rowan.

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New Treasures: For the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

Friday, January 18th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

For the Sake of the Game-smallLaurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger have edited four popular Holmes-themed anthologies: A Study in Sherlock (2011), In the Company of Sherlock Holmes (2014), and Echoes of Sherlock Holmes (2016). Their newest features contributions from a stellar list of authors, including Peter S. Beagle, F. Paul Wilson, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello, Duane Swierczynski, and Gregg Hurwitz. Publishers Weekly says it presents a wide range of genres “from cozy to horror;” here’s a snippet from their full review.

The 14 selections include a poem, Peter S. Beagle’s “Dr. Watson’s Song,” which provides a deeper look at the doctor’s emotional life, and a comic, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello’s “The Case of the Naked Butterfly,” which continues the exploits of insects Inspector Mantis and Dr. Hopper. Fans of the BBC’s Sherlock will appreciate Alan Gordon’s take on Holmes’s relationship with Mycroft in “The Case of the Missing Case.” Reed Farrel Coleman weighs in with one of the more memorable contributions, the metaphysical “A Study in Absence,” in which a book editor asks for help tracing an author using the pseudonym of I.M. Knott. The best light entry is Harley Jane Kozak’s “The Walk-in,” featuring a Sherlockian British intelligence agent, which opens with the tantalizing line “It’s not every day that you walk into your apartment and find that your cat has turned into a dog.”

Here’s the description.

For the Sake of the Game is the latest volume in the award-winning series from New York Times bestselling editors Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, with stories of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and friends in a variety of eras and forms. King and Klinger have a simple formula: ask some of the world’s greatest writers ― regardless of genre ― to be inspired by the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.

The results are surprising and joyous. Some tales are pastiches, featuring the recognizable figures of Holmes and Watson; others step away in time or place to describe characters and stories influenced by the Holmes world. Some of the authors spin whimsical tales of fancy; others tell hard-core thrillers or puzzling mysteries. One beloved author writes a song; two others craft a melancholy graphic tale of insectoid analysis.

This is not a volume for readers who crave a steady diet of stories about Holmes and Watson on Baker Street. Rather, it is for the generations of readers who were themselves inspired by the classic tales, and who are prepared to let their imaginations roam freely.

Leslie S. Klinger’s previous books include In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe and The Annotated Watchmen; Elizabeth Crowens interviewed him for Black Gate last year. For the Sake of the Game was published by Pegasus Books on December 4, 2018. It is 264 pages, priced at $25.95 in hardcover and $12.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Christine Van Bree.


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