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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 32 and 33

Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 32 and 33

So, last year, as the Pandemic settled in like an unwanted relative who just came for a week and is still tying up the bathroom, I did a series of posts for the FB Page of the Nero Wolfe fan club, The Wolfe Pack. I speculated on what Stay at Home would be like for Archie, living in the Brownstone with Nero Wolfe, Fritz Brenner, and Theodore Horstmann. I have already re-posted days one through thirty. Here are days thirty two (April 21) and thirty three (April 23). It helps if you read the series in order, so I’ve included links to the earlier entries.

DAY THIRTY TWO – 2020 Stay At Home

I saw the death totals today. New York is number one, hands down. We’ve had more deaths than the next fourteen states combined. Seven out of every hundred people confirmed to have the virus, die from it. So I won’t be taking any taxi rides just yet. Or hopping on the subway.

While I admit I miss my twice-a-week session at the barbershop – preferably on days without a cop murder on site – I don’t see the need to increase somebody else’s risk of dying because I’m not happy with my sideburns. I do look forward to getting shoe shines again, though I am more than capable of doing my own.

And by the way: don’t think that Lily and I are drifting apart. We call every other day. I just don’t see the need to jot that down regularly.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Another Radio Poirot

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Another Radio Poirot

A few weeks ago, I wrote about John Moffatt’s outstanding radio show, in which he played Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. I think it is, and will remain, unsurpassed. Today, we’re going to go back and look at the first radio series starring the fussy little Belgian detective.

By 1944, there had been a few radio appearances featuring Poirot. Including a production by Orson Welles, starring Orson Welles, for Orson Welles’ radio show. (It’s all about Orson). I’ll write about that one later. Sam Spade, Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan, Ellery Queen, Philip Marlowe, The Falcon: detectives were popular radio fare. And an American actor and entertainment entrepreneur by the name of Harold Huber, set out to add Agatha Christie’s famous creation as a regular attraction of the airwaves.

Huber obtained the rights to Poirot for an American radio show. Agatha Christie’s Poirot debuted on February 2, 1945, featuring a live introduction from Christie, across the sea. Except, after about thirty seconds of silence, the announcer for the Mutual Broadcasting System explained that atmospheric conditions prevented the connection. MBS did have the foresight to record a short-wave transmission from Christie earlier that day, and played that in place of her live appearance. Having Christie explain that Poirot was busy, so she would introduce the series, was a pretty neat move in those times LONG before cell phones and podcasts.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: A Brilliant Poirot (No, not Suchet this time)

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: A Brilliant Poirot (No, not Suchet this time)

I have a somewhat odd relationship with works of Agatha Christie. When I started down my life-long Sherlock Holmes path as a boy, I also read a Hercule Poirot book by Christie. Didn’t care for it. My voracious reading habit grew, but I never felt impelled to try her again. The movies didn’t interest me at all. I discovered Nero Wolfe around age thirty (I think), but still never bothered with Christie.

It was the A&E television series starring Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton that got me interested in Wolfe. Similarly, I watched an episode of the British series starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, and I liked it. In fact, I thought that it was brilliant. On a par with the Wolfe series, and also Granada’s terrific Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett.

I bought a collection of the Poirot short stories, and my mind’s eye saw the images of the actors from the Suchet show. And I liked reading Poirot. I find the novels a little too long-winded, but they’re still not bad. And picturing Suchet always works. I didn’t mind the Kenneth Branagh movie, though I didn’t really like Peter Ustinov’s portrayal. And Tony Randall was as much Poirot as Warren William was Sam Spade (if you haven’t seen the latter: not at all).

I hear Clive Merrison’s voice when I write Sherlock Holmes stories. And I see Maury Chaykin when I write Nero Wolfe. And it absolutely is David Suchet who constitutes my depiction of Hercule Poirot. But there’s a second voice I also hear. John Moffatt (1922-2012) worked in both theater and film, and excelled on radio and reading audio books.

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: 2020 Stay at Home – Days 20 and 21

Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: 2020 Stay at Home – Days 20 and 21

So, last year, as the Pandemic settled in like an unwanted relative who just came for a week and is still tying up the bathroom, I did a series of posts for the FB Page of the Nero Wolfe fan club, The Wolfe Pack. I speculated on what Stay at Home would be like for Archie, living in the Brownstone with Nero Wolfe, Fritz Brenner, and Theodore Hortsmann. I have already reposted days one through fifteen. Here are days twenty (April 10) and twenty-one (April 11). It helps if you read the series in order, so I’ve included links to the earlier entries. I enjoy channeling Archie more than any other writing which I do.

DAY TWENTY – 2020 Stay at Home

I tried calling Inspector Cramer after breakfast, but he was out. Apparently my fellow New Yorkers are still committing homicide. I’ll call the station later in the day. I’d like to visit a crime scene and try to do some detecting.

I had more success calling the hospital to check on Bill Gore. I found out that he had gotten through the worst of it and recovered enough to be sent home. I wasn’t going to call him up, but it was good to know he had survived the virus.

It’s Good Friday. I am not religiously inclined, but I will say that I’m glad that those who are, received some hope today. That commodity seems to be in pretty short supply these days. New York City has had more deaths than all but four entire countries. Instead of 32,000 fans watching the Mets at Citi Field, they’re digging mass graves out on Hart Island. If somebody wants to believe that a man dying on a cross is good for mankind, then that’s one death I’ll tip my hat to. Just don’t expect me to kneel.

I’m generally a pretty orderly guy, and I keep my stuff neat and tidy. I don’t like messy. This lock down has given me the opportunity to really organize my things. I was moving a couple boxes around and started looking through some of my old notebooks. I saw my notes on the Adam Nicoll murder. I might type that one up if we’re stuck at home for another couple months. That’s one I worked on while I was self-employed during Wolfe’s ‘great hiatus.’ He had simply vanished as he put operation ‘Get Zeck’ into effect, without even telling me. I opened up shop for myself and kept reasonably busy until Wolfe suddenly reappeared. Lily was the source of the Nicoll case. Indirectly.

I have a Facebook account. I don’t use it much, and I could, and often do, live without it. But I do post occasionally – Often related to baseball. Today, someone left a comment on my post, letting me know they were going to snooze me for 30 days. Now, you don’t have to like what I say. It’s a free country. Well, lately it hasn’t been as free as usual, but still: Why in the world would you tell me, on my own post, that you’re snoozing me? Whether you see my posts or not isn’t going to change my day. Just do it. It reminds me of the Pharisees preaching in the Temple square, so everyone would see them. Hey – I didn’t say I haven’t read the Bible. You don’t grow up in rural Ohio and not get some religion lessons.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: More Cool & Lam from Hard Case Crime!

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: More Cool & Lam from Hard Case Crime!

I say Erle Stanley Gardner, and you say…Ed Jenkins? Lester Leith? Paul Pry? Stop that!! All correct, but we were looking for Perry Mason. Probably the most famous defense lawyer in fiction, Mason made Gardner the best-selling author in the world at the time of his death. Raymond Burr is forever linked in minds as the picture of Mason.

But my favorite books from Gardner are those featuring his duo of Cool and Lam. And Hard Case Crime has released their fourth and final volume featuring the mismatched pair. Top of the Heap, Turn on the Heat, and The Count of 9, were all previously reissued. And as I wrote about here, Hard Case published the previously unreleased second novel, The Knife Slipped. William and Morrow Company had objected to the content and declined to publish it upon completion. Gardner moved right along and wrote Turn on the Heat, which became number two, released in January of 1940. There would be twenty-seven more books, with the final, All Grass Isn’t Green, hitting shelves in 1970. And The Knife Slipped joined the list in 2016.

Kudos to Hard Case for getting some of this series back in print. The paperbacks from Dell and Bantam can be found used, but not always on the cheap. And getting them in good condition can be a bit difficult. I myself don’t even have all 29 yet, and I’m a C&L fanboy. It’s good that Hard Case has made it easy to buy a couple of these books. And of course, it was FANTASTIC to find a lost Cool and Lam title.

If you’ve not read Cool and Lam, the widowed Bertha Cool runs a detective agency, and she hires the disbarred, down on-his-luck Donald Lam: at slave wages. His cunning and sneakiness produce results and he pushes his way into a partnership in book five.

Bertha LOVES money. She basks in the fees that Donald brings in, but she incessantly complains about the razor-thin line he walks with the law. And about his expenses, which are not at all unreasonable. She’s just so cheap she makes Scrooge look generous.

This constant friction makes for an entertaining duo. As Donald writes,

‘At that, our partnership would probably have split up long ago if it hadn’t been so profitable. Money in the bank represented the most persuasive argument in Bertha’s life, and when wit came to a showdown where the dissolution of the partnership was threatened, Bertha could always manage to control her irascible temper.’

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Johnny O’Clock (Powell)

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Johnny O’Clock (Powell)

Powell_OClockPoster1“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)

And for the third year in a row, A (Black) Gat in the Hand makes a hardboiled reservation for Monday mornings. It’s a limited run, but for the month of June, I’ll look at some hardboiled/noir on screen efforts: Ones that you might not be quite as familiar with. Not totally off the beaten path, but not the big names, either. And we kick things off with Dick Powell’s follow up to Murder My Sweet, Johnny, O’Clock.

When you think of the hardboiled movie, or book, it’s usually a private eye that comes to mind. There’s Sam Spade, and Philip Marlowe, and Mike Hammer. Of course, there were also cops in movies, like Glenn Ford’s Dave Bannion in The Big Heat; and Frederick Nebel’s MacBride in print. Those stories were changed into seven Torchy Blaine movies, and quite different from Nebel’s hardboiled stories about MacBride, unfortunately.

Other occupations were covered, including reporters, and lawyers. Ex-soldiers of various stripes, like Alan Ladd in The Blue Dahlia, were popular. A movie that I really like in this genre starred a gambler. Like Humphrey Bogart’s Dead Reckoning, this film doesn’t appear on any top ten lists, but it doesn’t feature a private eye, and it’s a ‘could have been really good’ film.

Like James Cagney and George Raft, Dick Powell was a successful song and dance man in Hollywood. Then, he was surprisingly cast as Raymond Chandler’s world-weary Phililp Marlowe in Murder My Sweet, and he nailed the part. That 1944 effort was the first of four hardboiled films he made in a five-movie span, of which Johnny O’Clock was the third.

Picking Iron (trivia) – This new side of Powell made him perfect for the singing, funny, tough radio PI, Richard Diamond (I love that series).

Powell plays the title character, and he’s manager of a fancy (and legal) gambling joint in NYC. He dresses well, knows lots of people, and lives in a fancy apartment with an ex-con named Charlie, who is his jack of all trades assistant.

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: 2020 Stay at Home – Days 11, 12, and 13

Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: 2020 Stay at Home – Days 11, 12, and 13

Hopefully by now, you know what this series is all about. Over at The Wolfe Pack Facebook Group page, I am doing daily entries from Archie’s notebooks, as he endures Stay at Home with Nero Wolfe in these pandemic days. Over the weekend, I hit forty-three straight days, and over 41,000 words. You can check out the group for all of the posts. And there are links to to the first ten days down at the bottom of this post – plus all my other Nero Wolfe writings here at Black Gate.

DAY ELEVEN – 2020 Stay at Home (SaH)

Saul Panzer called today. Del Bascom was always scrambling to make payroll and turn a profit, and he was still finding jobs related to essential services. Saul had agreed to help him track down some money that had gone missing from a bank. He said that seemed healthier than trying to track down some masks taken from a hospital. I was surprised he was doing any work at all out in the danger zone. He didn’t need the money. Maybe he was tired of practicing the piano.

“Bascom told me that Bill Gore is in the hospital. It looks bad.”

Oh. “Covid 19?”

“Yeah. He was working for Bascom and called off sick one morning. Then, a couple days later, he called him from the hospital.”

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

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

Assuming 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)

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

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 – 3 Good Reasons: Immune to Murder

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

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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