The Final Deduction
There's nothing like one of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries for a spot of light escapism. They're nicely undemanding without being dumb. Yes, it is formula fiction but formula fiction done with intelligence. The perfect reading when you feel incapable of anything heavier but don't want anything insulting your intelligence either. The Final Deduction is one I've read before, when I first got it from a friend who gave me a batch of Nero Wolfes to take home. As such it's an average Nero Wolfe: neither one of the best nor especially bad.
The plot revolves around a kidnapping, of one Jimmy Vail, whose wife Althea is rich and high society, so the ransom is high as well, $500,000. She comes to Wolfe not to help her get her husband back, but to make sure that if anything happens to him, Wolfe will find his killers. Wolfe starts by putting out an ad in the paper making it clear to the kidnappers Wolfe is on the case, in order to pressure them into returning Jimmy Vail alive and well. This seems to work, as he returns the next day...
It's from this point on things get complicated. Noel Tedder, Althea's son from a previous marriage asks his mother for permission to try and recover the ransom money, which she grants. He hires Wolfe for one fifth of the share and then something awful happens. Jimmy Vail is found dead, crushed by one of the statues in the library suite of his apartement... A gruesome accident, or murder? And what, if any, does it have to do with the kidnapping?
Despite having read this before I'd forgotten how the plot was resolved and hence was somewhat surprised by the developments, though some of them were telegraphed from the start. Not that I mind much, as I rarely read detective novels for the puzzle aspect and certainly not Nero Wolfe novels. What I like about them is the interaction between Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's assistant who does all his legwork and the guy through whose eyes we follow each case and Wolfe himself. Goodwin is straight out of the American hardboiled tradition, though with a greater sense of humour than most, while Wolfe is Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot by another name. The combination works well.
One thing about Wolfe books though: since so much emphasis is put in them on fine food and good eating, they always make me hungry.
Webpage created 20-11-2006, last updated 20-11-2006