Champagne for One (1958) by Rex Stout

Weighing in at 272 lbs, Nero Wolfe is almost certainly the largest of the 100 Greatest Literary Detectives. He lives to eat and to cultivate his prized orchids and cases are taken in order to pay for these two interests. He rarely leaves his brownstone house and this stay-at-home tendency means that someone else has to go into the world and gather evidence on his behalf: enter narrator Archie Goodwin, a wise-cracking private-eye type in Wolfe’s permanent employ. Thus we get an enjoyable mix of Chandleresque style and a real puzzle plot.

In this book, Archie takes the place of a friend who is faking a cold at an exclusive dinner party. One of the guests dies of cyanide poisoning and as she was known to carry a bottle with her at all times and had talked of ending it all, everyone is convinced that it is suicide. Everyone except Archie that is, who had been asked to keep an eye on her and swears blind that she couldn’t have added the stuff to her own glass. To protect Archie’s reputation, and by extension his own, Wolfe takes the case.

As often happens, Archie has to work with Wolfe’s other regular operatives (Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin, and Orrie Cather) to surreptitiously get witnesses and suspects into the brownstone, where Wolfe bullies them into submission by insisting they will either talk to him or to the police. They normally decide to take their chances with him.

By reconstructing the crime in his office, Wolfe solves the problem of how the murderer could ensure that the poison got to the intended victim and then manipulates events to force a confession.

As many have written, it is the characters that are the main draw and I look forward to seeking out more of the delightful Bantam paperback editions as illustrated above.

 

One thought on “Champagne for One (1958) by Rex Stout”

  1. Best are most of the early ones: Red Box, League of Frightened Men, Some Buried Caesar. They really are fun. The quality declined after the war but there are excellent ones then still. The Doorbell Rang in particular

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