And Four to Go

by Rex Stout

Cover image

Series: Nero Wolfe #30
Publisher: Bantam
Copyright: July 1958
Printing: November 1959
Format: Mass market
Pages: 150

Buy at Powell's Books

Nero Wolfe is a former world traveller, a lover of orchids, and a monumentally lazy private detective. His stories are told by Archie Goodwin, his assistant and investigator. Wolfe hates to leave his home; Archie does most of the legwork, not to mention lots of interviews with the police in which he tries to give them as little information as possible until Wolfe breaks open the whole case.

This is a collection of four Nero Wolfe short stories. Three of them happen to do with various holidays, but don't get a false impression from that; it appears to be coincidental. There's no particular holiday theme. What there is are four short mysteries with all the standard enjoyable Nero Wolfe tropes: Archie being selective about what he tells the police, Wolfe getting annoyed and grumpy about being disturbed, Wolfe's obsession with orchids, and of course the conferences in his office where all is revealed. The structure of the stories is a bit formulaic, but each is unique enough that I enjoyed the whole collection.

Wolfe mysteries, to note, are not the sort where the reader is given all the evidence and can try to solve the mystery before the investigators. Usually, Wolfe goes into the final confrontation with only a tactic to discover the murderer, not the final understanding of the mystery. These stories are about the process, and about Wolfe's thoroughly enjoyable speeches and Archie's infuriation of the police.

"Christmas Party": This is the weakest story of the collection, in part because the premise rests on unspoken interaction between Archie and Wolfe and verges in places on sentimentality. Archie is on the scene when the murder happens and gets pulled into the investigation himself due a marriage certificate. The conclusion is solid enough, but much of the appeal rests on Wolfe's attitude towards Archie, and I didn't find that as engaging. It may be more appealing to someone who has read a lot of Nero Wolfe. (6)

"Easter Parade": I liked the setup of this story, since it's driven by Wolfe's fanatical obsession with orchids and actions of questionable legality that get Archie and Wolfe sucked into a murder investigation again. The conclusion was a bit unsatisfying, too simple and easy once the key bit of evidence comes to light, but Wolfe's attitude towards getting sucked into the case made the story for me. (7)

"Fourth of July Picnic": The closest to a set-piece murder of this collection, Wolfe investigates a murder at a public speech he was present at. The restriction of suspects tightens the mystery down to a narrow focus, but again the ending isn't as satisfying as it could have been. This is made up for by Wolfe's annoyed attempts to avoid having to be questioned by the police and to solve the case before he ends up taken downtown as a material witness. (7)

"Murder Is No Joke": The best story (by a small amount) is saved for last. This was a nicely complex murder of an unpopular figure, involving many suspects with their own motives and a complex cover-up. Watching Wolfe slowly untangle the mystery and trying to guess what he's doing as he keeps Archie in the dark makes for thoroughly enjoyable reading. (7)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2005-10-28

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