Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Forgotten Books: Champagne for One by Rex Stout
"I'll try to be fair to him, and I know there is no law against a man having plucked eyebrows and a thin mustache and long polished nails, and my suspicion that he wore a girdle was merely a suspicion, and if he had married Mrs. Albert Grantham for her money I freely admit that no man married without a reason and with her it would have been next to impossible to think up another one, and I concede that he may have had hidden virtues which I had missed. One thing for sure, if my name were Robert and I had married a woman fifteen years older than me for a certain reason and she was composed entirely of angles, I would not let her call me Robbie."
Part of the reason you read Stout, Rex Stout, is for sentences like that one. Yes the people, especially N. Wolfe are spellblnding and the plots often dazzling but the it's the writing itself that shines through in even the lesser books.
Champagne For One comes later in the Wolfeian series. It is a classic Archie Goodwin set-up. An especially annoying rich woman (the aforementioned Mrs. Albert Grantham) needs a fifth man for a splashy dinner she's having in her mansion. The original man got sick and called Archie to substitute for him. The occasion is a feast for the unwed mothers who graduated from the school the late Mr. Grantham established for such young women. The idea is to keep track of them and see how they're faring in the world and celebrate their worth.
Mind you this is 1958. Unwed mothers were still the province of tabloid headlines and exploitation drive-in films and hammy bestsellers. But Stout, ever Stout, presents us with five young attractive, bright and decent young women. One of them he hopes to see again. The mystery is established after the dinner when the drinks flow freely. One of the young women drinks a glass of champagne and immediately goes into convulsions, poisoned. Archie of course pursues the killer despite the fact that four different parties try to stop him.
Pure pleasure and enjoyment.