Some Buried Caesar (Rex Stout) — A Nero Wolfe novel

Some Buried Caesar is the sixth Nero Wolfe novel by Rex Stout. It was published in an abridged form in 1938, and released as a novel in 1939.

I’ve reviewed Rex Stout novels in the past. Borrowing the author bio I’ve previously used: Rex Stout (mainly cribbed from his Wikipedia page) was an American writer noted for his detective fiction. He is best remembered for his creation of Nero Wolfe (more on him in a moment). He started his writing career with serialised novels in various magazines, which were not in the detective genre. He dabbled in crime, scientific romance, fantasy, and historical fiction, before settling into what would define his career. He was elected the president of the Mystery Writers of America in 1958, and received their Grand Master Award a year later. He received the Silver Dagger Aware from the Crime Writers Association in 1969. (His Amazon page.)

Nero Wolfe is an armchair detective of the Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes variety. He is supported by his assistant Archie Goodwin, who also narrates the cases of the detective (playing Watson to Nero’s Holmes, of course). He is not portrayed as a likeable character–he is obstinate, obese, refuses to leave the house except under exceptional circumstances, drinks heavily, and is singly devoted to the study and care of orchids.

The title is a reference to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interrèd with their bones.
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious.
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest—
For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men—
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me.
But Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honorable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill.

(I’m aware that I didn’t need to include the entire quote, but it’s such good writing that I hope that you indulge me.)

Nero Wolfe and his companion/bodyguard/private detective Archie Goodwin are on the way to an agricultural show where they intend to display Wolfe’s beloved orchids. There is a good reason that they are breaking Wolfe’s cardinal rule to never travel out of Manhattan, as he intends to win the orchid competition, thereby putting one over a rival. Unfortunately, due to a tyre blow-out, Archie crashes their car, and they are forced to walk to a nearby house to telephone for assistance. They cut across a pasture where they are threatened by a large bull. It is this bull, Hickory Caesar Grindon, that is the titular character of the story. The house that they travel to is owned by Thomas Pratt, who is planning an incredible publicity stunt for his chain of fast food restaurants by barbequing and eat the champion bull, Caesar. There is a tremendous amount of uproar about this, with breeders and stockmen aghast at the waste of potential.

The bull is implicated in the goring murder of a man, and then found to have anthrax in his system, and is quickly killed and cremated, thereby destroying any potential evidence as to whether he was responsible or not for the death of the man. Archie is vaguely interested in the outcome, as he was theoretically on guard when the murder occurred, but Wolfe has minimal interest in interfering, as he suspects that it will delay his desired return to the comforts of home in Manhatten. The plot develops nicely, with plenty of potential clues scattered about for the reader, and plenty of red herrings too.

Needless to say, with a tremendous amount of ego on the part of Wolfe, and hard work and effort on the part of Archie, the true murderer is uncovered, the local authorities are shown to be incompetent, and some minor romantic comedy is managed.

It’s fine. Honestly, it is. I stand by my previous assessment that the Stout/Wolfe books are quite even in quality, and a blanket recommendation is appropriate.

The Long Earth (Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter)

The Long Earth is the first in a series of books (three so far!) by renowned British fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett, and British science fiction author Stephen Baxter. It is anticipated that there will be five books in the The Long … series.

Author bio stuff: I’ve reviewed one of Terry Pratchett’s books previously. He really is one of my most adored authors, and I cannot help but love the vast majority of the Discworld novels. I was quite surprised to see him venturing into Science Fiction territory, though he’s dabbled in it previously. I have, however, found the last few Discworld to lack the sparkle and magic that I had come to expect. This is almost certainly because “Pratchett was diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease called posterior cortical atrophy (PCA) in 2007, a condition where the symptoms root themselves more in the physical rather than cognitive.” (Source) The following quote is from Neil Gaiman, Pratchett’s collaborator on Good Omens, one of my beloved books: “Terry still has all of his faculties. He’s fighting Alzheimer’s, but he has a rare kind of Alzheimer’s which means physical objects no longer make sense to him, but he still has memory, and he still has a mind, and he’s still very much the sharpest knife in the drawer. But he couldn’t read the script, so I had to give him his lines. … And it was this very strange, sad, sweet, funny, odd moment, as the two of us sat in the car with Dirk’s lines inspired by a line that one of us had written 26 years earlier. With me saying my line first and then Terry’s line. And then Terry echoing his lines. It was a little moment for me and Terry. I don’t know if we’re acting terribly well, but it’s a moment that made me extra happy.” (Source) Given that, it was quite surprising to me that Pratchett was collaborating on a new series.

Stephen Baxter, Wikipedia page and Amazon page. I will admit to not having heard of Baxter prior to this collaboration. He writes hard science fiction (emphasis on scientific accuracy or technical detail), and has been quite prolific over the past two decades.

The basis for the story was from an unpublished short story by Pratchett, The High Meggas, details of which can be found in a collection of his short stories, A Blink of the Screen. The Discworld series took off, and the story was never pursued.

The Long Earth is a (potentially infinite) series of parallel worlds similar to Earth that can be reached by almost anyone who has build a “Stepper” device, the plans for which were released anonymously on the internet. It is believed that each of these worlds are present on some probability tree, with the defining changes occurring longer ago as a person travels further from the original Earth (or “datum” Earth). Humans in the form of homo sapiens appear to be unique amongst the Earths, though not the only form of sapient life. The story primarily follows Joshua Valienté, a level-headed young man who is a natural stepper–that is, he can step between worlds without the use of a stepper box. He is co-opted to an exploratory journey by Lonsang, an artificial intelligence who claims to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman. (I’m sure that there are references there to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values that I’m missing.) As they explore more than a million parallel Earths they encounter other sapient humanoids (the peaceful “trolls” who carry their history through song, and the violent “elves”), as well as humans who discovered that they were natural steppers prior to “step day”, and an extinct race of dinosaur descendants. There is plenty of political commentary and social and scientific speculation on how humanity would act and develop if freed from the constraints of limited land and resources.

The book is good. Fantastically good. And I’m surprised. As I mentioned in my author bio section, Pratchett is sick, and his writing has been suffering badly as a result of that (in my opinion). But this book is strong! The pacing is good, the story is well-crafted, there are sufficiently many storylines interweaving with each other, and there is a good overall arc to the narrative. I’m sure that a lot of that is due to the strong influence of Stephen Baxter as a coauthor.

I really hope that Terry Pratchett remains healthy enough to finish the series. At the moment it is at three books: The Long Earth, The Long War, The Long Mars. The Long Utopia is scheduled for release mid-2015. The novels have been released on a fairly strict yearly schedule (second week of June each year). With Pratchett’s failing health, I don’t hold out too much hope, sadly.

Of course, the book is available on Amazon: (I read it on Kindle, but Amazon is still refusing Affiliate links to Kindle titles):

Too Many Cooks (Rex Stout) — A Nero Wolfe novel

Too Many Cooks is the fifth Nero Wolfe novel by Rex Stout (Amazon Link). It was published in 1938 as both a novel and as a serial.

Rex Stout (mainly cribbed from his Wikipedia page) was an American writer noted for his detective fiction. He is best remembered for his creation of Nero Wolfe (more on him in a moment). He started his writing career with serialised novels in various magazines, which were not in the detective genre. He dabbled in crime, scientific romance, fantasy, and historical fiction, before settling into what would define his career. He was elected the president of the Mystery Writers of America in 1958, and received their Grand Master Award a year later. He received the Silver Dagger Aware from the Crime Writers Association in 1969. (His Amazon page.)

Nero Wolfe is an armchair detective of the Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes variety. He is supported by his assistant Archie Goodwin, who also narrates the cases of the detective (playing Watson to Nero’s Holmes, of course). He is not portrayed as a likeable character–he is obstinate, obese, refuses to leave the house except under exceptional circumstances, drinks heavily, and is singly devoted to the study and care of orchids.

Detective novels are difficult. There is an expectation that the author will provide the reader with sufficient hints and clues to solve the mystery. But, it cannot be obvious or blatant. There must be sufficient material, red herrings, that the reader is off-balance and cannot commit to a theory. There are authors (Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, for example) who keep a little too much from the reader so that at the end of the novel you are a little frustrated that the clues weren’t presented reasonably to you. (There is an alternative explanation: I’m not very good at spotting the clues, and am somewhat oblivious!)

Nero Wolfe, detective extraordinaire, has been coaxed from New York by the only thing else he loves, gastronomy. The meeting of the Les Quinze Maîtres is convening in West Virginia, and Nero Wolfe has been invited to give the keynote speech, on the subject of American Haute Cuisine (possibly oxymoronic!) Sadly, cooks being the vindictive, petty egomaniacs that they are, one of them is promptly murdered. C’est la vie detective! Wolfe has little interest until a friend is arrested for the murder. He wishes to remain involved just long enough to exonerate his friend, deliver his speech, indulge in some light blackmail, and then depart for home. This, sadly, isn’t quite how it develops.

As with all of the Wolfe novels, the narrative is delivery by Wolfe’s bodyguard/gumshoe detective/bruiser/manservant Archie Goodwin. He has a good delivery, and enough humour and sarcasm to keep things moving.

Set in the 30s, written in 1938, the story is a product of its time. There is casual racism (this was West Virigina in the 30s after all!) and sexism. It’s eye-rolling-inducing, but raises the question of whether the time period should be factored into the review. I’m torn on this matter.

In small doses, Rex Stout and his quite objectionable lead character Nero Wolfe are quite enjoyable. I think I’ll drop something else into my reading queue before coming back to the series.

Recommended. Blanket recommendation on any of the Stout/Wolfe books, as they’re quite even in quality.