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.

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.

Ice Cold–Tess Gerritsen (Rizzoli & Isles 8)

Ice Cold (or The Killing Place) by Tess Gerritsen is book eight in the Rizzoli & Isles series.

Amazon DVD and Amazon Play links to the TV Series. Click on them. Buy stuff. Rizzoli & Isles First Season (Amazon Play) and on DVD. Rizzoli & Isles Season 2 DVDs and on Amazon Play. Rizzoli & Isles Season 3 DVDs and Amazon Play. Rizzoli & Isles Season 4 DVDs and Amazon Play. Rizzoli & Isles Season 5 on Amazon Play. Enough of that!

Author notes in brief: Tess Gerritsen is a living Chinese-American author writing romantic suspense and medical thrillers, as well as the Rizzoli & Isles series. Her Amazon page, Wikipedia page, and personal page have plenty of personal details. I have previous reviews of The Surgeon, The Apprentice, The Sinner, Body Double, Vanish, The Mephisto Club, and The Keepsake.

Again, I wasn’t very good at keeping notes for this one, which is something of a shame, as this book was a reasonable departure style-wise from the previous few novels. Dr Maura Isles, upset at the difficulties of having an illicit love affair with a catholic priest, takes up an offer of an impromptu ski trip after a medical conference with an old school friend, his daughter, as well as another couple. Unsurprisingly, things go quite wrong, with the car getting stuck in a snowstorm. They seek shelter at Kingdom Come, a religious community (a cult) that appears to have been very recently, very suddenly, abandoned.

Further disasters occur, with medical emergencies, one of their number trying to ski out for help, the inevitable “are we truly alone?” fears in this abandoned community, plus determining the truth behind the abandonment.

Up to this point, Detective Jane Rizzoli has nothing to do. This changes with news reaching Boston that the car has been found off the side of a cliff, with the burnt remains of Isles and her companions inside. Needless to say, this is just a red herring, but the local law enforcement and community, as well as the powerful religious leader (cult!) are determined to prevent the questions.

Stylistically, it’s a shake-up from the past few books, which is a point in its favour. It’s difficult to separate reviewing the book on its own merits from reviewing the book as part of the ongoing series. Each novel is sufficiently self-contained that a reader can pick up one at random and get the story and the backgrounds of the characters.

The Keepsake–Tess Gerritsen (Rizzoli & Isles 7)

The Keepsake (or Keeping the Dead, depending on which region you’re in) by Tess Gerritsen is book seven of her Rizzoli & Isles series.

Amazon DVD and Amazon Play links to the TV Series. Click on them. Buy stuff. Rizzoli & Isles First Season (Amazon Play) and on DVD. Rizzoli & Isles Season 2 DVDs and on Amazon Play. Rizzoli & Isles Season 3 DVDs and Amazon Play. Rizzoli & Isles Season 4 DVDs and Amazon Play. Rizzoli & Isles Season 5 on Amazon Play. Enough of that!

Author notes in brief: Tess Gerritsen is a living Chinese-American author writing romantic suspense and medical thrillers, as well as the Rizzoli & Isles series. Her Amazon page, Wikipedia page, and personal page have plenty of personal details. I have previous reviews of The Surgeon, The Apprentice, The Sinner, Body Double, Vanish, and The Mephisto Club.

I have only moments previous put down my Kindle to write these notes, yet I’m struggling to form sentences to describe the book.

It feels awful to say, but it is kind of more of the same. It’s not bad, but nothing outstanding. Dr Maura Isles disappears from the last fifteen of the narrative. Detective Jane Rizzoli is kept in the background until needed to advance the plot. Isles’ affair with the catholic pries Fr Brophy advances to its inevitable doom. Detective Barry Frost, who is yet to develop as a character suffers marital troubles, which comes across as some clumsy social commentary from the author. Or possibly just a weak effort regarding some character development. The problem is the story never returns to this particular subplot!

We open with a media circus surrounding a CT scan of an Egyptian mummy. Dr Isles is there only as an observer. She is drawn in more significantly when the scan shows the mummy is a murder victim mummified! The archaeologist Jennifer last-name-unimportant, appears to be the target of a deranged personality, as a shrunken head, followed by a peat bog body appear; all creative disposals of murder victims.

Aside: I studied the poetry of Seamus Heaney at school. He wrote on many subjects, of course, but is well-known for his compositions on peat bog bodies of Ireland. There you go.

The book is fine. Honestly. It’s solid detective fiction, I’m just being finicky and picky. (So unusual, that!)

The Mephisto Club–Tess Gerritsen (Rizzoli & Isles 6)

The Mephisto Club is book six of the Rizzoli & Isles series of books by Tess Gerritsen.

Amazon DVD and Amazon Play links to the TV Series. Click on them. Buy stuff. Rizzoli & Isles First Season (Amazon Play) and on DVD. Rizzoli & Isles Season 2 DVDs and on Amazon Play. Rizzoli & Isles Season 3 DVDs and Amazon Play. Rizzoli & Isles Season 4 DVDs and Amazon Play. Rizzoli & Isles Season 5 on Amazon Play. Enough of that!

Author notes in brief: Tess Gerritsen is a living Chinese-American author writing romantic suspense and medical thrillers, as well as the Rizzoli & Isles series. Her Amazon page, Wikipedia page, and personal page have plenty of personal details. I have previous reviews of The Surgeon, The Apprentice, The Sinner, Body Double, and Vanish.

Okay, again I was a little slack and didn’t take good notes for this one. We are back in Boston with homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Dr Maura Isles. And unfortunately, the painful subplot involving Isles and the catholic priest Fr Brophy has been returned to, and there is only so much lusting that can be written about before the author has to take things to the next logical step. So lusting has turned into a surreptitious affair and hiding from the congregation. Good grief.

A series of disturbing murders, that’s far more palatable! There are overtones of satanism, and the occult, and better still, weird symbols (oh Dan Brown, the damage that you caused!), all of which draw in a mysterious sleuthing society who also hunt demons. (Jinkies!)

Re-reading the plot summary I wrote above, it sounds a whole lot worse than it actually is. The plot is clunky, and the character development is more stilted than the last few novels, but it is still actually not bad.

It’s readable, it’s enjoyable. There are worse books out there.

Oh! Just like the previous few novels, there are passages told from other character’s first-person perspective to help the story along. It’s a good technique, and thankfully Gerritsen doesn’t overuse it.

The Apprentice–Tess Gerritsen (Rizzoli & Isles 2)

In brief: Second novel in the series by Tess Gerritsen focusing on the Boston police department homicide detectives. Again, my reading is a little perturbed by comparisons with the TV series, Rizzoli & Isles. (Y’know, here are some Amazon linkies. Rizzoli & Isles: The Complete First Season (Amazon Play) and Rizzoli & Isles: Season 1 (DVD))

Alright, enough shameless whoring of myself.

Author notes in brief: Tess Gerritsen is a living Chinese-American author. Her Amazon page, Wikipedia page, and personal page have plenty of personal details. (Of interest, her first name is actually Terry, but she feminized it when she was writing romance novels. Source.) She initially wrote Romantic Suspense, through the 80s to the mid-90s, changed to Medical Thrillers, before embarking in 2001 into Crime Thrillers with the (at time of writing) eleven-book series featuring Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr Maura Isles.

Link to my review of The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen.

Jane Rizzoli, a Boston Police Department homicide detective is struggling to prove that she is just as capable as her male counterparts. A new serial killer is sexually assaulting and murdering couples, and Rizzoli is lead on the investigation.

We are introduced to Dr. Maura Isles, the state medical examiner, who is portrayed as a gothic Queen of the Dead, nothing like her character in the TV Series. This was most disconcerting. I felt as though I knew these characters. Also introduced is Detective Vince Korsak, an overweight smoker with poor personal habits, again, not the friendly mentor character of the TV series. (I think the divergence between book and screen for Korsak was even more jarring than for Rizzoli or Isles.) The third new main character is FBI agent, Gabriel Deans, who has been assigned to the case directly from the Washington FBI office. Deans knows a lot more than he is letting on, and spends most of the book antagonising Rizzoli.

When the Surgeon, the killer from the first book, escapes from gaol (jail for any Americans reading this), he teams up with the new killer, and together they wreck havoc. Rizzoli is the target, and they are getting worryingly close.

The language and imagery is just as gruesome and graphic as the first book. There are passages that are not for the squeamish. There is also a lot of sexual politics and the challenges of being a female in a male-dominated field. These points (I’m sorry to say) are rather belaboured, despite being part of the story’s progression. (Or possibly I’m just saying that as an indoctrinated tool of the patriarchy.)

It’s a good sequel to The Surgeon. The characterisation is much better and more detailed, for example. Whilst you may not actually like the characters, they are far better developed this time around.

There is no strict need to read the first book for this sequel to be enjoyable. Well, as enjoyable as detective thrillers about serial killers can be.

Amazon linkies.