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.

Three to get deadly (Janet Evanovich) Stephanie Plum 3

(This post was sitting in my Draft queue for months. I have no idea why I stopped mid-sentence. Completed now!)

Book three of the main storyline of Stephanie Plum, New Jersey’s accident-prone bounty hunter not-quite-extraordinaire, continues. The first novel was reviewed here, the second was reviewed in this post.

The standard author stuff: Janet Evanovich is an American crime writer. Wikipedia, personal page, and Amazon. She started off as a romance writer under a pseudonym, but came to fame when she moved to crime, winning several awards.

Story background: some recurring characters: Stephanie Plum, is a fugitive apprehension agent, more excitingly known as a bounty hunter. Joe Morelli, sex fiend, Trenton cop, Plum’s not-quite-boyfriend, and general good-guy. Ranger, whatever the male equivalent of a Mary-Sue is. Lula, bounty-hunting filing clerk. Connie, office manager, and generally described as a few inches shorter than Stephanie, a few cup sizes larger, and all Italian woman. Plum is on the wrong side of community opinion, as she has the unenviable task of tracking down Mo Bedemier, more affectionately known as Uncle Mo, a neighbourhood fixture. He has quietly sold candy and ice cream to generations of children, but has gone missing after failing to show up for court on a weapons charge. She is abused and reviled for daring to sully his reputation by chasing him down. However, the more that Stephanie investigates, the more fishy Mo’s angelic reputation seems.

It’s more of the same. Honestly, it is. And like I’ve said before, and will probably say another dozen times, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Nothing really stands out in the book. (If you check the previous post, you may note that I’ve been a bit busy recently!) It was fun, it was light, it was easy to dip in-and-out of.

I think this was the one that Ranger insisted that Stephanie go jogging with him if they’re going to work together. Now, this is definitely a vector for blogging discussion! I’ve been kinda-vaguely-but-not-really getting into the running thing over the past nine months. I ran the City2Surf in August last year. It’s 14 point something kilometres from the centre of Sydney out to the beach at Bondi. I did reasonably well on not a massive amount of training. I never feel like I’m particularly “good” at running, but there are moments where it almost feels like I have a rhythm going, and that I’m not going to die, and maybe this is a thing that I could do more often, better, for fitness and enjoyment. And then reality sets in, and I realise that I’m a sweaty, spluttering, staggering mess!

I managed to hit up Park Run during Winter. (There are international versions too, it’s definitely not just an Australian thing.) Five kilometres, community-run, it’s a good thing.

Anyhow. The book. It’s alright. Evanovich is finding her rhythm, the characters are developing, the story is still grounded in something approximating reality (the later stories veer a little towards slapstick in places).

Obligatory Amazon Links

Three to get deadly isn’t available on Kindle, but there is a box-set of the first three Stephanie Plum novels here: Plum Boxed Set 1, Books 1-3 (One for the Money / Two for the Dough / Three to Get Deadly) (Stephanie Plum Novels).

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.

Body Double–Tess Gerritsen (Rizzoli & Isles 4)

Body Double, the fourth of the Rizzoli & Isles series by Tess Gerritsen.

Amazon DVD links to the TV Series. Click on them. Buy stuff. Rizzoli & Isles: The Complete First Season (Amazon Play) and Rizzoli & Isles: Season 1 (DVD). Rizzoli & Isles: Season 2 DVDs and Rizzoli & Isles: The Complete Second Season (Amazon Play). Ahem.

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. I have previous reviews of The Surgeon, The Apprentice and The Sinner.

Hmmm. A lot of pregnancy in this one. And the meaning of family. The second of those points I can relate to. The former? Not so much. Again, the chief protagonist of this novel is Dr Maura Isles, with Detective Jane Rizzoli relegated to a more supporting role. Rizzoli is currently happily married, massively pregnant, and completely unwilling to compromise on, well, anything. After hints dropped in the last novel about Isles’ mysterious parentage (we knew that she was adopted, and very little else), this is essentially the focus of the novel. Her birth mother (or not, the story takes a pretty impressive twist) has been revealed to be a particularly unpleasant woman. Her murdered (twin?) sister was very likeable indeed, but unfortunately crime novels need a healthy supply of unhealthy acts. Pregnant women are being kidnapped, murdered, and the fetusses (fetii?) are being sold. Isles’ “family” are intimately tied up with this rather nasty business.

The majority of this novel was read on a train journey to and from Sydney. I went up for a tech expo. I have no buying power for my work for tech stuff, mind you, I was attending as a curious enthusiast, even if I have no need for POS machines, servers, embedded devices, marketing … stuff, 3D printing, connectivity, startups, and a crazy myriad of other things. This aside was brought to you by the ridiculous amount of sugar I consumed that day, and the effect it had on my note-taking ability.

The book was good. I remain a little squeamish about some of the surgery scenes. The characterisation is solid, the pacing steady, the romance not too intrusive (though Isles lusting after a priest is … odd. Disconcerting, even.)

Amazon linky

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.

Two for the Dough (Janet Evanovich) (Stephanie Plum 02)

And so the misadventures of Stephanie Plum, New Jersey’s accident-prone bounty hunter not-quite-extraordinaire, continues. This is the second novel in the series, the first was reviewed here.

As previously introduced, Janet Evanovich is an American crime writer. Wikipedia, personal page, and Amazon. She started off as a romance writer under a pseudonym, but came to fame when she moved to crime, winning several awards.

Stephanie Plum, is a fugitive apprehension agent, more excitingly known as a bounty hunter. Kenny Mancuso, a cousin of Plum’s love interest, Joe Morelli, has failed to appear for his court date, and is proving difficult to track down. He has just been discharged from the army, is suddenly flush with cash, and has just shot his best friend. Spiro Stiva, a childhood friend of Mancuso’s, is a sleazy mortician, who hires Plum to retrieve stolen military coffins, and later hires her as his personal bodyguard to protect himself from Mancuso’s incredibly erratic and violent attentions. (There is a particular scene that will make all male readers wince. Certain things should not be posted through the mail is all of the hint that I’m going to give.)

To assist with the investigation of funeral parlours and the business of death, Plum’s completely barmy grandmother (throughout referred to as Grandma Mazur) is enlisted to provide cover. This is a task that she utterly fails at, with Grandma Mazur causing chaos and mayhem wherever she goes. Early-on, Grandma Mazur is an interesting foil to Plum’s activities, but her time in the spotlight should be limited, since as a character she isn’t particularly well developed. Some of the charicaturisation that was lurking in the background in One for the Money is far more evident in Two for the Dough, an issue that becomes far more prevalent as the series continues. (I was going to say develops, but that implies change. Actually, it’s a little harsh to say that, the books are distinguishable, even if the characters become a little set in their ways.)

Joe Morelli provides a much better counterpart to Plum’s hijinks, and assists nicely with the plot development. Ranger, bounty hunter extraordinaire and mystery man, doesn’t have much of a role in this novel, but turns up occasionally to move the story along.

The showdown is well-written, and the story moves along at a nice clip. It’s light and easy-to-read, and shouldn’t be mistaken for more than it is. Judged on its own, it’s a decent light crime novel. Judged with respect to the rest of the books in the series, it’s more of the same. In small doses, that’s not a bad thing. However, it’s entirely possible to have too much of a good thing.

Obligatory Amazon Links

Actually, I’m a little cross at Amazon at the moment, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, their MP3 store is excellent, but is geographically locked to the US. I’m not in the US, and therefore can’t access the store. Damn. Second, they locked my account last night, much to my frustration. However, they have an automated callback system thing, and I talked to an actual person quite quickly to get it unlocked. For that, I’m actually quite impressed.

Two for the Dough isn’t available on Kindle, but there is a box-set of the first three Stephanie Plum novels here: Plum Boxed Set 1, Books 1-3 (One for the Money / Two for the Dough / Three to Get Deadly) (Stephanie Plum Novels).

One for the Money (Janet Evanovich) (Stephanie Plum 01)

There are some authors who are the literature equivalent of a weekend away. They are easily digestible, low-stress, don’t require a lot of higher brain function, and are fine in occasional doses, but you wouldn’t want to do it too often. Janet Evanovich and the Stephanie Plum books fall squarely into that category for me.

Author in brief Janet Evanovich is an American crime writer. Wikipedia, personal page, and Amazon. She started off as a romance writer under a pseudonym, but came to fame when she moved to crime, winning several awards.

One for the Money is the first story in the Stephanie Plum series, which as of writing has nineteen primary titles and a variety of holiday-themed one-offs. It’s a little difficult for me to review, as I’ve read most of the series, and am quite familiar with the characters and the format of the books. (They might be just a little bit formulaic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it ties in with the weekend-away idea from above. They’re light and fluffy and able to be swallowed in a few days. Colin Forbes is another really good example of this, but to a greater extent. I’m sure that he does a global search-and-replace of a few words from title to title.) Back to the point: I’m going to try to balance what I know about the series as to what one might expect encountering the series for the first time.

The character cast is quite static: Stephanie Plum is a rather hopeless bounty hunter who muddles through a series of desperate situations. Joe Morelli, a Trenton New Jersey cop, is her occasional boyfriend and love interest, and spends a lot of time rescuing her from desperate situations. Ranger, an expert bounty hunter, is the third part of the triangle, and plays to the other side of the law than Morelli. Lula, who in the first novel is introduced as a prostitute, will become Plum’s useless off-sider who should be working at filing at the bond office. Plum’s family provide a range of secondary characters: the sleazy cousin for whom she works, the long-suffering stereotypical ethnic father who harumphs over the crazy situations, the worrying mother, and the kooky grandmother who has a fascination with Plum’s line of work, and in particular the weaponry. Character development doesn’t really occur after the first few books.

One for the Money sees Stephanie Plum broke and in employment troubles. She blackmails her cousin Vinnie to give her a job rounding up Failure To Appears for his bond agency. Joe Morelli has skipped bail on a charge of murder, and is hunted by Plum. Up-and-coming boxer Benito Ramirez is connected with the killing, and is a particularly nasty piece of work, having raped and mutilated women, only to have his fame save him. Unable to apprehend Morelli, Plum forms an uneasy alliance with him to take down Ramirez. The writing is fast-paced, the scenes are quite well-written, and the story is a bit darker and grimmer than later books, with far less slapstick.

It’s light, it’s fluffy, it’s easily digested. But be careful–it’s a little addictive. An easy-to-read book from an easy-to-read series.

Oh, and it’s now a film.

Amazon links

One for the money doesn’t appear to be available on Kindle, but there are a variety of dead-tree editions, including an omnibus: Plum Boxed Set 1, Books 1-3 (One for the Money / Two for the Dough / Three to Get Deadly) (Stephanie Plum Novels)