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.