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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Too Many Clients, by Rex Stout

Too Many Clients
By Rex Stout
1960

One of only a few Nero Wolfe books that I haven't read yet, Too Many Clients is now one of the Wolfe books that I'd rank near the top of the heap - with perhaps one relatively small reservation. But I'll get to that in a moment.

Things kick off in fairly standard fashion for a Wolfe novel. A high-powered business type approaches Archie due to concerns that he's being followed. Archie doubts that Wolfe will take the case and sends the man away and what do you know - it's not long at all before said businessman's body is discovered and there's little doubt that he's been murdered.

But there's a pretty interesting twist in all of this and one that I won't reveal. One of the frequent criticisms of the Wolfe books - and it's one that I've made quite a few times myself - is that he wasn't exactly what you'd call a master of plotting. I'd be willing to call this book one of the exceptions to that rule, although it hardly is in the rank of the likes of Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr.

But it wasn't the plot that stood out for me in Too Many Clients, interesting though it was. What really worked best in this one was Nero Wolfe himself and specifically his interactions with the various players in this particular drama. You could make the argument that Archie Goodwin is the tough guy, hardboiled, private eye counterpoint to Wolfe's cerebral great thinker of a detective, but something that's not so often remarked upon is what a formidable opponent the big guy can be.

No, Nero Wolfe is not likely to come at you with guns blazing or fists flying, though he did show a considerable amount of physical toughness in The Black Mountain and it's been made pretty clear that in his younger days he was hardly a pushover when it came to this sort of thing. But as this book in particular shows, Wolfe is still no pushover even now that he weighs a seventh of a ton, but simply prefers to use words as his weapon, something that he does with great skill.

So about that small reservation. That would be the ending. Not the whole thing, but just a portion of it, which seemed to be a bit clich├ęd and just didn't quite ring true. It's the sort of thing that Stout used on at least one other occasion, if I recall right, and while it didn't really detract from the story that much overall, I would give it one minor demerit.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

a letter to pantene australia, from c. francis patel

dear hair friends of pantene, sincerely, and good morning,

i am seek advise for the following matters of pertinence, to wit. please advise asat and sooner.

would the copywriters law permit to name the horse pantene?
the horse sleeps too many after shampooings and is terrificly somnolent. does pantene make horse
somnolent? please advise.

please advise. greetings - sincerely, and good morning,
c. francis patel
esq., phd., ret.

[reply]
thanks for contacting us.

while i'm happy to hear how well you enjoy pantene, we can't recommend it's use in this manner. our
products have been thoroughly evaluated to do what we say they'll do and, therefore, we can only
recommend them to be used in the manner it was intended for. still, i'm forwarding your comments on
to the rest of our pantene team.

with that being said, we'll need additional information pertaining to your copyright question.
please write back and provide us with additional details pertaining to your use of a trademarked
name, so we can better direct your request.

thanks again for writing.

p&g team

Sunday, March 3, 2013

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, by Agatha Christie

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
By Agatha Christie
1940

You're talking like a thriller by a lady novelist. (Inspector Japp to Hercule Poirot)

In my relatively limited experience with Agatha Christie's Poirot books, it has almost always seemed that the great Belgian detective was a supremely confident and rather unflappable sort. So it came as something of a surprise as this volume opened to find that confidence shaken by something as mundane as a visit to the dentist.

Of course, this being Christie, it stands to reason that we're not seeing Poirot go to the dentist just for purposes of character development. As coincidence would have it, not long after Poirot's appointment concludes he finds out that his dentist has apparently done himself in. Or has he? Well, yeah.

And the plot thickens, as they so often do. The interesting thing about this one is that it's not long before it takes an abrupt turn from being a garden variety whodunit - for lack of a better term - into being something rather different. It would be a mild spoiler to get into this, in my opinion, and it's the type of thing I don't usually care much for in crime and mystery fiction but Christie handles the whole affair so skillfully that I quite liked it.

At one point in the proceedings Poirot remarks that one of the other characters has "the brain of a hen." Which is about how I felt when Christie finally began to work her way around to the solution. This came from way out in left field, if you ask me, but I thought it was nicely done and there was nothing in it that made me want to cry foul.

Then there's the mystery of why this book needed at least three different titles. The 1964 Dell paperback edition that I read was titled An Overdose of Death, with a cover note that the original title was (the quite dreadful) The Patriotic Murders. But apparently the book started life as One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, which makes a great deal more sense, given the content of the book itself. Perhaps the ways of publishers are one of the truly great mysteries.

In any event, whatever you want to call this one, I'd call it an entertaining piece of work that's likely to befuddle the average reader - or maybe it was just me.