on July 26, 2002
Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe story collections usually have two things in common: Each collection presents a trilogy of stories and the stories in the trilogy share a common theme. "Trio for Blunt Instruments" is quite typical of the lot. Three stories with three murders committed with blunt instruments.
"Black Orchids" seemingly departs from the norm. There are only two stories, but each involves black orchids.
The first story, "Black Orchids," has Wolfe leaving his brownstone. Business doesn't bring him forth, it is envy. There is a flower show at which a rival is showing rare black orchids. Wolfe is green with envy. He sends Archie to view them and report, but word-of-mouth proves insufficient. Wolfe has to see them for himself. While Wolfe is at the show, someone is murdered and the owner of the black orchids stands to be horribly embarrassed if not arrested. Wolfe undertakes to rescue the owner for a small fee--the black orchids. Of course, he pulls it off, otherwise he couldn't have sent black orchids to the funeral of the victim in the second mystery.
In "Cordially Invited to Meet Death," a party arranger calls on Nero Wolfe, but contracts tetanus and dies before she can pay his fee. Relatives have a way of thinking that the most innocent of unexpected deaths are homicide, and one of the victim's relatives raises sand with the police trying to get them to investigate the case as a murder. Not getting satisfaction, he then retains Nero Wolfe. A little looksee into the circumstances of the death confirms the relative's suspicions.
The cast of suspects is limited, but figuring out whodunnit is a tough nut to crack. With Archie Goodwin's help, Wolfe sorts through the clues, confounds the police, and reveals the killer. Of course, Wolfe's too much of a homebody to go to the arranger's funeral, so he sends Archie in his place. When Archie sees the spray of black orchids, he knows only one person in the whole wide world could have sent it. Which leads us to the third mystery. What prompted Wolfe to send those flowers? Archie offers a few conjectures, but Wolfe is mum. The reader is left to his own devices in solving this third mystery.
on May 18, 2002
If the phrase "Black Dahlia" just came to mind, put it aside. Both stories herein are set during 1941 - in March and August, respectively, before Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into WWII. (This was the 1st Wolfe short story collection; those covering the war years can be found in _Not Quite Dead Enough_ and _Trouble in Triplicate_). As Archie points out in his comments before, between, and after the stories herein, the only common thread between the stories is the presence of the black orchids in each story, and if you think the *cases* are the only mystery, then you don't know one when you see one.
"Black Orchids" - Marks the first on-stage appearance of Lewis Hewitt, Wolfe's friend from Long Island - if orchid fanciers who grow for show can have friends. :) Wolfe dislikes leaving the brownstone on West 35th Street for any reason whatever, but Lewis Hewitt's black orchids - the only three in the world - are currently on display at the Flower Show, and Archie's daily reports on their condition aren't enough to assuage an advanced case of orchid envy. Since Fritz and Theodore are both kept busy in the plant rooms and kitchen respectively, Archie wasn't surprised at being sent, but there were compensations - Rucker and Dill, the big seed & nursery company, dressed up their exhibit with a couple having a picnic every afternoon, and Archie threatens to marry Anne Tracy (he's not the only one - showcasing her legs by the little stream every afternoon has brought a lot of offers). But by the end of the day's showing, it isn't Anne, but her partner in the exhibit who's found shot dead in full view of the crowd.
"Cordially Invited To Meet Death" - Bess Huddleston, 1st class caterer, starts at a disadvantage in approaching Wolfe as a client - she once tried to hire him to play detective for a murder game at a party ($2000 for a few hours work, all the beer he could drink, and $500 for Archie), and it offended him that anyone still existed who didn't know about his no-leaving-the-house-on-business rule, apart from hurt pride at being offered such a job. But this time it's serious: an anonymous letter-writer has been sending letters with scandalous accusations to her clientele, naming *her* as the source of information; if it isn't stopped quickly, she'll be ruined professionally. Of course, with Wolfe and Archie involved, it will never in a million years end there...
on October 17, 2003
THis combines all the eccentricities and quirky habits and mannerisms of the famous detective. Readers are already familiar with his obsession with orchids. Now we have a whole case revolving around them which makes for a good intro. Despite the age of the reissue, the dialogue is wonderfully fresh and the whole work has an air of film noire.
As usual, the problem is solved through an intellectual contest. A good read.
on January 21, 2003
Rex Stout's 9th Nero Wolfe outing is the first to contain more than one story. The novellas "Black Orchids" and "Cordially Invited to Death" reveal Stout at his best.
In "Black Orchids," Wolfe endures the perils involved in leaving the brownstone to attend a flower show. Ah, yet this is no ordinary flower show, but one in which the world's only black orchids are on display. Wolfe has as much fun as his enormous envy will allow until someone is murdered at the show.
The second story, "Cordially Invited to Death" is a fun romp for both Wolfe and Archie, but not for the murderer of a woman who organizes lavish parties. And Wolfe even (gasp!) allows a woman in the kitchen!
Stout's first eight Wolfe stories all contain good cases, interesting characters, and tough knots for Wolfe's sharp mind to untangle, but with BLACK ORCHIDS Wolfe and Archie finally find themselves. Their characteristics, mannerisms, and attitudes have been refined and honed to perfection. Stout was on it.
As other reviewers have noted, "Cordially Invited to Death" contains a mystery within a mystery. I wouldn't dream of spoiling it for you, so jump in and enjoy a couple of wonderful Nero Wolfe adventures. You won't be sorry.