Thursday, September 11, 2008

Too Many Cooks (A Nero Wolfe novel) by Rex Stout 1938

In recent years I have discovered the distinct pleasure of reading Nero Wolfe novels--not only reading them, but reading them aloud to my wonderful wife, Christina. I so get into doing distinct voices for the characters. But most of all, I enjoy portraying the deep, prima donna voice of Nero Wolfe--the obese, cranky, yet brilliant detective, who loathes to leave his chair, let alone leave the house.

It’s also jolly fun to do the sarcastic voice of the ever astute Archie Goodwin, the narrator!

Nero Wolfe novels are the epitome for me of the “pleasure read” because the characters, Wolfe in particular, are so intensely animated in their dialogue. Wolfe serves as a magnet for every player in the incident of foul play, no matter how minor. And Wolfe’s right-hand man, Archie Goodwin, serves the reader as well as Wolfe with his keen eye, photographic memory, and pitch perfect ear. If you love humor, quirky characters, intriguing asides, clever plots, and a good old fashion mystery, you will love the Nero Wolfe series!

Here are a few notes about Too Many Cooks, a Nero Wolfe novel from 1938:

Wolfe is miraculously out of his normal digs in this novel, lured away from his house in New York (which he typically never leaves) to West Virginia via train for a gathering of elite chefs. Wolfe has been enticed by being invited as the guest of honor and to give a speech on the merits and contributions of American cuisine. So part of the fun of this novel is that Wolfe is a fish out of water. Throughout the entire novel, he refuses to take on any clients (although there are numerous requests) because he is anxious to leave precisely on time for his return trip to NY. (Much to the dismay of Archie, who can’t believe how hard they are working for no fee at all!)

The following excerpt, dramatically read by yours truly—Keith Badowski, touches on Wolfe’s mood in exile. Also this scene gives the uninitiated a flavor of the yin and yang of the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin partnership/relationship.

Wolfe Gives Advice

Note: If you have Quick Time, the track will automatically play in it's entirety when you click on it.You can get Quick Time here.

Your other option is to right click on the link, select "Save Target As", and Browse to the location on your hard drive where you want to save the MP3 file.

In that case, you'll need to open the file in Windows Media Player or some other media program that handles MP3s.

Here’s a couple more scenes for your listening pleasure:

In this one, Wolfe’s indignation at being offered a job he must refuse is delightful.

Wolfe Is Not A Bodyguard

Lastly, here Wolfe is grouchy over lost sleep and emotionally expresses his deep concern for a friend. One can hardly miss Wolfe’s distaste for the woman who has wrecked his friend’s life.

Wolfe Lets It Fly

Having been originally published in 1938, Too Many Cooks, portrays the state of race relations in West Virginia at the time. Racism, replete with the most offensive racial slurs, is in evidence here. However, both Wolfe and Archie are shown to be enlightened; all their interactions with the mostly black service staff are on equal and respectful terms. If anything, Wolfe is the least tolerance of those white “officials” who express racism.

More to the point, in all things Wolfe’s attitude is one of mostly wanting to be left alone. He hates to waste his time on anyone, no matter their race or color, unless they are a paying client or one of the suspects he must interview to unravel the puzzle. Race is irrelevant to Wolfe in that regard.

One of the challenges of reading Too Many Cooks is that, as the title suggests, there is a huge cast of characters, thus many, many suspects. If you do dive into this novel, as I hope you will, don’t go crazy trying to keep everyone straight. Rex Stout, through his mouthpiece Archie Goodwin, does an excellent job of reminding you of just enough to keep tabs on who is who, and why he/she might have motive to kill the victim.

So to sum up. . . Too Many Cooks offers up the following:

Wolfe as a fish out of water.

Accurate portrayal of race relations in the South, with Wolfe being an equal opportunity pursuer of the guilty.

A slue of suspects, but Archie keeps them straight for us.

The usual hilarious interactions between Wolfe and Archie, as well as Wolfe’s magnetic persona that draws everyone towards him, like flies to the spider.


1 comment:

Jack ... Keller Texas said...

Thank you for an excellent review of "Too Many Cooks" by Rex Stout. I'm an avid Nero Wolfe fan, having read all of them several times over in the past 40 years. I much enjoyed this one, although I must say that I missed the interaction that takes place in the "Old Brownstone" on West 35th (Fritz adds a lot, although is present little). As a matter of fact, I've just started reading them once again, and this time I'm doing it in the order they were written. It's great fun to see how the characters change over the years.

Regards, and good reading.