Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books: CHAMPAGNE FOR ONE (1958) by Rex Stout

If it's Friday, it's Forgotten Books day, the weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, Pattinase  Today, while Patti is is traveling, Todd Mason has rounded up the links on his blog, Sweet Freedom. 

I'm off to another late start, but that seems to be the way of it lately. It doesn't help that it's a dreary, rainy day - perfect for lounging around in bed, the ceiling fan going and Rocky (my chihuahua) snoozing.

Anyway, don't forget to check in at Todd's and see what other forgotten (or overlooked) books other bloggers are talking about today.

CHAMPAGNE FOR ONE by Rex Stout is my entry even though I don't think it's, technically, a 'forgotten' book. I mean, if you love Rex Stout's work as much as I do, by inference you love Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, so you might not have forgotten this one. I'll admit though, that I hadn't re-read it in years - couldn't find my copy in the house anywhere - so I bought it again online and this time I'm keeping an eye on it.

This is also the copy with an introduction by Lena Horne, a lady I admired very much. It seems she and her hubby were personal friends and neighbors of Rex Stout and his family.

Even though CHAMPAGNE FOR ONE prominently features a bunch of 'unwed' mothers - an idea that no longer shocks - this is still a book that, otherwise, hasn't aged much. It also seems to have gotten better or I've changed or - who knows? Never one of my favorites, it has now moved up into my top ten Wolfe books. Go figure.

Archie Goodwin gets a phone call from Dinky Byne (you can tell right away from the name that the guy is a dilettante) requesting a favor. Will he [Archie] attend the annual high society dinner for unwed mothers (that's what it amounts to) given by Mrs. Robert Robilotti?

It's that evening at seven and yeah it's short notice but Dinky has a bad cold.

Though Archie is suspicious of Dinky's real reason, he goes to the dinner all dolled up in a tux as requested. Mrs. Robilotti is the unwitting (and rather stiff-necked) benefactor of a charity begun by her late first husband, which funds a halfway house for unwed, pregnant young women to come and stay. The facility also arranges for adoption of the newborns.

There's lots of condescension involved since the evening (at Mrs. Robilotti's luxurious townhouse) involves the appearance of ten young mothers and ten society stalwarts (not that Archie counts as 'society' but he is a last minute replacement and beggars can't be choosers) to dance attendance on the women and buck up their supposedly low spirits.

When one of the young mothers, Faith Usher, dies in full view of a crowded room, everyone but Archie assumes it's suicide by poison.

The police, the party-goers, Mrs. Robilotti, everyone involved wants the bad episode simply to go away. It must have been suicide because NO ONE could have poisoned Faith Usher except herself.

But Archie is stubborn.

A fabulous book in which Nero Wolfe must accept that Archie's intelligence, experience and observational skills trump the evidence of everyone else's eyes. Wolfe knows Archie and so accepts  his version of what happened though Wolfe was not there. Ultimate trust between friends and cohorts. It's a wonderful thing. Even if it makes for a very difficult and exasperating murder problem.

My post today also counts as an entry in Bev's Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2012.


  1. Got it. The rain has passed here in the Philly area, leaving behind muggy but pleasant enough temps...77 F, at the mo. That won't last.

    But, I suspect, Nero Wolfe and co. will...

  2. It's slowing down here as well. But looks muggy and gray and uggo.

    Nero Wolfe is eternal. :)

  3. I have never read anything by Rex Stout in spite of hearing and reading so much about him and his two fictional sleuths. Fortunately, I've a couple of his ebooks to start with.

  4. A nice review of one of my many favorites in the Nero Wolfe series. And the Fontana cover you show here is one I have not seen. I collect Rex Stout paperbacks in various editions when I can afford them.

  5. I loved the unwed mothers subplot in this one, a typically funny and eccentric Stout notion - great fun Yvette! This was also adapted for the Hutton series and was done rather well as I recall.

  6. What e-books do you have,Prashant? I agree, it's better than nothing for sure.

  7. Tracy: Many years ago I was lucky enough to visit a bookstore going our of business and I picked up a bunch of brand new Nero Wolfe paperbacks. Since then I've added to my collection here and there when necessary. It's not worth any money but I wouldn't trade or sell them for anything. They're just paperbacks, except for a couple of anthologies that I've picked up since.

  8. Yes, Sergio, I did watch the Timothy Hutton adaptation. But didn't they change the identity of the killer?

  9. I read this one last year when I was going through a Nero Wolfe refresher course -- that is since teenagehood when I devoured these mysteries.

    It was a good one. I enjoyed it.

    Your review is very much on target and I agree with it all. That one was a hoot.

    I think I need a few Wolfe/Goodwin sparring march.

    P.S. Partners and Crime is going out of business, of all horrible developments. But they are selling all of their books at a discount.

  10. I read every Stout once upon a time. Pure pleasure.

  11. Coincidence time: Last week I watched the TV adaption of "Champagne for One" of "A Nero Wolfe Mystery". Timothy Hutton directed the two-part episode in fine style. A dandy!

  12. Is it Christmas? Chanukkah? My birthday?

    What good fortune have I come upon that when I just checked in my library's catalogue, there were not one, but two dvd's of the TV episodes of Nero Wolfe!

    So, two seasons worth!

    And Champagne for One is part of the first set.

    What will I be doing when I get this dvd? NOTHING but watching it!

    I'm in shock. I needed a good thing to happen -- and this is it.

    Hallelujah! (Well, maybe we Wolfe/Goodwin fans can get a little too carried away.)

  13. I still haven't read anything by Rex Stout. I definitely need to rememdy that! I'm almost finished with the book I'm currently reading, so I'll need to make a library run. Rex Stout must be popular with old and/or blind people--it looks like most of the editions at the Wichita Public Library are either "large print" or "books on tape." Too funny.

  14. I also reviewed this one recently, Yvette, after rereading it and enjoying it all over again. Like you, I can reread all the Wolfe books with great pleasure - I think we probably read for Archie's dry wit and the colorful regular characters. I'd also point out that this is a fine "impossible crime" situation - how could it have been murder if nobody could have poisoned the victim? The solution, I think, is a bit of a stretch - but not so much of one to make it incredible. Fun book; your review, as usual, is right on target.

  15. I can hardly believe the news about PARTNERS AND CRIME, Kathy. I got all misty when I read your comments. Jeez. One of my favorite bookstores ever. Even though I haven't been there in years. I thought it would just always be there.
    So damn sad.

  16. I agree, Patti. I can't think of a series of books that I've re-read as much or had as much fun with.

  17. Didn't they change the killer's identity, C.W.?

    I'm probably remembering it wrong.

  18. There's no such thing as being TOO carried away when it comes to Wolfe and Archie, Kathy? Happy watching!

  19. Hey, watch who you call old, Lauren! Ha!
    I have a bunch of the paperbacks as well as two anthologies, so I'm pretty much set, Rex Stout-wise. Let us know how you like them.

  20. This one grew on me, Les. I want to read your review so I'll head on over to see what you made of it. No question about it, one of the better Wolfe books. Not that there are any real duds in the bunch.

  21. Old? Who? What?

    I hate to say this, but it gets harder to read small print as one gets "older," which is a darn good thing considering the alternative.

    Vision starts going in middle-age!

    A lot of the paperbacks featuring the Wolfe/Goodwin team are in very small print, which can be unreadable even to those who are not yet of a certain age.

    I just read two which were in small fonts. I made it, but with headaches.

    One thing about Partners and Crime closing is that I bought the Wolfeman books there. So now I have to figure this out! So I'm without books, but I do have the dvd's on library reserve.

    Can't wait!

    Aauuugh! The hieroglyphics jumble! Now this is the test of my eyesight!

  22. Just saw The Doorbell Rang TV episode. Just delicious!

    Although I read the book years ago and then again last year, I hadn't seen the program.

    When Nero Wolfe leaves the "big fish" ringing his doorbell and has "nothing for him," what a hoot. And the luck on the actor's face. Priceless!

  23. No, the Chaykin-Hutton series didn't change the killer's identity in "Champagne" or make any major changes in the stories they adapted.

    You may be thinking of the 1981 William Conrad series. I don't think they adapted "Champagne," but some of the stories they did adapt were changed beyond all recognition.


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