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.