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The Red Box (1983)

The Red Box (1983)
3.98 of 5 Votes: 2
0515051179 (ISBN13: 9780515051179)
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The Red Box (1983)
The Red Box (1983)

About book: The Red Box was the fourth of the Nero Wolfe novels and begins somewhat abruptly in the middle of the initial interview with Wolfe’s client. With a desperate need for a client, Archie connives with a potential client to get Wolfe to leave his house to travel down to a fashion firm several blocks away to interview witnesses in the poisoning death of a model who ate a candy from a box of chocolate and diet. The client presents Wolfe with a letter from fellow orchid growers citing his participation in Orchid and urging him to undertake the case in the name of decency.The client, Lew Frost wants Wolfe solve the murder and get his cousin Helen (who he is in love with) to quit her modeling job, as she is a wealthy heiress who is set to inherit a $2 million estate.Despite his hating every moment, Wolfe uncovers one valuable clue in the course of his trip, in his interview with Ms. Frost and uncovers who the poison was really intended for. On confronting the target of the poison in his office on 35th street, Wolfe is shocked to learn that the man has made him the executor of his estate. He also wanted Wolfe to undertake a case for him, and an important to element of this was to be found in a red box, but before he could reveal the location of the box, he dies. Though, thanks to the will he remains a client.As Archie says, this case is one client after another. Lew Frost dismisses Wolfe, but his cousin Helen hires Wolfe to find the poisoner, so Wolfe has yet another client.The book contains a number of interesting features. The best may be Wolfe’s relationship with Helen Frost. It begins on a very rocky basis, but Wolfe ultimately wins her confidence and Helen matures throughout the book. It’s an interesting note that Wolfe seems to have an interesting effect on many spoiled children by treating them like adults. This is as compared to Helen’s friends and family who dote on her like she’s a child incapable of making her own decisions.Also, my one big criticism of The Rubber Band was that Cramer was almost subservient to Wolfe. The Red Box thankfully has none of that as Cramer develops quite nicely and seems to be set in his cynicism and impatience with Wolfe’s games.The story goes along quite nicely until the end when the book hits two big problems.First, is a third murder, which was incredible. Stout’s fell into the mystery writer’s trap of creating a murder scenario that is too clever to be practical. This murder involved carrying a volatile liquid in a purse or briefcase to a funeral, sneaking into the parking, getting into the murder victim’s car, and pouring this liquid into a teacup and then precariously positioning the tea cup so that the victim will bump it and spill it on himself. The liquid by the way is so toxic that even casual exposure will send you to the hospital. Rather than commending the plan for its ingenuity, Wolfe ought to have condemned its pure silliness.The second problem was the ending. While Wolfe used phony evidence to gain confessions or murder’s self-destructions several times, this particular book seemed to me to have the cheapest use of this trick I’ve yet encountered. And Wolfe’s actions hardly seem to work for his client’s emotional well-being. The main reason for Wolfe’s trick appeared to save the time and expense of finding the last missing necessary piece of the puzzle by substituting phony.However weak the end, I still enjoyed the book, with the Wolfe-Helen Frost relationship and the development of Inspector Cramer. While the book is probably the weakest of the first four installments of Nero Wolfe, I’ll give the book:

Nero Wolfe is a detective that is such a genius that he solves most of the crimes his clients bring to him without ever leaving his office. He is an outside the box thinker kind of like Perry Mason, except Perry has to leave the office every once in awhile. Nero's confidential assistant Archie Goodwin does the traveling for him, enabling Nero to give his prize orchids the attention they require, and at the same time never miss a meal prepared by his in-house chef. Archie is also the narrator of these very cleverly constructed tales. The dialog is witty, the vocabulary is occasionally challenging, but that is just part of the fun.In this particular tale Nero is hired by an annoying young man, Llewellyn Frost, to solve the murder of a co-worker of his cousin, both models at a prestigious fashion house in New York City. The victim eats a piece of candy from a gift box at work, and in no time at all, drops dead. Nero makes quick progress in the case but not in the direction that the young man expects. Nero's methods irritate some of the older Frost relatives. It is not long, surprisingly, before the young man wants to fire Wolfe. Nero refuses to be fired. Before long, another member of the Frost family has guaranteed that his fee will be paid. Even the NYC Homicide detectives come to talk the nuances of the case over with Nero, off the record of course!Author Rex Stout has written scores of Nero Wolfe detective stories and each is unique, surprising, and results in an unexpected resolution of a complicated case, which of course Nero suspects all along, but waits to reveal it all The Nero Wolfe Files by Kaye, (Google Affiliate Ad)til Archie has collected the evidence to prove it. Always a fun read; no wonder they are still available to a devoted mystery-reading public, even after all these years!
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Having finished all known Agatha Christie novels, Brandon and I decided to try out a Rex Stout. I really enjoyed it! Nero Wolfe and Archie seem to mimic Poirot and Hastings. Both pairs are enjoyable, but for whatever reason (maybe a personal bias!), I like Poirot and Hastings better. I think Christie and Stout were contemporaries, though she wrote in England while he is an American writer. So I don't think either one was copying the other, but it is interesting all the similarities between the two pairs. (Note: I just looked it up and Wolfe "debuted" 14 years after Poirot...)The mystery was a good one, with twists, multiple suspects, and all that good stuff. The ending was a good wrap up. All in all, I enjoyed the mystery, and I think I'll try out another of Stout - especially if I read it with Brandon so we can speculate together!
“Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth.”It has been a while since Nero Wolfe had a case which made frustrating times for Archie Goodwin. So when a potential client shows up Archie develops a devious plan not only to get Nero Wolfe take the case, but also to lure him outside to the shop where a crime was committed. Readers familiar with the series know that the great detective almost never leaves his home except in case of some major events, like floods, earthquakes, and volcano eruptions. The client changes his mind quickly and tries to stop Wolfe's investigation, but the great detective felt he was committed the moment he went outside.As usual this Nero Wolfe mystery is less about the mystery (the identity of villain was obvious after the first half of the book, the detectives spent the rest of it trying to collect evidence which was practically non-existent), but more about interactions between characters which are nothing short of brilliant and very funny at times. I also found it interesting that Rex Stout while being a very conservative person politically used the quote I put in the beginning of the review; it is quite famous and comes from this book.The book deserves firm 4 stars and is highly recommended to the people looking for a mystery with very memorable main characters.This review is a copy/paste of my BookLikes one:
Todd Speaks
Archie Goodwin has always made the Nero Wolfe series. He is both the protagonist and in most cases the balance that Nero Wolfe requires in his colleague. If you haven't read the series, by balance I mean Goodwin is often used to push the PI Wolfe into action.In this story, Wolfe makes several firsts. It is the first book in which he leaves the confines of his 35th street Brownstone in NYC and it is also the first time in which a murder is committed in his office. Wolfe is an obsessive compulsive personality long before the acronym OCD became a part of our vernacular. He tends to his orchids twice daily for two hours each (9 to 11 AM and then again from 4 to 6 PM). He almost always wears yellow shirts and eats lunch and dinner at the same time and refuses to talk business during meals. In this story, an assistant DA comes calling on Wolfe at 10 AM and Goodwin lets the DA have it including a smack on the face. Not many stories these days have that within their tomb.I won't offer up spoilers, but if you like a good somewhat light-hearted mystery you should pick this up. It was released in 2009 along with The Rubber Band and can easily be picked up at your library or bookstore. It can be read in about 8 hours and flows well. I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys the mystery genre. Not a twentieth century classic but an entertaining story that will keep the reader engaged from start to finish.
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