We are a loose group of crime fiction fans choosing a new author to write about each month – Stout is our new centre of attention. New and occasional writers always welcome to join in – just send one of us the link to your piece.
Christmas Party by Rex Stout
“Archie!” a voice called. “Come and help us sample!” It was Margot Dickey. In a far corner was a gold-leaf bar, some eight feet long, and she was at it on a gold-leaf stool. Cherry Quon and Alfred Kiernan were with her, also on stools, and behind the bar was Santa Claus, pouring from a champagne bottle. It was certainly a modern touch to have Santa Claus tend bar, but there was nothing modern about his costume. He was strictly traditional, cut, color, size, mask, and all, except that the hand grasping the champagne bottle wore a white glove. I assumed, crossing to them over the thick rugs, that that was a touch of Bottweill elegance, and didn’t learn until later how wrong I was. They gave me the season’s greetings, and Santa Claus poured a glass of bubbles for me. No gold leaf on the glass. I was glad I had come. To drink champagne with a blonde at one elbow and a brunette at the other gives a man a sense of well-being,
commentary: Although it is January, I thought there’d be no harm looking at this Christmas story for my first Stout entry. It was first published in Collier’s Magazine, then collected in a book called And Four to Go.
It deals with a work Christmas party in the office of a fancy interior decorator - the Bottweill mentioned above.
It is a fairly extraordinary short story: I wasn’t terribly interested in the murder, or who did it, nor was I surprised or astounded by the solution. But – in this really not-very-long story, there were two huge, completely other, surprises for me. No wonder the end revelation was an anti-climax.
The first surprise is that Nero Wolfe’s trusty assistant Archie Goodwin announces he is getting married: I feel that this comes up on the first page so that’s not a spoiler. I know enough of the series to see that this must be a facer for everyone. (Wolfe’s reaction reminded me of the response of Sheldon in Big Bang Theory to Leonard’s marriage plans.) What can be going on here….? The other surprise I wouldn’t dream of revealing. It was very satisfying.
My good friend Tracy, over at Bitter Tea and Mystery, read and reviewed this story last Christmas – you can find her views here. She is an experienced and knowledgeable reader of Rex Stout, and this is her helpful summing up of the set up of this long and much-loved series:
Nero Wolfe is an eccentric private investigator who only works when he needs money to pay for his hobbies (orchids and food) or to support his household. All of the Nero Wolfe mysteries are narrated by Archie Goodwin, a private investigator who also serves as Wolfe's secretary when a case is not going.
My knowledge of Stout is very similar to my relation with Ellery Queen, the November author: I must have read a dozen books by him over the years, but have never gone at them systematically, and I don’t know much about Stout. I’m looking forward to finding out more over the next month – through my own reading, but much more via the posts of my fellow Tuesday-Nighters, who I feel will have a lot to say, all of it very much to the point….
This particular Santa Claus is from the NYPL.