Some Buried Caesar

[Amazon Link]

I can remember why I put this book on the TBR pile: at some point in the distant past, I came across a list of Roger Zelazny's favorite mystery novels. I resolved to read the ones I hadn't read already.

But that was long ago. I'm pretty sure this was the last book on the list. I can't, however, find that list now. And I don't remember what other books were on it. Ah, well.

I've read a lot of Chandler, Hammett, etc., but I had so far avoided Rex Stout's novels featuring his detective Nero Wolfe. I had picked up some general conceptions, more or less accurate, involving obesity, orchids, reclusiveness, and his dependence on Archie Goodwin for footwork and occasional fisticuffs.

So this book is a little unusual, because Wolfe and Archie are out of New York City, headed up to show Wolfe's prize orchids at the (apparently fictional) "North Atlantic Exposition" in upstate New York. A freak auto accident strands them in the countryside, and while making their way to a nearby farmhouse, they run afoul of a local prize bull, which goes under the name Hickory Caesar Grindon.

Such is the nature of contrived mystery books: the bull is owned by an NYC restaurateur named Pratt, who acquired him under contentious circumstances. Adding to the controversy: Pratt intends to butcher the bull for ths publicity value, outraging the locals and the former owner.

A large bet is made that this won't happen. And soon enough one of the bettors is found gorily dead inside Caesar's corral. But did Caesar do it, or…

This didn't grab me enough to start devouring Nero Wolfe novels, a little too gimmicky. And it's one of those books where they throw the suspects at you all at once, and wish you good luck keeping everyone straight. But the details of its time and place (late 1930s America) are kind of interesting. Archie is a fun narrator, but (unfortunately) some of his prose seems to be dated enough to be incomprehensible to my ears.