Here are not just three -- as in the past -- but four Nero Wolfe novels in miniature, published in book form for the first time. From the holiday settings of three of them, one might suppose that the perdurable Wolfe never takes any time off for rest and relaxation. The 365-day impression, however, is purely circumstantial, and we do not think anybody can find the phlegmatic detective guilty of overexertion.
In "Christmas Party," Archie and his fiancee attend a gala office fete, compelling a curious Wolfe to condescend to some uncharacteristic theatrics. His dramatic technique is good, but doesn't win him an Oscar; rather, it places him under suspicion of murder. The "Easter Parade" tempts Wolfe to commit grand larceny (for an orchid, what else?), and though that crime goes unpunished, the inevitable murder doesn't. A "Fourth of July Picnic," which has Wolfe scheduled for an unprecedented appearance as orator, is murdered-out. The last selection, "Murder Is No Joke," a workaday whodunit in a couturier's salon, is a sample, par excellence, of the master's inimitable ability to relate the unrelated -- put the round peg in a square hole, so to speak -- and nail two killings on one murderer.
"He gazed at me through narrowed eyes long enough to count eleven, then picked up the document and gazed at it. He flicked it to the edge of the desk as if it were crawling with germs, and focused on me again.
'You are deranged,' he said evenly and distinctly." (p. 3)
"'Mr. Cramer,' he said coldly, 'your talent for making yourself offensive is extraordinary. Presumably investigating a charge of murder, you invade my privacy in my home with the preposterous intent of involving me in the theft of a bunch of flowers.'" (p. 91)
Fourth of July Picnic:
"Born in Ohio. Public high school, pretty good at geometry and football, graduated with honor but no honors. Went to college two weeks, decided it was childish, came to New York and got a job guarding a pier, shot and killed two men and was fired, was recommended to Nero Wolfe for a chore he wanted done, did it, was offered a full-time job by Mr. Wolfe, took it, still have it." (p. 149)
Murder is No Joke:
"[Cramer:] 'And when I come and ask what you sent Goodwin there for, ask you plainly and politely, you say that you will -- What are you laughing at?' .... [Wolfe:] 'It escaped me, Mr. Cramer. Your choice of adverbs. Your conception of politeness.'" (p. 208)
Frame Up for Murder
is an expanded version of Murder is No Joke
, re-written by Mr. Stout at the request of The Saturday Evening Post
for a longer version. It was published in the Post
in the June 21, June 28 and July 5, 1958 editions. The longer version apparently was requested/finished/published too late to be included in the the Viking hard cover book. The alternate version of this plot line is primarily distinguished by the change in characterization of Flora Gallant.
For further details, see the Novella Alternate Plots page
, which includes information found in 2011 in the Rex Stout Archives at Boston College, as well as John McAleer's Introduction to Death Times Three.