The Black Orchids
by Rex Stout
Nero Wolfe doesn’t like leaving his house. But when a rival orchid fancier brings a new hybrid “Black Orchid” to the New York Flower Show (or some such), Wolfe overcomes his agoraphobia and leaves the brownstone, only to stumble onto a murder. The second tale in this slim volume involves a return of the orchids in another case, one where Wolfe investigates not for a fee, but out of some other motive (spite for the police?). A few thoughts:
- Like all Wolfe novels, Black Orchids works best for its snappy banter, the jostling between Wolfe and Goodwin, and the way people get both incensed and dissected under the detective’s keen gaze.
- The mysteries tend to focus mostly on method and motive, not a search for the suspect. This is the shape of most Wolfe mysteries — he operates not in the vacuum of the police investigating a serial murder, but rather in the narrow window of the manor-house murder, where every suspect can fit into his drawing room at the same time.
- While the novel included a little bit of the old team sneaking around town, I would have preferred more. Both of these stories involved fairly straightforward investigations by Archie and Saul, with only a little Cramer-baiting for flavor.
- Two things about the era emerge from these stories: first, the simple pleasures of the 1940s. Archie and many others show up every day to see a pretty woman paddle her feet in a pond. I just don’t see that plot point working very well today. Second, a wealthy manor house has all sorts of wild animals, including an orangutan and a big cat (panther? I don’t remember). Again, this seems less likely now, though we do see the occasional pet tiger at Mike Tyson’s place.
A fine entry in the Wolfe canon, eminently readable; perfect for a quick summer read.