Champagne For One by Rex Stout: A Review by Warren Bull
Champagne For One was published in 1958. It is one of thirty three novels Rex Stout wrote featuring his detective, Nero Wolf and his assistant, Archie Goodwin. Wolf was a stay-at-home detective, rarely venturing away from his New York brownstone home. Wolfe’s daily schedule was set up to include four hours each day with his orchids, gourmet meals, and as little physical activity as he can manage. It is not surprising that he weighed 1/7th of a ton. His luxurious home is also arranged to fit his interests and occupation with private space for him and built-in ways to listen to and watch visitors.
Champagne For One is an example of his detective style. He sends Archie out with the men he regularly uses as backup. Suspects come to his home for questioning and to plead their cases. The police cooperative reluctantly and with loud complaints, but they go along with the crime-solver.
In this novel, as in many others, Wolfe solves an “impossible” crime by using Archie and others to do the legwork, by observation and by the use of his massive intelligence. In the novel Archie is asked by an acquaintance to attend a formal dinner the mansion of a grand dame of society. Guests include six single men and six unmarried women who are in a charitable facility that helps unmarried women. At the dinner he discovers that one of the women has cyanide capsules in her purse. She has said that someday she may kill herself using the poison. Archie keeps his eye on the woman and on her purse. Nevertheless she dies in front of the group. Tests confirm she was poisoned. Nearly everyone except Archie believes she committed suicide. Archie is convinced she was murdered.
Was she murdered? If so how? Archie watched her and her purse. Even if it was death by suicide, how did she get the poison? The questions are fair. Not having Wolfe’s brainpower, I did not guess the solution correctly.
This is a series in which the characters do not grow or change. For example, Wolfe is the same age in every novel. However, I enjoyed visiting familiar characters in a setting I knew well. Nero Wolfe is one of the classic fictional detectives. This novel is well worth reading.
While working on this blog I learned about Rex Stout. The author was raised as a Quaker and had a strong sense of right and wrong. He supported civil rights and authors’ rights. Stout was on the original board of the American Civil Liberties Union. During the height of the McCarthy era he ignored a subpoena from the House Un-American Activities Committee. Although Stout was a staunch anti-Communist, Herbert Hoover included Stout on his personal enemies list. Many writers were on his list. Stout included social commentary in his mysteries.
Rex Stout was one of those writers whose life was as interesting as his characters. What other writer fits that description?