Pierre Ducos, a waiter from Rusterman's restaurant, arrives at Nero Wolfe’s brownstone after the great detective retired for the evening. Assistant Archie Goodwin answers the door and informs Ducos that Wolfe will not see him until eleven the following morning—a detail devout Wolfe readers know and additionally realize the man should be grateful because Wolfe doesn’t normally see anyone without appointment. After Ducos explains he is targeted for murder, Goodwin allows him to stay for the night and shows him to a guest room. Within minutes of being left alone, Ducos pulls a booby-trapped cigar from his pocket. The cigar explodes, taking half of his face with it. Nero and Archie investigate the horrendous murder and simultaneously probe into two related deaths: Ducos’ daughter and a Rusterman’s customer.
Of course, readers know the great detective will solve the case but the revelation of the murderer is genuinely surprising for longtime Nero Wolfe aficionados.
I would say the only downside to this 1975 final Wolfe mystery is how Stout weaves the Watergate scandal into the plot. While Nero and Archie’s adventures were always contemporary, this particular story takes them out of their cocoon and places them in the real world, and having Wolfe comment on Nixon’s America is a little jarring, akin to Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes battling the Nazis.
Still, Rex Stout’s skill as a writer as well as the fondness for these characters makes this book an enjoyable read.
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