Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Nero Wolfe Reviews: Where There's a Will (1940)

My Wolfe reviews are backing up on me so I need to get caught up. We're up to 1940's
Where There's a Will

The Plot: The Hawthorne family is accomplished and somewhat eccentric. It still manages to come as a surprise, though, when businessman Noel Hawthorne is killed in a hunting accident and his will reveals he has left the bulk of his estate to a woman presumed to be his mistress. His three sisters, April (a stage actress), May (a scientist) and June (a novelist) are unhappy but willing to let things lie to avoid a scandal. Hawthorne's scarred wife, Daisy, however, is determined to raise a protest.

The sisters hire Wolfe to try to convince the "other woman" to give up some of the inheritance to Daisy to avoid a media storm but the job soon changes when it is discovered that Noel's accident was an "accident" of the deliberately murderous kind. Wolfe now has an abundance of motives as well as suspects and Wolfe must find the one path that leads to the truth. It may be a daunting task but where the great detective is concerned where there's a will....

My Take: This is another one of Stout's "odd" books. Like with Some Buried Caesar we are introduced to a host of eccentric characters who, at first, present something of a comical proposal to Wolfe. The Proceedings have an element of farce throughout but Stout often brings it up short, shifting the tone quickly to a more serious vein. The murder and, even more, the strange character of Daisy, give the story not only weight but a kind of creepy, Gothic tone.

Where There's a Will is also kind of unusual in that the cast of characters are so unusual that they actually come close to overshadowing Wolfe and Archie for a change. This is particularly true of Daisy who comes across as a weird, somewhat damaged, and even slightly cruel figure but who is balanced with a kind of implacable strength which is admirable. At the other end of the spectrum is the other stand-out character -- Sarah, June's daughter. Sarah has a live wire energy mixed with a disregard for conventions and proprieties that makes her pop off the page.

With all of these wild characters Stout picks up the reader and carries them briskly through the story. This is a good thing because if you stop for even a moment to really think about the plot you realize just how silly and convoluted the killer's machinations and reasons are.

If you let yourself be swept away by the characters and Stout's usual breathtaking dialogue, however, you'll find Where There's a Will to be an excellent read that will make the time just fly by.

Favorite Quote of the Book:
Wolfe inquired dryly, "Is your daughter a professional photographer, Mrs. Dunn?"
"No, she's a professional fiend."


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