"Black Orchids" - Marks the first on-stage appearance of Lewis Hewitt, Wolfe's friend from Long Island - if orchid fanciers who grow for show can have friends. :) Wolfe dislikes leaving the brownstone on West 35th Street for any reason whatever, but Lewis Hewitt's black orchids - the only three in the world - are currently on display at the Flower Show, and Archie's daily reports on their condition aren't enough to assuage an advanced case of orchid envy. Since Fritz and Theodore are both kept busy in the plant rooms and kitchen respectively, Archie wasn't surprised at being sent, but there were compensations - Rucker and Dill, the big seed & nursery company, dressed up their exhibit with a couple having a picnic every afternoon, and Archie threatens to marry Anne Tracy (he's not the only one - showcasing her legs by the little stream every afternoon has brought a lot of offers). But by the end of the day's showing, it isn't Anne, but her partner in the exhibit who's found shot dead in full view of the crowd.
"Cordially Invited To Meet Death" - Bess Huddleston, 1st class caterer, starts at a disadvantage in approaching Wolfe as a client - she once tried to hire him to play detective for a murder game at a party ($2000 for a few hours work, all the beer he could drink, and $500 for Archie), and it offended him that anyone still existed who didn't know about his no-leaving-the-house-on-business rule, apart from hurt pride at being offered such a job. But this time it's serious: an anonymous letter-writer has been sending letters with scandalous accusations to her clientele, naming *her* as the source of information; if it isn't stopped quickly, she'll be ruined professionally. Of course, with Wolfe and Archie involved, it will never in a million years end there...
In "Black Orchids," Wolfe endures the perils involved in leaving the brownstone to attend a flower show. Ah, yet this is no ordinary flower show, but one in which the world's only black orchids are on display. Wolfe has as much fun as his enormous envy will allow until someone is murdered at the show.
The second story, "Cordially Invited to Death" is a fun romp for both Wolfe and Archie, but not for the murderer of a woman who organizes lavish parties. And Wolfe even (gasp!) allows a woman in the kitchen!
Stout's first eight Wolfe stories all contain good cases, interesting characters, and tough knots for Wolfe's sharp mind to untangle, but with BLACK ORCHIDS Wolfe and Archie finally find themselves. Their characteristics, mannerisms, and attitudes have been refined and honed to perfection. Stout was on it.
As other reviewers have noted, "Cordially Invited to Death" contains a mystery within a mystery. I wouldn't dream of spoiling it for you, so jump in and enjoy a couple of wonderful Nero Wolfe adventures. You won't be sorry.
Archie is the man-around-town-in-the-know, and his relationship to Wolfe is complex and amusing. Archie kow-tows to Wolfe, as is proper for an underling in the early 1940's (when the book was originally published. The book is in its 11th printing!). However, he is as irrepressible and timeless as Huck Finn and as uniquely American. He shines as a cavalier, a detective, and a loyal employee. The other characters sparkle. The book is a must for any Nero Wolfe fan or for any mystery enthusiast. Stout's writing is, as always, entertaining, amusing, and witty. This is a book you can read often, even after you know "who'dun it."
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