Curtains for Three (Crime Line) Paperback – 1 Jan 1995
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Three clever murderers challenge Nero Wolfe in cases involving lovers who want to make sure neither....
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"The Gun with Wings" is a "locked room" mystery with a rather familiar "Gideon Fell" feel to it; and "Bullet for One" has more than its fair share of annoying characters, a fairly forgettable plot, but is slightly redeemed by memorable scene in an office where a Marx Brothers style romp occurs with Archie as a bemused bystander.
The winner here is "Disguise for Murder" which proves to be a lot of fun. Wolfe's aversion to disturbance in his household is overshadowed by his love of showing off his orchids. This proves to be a huge problem as murder occurs in his office, and then the unthinkable happens: Inspector Cramer shuts down Wolfe's sanctuary as a crime scene. Wolfe in high dudgeon is always a treat and the added attraction of Archie in jeopardy ranks this with the best of the Wolfe tales. One classic and two also rans make this a acceptable deal and CURTAINS FOR THREE with your time.
"The Gun with Wings" - Alberto Mion, top tenor at the Met, had several reasons to die, whether suicide or murder. His alleged seduction of Clara James provoked her father into hitting Mion in the throat so hard that he needed an operation even to hope to sing again. He'd lost thousands of dollars in recording contracts and tours even in four months out of action. His wife wanted to leave him for Fred Weppler, the Gazette's music critic. But the police crossed it off as suicide, finding the gun on the floor beside him and a bullet through the roof of his mouth.
But Peggy Mion and Fred Weppler still have a problem: they know the gun wasn't beside the body when they found it, and they want Wolfe to find the murderer so they can stop suspecting each other.
Some high points: an attitude toward suing for damages that's an historical exhibit; Wolfe's all-time record in high-handedness in squeezing information out of clients; and a completely fair puzzle.
"Bullet for One" - Sigmund Keyes took a ride in the park 5 days a week. On the day of his death, he left the stable at 0630, passed a mounted cop at 0710 who knew him and his horse by sight, but his horse came in riderless half an hour later. A wealthy industrial designer, shot out of the saddle in sight of the Empire State Building, means a tailor-made media circus. Of the 6 suspects, 5 have now come to Wolfe, at least 4 ganging up on the 6th (who appears just after Wolfe, err, 'asks' them to stay to dinner for a grilling session afterwards). "I am hired to get facts." "Sure, the real facts." "There is no other kind. I guarantee not to deliver any unreal facts."
The suspects: Ferdinand Pohl (financed Keyes' start) and Dorothy Keyes (daughter), who inherit; Frank Broadyke (competitor; defendant in a lawsuit just begun by the victim for industrial espionage); Annie "Audrey" Rooney (just-fired secretary of Victor Talbott); Wayne Safford (courting Audrey, works at the stable); and Victor Talbott (Dorothy's fiance, the preferred murderer of the other four).
To balance the dry timetables of the murder and the six alibis, we have lots of catfights between the clients, Cramer going ape because Wolfe's messing around with a high-profile case, and a smart-aleck mounted patrolman who can compete with Archie.
"Disguise for Murder" - I recommend the excellent adaptation by A&E with Timothy Hutton as Archie. Wolfe has opened the plant rooms for the afternoon to the Manhattan Flower Club, but neither he nor Archie realized how troublesome it would be. Wolfe hadn't realized there would be (gasp!) *women* in the club, and Archie hadn't realized how few would be a treat for the eyes. Archie, therefore, was bound to notice Cynthia Brown, virtually the only attractive young woman in the place, even if she hadn't gone down to Wolfe's office to speak with Archie when he went AWOL.
Cynthia is a woman of many names - a con artist, in fact. Today, though, she wants to give it all up and go legit - because she just recognized the man she believes strangled her friend Doris Hatten a few months ago. "I wouldn't have recognized him if he hadn't had a hat on, and then he looked at me and saw what was happening." She wants Wolfe and Archie to help her put the creep away, without winding up in jail herself. Unfortunately, disaster strikes before Archie can get Wolfe downstairs to speak with her.
And to add injury to the insult of a murder in the office, Cramer seals it. Client or no client, Wolfe is motivated. :)
"Bullet for One" has a delightful Central Park setting. Unfortunately, the industrial designer out for a horseback ride through the park is murdered. He and his horse set out for a trot through the park, but only the horse returns. Six different suspects beg Wolfe to help prove it wasn't them. Or, rather, they'd like to prove it was a particular one of them who is highly unpopular.
My favorite of the three is "Disguise for Murder," in which Wolfe is somehow talked into hosting an event of the Manhattan Flower Club which, to his dismay, permits women to join. One of these women enters Wolfe's office while he isn't there. She is murdered in the office and then, insult of insults, Cramer seals the office. This means that if Wolfe wants to return to his office fortress, he has to solve the case quickly.
CONS: Not a single complaint!
BOTTOM LINE: Always a great read with Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: 3 bite-size murder mysteries.
Curtains for Three is a trios of murder mysteries starring Nero Wolfe, a 300 pound master sleuth with a penchant for food, beer and flowers. He solves crimes from his 1940's New York brownstone apartment with his wisecracking right-hand man, Archie Goodwin, doing the legwork. And as always, Wolfe's apartment staff and other regulars (Fritz Brenner the chef, Freelancer Saul Panzer, Police Inspector Cramer, Officer Purley Stebbins) are on-hand to round out the cast.
All of the Nero Wolfe books showcase Rex Stout's unique talent as a writer. The way he describes things is always interesting and adds to the atmosphere of the stories. For example, at one point in this novel he describes a resistant witness as `next-door to nasty'. In another novel Archie describes how he `retired to the kitchen to chin with Fritz'.
The three short stories presented in Curtains for Three are very enjoyable and just plain fun to read. The first story involves 2 lovers who call upon Wolfe to prove neither of them is a murderer. The second story involves a Central Park killing of a man on horseback. The final story tells the tale of a murder that occurs right in Nero Wolfe's office, which is real convenient since Wolfe tends stay within his apartment.
The characters are a hoot, the plot interesting and twisty and the prose is outstanding. Wolfe cooks up a good mystery every time and will have you going back for seconds.
"Bullet for One" is the best of the lot here. "Disguise for Murder" ranks just below it, but "The Gun With Wings" has some shameless cliches and hackneyed plot devices seen in 1951 pulp deteective fiction. Stout was, obviously, capable of so much more.
In a real way, it's understandable why none of these was picked for A&E.