Friday, July 08, 2016

Forgotten Books: Some Buried Caesar - Rex Stout

I’ve been wanting to reread this Nero Wolfe novel for a while now, and Rex Stout Week gives me a good excuse for doing so. SOME BURIED CAESAR is one of my favorites for several reasons.

For one thing, it’s one of the rare books in the series that takes place outside of Wolfe’s New York brownstone. Wolfe and Archie are on their way to an exhibition in upstate New York where Wolfe plans to show some of his prize orchids. But their car is disabled in a minor accident and they’re forced to seek assistance at a nearby estate. I always enjoy seeing Wolfe flummoxed by having to cope with unfamiliar surroundings.

Another rarity is that someone doesn’t show up on Wolfe’s doorstep to hire him to investigate something. The case is already well underway before Wolfe has a client in this one, and he and Archie are in the thick of it, just by being where they are. The puzzle involves two rich, feuding families, a prize bull (the Caesar of the title), blackmail, and a couple of murders.

This novel also has some historical significance in the series because it introduces Lily Rowan, who goes on to become Archie Goodwin’s long-time girlfriend. I always liked Lily, and the banter between her and Archie is appealing and amusing right from the start.

Another reason I have such fond memories of this book is that it’s the first mystery (by any author) where I figured out who the murderer was. And I don’t mean just a wild guess. I followed the exact same logic and came to the same conclusion as Wolfe. I’m not sure that ever happened again in this series, although I’ve spotted the murderer and had good reasons for doing so many times since then in books by other authors.

Finally, I read this book the first time in the summer of 1967, while I was staying at my aunt’s house in Blanket, Texas. (I read the Triangle Books cheap hardback reprint edition, by the way, with the flimsy cardboard covers and the already browning paper for which those Triangle editions were notorious.) That was a fine summer for me, full of comic books and paperbacks and library books and great music on KBWD out of Brownwood and a bit of a summer romance with the girl who lived across the street. So SOME BURIED CAESAR holds a lot of nostalgia value for me.

So the question becomes . . . how does the book hold up now, 49 years later?

I’m happy to report that it holds up very well for the most part. Occasionally some of Stout’s prose seems a little long-winded to me, and some of the comedy doesn’t quite come off, especially the scenes where Archie is in jail. But other than that, SOME BURIED CAESAR is a pure joy to read, fast and funny and dominated by two of the greatest characters in mystery fiction. Rereading this now, I can see why I read every Nero Wolfe book I could get my hands on back in junior high and high school. They’re just great stuff.

As for the solution, I had no memory whatsoever of who the killer was, but I solved it again, identifying not only the murderer but also figuring out the motive. So I’m glad to know I haven’t gotten dumber since I was 14 years old. Well, not too much dumber, anyway. I still can’t remember the name of that girl who lived across the street . . .

1 comment:

Walker Martin said...

Very nice dust jacket! I read this in 1976 in the Dell Mapback edition which was published under the title of THE RED BULL. I gave it an outstanding rating. The novel is also available in the Stout collection ALL ACES.