Friday, July 8, 2016

Mystery Series in Brief: Nero Wolfe & Josie Prescott

Reviewed by Jeanne

Stop the Presses!: A Nero Wolfe Mystery by Robert Goldsborough

When Lon Cohen of the Gazette comes by to ask Nero Wolfe to take a case, Wolfe’s long time assistant Archie is pretty sure he’ll be turned down.  After all, the bank account is healthy and Wolfe only works when he has to.  Besides, the case involves threats made against Cameron Clay, a newspaper columnist who specializes in innuendo, scandal, and gossip, and Wolfe’s opinion of Clay is quite low.  However, Wolfe surprises Archie by agreeing to look into it, though only because of their long time association with Lon who has helped them out many times before.  

Death threats are nothing new, but this one seems have Clay shaken.  He gives Wolfe a list of five people, one of which he believes must be the perpetrator.  Before Wolfe can question any of them, however, Clay turns up dead—an apparent suicide.  But was it?

As a long time fan of the Rex Stout books, I appreciate Goldsborough’s attempts to keep the series alive.  I’m never under any illusion that I’m reading the real thing, but I do enjoy a visit with the characters I know and love.  I especially enjoyed the scenes between Archie and his long-time love, Lily, who has managed to invite a suspect to a party. Otherwise, Goldsborough works in the usual touches:  describing the gourmet food, Wolfe’s books, the rules of grammar, orchids, etc. 

Bottom line:  It’s a solid little mystery, but it’s more for fans.  Those who aren’t familiar with the characters might find it slow going.

Ornaments of Death:  A Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery by Jane Cleland

As an only child of only children, Josie has grown up with very little family around.  After her parents’ deaths, she created a new life for herself by opening a new business and creating ties with friends and community.  Now much to her surprise, she has been contacted by Ian, a British man who claims to be a cousin.  They meet, and Josie is charmed. 

Then her cousin fails to turn up for a dinner date and doesn’t return her phone calls.  His car is left at a local lot.  And where are the two miniature watercolor portraits he had wanted Josie to appraise?

I’ve said several times that a Josie Prescott mystery is like a cross between Antiques Roadshow and Agatha Christie.  I always learn a lot from reading these books, and the learning keeps me coming back for more.  I applaud Cleland’s research and attention to detail; she explains her moves step by step, from how to authenticate an item to how to locate a visiting scholar, but for me this never bogs the story down.  At another point, Josie asks the police for help, noting that her cousin has been missing for over 24 hours, and is told that simply being missing for a certain number of hours is not a reason for police involvement.  There must be some reason to assume that the person is endangered or may have been injured.  

Like Christie, Cleland plants many of her clues in conversations, leading to a satisfying conclusion.  I like when an author plays fair with the reader.  I also like that Josie is in a happy and stable relationship with her boyfriend and that her business is going well. This is in sharp contrast to some other mysteries, in which the heroine spends a great deal of time worrying about the status of her relationship or the state of her bank account.  While these could be valid concerns, most of the time they are used as stalling tactics to slow the story down.  

As you may gather from the jacket, the book takes place at Christmas for those who enjoy a good holiday theme, and yes, there is a cat.  Hank is a Maine Coon and adorable, but he does not solve any mysteries.

You don’t have to have read any of the other books in the series to appreciate this one.

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