Wednesday, October 10, 2012

And Be a Villain, by Rex Stout


Wolfe needs money. After all, those orchids don't pay for themselves. So, in a virtually unprecedented move, he actually solicits a job. Well-known radio host Madeline Fraser is in a pickle. During each broadcast of her hugely successful radio show, she and her various guests indulge in a bottle of Hi-Spot (a show sponsor). It's a big hit with the sponsor and the public. Until, that is, radio guest Cyril Orchard winds up drinking a big ol' glass of cyanide . . . on the air. The police are at a loss. Not only do they not know who killed Mr. Orchard; they don't even know if he was the intended victim or was just the inadvertent victim of a plot to kill Ms. Fraser herself! Now Wolfe's financial needs have landed him in the middle of it all--radio broadcasters, advertisers, sponsors, and the New York City Police Department. Will he be able to unravel this unholy tangle and earn his fee?

This book marks our first introduction to criminal mastermind Arnold Zeck--a man even super-genius Nero Wolfe is in no hurry to pit his wits against. Wolfe and Zeck cross paths again in The Second Confession and face off for the final time in In the Best Families. If Wolfe is a type of Sherlock Holmes (albeit a sedentary one, with a much more amusing sidekick), then Zeck is his Moriarty. All three Zeck books are well worth reading, though In the Best Families is by far my favorite.

And Be a Villain is far from shabby, though. In addition to Zeck, we meet the precocious Nancylee Shepherd, radio superstar Madeline Fraser, exuberant mathematics professor F.O. Savarese, and an extremely capable--and ruthless--murderer.

Michael Prichard's narration of the audiobook continues to be less than impressive, but also less than offensive, which is in itself a victory of sorts. Oh, and for those wondering if this book includes an 'unfamiliar word', the answer is yes. Unless 'temerarious' (reckless) is a regular part of your vocabulary.

By the way, the title comes from Hamlet: "[M]eet it is I set it down / That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain-- / At least I am sure it may be so in Denmark." Granted, Stout is no Shakespeare, but he's an awful lot of fun to read.

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