Black Orchids, by Rex Stout

My Copy: 9780553257199 (image from bn.com)

I gotta admit, when it’s been a crazy week plus some, a Nero Wolfe book is always a good go-to for me. Black Orchids has two interesting cases in the pages, the first gives the book it’s name.

“Black Orchids” is actually about orchids, in a sense. Archie’s sent to the flower show to see and tell Wolfe about some specialized black orchids made by Wolfe’s friend and horticultural rival, Mr. Hewitt. Eventually, Wolfe has to go see for himself, which relieves Archie. The only aspect Archie’s liked about the flower show is a young lady, Anne, in a “picnic in the garden” pantomime performance with her co-worker, Harry, that was made to entertain guests. It seems like it’s been created to be a great distraction as some interesting characters pop up and leave again during the performance times. Wolfe is far from interested until Harry ends up dead mid-performance… and Mr. Hewitt may be involved.

Wolfe becomes determined to work when he negotiates an interesting fee to clear Mr. Hewitt and figure out who killed Harry and why. I like Archie’s observations about what a conniving S.O.B. Wolfe can be in this particular story, and some of the contortions the man goes to in order to keep Inspector Kramer at arms length, expose the murderer, and keep his fee all at the same time.

The second story in the book is “Cordially Invited to Meet Death,” which tells about Bess Huddleston. Bess is a party planner that’s being ruined by a blackmailer of some sort, in the sense that they don’t seem to be in a hurry about collecting any money. Bess has a few suspects in mind, and so Archie goes out to get the answers. Things take a turn when the client ends up dead, and Archie and Wolfe are pretty sure it’s not from natural causes. This puts them in the path of a dangerous murderer who might find a way to bump them off, too.

“Cordially Invited to Meet Death” is a very different case for Archie, in the sense that he gets way to close and personal with a chimpanzee and other assorted animals at the Huddleston place. Bess is probably the most unusual character I’ve read so far in a Nero Wolfe novel, and I’d love to know what Mr. Stout was thinking about when he wrote her.

These two cases are worth reading about, even if I’m not terribly sure about the second story’s motive for the crime. Maybe I was tired or I glossed over it somehow, but at least til that particular moment, it was a pretty good case.

Worth a shot, especially if you like Nero Wolfe books.

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