Monday, February 27th, 2006
4:51 pm - Books  
A Family Affair is the last book Rex Stout wrote, and one of those rare Wolfe books where a permanent change occurs in the old brownstone. I'm guessing Stout knew it would be the last book, because it ends with Wolfe and Archie out of the detecting business, at least temporarily. The reason they're out of the business is that the murderer in the piece is Orrie Cather, one of Wolfe's hired hands. I was spoiled for it even the first time I read it, because Robert Goldsborough mentions it a couple of times in the Wolfe books he wrote after Stout died. The mystery isn't all that good. There's really only one piece of solid evidence linking Orrie to the crimes, and it's hidden in a way that no sensible person would ever hide something. It also ends with the old mystery novel cliche of letting a dishonorable man take the honorable way out, something that to my mind is totally out of character for Orrie Cather. I've never liked the cliche, because it just doesn't seem all that realistic. It makes very little sense when I see Peter Wimsey offer the opportunity to one of his upper crust suspects, and none at all when Wolfe does it.

There was one weird coincidence for me as I read. Stout usually mentions some book that either Wolfe or one of the other characters is reading that is contemporary to the story, and he does that here, too. Usually, they're books that have long vanished from the public mind. This time, though, it was The Feminine Mystique, which was an odd reference to see just days after Betty Friedan died.

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I mentioned that I snagged a copy of Barry Longyear's The City of Baraboo at Boskone. It's the prequel to both his Circus World stories, and to Elephant Song. Chronologically, it's the first book in the series, telling the tale of how O'Hara's Greater Shows came to be, and how they happened to be passing Momus when everything went to hell. Although published as a novel, it's really a collection of connected stories, similar to the route book that the character of Warts is hired to keep about a third of the way into the book. After that, Longyear fictional route book is mostly entries from the journal Warts is keeping on the history of the show. The stories are first contact tales, as the circus goes from planet to planet, figuring out how to extricate themselves from whatever unforeseen cultural problem they've managed to get into at each stop on the route. Like Circus World, it's a comedy, at least until the last section, and there are a few laugh out loud moments. The last section tells the tale of the shipwreck, and ends at about the same instant that Elephant Song starts. It's the weakest part of the book, because you already know things aren't going to end well this time, and because the tone shifts from light comedy to tragedy in the space of a page. It's also a bit rushed as a slew of problems and aftermaths are encountered in the space of just a few pages. Longyear probably would've been better off taking a little more space to tell the tale, and using it as the opening section of Elephant's Song instead. Other than that, though, it's well worth the read.

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The Hall of Fame announced the election of a group of players and owners from the Negro Leagues to the Hall. Unfortunately, neither of the two nominees still alive to enjoy the honor, Buck O'Neil and Minnie Minoso, got picked, which saddens me.
 
 
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