The Rubber Band — Rex Stout
Continuing a journey through the Wolfe canon to see how it evolved. I had skipped past this one because I couldn't find a copy, but then I stumbled across it as an ebook, which is what set off this recent flurry of reading activity. Huzzah!
Band is the third Wolfe novel, and things still aren't fully formed. The big surprise in this one is that Wolfe develops an affection for a woman, much like Holmes' affection for Irene Adler. It's surprising to Archie, too, who first mentions Wolfe's disdain for females here, despite that the disdain wasn't evident previously. In the first two books, Wolfe seems comfortable with women, but here he explains to his client:
"You understand, Miss Fox, this is something unprecedented. It has been many years since any woman has slept under this roof. Not that I disapprove of them, except when they attempt to function as domestic animals. When they stick to the vocations for which they are best adapted, such as chicanery, sophistry, self-adornment, cajolery, mystification and incubation, they are sometimes splendid creatures."
The interesting thing is that the statement lists as virtues many of the faults Wolfe assigns to women in later books. Maybe he is being sarcastic.
The other notable event in the book is the introduction of Lieutenant Rowcliff, who arrives at the brownstone with a search warrant, which he then executes. This is something that Wolfe never forgave, and is referred to pretty much every time Rowcliff shows his face in later books.
The mystery is okay. I figured out who it had to be what dunnit, although it was more a matter of picking the less likely of the only two choices.
Over My Dead Body — Rex Stout
Next up is a book that kicks off one of the few brief arcs in the Wolfe novels, this one finished up in The Black Mountain. Wolfe is confronted by a woman claiming to be his adopted daughter, one who is also hip deep in some international shenanigans concerning Yugoslavian politics, and who is accused first of theft, and then of murder. I hadn't read it before, but it was made into one of the episodes of the TV series, so much was familiar.
Body is the seventh Wolfe, and it finds the crew back in the brownstone after two books set in various places out in the sticks. Things still aren't quite fully formed, but they're getting there. The Cramer relationship seems about right, although he still occasionally refers to Archie using a generic "son" (Archie mentions that he's 29), but Stebbins is still a bit friendlier than in later books. Fritz is being less of a butler, with Archie now answering the door most of the time. The one-way glass hasn't been installed in the door yet, but the peep hole into the office makes its first appearance, although instead of being in a niche off the hall, it's behind a panel in the hall, which doesn't make for very stealthy peeping. Still no specific mention of the red leather chair, but we do finally find out that some of the chairs in the office are yellow leather.
The mystery is less satisfying than most. Part of it is because the ending is terribly melodramatic, and part of it is because the identity of the killer is obvious, but is constantly being eliminated from consideration (at least by Cramer and Archie) for reasons more meta than investigative, reasons that Wolfe sidesteps later with some semantic games. Plus, no Lily.
The Fifth Elephant — Terry Pratchett
More fun with Vimes and the Watch, this time off in Uberwald, land of vampires, werewolves, and sundry other monstrous denizens. The mystery here is not so much who (since that's pretty obvious) as how, and as usual it's great fun. Sadly for me, this was the last of the Watch novels that I hadn't yet read. <Waits patiently for Pratchett to write the next one.>
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — J.K. Rowling
I managed not to be spoiled for this, not that there was any real HSQ (for me, at least). Towards the end I had this image of the book ending much like Return of the Jedi, with the glowing spirits of the dead wizards standing just off to the side where only Harry could see them, so I'm glad Rowling didn't go that way. I enjoyed it well enough, even though there were times I just wanted to reach into the page and smack someone for being so obviously stupid. I also thought Rowling could've spent just a little more time on some of the deaths. So many seemed like throwaways, almost as if she pulled the names out of a hat.