I was somewhat disappointed in the stories that made up this most recent book—“Not Quite Dead Enough” and “Booby Trap”—but, as they were both under the usual length and presented Nero Wolfe partly distracted from his regular profession by a rigorous course of training for the Army, I concluded that they might not be first-rate examples of what the author could do in this line and read also “The Nero Wolfe Omnibus” (World), which contains two earlier book-length stories: “The Red Box” and “The League of Frightened Men.” But neither did these supply the excitement I had hoped for.
I ought, I suppose, to discount the fact that “Death Comes as the End” is supposed to take place in Egypt two thousand years before Christ, so that the book has a flavor of Lloyd C. Christie (“No more Khay in this world to sail on the Nile and catch fish and laugh up into the sun whilst she, stretched out in the boat with little Teti on her lap, laughed back at him”); but her writing is of a mawkishness and banality which seem to me literally impossible to read.
You cannot read such a book, you run through it to see the problem worked out; and you cannot become interested in the characters because they never can be allowed an existence of their own even in a flat two dimensions but have always to be contrived so that they can seem either reliable or sinister, depending on which quarter, at the moment, is to be baited for the reader’s suspicion.
I finally felt that I was unpacking large crates by swallowing the excelsior in order to find at the bottom a few bent and rusty nails, and I began to nurse a rankling conviction that detective stories in general profit by an unfair advantage in the code which forbids the reviewer to give away the secret to the public—a custom which results in the concealment of the pointlessness of a good deal of this fiction and affords a protection to the authors which no other department of writing enjoys.
It is not difficult to create suspense by making people await a revelation, but it demands a certain originality to come through with a criminal device which is ingenious or picturesque or amusing enough to make the reader feel the waiting has been worth while.
He had been sketching Cthulhu in a surprisingly soft hand.
In his rendition, many appendages emanated from a central vertical column; it had the majesty of a redwood tree.
If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the thing.
A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted to a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful.
I even began to mutter that the real secret that Rex Stout had been screening by his false scents and interminable divagations was a meagreness of imagination of which one only came to realize the full horror when the last chapter had left one blank.
tradition does not represent all or the best that the detective story has been able to do during the decades of its proliferation; there has been also the puzzle mystery, and this has been brought to a high pitch of ingenuity in the stories of Agatha Christie.