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Onyx reviews: Archie in the Crosshairs by Robert Goldsborough
Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 03/01/2015
Given the number of miscreants Nero Wolfe has sent to prison over the years,
it should come as no surprise to the corpulent detective that he has a few
enemies. Of course, there are the people convicted of (usually) murder most
foul, but there are also the relatives of the murderers, many of whom cling to
the belief that Wolfe got it wrong, thereby ruining innocent lives.
However, because of his refusal to leave the brownstone house that is also
his office and his greenhouse, Wolfe is mostly inaccessible. Therefore, someone
with an ax to grind has to settle for hurting Wolfe by proxy. That means killing
Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's right hand man. His eyes, ears and legs. If Archie is
removed from the equation, Wolfe will become a much less effective detective.
The offended party, however, isn't content to just plug Archie by surprise.
Instead, he or she decides to make a game of it. A few bullets are tossed
Archie's way one evening, but they deliberately miss. Then there are the phone
calls, announcing the person's intentions. More bullets. The house goes into
lockdown, although a convenient hidden back exit allows Archie to get out
secretly from time to time.
The big question, though, is who is after Archie? There are myriad
candidates. Between them, Archie and Wolfe narrow the field down to a handful of
likely individuals. A second problem emerges, though. The bank account is
getting perilously low and it costs a lot to run the brownstone. So, when a
potential client appears, Archie goads Wolfe into accepting the case. A wealthy
heiress is being blackmailed over youthful indiscretions while abroad. When the
ransom drop takes a nasty turn, it becomes apparent that the new case and the
vengeful killer are somehow connected.
There are numerous cases of new writers taking over the characters from
popular series after the death of the original author, but few are as successful
or as welcome as Robert Goldsborough's work with the Nero Wolfe series. Rex
Stout's books were published over a span of four decades, and during those years
he established a fairly rigorous framework for the stories. Wolfe's
eccentricities laid the ground rules, which were only broken under exceptional
circumstances. If he didn't go up in the elevator to attend to his orchids for
two hours twice a day, something was wrong. If he discussed work during supper,
things were definitely off. And if he went outside or, heaven forbid, rode in a
car, then it was a catastrophe.
Goldsborough understands these conditions well, and knows when and how to
break them. Most of the time, Wolfe is going to hew closely to his routine,
because if he breaks the rules all the time in every book, they lose their
Stout's books were somewhat chronological in history, but the characters did
not evolve greatly over the course of those forty-something books. Goldsborough
isn't picking up where Stout left off. Instead, he's leaping throughout their
history, injecting new adventures into the chronology. His previous book, Archie
Meets Nero Wolfe, is the origin story that Stout never wrote. The newest
book takes place circa 1950, as indicated by certain external details, but in
reality it could have happened at any point in their history.
The case brings Wolfe into contact with the usual coterie of emotional women
and blustery, self-important men, and calls into play most of the regular
support staff, all of whom dutifully fulfill their appointed roles. It would be
an interesting challenge to see if someone unfamiliar with the Wolfe books could
figure out which ones were by Stout and which by Goldsborough, that's how
pitch-perfect the latter's novels are. The plot gets a little convoluted by the
end, requiring a lengthy explanation by Wolfe to set everyone straight about who
was doing what to whom, but otherwise this is a fine entry in a much-loved
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