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Too Many Cooks by Rex Stout
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May 05, 12

Read from April 28 to May 05, 2012 — I own a copy

Food figures incidentally in most of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries because his overweight detective is a gourmand and, in his own words, "I spend quite a little time in the kitchen myself." Culinary mastery is at the heart of the mystery in Too Many Cooks. This novel is the fifth in a series of forty six Nero Wolfe mysteries. It involves a meeting of Les Quinze Maitres -- a group of the fifteen best chefs in the world -- which gathers every five years for a dinner hosted by the most senior and to replace those who have died since the last meeting. Unlike most of the Nero Wolfe stories, this one is set at a deluxe spa in West Virginia, away from the New York apartment, the orchids and the personal chef beloved of the protagonist. Written in 1938, the writing shocks the modern reader by the characters' use of terms such as nigger, colored and blackbirds for black characters, Jap for Japanese and dago for Italians. Yet Nero Wolfe shows sensitivity about using the word of a black servant to convict a white man of murder. In a telling scene, he says, to a group of black cooks and waiters, "... the ideal human agreement is one in which distinctions of race and color and religion are totally disregarded." Wolfe's assistant, Archie Goodwin, keeps up a stream of wisecracks which lighten the serious business of solving the murder of one of the chefs. This is a cleverly plotted mystery of the classic sort. Stout drove me to the dictionary by his use of "gibbosity." This is a good read.

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04/29/2012 page 28
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