Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Too Many Cooks" by Rex Stout

I would consider myself a fan of Rex Stout and his detectives Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Even though I have only worked my way through about one fourth of their cases in my 30+ years of reading. For one thing, they are hard to find on shelves, but they are also a pleasure I like to take and digest as opportunity presents. I have not actively sought out the full collection. Perhaps I should.

Following a suggestion from Eugene Peterson, I like to play with the idea of Nero Wolfe as a type for the church. I also simply love to read the stories and thoughts in Archie’s words. If I were to make a list of my favorite sleuths in fiction, Archie Goodwin is sure to be very near the top.

At first, “Too Many Cooks” is a bit uncomfortable to a modern reader. Written in the thirties and taking place in the “high society” of West Virginia, it presents an unpalatable picture of race relations. However, one quickly realizes that Wolfe and Goodwin are not a part of that picture. They are men of their time and culture, but ahead of their time in their attitudes about race. Wolfe expresses an attitude outside of the setting, when addressing a room full of black men.

“The ideal human agreement is one in which distinctions of race and color and religion are totally disregarded; anyone helping to preserve those distinctions is postponing that ideal; and you are certainly helping to preserve them.”

What is even more forward thinking is the context of that statement. Wolfe is calling a room of witnesses whom he thinks are biting their tongues to protect a fellow black man racists. Subsequent American history is full of such racist examples on both sides of the divide.

Bits of insight are aplenty. Addressing a “certain type” of woman, the kind who uses men or more precisely her sex to advance her state in life, Wolfe offers the following brilliant run-on sentence:

“Nature plainly intends that a man should nourish a woman, and a woman a man, physically and spiritually, but there is no nourishment in you for anybody; the vapor that comes from you, from your eyes, your lips, your soft skin, your contours, your movements, is not beneficent but malignant.”

Another wonderful idea that fits well with the game of using Wolfe to represent the church, is the following ideal:

“I wouldn't use physical violence even if I could, because one of my romantic ideas is that physical violence is beneath the dignity of a man, and that whatever you get by physical aggression costs more than it is worth.”

Philosophy and intelligent ideas aside, “Too Many Cooks” is also a great closed-room-mystery. Check it out!


  1. You make great points about the philosophy contained within the mystery but I need to point out that its Archie Goodwin not Goodman

  2. And Rob Smith for the man! I mean win. Wow, that was a stupid flub on my part. Corrected, and thanks, Rob!


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