Nero Wolfe and Archie are confronted by
a set of glittering, sophisticated characters,
with plenty of money and too much free time — time enough for murder!
Faith Usher had a decidedly morbid personality. She talked about taking her life, and kept cyanide in her purse. So when she collapses and dies from a lethal champagne cocktail in the middle of a high society dinner party, everyone calls it suicide - - including the police. But Archie was watching it all, and suspects it was murder. So does Nero Wolfe, especially after he's warned by four men against taking the case. For the world's most formidable detective it is a tantalizing puzzle involving an unlikely combination of philanthropy, deception, blackmail, and an unrepentant killer who just may have committed the perfect crime.
"...Mr. Goodwin's professional reputation and competence have been challenged, and by extension my own. You invoked respondeat superior; I will not only answer, I will act." (p. 123)
The best thing about any Nero Wolfe book for me is Archie's cynical, snarky commentary. Archie has no illusions about anyone, least of all Wolfe, and it is always entertaining to watch him doing his best to upset his boss's equanimity. Champagne for One is unusual in one respect, though, I don't think I've read a Nero Wolfe mystery before that didn't involve at least some love interest for Archie (not that "love interest" is exactly the right term for Archie's exploits, but it's Nero-Wolfe-period-appropriate). And speaking of period-appropriate, the mystery in this particular book revolves around a situation that is almost unimaginable now. The Grantham family's charity is Grantham House: a home for unwed mothers where young women live until they give birth, give their children up for adoption, and then are given a toehold into a new life. The truly unimaginable part, though, is the annual social event where the murder mystery begins: a mixer for the "improved" unwed mothers, who are invited to a special dinner at the Grantham's house and paired with four young men chosen to be the girls' "chevaliers." Not a match-making enterprise, just a benevolent attempt to give the girls a fun evening. Kind of a stunning concept, but at this particular evening, Archie is one of the four young men, and when one of the four young women dies, Archie is the lone voice insisting the death is murder, and not suicide as everyone else would prefer to believe. That's where the mystery and Wolfe's involvement begin. The resolution is rather convoluted—and perhaps not all that believable—but it's an enjoyable read nonetheless. [goodreads.com]
Wonder if this error was ever corrected?
From the Rex Stout Archives at Boston College: