I haven’t written a 5-minute review for the last few books. Oops! But I wanted to make sure I did for this one, for I’d reviewed it in 2012 before I underwent a raft of therapies that dramatically improved my cognitions and restored my reading. Also, I thought this book demonstrated the power of fiction to expose bigotry, racism, injustice not of the criminal kind and comment on it in a way that smoothly blended with the plot and characters. That’s more effective than non-fiction is in getting a racist to stop and think about their own thoughts, words, and actions when they admire Nero Wolfe and see how he responds to it all.
Using Dialogue to Comment on Racism
Written in the late 1930s, the language contains phrases and terms I’m not familiar with. Some, Google was able to elucidate for me; some, the eReader’s built-in dictionary said was archaic (!); and some remain incomprehensible. Despite the last, I understood the gist of what was going on or what Nero and Archie were saying. That’s a mark of a good writer: to contain vernacular or rare words in context that makes it understandable.
But Stout used language in another way. He used dialogue to reflect the vernacular of the day, and by contrasting it with Nero’s language and Archie’s slightly different language in his narration, he subtly but pointedly expressed his opinion on the bigoted condescension of the dominant whites in the USA. It was interesting how he interspersed characters from other countries, as well, and where he placed their origins. It was like he was commenting both on immigration patterns and contrasting geographic views of non-Anglo Saxon background.
But what really stood out to me was how Nero treated the 14 Black waiters and staff in his room, how he couldn’t care less what they or the other chefs and managers thought about how for him a guest was a guest, and he was going to treat them all the same: with respect, libations, and food.
Archie, in the earlier novels, used epithets like other characters (except for one, in relation to Blacks) but not Nero. Stout has Nero influence Archie over the course of the novels so that by this time, his dialogue is mostly epithet free. Almost there. Instead of using 1930s’ racist labels for every ethnic group and for Blacks, he uses vocabulary relating to their work. Interesting. (As a side note, I’d forgotten how commonly disparaging terms were used for people from European countries or Asia. Now we have epithets based on what ideas you hold. Labelling people in a way to diminish them or render them as not human, is repulsive in any century, and I think Nero and Archie would agree.)
The racist vocabulary is jarring, yet without it, we wouldn’t see how Nero stands for justice that’s free of bigotry, prejudice, and hate based on skin colour or ethnicity, not just criminal justice.
Mystery Solving Ability
As for the mystery, I thought I’d solved it. But nope. Then I saw one part of it, though I was a little off until close to reveal. Motivation eluded me until close to Nero exposing the murderer. I had zero memory of this story from my previous 2012 reading. It’s interesting to see how much visualizing and verbalizing, and all the cognition restoration, increased my ability to both comprehend the text and to see more than the surface!
(Yup, a longer than 5-minute review! But this was a good book deserving of it.)
2012 Review of Too Many Cooks
17 March 2012 Review before gamma brain biofeedback, photobiomodulation therapy, and Lindamood-Bell Reading Rehab.
Too Many Cooks is one of Rex Stout’s earlier Nero Wolfe’s books, but it’s as well put together as his later ones, which I’m more familiar with. There’s all of Wolfe’s idiosyncrasies, his food fetish (with attendant mouth-watering lists or descriptions — really, one must read these books over lunch or a one-person dinner), his fractious and dependent relationship with Archie. And then there’s Archie, the narrator. Here he shows a more flippant or flirtatious side than usual with the lady, but he is still entertaining. The mystery as usual is not that easy to solve. In fact, I didn’t, or only partially.
A Rex Stout book is a good read when you want to flow into something light yet engaging. Too Many Cooks doesn’t disappoint in this vein.