MURDER STAGE LEFT
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
By Robert Goldsborough
Most mystery series, after a few books have been published, often fall into a formulaic pattern. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it actually creates a familiarity the readers quickly learn to accept and become comfortable with. It’s very much like visiting an old friend. Sure some things may be new, but for the most part, we know our surroundings and have come to appreciate them.
The formula of the Nero Wolfe mysteries was set early on by his creator, the late Rex Stout. Someone is murdered, Wolfe’s gumshoe, Archie Goodwin, goes and intervies the most obvious suspects, reports back to his boss and then the rotund detective has them assemble in his New York brownstone and there reveals which is the killer. Now if you’re a fan Nero Wolfe, all of that is routine and welcomed. Happily writer Robert Goldborough has continued the formula in his Wolfe books much to our delight.
Still every now and then, a good writer will endeavor to spice things up and with “Murder Stage Left,” Goldborough does that by flipping the formula upside down. Broadway producer/director Roy Breckenridge comes to Wolfe concerned that there is some kind of malaise infecting his newest hit show; though he can’t define his feeling of dread any clearer. For his own selfish reasons, Wolfe agrees to assist Breckenridge by having Archie visit the set and interview the cast members in the guise of a Canadian journalist. Thus the story kicks off with what should be the second act and we are found meeting the suspects before any crime has ever been committed.
This was such a fun twist on the formula, we found ourselves grinning as we read along. When the invariable murder does occur, the tale smoothly falls back into its time-worn groove and the puzzle becomes the book’s total focus. It should be mentioned, without giving away any important clues, that Goodwin’s activities as a bogus writer become a vital element in Wolfe’s unmasking the killer at the finale.
Kudos to Robert Goldsborough for in “Murder Stage Left,” he’s done the near impossible in giving us something both old…and new.