The chronicler of shamus Amos Walker (Don’t Look for Me, 2014, etc.) and film preservationist Valentino (Brazen, 2016, etc.) rounds up 10 stories, all but one of them reprints from 2008-16, about a seemingly clueless Nero Wolfe wannabe who always gets his man anyway.
Claudius Lyon has patterned himself so completely on Rex Stout’s celebrated detective that he’s even changed his name from whatever it was before he began advertising as an investigator who never charged for his services—because if he did, Capt. Stoddard of Brooklyn Bunco would arrest him in a New York minute—and hired ex-con Arnie Woodbine as his legman just because his name sounded like Archie Goodwin’s. The differences between the master and his acolyte are manifold. Lyon is fat, all right, but much shorter and less prepossessing than Wolfe; he lives in “a Bizarro version of Nero Wolfe’s brownstone” in Brooklyn, raises tomatoes (orchids are beyond his limited horticultural skills), eats kosher meals prepared by his Yiddish-speaking chef, Gus, and hides his reading material—Minute Mysteries and Encyclopedia Brown—behind a formidable copy of Crime and Punishment. None of the 10 soufflés collected here involves murder; half of their solutions depend on atrocious wordplay (the short-short “Wolfe on the Roof” reveals mercilessly how threadbare this tactic is when it’s not plumped out with the domestic detail that will hook Stout fans and keep them tittering); and reading them all at a sitting, as you’ll be sorely tempted to do, is like downing 20 pounds of cotton candy.
Fans who rejoice in Estleman’s deep knowledge and obvious love of Stout’s oeuvre and his infectious playfulness will demand more adventures of the man who perpetually asks himself “WWND (What Would Nero Do?)”—if only the author can come up with more punning story titles (“Wolfe at the Door”?).