Archie Goodwin goes undercover, unconvincingly and unsuccessfully, in Goldsborough’s 12th Nero Wolfe pastiche (Stop the Presses!, 2015, etc.).
Having just closed a case that brought him a big retainer, Wolfe, currently immersed in reading The Hidden Persuaders and Silent Spring, isn’t eager to listen to rival orchid grower Lewis Hewitt’s friend Broadway producer Roy Breckenridge. Even after he responds to the irresistible bait Hewitt dangles before him, Wolfe learns little from Breckenridge’s account of vague misgivings about his production of Death at Cresthaven despite its laudatory reviews and respectable box office earnings. Since Wolfe leaves home only to visit his barber, he sends Archie to poke around in the guise of one Alan MacGregor, a writer for the fictitious StageArts Canada, recalling Archie's similar role in Rex Stout's If Death Ever Slept (1957). Archie’s cover keeps his interviews with Tony-hungry leading lady Ashley Williston, Hollywood action star Brad Lester, juvenile Steve Peters, ingénue Melissa Cartwright, character actors Max Ennis and Teresa Reed, and stage manager Hollis Sperry anodyne, and he’s looking elsewhere when somebody spikes Breckenridge’s Coca-Cola with arsenic. Wolfe, predictably miffed—though no more miffed than Inspector Cramer or Lon Cohen, Archie’s pal at the New York Gazette—summons the suspects seriatim to his brownstone, spots a telltale omission few readers will notice, and announces the culprit at a ritual gathering of them all at the same venerable location.
Grade A for franchise allusions, B-minus for dialogue, C for backstage atmosphere, and F for plotting, since Goldsborough relies on the same relentlessly unvaried Q-and-A that gave golden-age mysteries such a bad name. As the new homicide cop says: “This has been one colossal waste of time.”