In this 11th Nero Wolfe pastiche, Goldsborough (Archie in the Crosshairs, 2015, etc.) introduces a supremely unlikable newspaper columnist who fears for his life, with very good reason indeed.
It’s only to oblige his old friend Lon Cohen, of the New York Gazette, that Wolfe agrees to see Cameron Clay, the author of the Gazette column “Stop the Presses!” who reports a series of threatening phone calls but won’t accept police assistance or hire private bodyguards. Out of the hundreds of targets his potent mix of gossip, accusations, and character assassination has offended, Clay identifies five enemies most likely to want him dead: builder and developer Kerwin Andrews, disgraced ex-cop “Iron Mike” Tobin, Harlem city councilman Millard Beardsley, ambulance-chasing attorney Roswell Stokes, and fiery operatic mezzo Serena Sanchez, the third Mrs. Clay. Predictably but none too quickly, Clay’s legman, Larry McNeil, finds his boss shot through the head in his Chelsea brownstone. Inspector Cramer, noting Clay’s debilitating case of lung cancer, is ready to call his death suicide, but Gazette owner Eric Haverhill and editor/publisher Ashton Cordwell want Wolfe to prove it was murder. Promising only to follow the clues where they lead, Wolfe gets his own legman, Archie Goodwin, to induce each of the five suspects Clay anointed to a separate confab, whose conversations prove neither suggestive nor interesting. Then a chance phrase from Clay’s eulogy gives Wolfe a brainstorm, and he bids Archie summon the cast once more to a joint meeting, where he announces his findings with more ceremony than surprise. Finis.
The suspects are too little differentiated to enliven the by-the-numbers parade of stratagems and dialogues on offer.