Cordially Invited to Meet Death
by Rex Stout

Review by
Jennifer Monroe Franson

a Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin mystery

The American Magazine, April 1942

collected in —

Black Orchids May 2009

Not partying with Nero Wolfe

The book Black Orchids is not a novel, but two novellas: "Black Orchids" and "Cordially Invited to Meet Death". These are separate mysteries with separate casts of characters, linked only by the protagonists — Rex Stout's famously eccentric detective, Nero Wolfe, and his right-hand man Archie Goodwin — and a rare orchid variant that appears in both.

That wasn't the first time I ever saw Bess Huddleston.

A couple of years previously she had phoned the office one afternoon and asked to speak to Nero Wolfe, and when Wolfe got on the wire she calmly requested him to come at once to her place up at Riverdale to see her. Naturally he cut her off short. In the first place, he never stirred out of the house except in the direction of an old friend or a good cook; and secondly, it hurt his vanity that there was any man or woman alive who didn't know that.

In "Cordially Invited to Meet Death", Bess Huddleston, an upper-class party planner, consults Nero Wolfe when she becomes the object of an anonymous-letter campaign aimed at destroying her business. Sent by Wolfe to investigate, Archie discovers that Miss Huddleston is, in her own way, just as eccentric as his employer; the long-suffering Archie hurts himself tripping over an alligator and then is forced to play tag with a pet chimpanzee. Things take a more sinister turn when a highly suspicious death occurs shortly after Archie's visit.

The flowers featured in, and named in the title of, "Black Orchids", the first novella in the Nero Wolfe double, Black Orchids, make a cameo appearance at the victim's funeral in "Cordially Invited to Meet Death" but are not a significant element in its mystery.

The two novellas have one other element in common besides the protagonists and the orchid motif. In both cases, the methods used for committing the murders are original and very cleverly plotted. That used in "Cordially Invited to Meet Death" is particularly brilliant; it is equal to the best of Agatha Christie's deadly devices — high praise indeed.


© 2009 Jennifer Monroe Franson

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