Some Buried Caesar
by Rex Stout

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

a Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin mystery

The American Magazine, December 1938
as "The Red Bull" [abridged]

Farrar & Rinehart: New York, 1939
296 pages

September 2009

The bull and the detectives

Off maybe 200 feet to the right, walking slowly toward us with his head up, was a bull bigger than I had supposed bulls came. He was dark red with white patches, with a big white triangle on his face, and he was walking easy and slow, wiggling his head a little as if he was nervous, or as if he was trying to shake a fly off of his horns. Of a sudden he stopped and stood, looking at us with his neck curved.

I heard Wolfe's voice, not loud, at the back of my head, "... Do you know the technique of bulls? Did you ever see a bull fight?"

I moved my lips enough to get it out: "No, sir."

Wolfe grunted. "... How fast can you run?"

"I can beat that bull to that fence. ... But you can't."

Some Buried Caesar has a rather unusual subject and setting for a Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin mystery. Rex Stout begins by bringing his rotund detective Nero Wolfe, with his active principle Archie Goodwin, out of their normal townhouse-and-city haunts to strand them in a sunny pasture with an alert bull.

Wolfe is on an excursion into Upstate New York to display some of his prized orchids at a rural show. But after they encounter the bull Hickory Caesar Grindon, Wolfe and Goodwin begin learning that they've blundered into quite a bucolic tangle. The bull Caesar and the various people who are professionally, financially, or sentimentally connected with him have among them created a nicely complex situation. Family relationships increase the tension.

Here is Archie Goodwin talking to one problematic woman about another:

"Let's say she goes ahead and ruins him. In my opinion, if he's worth the powder to blow him to hell, he'll soon get un-ruined. No man was ever taken to hell by a woman unless he already had a ticket in his pocket, or at least had been fooling around with timetables."

The rural atmosphere of working farms and the nearby fair is easily and pleasantly detailed. The human relationships of the men around the bull — with their families and friends and hangers-on, and some officials thrown in — are increasingly confusing, until eventually Nero Wolfe unravels it all.

So Some Buried Caesar is a rural diversion for Nero Wolfe fans, but Rex Stout gives us a neat detective problem, in which people's characters are basic, and Wolfe's observational powers are crucial, even in this country setting. An enjoyable mystery novel.


© 2009 Robert Wilfred Franson

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