Champagne for One (Nero Wolfe, #31)

By Rex Stout, Lena Horne

2,944 ratings - 4.08* vote

Faith Usher talked about taking her own life and even kept cyanide in her purse. So when she died from a lethal champagne cocktail in the middle of a high society dinner party, everyone called it suicide—including the police. But Nero Wolfe isn’t convinced—and neither is Archie. Especially when Wolfe is warned by four men against taking the case. Deception, blackmail, and Faith Usher talked about taking her own life and even kept cyanide in her purse. So when she died from a lethal

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Book details

Paperback, 205 pages
December 8th 1995 by Crimeline

(first published November 24th 1958)

Original Title
Champagne for One
0553244388 (ISBN13: 9780553244380)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


A sick friend asks Archie Goodwin to attend a charity dinner at a millionaire's widow home. One of the guests drops dead seemingly committing a suicide. The hostess does not want big publicity and thus she applies a lot of pressure on the District Attorney to conclude the investigation as soon as possible without looking at the suicide too closely - she has enough money to do it. Archie is the only person who is convinced he saw murder and he is ready to put his professional reputation at risk to prove it. His boss Nero Wolfe has to help him as Archie's reputation would undoubtedly affect his own as well:
Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin

This book made me care about the victim; even more so as I learned her background during the investigation. Just like for Archie it was almost personal for me. I also need to add that the mystery part was excellent and quite complicated. It took quite a long time for the story to develop, but once it did it remained a gripping tale until the end.

The rating is 4 stars due this time to a good mystery as well as usual brilliant character interactions. One of the recurring characters - police Sergeant Purley Stebbins - gets to show he can use his head and impress Wolfe.

Bill Kerwin

A young woman is poisoned during a dinner party held annually-- according the terms of the will of an eccentric benefactor--for the "graduates" of a home for unwed mothers. Archie--pinch-hitting as an escort for the the evening--is the only one convinced that the poisoning isn't suicide. Wolfe gets involved--of course. Reluctantly? Of course.

Ingeniously plotted, with some unusually vivid characters and scenes. One of the best of the series.


Description: Faith Usher talked about taking her own life and even kept cyanide in her purse. So when she died from a lethal champagne cocktail in the middle of a high society dinner party, everyone called it suicide—including the police. But Nero Wolfe isn’t convinced—and neither is Archie. Especially when Wolfe is warned by four men against taking the case. Deception, blackmail, and a killer who may have pulled off the perfect crime…it’ s a challenge Nero Wolfe can’t resist.

The TV show episode.

TR Prisoner's Base (Nero Wolfe, #21)
3* The Golden Spiders (Nero Wolfe, #22)
3* Champagne for One (Nero Wolfe, #31)
3* The Doorbell Rang (Nero Wolfe, #41)

Jill Hutchinson

Taking a break from the 900 page book I am reading to relax with my favorite detective, Nero Wolfe. My goal has been to read all the 40+ Wolfe books over the years and I have no idea how I missed this one. I need to go back and check my reading list!

Not my favorite of the Wolfe series since the solution is a bit far fetched but still entertaining. A young woman dies of poison at a social gathering that Archie, Wolfe's right hand man, is attending. The police think it is suicide but Archie disagrees and is convinced she was murdered. He drags Wolfe into investigating it and it becomes obvious that there is more here than meets the eye.And Wolfe actually leaves his house (which he seldom does) to reach a solution.

Stout has a masterful command of the English language and some of Wolfe's statements will have you reaching for a dictionary. Overall, it is interesting and, as usual, you won't figure out "who duunit". Short and delightful.


The story opens when an acquaintance of Archie's phones him and asks if he can take his place at an annual high society dinner for unwed mothers that is hosted by his aunt. He is "sick". Have you ever called work and told your boss that you were "sick"? That is what Archie hears but he agrees to go.

While dancing Archie's partner tells him that another woman, Faith Usher, talked about suicide and kept cyanide in her purse. Archie promises to keep an eye on her. So he is a witness when Faith's dance partner brings her a glass of champagne and after taking a sip she falls to the floor and dies. Everyone is convinced it is suicide. Even the police. The hostess is rich and well connected. She puts pressure on the district attorney. She doesn't want bad publicity. Everyone but Archie believes it was suicide. And that is good enough for Nero Wolfe.

How did the cyanide get in Faith Usher's glass of champagne if she did not put it there? At the end Wolfe invites everyone to his office for a reenactment. The hostess, the three remaining unwed mothers, their escorts from that evening, along with Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Purley Stebbins. The explanation was quite satisfying and I think there are few authors who could have pulled this off. Possibly Agatha Christie. We even get to see Stebbins impress Wolfe!

Anand Ganapathy

Another gem of a novel by Rex Stout. I don't post reviews of detective fiction generally as I might inadvertently divulge details of the plot. A must read for all fans of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. I surely am looking forward to reading the 4 books from this series that I have just ordered

Mike Coleman

My father believed that, after the Nero Wolfe series, the world had no further need for new mystery novels. I tend to agree.

I enjoy the contemporary mysteries by Michael Connelly, Elizabeth George, Patricia Cornwell, Louise Penny and many others, but then I go back to the Rex Stout books and realize that much of what has come afterward in the mystery genre is just so much "look-at-me" shouting. "I can write about child abuse." "I can write about mutilation of women." "I can describe an autopsy that will make you lose your lunch." Some of it is pretty crass. Rex Stout is never crass.

Unlike my dad, I haven't read all the Nero Wolfe books, but give me time. Each one I read is a piece of clockwork, masterfully ticking away, the mechanism so meticulously put together that we don't even recognize the sophistication of its inner workings. Champagne for One is another one that gets the highest marks from me. Archie is in top form, as funny and as sexually charged as always.

As a gay male reader, I admire how Rex Stout has created an odd yet perfectly believable living arrangement among Wolfe, Archie and Fritz, the chef, and that is that. He is smart enough to let the reader surmise what else might be going on--or not going on--here. No matter. The characters, the plot, the setting in old New York and the carefully detailed description of Fritz's anchovy butter and other delicacies engineered for the male palate, are enough. I regret I never talked with my dad about the clever introduction Lena Horne wrote for this edition of this delicious novel.

Vicki Cline

An acquaintance of Archie's asks him to fill in for him at a dinner given by the man's rich aunt for some unmarried mothers. One of them dies from poison and Archie is the only one who insists it was murder and not suicide, even though the young woman had often talked about killing herself and she was killed by the same kind of poison she carried around in her purse. As usual, I had no idea who the culprit was. On rereading this, I had to go from 4 stars to 5 - the denoument was so amazing.

Bryan Brown

This is a very subtle mystery and while the clues are available to the reader making the leap from clue to suspect is extremely difficult. That makes it a little frustrating because you tell yourself "awww, I should have seen that" but it also makes it really satisfying because you can tell yourself "Oh wow! that was really clever".

Archie is invited to a dinner at a former clients house and while he is there one of the guests is poisoned and dies. This guest habitually carried poison with her and and occasionally stated that she would use it some day. Everyone is convinced that it was a suicide except for Archie who is convinced that while the victim had both means and motive she had absolutely no opportunity.

Because of the social standings there is tremendous pressure on Archie to change his story. So much so that it begins to aggravate Nero due to the constant disruptions of his carefully regulated life so he decides to determine if Archie was right or not and then pass the whole mess on to Inspector Cramer after making that assessment.

One notable section in the book perfectly captures the relationship between Archie and Nero and gives a hint into why readers keep coming back to visit Nero's world over and over. The passage is the end of an argument between the two when Archie is ready to draw up a check for his severance payment. It reads:

"This is natural. That is, it is in us, and we are alive, and whatever is in life is natural. You are headstrong and I am magisterial. Our tolerance of each other is a constantly recurring miracle."

Marveling and enjoying the fruits of that miracle is what brings me back over and over.


This is one of the best Nero Wolfe mysteries I've read. The mystery is good and mysterious, plus it's a little longer than some of the others I've read, so there's more time to enjoy the characters. Archie and Wolfe are, if possible, even more delightful than usual, and the other recurring characters get chances to shine as well, especially Saul Panzer. I've never made a list of favorite Nero Wolfe books, but if I did, this would be on it.