Too Many Cooks (Nero Wolfe, #5)

By Rex Stout

5,008 ratings - 4.11* vote

The guest at a gathering of the greatest chefs in the world, Nero Wolfe must practice his own trade--sleuthing--when he discovers that a murderer is in their midst. One of the chefs has been found dead as a result of a knifing, and Wolfe, who only anticipated being a guest speaker, must now deal with the possibility that he may become a victim as well.

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Book details

Paperback, 179 pages
November 1st 1995 by Bantam

(first published August 17th 1938)

Original Title
Too Many Cooks
0553763067 (ISBN13: 9780553763065)
Edition Language

Community Reviews

Bill Kerwin

A fine Nero Wolfe, in which the great detective is invited to the annual meeting of a society of the greatest chefs of the world where--of course--a murder occurs. One unfortunate flaw: this novel was published in 1938, and its treatment of the black characters--all servants of course--contains stereotypes that will seem racist to most 21st century readers.Still, Nero Wolfe himself treats them with dignity and even courtesy, and his attitude goes a long way toward redeeming the book.


I have a confession to make: after finishing the book I added yet another item to my ever-growing list of things-to-do-before-I-die. In this case I really want to try saucisse minuit:

saucisse minuit

Some explanation is in order; I also would like to apologize to the people already familiar with Nero Wolfe as they are already know everything I will say here. The eccentric genius detective also happened to be a gourmet, among other things. His cook, Fritz Brenner is a Swiss whose cooking Wolfe calls "not excellent, but competent". His abilities however were sufficient to get him hired by one of the best New York restaurants as a chef - no questions asked, in a later book. Let us keep in mind this was a time when people cared about the taste of food much more than about the calories and fats in it (and they were still not as overweight as we are, but I digress). I hope I made a convincing explanation about Nero Wolfe not being a stranger to high-class delicatessens.

What do you think about saucisse minuit which made Wolfe beg practically on his knees for the recipe? His description of the said dish did not hurt either. He would not let anything, even a murder to get between him and the recipe; considering that he weights one seventh of a ton he can use his sheer momentum to remove all obstacles.

Ladies and gentlemen, I really want to know what saucisse minuit tastes like. I rest my case.

This review is a copy/paste of my BookLikes one:

Charles van Buren

What a fun banquet

Review of Kindle edition
Publication date: July 9, 2010
Publisher: Bantam
Language: English
205 pages

This is an early Nero Wolfe novel, the fifth which Rex Stout wrote. It seems to me that Stout had yet to hit his stride and fully develop Nero Wolfe's potential. In some ways this novel reads much like bad Agatha Christie. However, that's my opinion. Agatha Christie herself wrote:
"I have enjoyed a great many of his books. Archie is a splendid character to have invented and his first person remarks and descriptions are always most entertaining to read. I must also reveal that greed and the general enjoyment of food is one of my main characteristics and the descriptions of the meals served and prepared by Nero Wolfe's cook have given me a lot of pleasure and a great wish to have occasionally tasted these suggestions myself. Perhaps for that reason, I particularly liked Too Many Cooks."
Many others, including professional critics and authors have viewed the story favorably. It does have its moments despite, in my opinion, failing to meet Stout's later standard.

I have read reviews and critiques which call this novel and Rex Stout racist because of its portrayal of black men and its use of slang and derogatory words. I think that is an oversimplification. The slang is not used by Nero Wolfe, though Archie uses quite a bit. Nor does Wolfe display the racist attitudes of some of the other characters. Rex Stout may have been deliberately drawing attention to the unpleasant attitudes of the day (1938) and contrasting them with Wolfe's more enlightened attitude. Well, enlightened for 1938. I do know that Rex Stout did not normally display extreme racism in his writing.


Having spent the better part of my summer on a detective-novel binge, I'm still amazed that I had never heard of Rex Stout or his famous detective Nero Wolfe until this point. Turns out, they're Kind of a Big Deal. As my professor put it: "Nero Wolfe's fans are the detective fiction equivalent of Trekkies." There are Nero Wolfe websites. Nero Wolfe fan clubs. Nero Wolfe cookbooks. (I am not joking about that last one) He's basically to America what Miss Marple and Poirot were to England, and just learning about the phenomenon was fascinating.

As for the book itself, it didn't disappoint. It takes place in the '30s in West Virginia, where the fifteen best chefs in the world (Les Quinze Maitres) have gathered for their annual meeting. One of them is Laszio, who is despised by no less than three of the other chefs present. (Three guesses who gets murdered.) Luckily, when Laszio is found dead with knife in his back, it just so happens that Nero Wolfe is also at the gathering, and somewhat reluctantly decides to find the killer. Along for the ride is Wolfe's Watson, a snarky detective/bodyguard/secretary named Archie Goodwin. Archie is our narrator, and he is delightful. Wolfe is fantastic as well, but I should admit my own bias and say that any enormously fat man who overuses the exclamation "Confound you!" will always be on my good side.

Not that the book is perfect. Nero Wolfe doesn't like women, and is quite upfront about it, but at least there's one good female character in the story to prove that he's probably wrong. I took off a star in my rating based purely on white guilt, because goddamn is this book racist. There's a Chinese character, who everyone says will be suspected by the police because she's Chinese; Archie throws around some slurs to describe the European chefs; and by the time I got through with this book the n-word barely even phased me anymore. The characters in this book are hella racist, which I guess is historically accurate, but here's the good news: all the good character (Wolfe, Archie) are at least aware of their own prejudices and try to overcome them. Wolfe has a great speech, right before he starts interviewing all the (African-American) waiters at the hotel that basically goes, "I've already made assumptions about all of you based on your race, and you've all made assumptions about me based on my race, so what we're going to have to do is just put our prejudices aside for one night and cooperate with each other so I can figure out who killed Laszio." It's not going to win any tolerance awards, but it's a welcome relief from Philip "Fag Party" Marlowe. The jackass.

Read for: Social Forces in the Detective Novel


Not just vintage Wolfe but classic Wolfe. Aside from being a first-rate murder mystery, this novel from 1938 is remarkable for its handling of issues of racial prejudice. The setting is a resort hotel in South Carolina where the waiters and cooks are black, though the managers and guests are white -- all perfectly typical for America in the 1930s. However, invisible as the service staff would ordinarily be, merely assumed as part of the social landscape, in this story our attention is drawn to them first because the hotel detective describes them with the racial epithet "nigger," jarringly offensive to the modern reader; but then this gaucherie is gently undercut by our narrator Archie Goodwin (irrepressible sidekick to genius detective Nero Wolfe) who just a bit pointedly uses the term "Negro," certainly polite in 1938 even though "African American" may be preferred today.

The intention is clearly one of mutual tolerance and understanding, though the follow-through is odd to the modern ear. Archie himself refers to "dagoes" and "shines" as the story progresses, racial characterizations that may have seemed witty in the past but certainly would not pass muster today.

Nevertheless the approach Wolfe takes when he needs a witness from among the waiters and cooks is man-to-man and turns into quite a discourse on mutual respect. From here comes the statement, if you delve deeply into the Wolfe canon (and by all means you should), that he'll hear quoted back to him in a later novel.

But the moment that flipped this story, excellent in so many ways, from a 4-star to a 5, for me was when Archie has a quick conversation with one of the switchboard operators at the hotel. She's working for a living in a low-status job, and she knows it and he knows it, but they have an exchange of witty repartee that establishes the mutual respect of man to woman, despite the status divide, just as persuasively. The scene is more convincing because it seems incidental, not staged.

Rex Stout was a great writer because he gave us great, believable characters -- not just the villains and the leads, but switchboard operators, too. And of course these great mysteries and the wonderful tricks to solve them gotten up to by Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. This is a great series and Too Many Cooks is one of its high-water marks.


Nero Wolfe rarely leaves his brownstone on West 35th Street in New York City. In the fifth book in the series he has promised to be the keynote speaker at a gathering of top chefs, Les Quinze Maitres, at the Kanawha Spa in West Virginia. Of course he would not make such a journey without his assistant Archie Goodwin. The opening scene is quite humorous with Archie standing on the platform smoking a cigarette and Wolfe bellowing at him to get back on the train, fearful that the train will leave without him.

Of course there has to be a murder. This is a Nero Wolfe story. In this story it is one of the chefs, Phillip Laszio, a man with many enemies. The chefs decide to have a contest. Laszio is in a dining room. The other chefs enter the dining room, one at a time, to sample sauces. During the contest Laszio is murdered. Whodunit?

At first Wolfe wants nothing to do with finding the murderer. He is on holiday and he just wants to eat meals prepared by world-renowned chefs, give his speech and get back home. And if possible persuade one of the masters to divulge his recipe for saucisse minuit. When the sausage maker chef, Jerome Berin, is arrested for Laszio's murder Wolfe agrees out of a sense of friendship and obligation as a guest to prove that Berin could not be the murderer. Once that obligation is fulfilled he wipes his hands of the matter. Until someone takes a shot at him as he is is rehearsing his speech. Now it is personal. Now he plans to expose the murderer. But, he has to do it quickly as he doesn't plan on missing his train home.

This book was written in 1938 and the setting is West Virginia. There have been many comments about the treatment of blacks and there is language that may be offensive. I found that Rex Stout, through his character of Nero Wolfe, treated blacks with respect and courtesy. I saw few comments on the status of women in 1938 but in this story women apparently did not serve on juries. At least in West Virginia. There is a scene where Archie has a conversation with a switchboard operator. The woman is working for a living at a low level job but the exchange between her and Archie shows respect.

Overall this was a fine whodunit that will keep the reader guessing ... and at times laughing at Nero Wolfe traveling by train and away from meals prepared by Fritz Brenner and twice daily sessions with his orchids.

Gary Sundell

A neat mystery with Wolfe and Archie away from the NYC brownstone. Wolfe and Archie are away from the brownstone in the next book in the series as well.

Jack Heath

5 Stars. No lower it to 3 stars for the distasteful language and thoughtlessness portrayed. The "N" word abounds, but so do "coloured" and disparaging remarks against Chinese Americans. Collectively, among the worst for this I have read or experienced. There's even a blackface episode. In audio, the first use of the "N" word hits the listener like an unexpected sledgehammer. Nero Wolfe, a minor offender in comparison to Archie and a sheriff from West Virginia, turns the tables on the major ones by carefully gathering crucial information from the black waiters at an exclusive resort. Segregated? Not stated. His innovative technique? Treat people with respect and listen closely to what they have to say. The case does have interesting points. Wolfe, a gourmand, has left his lair in New York to give the featured speech at a gathering of Les Quinze Maîtres, a collection of the world's top 15 chefs. While he is at Kanawha Spa, one of the more disliked of the lot succumbs to a knife attack. So many suspects, including a friend of Wolfe who just can't pull himself free of suspicion. What does one do about shameful period pieces like this? Especially the really good ones? (December 2018)


You know, I don't really care all that much about the mystery part of any Nero Wolfe mystery. Some are good, some are better, some tease, some deliver, some succeed, a few fail. I don't care cause a couple hundred pages of Archie and Nero going back and forth is always, always worth it. Archie with his easy going wise-guy banter and Nero with his prickly erudite blustering, fussing over his orchids, salivating over his supper, sipping his beer, closing his eyes, twitching his lips. Well, that part in and of itself is enough to keep coming back. The mystery? well that's just some icing on an already good cake.

And, on this particular cake? I gotta say, the icing tasted pretty damn good.


3.5*Nero Wolfe leaves his brownstone in NYC to attend a gastronomical gathering as the guest of honor. During the event, one of the chefs is murdered and Wolfe gets chivvied into investigating.