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.