The Missing Chapter by Robert Goldsborough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Roughly a decade after Rex Stout's death ended the Nero Wolfe series of books, Robert Goldsborough was hired to continue the series. There are two distinct eras of Goldsborough's books. Early Goldsborough runs from 1986 (Murder in E Minor) to 1994 (The Missing Chapter). Late Goldsborough begins in 2012 (Archie Meets Nero Wolfe) and continues to (as of this review) 2018 (The Battered Badge).
Early Goldsborough is far superior. The seven books of that corpus, of which The Missing Chapter is the last, hew very closely to Stout in tone and setting. The books are contemporaneous with their publication. For example, Archie prints out a check register from his PC; and, New York's distressing crime rate, very high in the early 90s, is frequently mentioned. Archie, the narrator of the books, sounds much like Archie. Wolfe sounds like Wolfe. Late Goldsborough is a different story, but that will have to be another review.
Thus, I thoroughly enjoyed The Missing Chapter. I slipped easily into the cadences and rhythms of Archie's patter and Wolfe's erudition. All the necessary filigrees are there, with necessary updating to 1994. (Archie notices a big screen TV! Wolfe has to get a new elevator!) The characters are intriguing (though there's far too little of Cramer and Stebbins), and the acerbity you associate with a murder investigation flows throughout. There's even a little bit of scandalous behavior, but the language is always clean. Archie never repeats the more vulgar language he hears.
The plot is reasonably tight, though the hints at the murderer seem a tad too obvious, but there's enough misdirection to hide what's in plain sight if you're not paying attention. My only knock on the book is the subject matter. The victim is the continuator of a popular detective series. It's hard to read the book and not feel like you're reading a sensationalized autobiography of Goldsborough as the continuator of Nero Wolfe. One even wonders if the pressure of continuing this beloved series is what led to the 18-year break between this book and Archie Meets Nero Wolfe.
If you are a long-time reader, as I am, of the Stout books, The Missing Chapter is a worthy addition to the Nero Wolfe canon. If you've come more recently to the Goldsborough books, you may find this book surprising in its deftness, and a welcome entryway to the older Wolfe books.
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