All the characters feel very distinct, and the "setting" of the radio show and the surrounding marketing and advertising industry feels very detailed and real. IMO, the story starts with a bang, has some great twists, no boring supporting characters or filler (not that there's no filler, but what there is, is interesting!) and never really stops. In Chapter One, Wolfe and Archie are having one of their characteristic wrangles about how to keep the brownstone running and solvent. Wolfe is irritating Archie by turning down well-paying jobs when it's almost time for them to pay their taxes... and then by sending a "man-sized check" to a World Government
organization... and then by ignoring Archie and reading the poetry of Mark Van Doren instead of working!!
Archie needles Wolfe about all this until Wolfe tells him angrily "Leave the room!" ... Archie does not leave the room.
But, his needling has worked: Wolfe starts fishing around for a case!
Wolfe gets himself hired to solve a murder, that of Mr. Orchard, who published a horse-racing tip sheet. The murder happened on live radio, which is exciting. Archie and Wolfe are looking into this without much luck until Chapter 12, when they finally learn radio host Madeline Fraser's terrible secret-- that she's allergic to Starlite, the fizzy soda drink that she has to actually serve and drink, live, on her radio show. Once they know the cyanide was actually in Madeline's bottle of fake-Starlite (aka cold coffee) everything gets shaken up and twisted around-- as Cramer says, "We've got to start all over. It's one of those goddam babies where the wrong person got killed."
By Chapter 19 Wolfe, Archie and Cramer have the whole blackmail scheme figured out, and understand how it played into the deaths of Mr. Orchard and Ms. Poole (although it is still confusing them that Orchard was killed, when the poison was in Madeline's coffee.) They've also managed to cross Arnold Zeck!
Wolfe at this point advises Cramer to put extra men on Elinor Vance, to see if she's been getting anonymous letters and hopefully to find some. (He doesn't explain why to Cramer, and I'm not sure why either...) Wolfe also comes up with a plan of his own: write a fake blackmail letter, addressed to Elinor Vance, and send Archie over to Madeline's to show it around and get reactions. While they're over there, Deborah Koppel dies of eating a poisoned cookie. (She had previously tried to leave town, and Wolfe suspects she was going back to her hometown to re-examine her brother's suicide note.)
(I feel like Elinor really only exists to be a red herring. In hindsight, we ought to realize that she's a red herring, because she's the only woman who DOESN'T have a mysterious, possibly blackmail-worthy death in her past-- Deborah and Madeline both have the death of Lawrence Koppel (Deborah's brother and Madeline's husband) which should make us suspicious right away. And then once Deborah Koppel dies, I think the murderer's identity is obvious-- the only reasonable suspects are Deborah and Madeline, and if it wasn't Deborah... Plus, Madeline had more access to her fake-Starlite bottle.)
After some wrangling with the cops, Cramer is ordered to assemble everyone in the office for an interrogation, and he's nice enough to lampshade that it's not actually likely that these people would *want* to assemble in Wolfe's office, late at night, to be interrogated:
Cramer: "Maybe we can't get them."
Archie: "You can try. You're an inspector and murder is a very bad crime."
Once everyone is in the office, Wolfe addresses the room, and ANNOYS ME, because masculine pronouns are not universal! For a guy who will not let "infer" and "imply" be used interchangeably, and who won't allow "contact" to be used as a verb, Wolfe is pretty careless with his words here:
"I should begin," he said with just a trace of peevishness, "by admitting that I am in a highly vulnerable position. I have told Mr Cramer that when he leaves here he will take a murderer with him; but though I know who the murderer is, I haven't a morsel of evidence against him, and neither has anyone else. Still--"
Obviously the murderer is Madeline (okay, I say "obviously" but I totally never get who the murderer is before Wolfe tells. But if I have to write the recap then I get to pretend that I do. *G*) Wolfe tells Archie to sit next to her just in case she still has her gun with her, because she is "deft as a bear's tongue." But nothing happens, the case is solved and Wolfe gets paid!
THE END... or is it? We end in the office, with Archie listening in as Wolfe is thanked by Zeck for staying out of *his* side of the case...
READ THE REST OF THE REVIEW AT http://milk-and-orchids.dreamwidth.org/9332.html