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Monday, December 1, 2008

Murder on the Menu

I have an alibi. The reason why I'm posting about Rex Stout and using a "mugshot" from the book titled Murder on the Menu is because, I don't have a copy of the Nero Wolfe Cookbook. Oh how I wish I did. It would be the perfect book to share on the anniversary of his birth. To make matters even more melodramatic, while I was doing a search on my computer for Rex Stout files I may have filed in previous years, I came across this short paragraph titled Murder in the Kitchen.

I confess, I have never been properly introduced to Rex Stout. Until I got the uncanny desire to explore the man and his works for this month, I was coffee with a speck of cream, toast absent of butter, bland and Clueless. It appears I have quite a few accomplices to usher me along. So, on the date of his birth, I shall attempt a revelation about the man, his character, and his dining pleasures.

Now, I may be an amateur sleuth, well perhaps not when I'm researching an important post, but, I have no idea if I wrote the above lines or if I saved them from a previous web visit. It sounds like something I would write since I'm not much of a mystery buff. The paragraph continues:

Although I couldn't begin to acquaint you with the written words of Rex Stout, I am intrigued by some of his titles. Murder is Corny, Champagne for One, Christmas Party, Fourth of July Picnic, Too Many Cooks, Poison A La Carte, and Please Pass the Guilt are meager appetizers on the list. I suspect I shouldn't have been surprised to learn that Rex Stout was president of the Mystery Writers of America in 1958. Perhaps if I dress incognito, I can extract a copy of John McAleer's authorized biography, Rex Stout (1977), it won an Edgar Award in 1977. I assume, Nero Wolfe would agree.

Those words echo words I may have written long long ago. I have a thing about titles and books. The controversy surrounding this dilemma of course has to do with copyright. I wouldn't dream of writing someone else's words without noting the source in some way or another. What would Brenda Starr do? Would she be driven by her quest to get to the bottom of these undocumented words? Has a crime been committed? Gee, I hope not. Perhaps, I should begin again...

The Suspects

I can't tell you how many days I have sat down at this computer trying to "pen" the words to post about the infamous Rex Stout. I can't even begin to imagine how he ever wrote as many books and novellas as he did. At first, I was going to begin the entire post in a mysterious format. This is how far I got:

Write a plot with characters from the classic board game Clue, which is about Rex Stout, creator of Nero Wolfe but his name is not revealed and has to be guessed.
So in essence, in that mode of dialect, you would now be profiling the likes of Mr. Green, Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet, Mrs. White and Mrs. Peacock. Confidentially, I was going to disguise all their names:) They would have been all huddled in the library; because kitchens and dining rooms are considered off limits for murders in murder mysteries. While congregating in the library, the suspects would be planning their probable alibis. I, on the other hand, would be fretting over a sneaky maneuver in order to get them to reveal who I was writing about. I intended on running away with that idea until, I had to come up with the new names for the suspects. The names for Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum were suitable enough. Either could have been in charge of the rope, lead pipe, knife, wrench, candlestick, and revolver. Uh Oh! the plot thickens. The weapons. How would I disguise the weapons? My mind isn't devious enough to come up with a substitute for any of those ghastly utensils. The suspects, the suspects! What kind of name could I conjure up for the Steamy Miss Scarlet? What of the noxious looking Mr. Green, sniffy Mrs. Peacock and biddy Mrs. White? Is there an appropriate pseudonym for any of them? My mind is racing; I'm terrible at collecting evidence. Even if I could create a diversion to the two secret passages, oh why oh why can't I plan this act of deception?

Much like Sherlock Holmes, detective genius Nero Wolfe appreciated good food. My next attempt would have included lurking ingredients. My contention: I would be able to underscore Nero Wolfe's sitomania tendencies with generous servings of Nero Wolfe recipes in disguise. The recipes in the Murder on the Menu book would have indubitably left you out in the cold. Murder on the Menu is a book filled with food and drink in the English mystery. Wolfe's personal chef, Fritz Brenner would probably consider it a terrible crime. I'm sure old Nero would agree. He was quite the fussy diner, you know. Literary recipes have a tendency to bring out these idiosyncrasies when compounded with detective stories. Sigh... An author's life is filled with underlying poisons and cloak-and-dagger ingredients. I crave a safe bowl of Nero Wolfe Onion Soup.

The Plot

My next attack, at the intention of subduing my celebrity victim within this post of culinary mystery, required enormous dedication and personal sacrifice. I was going to reveal the secrets of how I cook. Think about it. Have you ever actually seen a dish prepared by moi? What if I'm a bumbling cook who doesn't know a garlic press from a lemon reamer? Maybe my secret ingredient includes a "plop, plop, fizz, fizz" pill. What kind of relief would that be? I add grape jelly to my teeny tiny appetizer meat balls. There! I confessed. I couldn't take the interrogation any more. Suffice to say, I needed a better plan.

Finally, my attempt, at concealing Nero Wolfe within a Rex Todhunter Stout's birthday anniversary, found a glimmer of hope. The Murder Mystery Dinner. Have you ever gone to a Murder Mystery Dinner? They can really be a lot of fun. Some of the best Murder Mystery Dinners I have gone to were at someone's home. However, if you find the right restaurant hosting a Murder Mystery Dinner, there's no decorating to do and no mess to clean. Always a plus after a ghoulish night of horror and intrigue. (and a few too many glasses of wine:) I haven't been to one in ages. When I use to act in amateur plays here on Long Island, once a year we would host a Murder Mystery Dinner to raise money. The actors would be planted in the audience and usher the "murder" along. On lookers were encouraged to participate. Some times they would find themselves in the awkward position of having to participate egged on by obscure actors in the audience. Very funny!

Serve up a Mysterious Tea

It's always time for tea in a culinary mystery. Be sure and write this down in your detective notebook. Any murder investigation worth its salt beckons a spot of tea. Whether it be a hard-boiled detective fiction or an English mystery novel; the allure of a murder mystery invites a cup of tea. In times of stress, a cunning detective connives his next move with as much flair as the offerings on the tea cart. In a classic British crime fiction the ritual of tea is as essential as a crumpet or watercress sandwich.

There is a marvelous sense of isolation about the tea table, rocking easily as a peagreen boat in the midst of a green sea of lawn that runs dow to the ha ha. The beech trees rustle. The wrens chip. A body lies, as if drowning, in a corpse of birch and azaleas. Even the tinkling of a little silver bell that summons the shuffling butler from dozing in the pantry cannot break the spell. (Murder on the Menu 1973 pg. 26) 

Everyone who is sequestered as a possible suspect, including the seasoned detective, can claim a portion of the whodunnit tea table. While engaging in the process of elimination, they can tote their cup of tea from room to room doing their detective work. Accusations fly but they are cushioned by a nibble of potted cheese and biscuits. Oh the glory of a tea to die for.

Is the suspense killing you yet? Does murder, mystery, and mayhem embedded with menus and recipes summon the need for the culinary murder mystery experience? I suggest you give it a try. They make GREAT gifts too! If you're not up to a murder mystery dinner at home, sample an evening at a neighborhood cafe or intimate restaurant. If you would like to plan one on your own, I have left a few links below for you to begin your escapade. In the mean time, I have scanned the recipes mentioned above. They include crumpets, watercress sandwiches, Lancaster Treacle Parkin and nibbles of potted cheese and biscuits. Enjoy:)

FYI: Rex Stout wrote more than 55 books, he claimed each Nero Wolfe book took only 39 days to write and he never rewrote or even reread them. Amazing!

Resources

  • 1. Rex Stout Fan Page
  • 2. Culinary Mystery Writers Cook Up a Mystery
  • 3. Recipes with your Mysteries
  • 4. Hard-Boiled Detective Fiction
  • 5. Murder mystery party games
  • 6. Dinner and a Murder