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This book contains four Nero Wolfe short stories; Christmas Party, Easter Parade, Fourth of July Picnic, and Murder Is No Joke (later expanded into the novel Frame-Up for Murder). Although I love short stories in general, I have not enjoyed the Nero Wolfe short stories as much as the novels. I really like the way Stout develops the story and characters in his novels, while his short stories often are missing something for me and generally seem rushed. Two of these four shorts were pleasurable exceptions. I really liked Christmas Party and Easter Parade. Both of these two stories had limited twists, but what they had were quite good. The other two were not bad. The narration was first-rate at usual.
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The story Murder is No Joke is the shorter & weaker version of Frame-up for Murder, which appears in Death Times Three. The much improved Flora Gallant in that story is much more interesting & gives Archie a stronger motivation for getting involved.
Fourth of July Picnic is one of my least favorite Wolfe & Archie stories. Weak plot & almost no detection. Very weak characters.
Easter Parade is not far ahead or behind (depending on how you look at it). Only the character of Tabby makes it almost likable.
The best story, Christmas Party, also suffers from mostly flat characters, archetypes & stereotypes, and only Santa Claus makes it fun.
Overall, maybe my least favorite Archie & Nero book.
HOWEVER, even the *worst* of Wolfe is better than almost anything else when read by Michael Prichard. His rendition of the regulars, as well as a few of the "guest stars", is worth the price of admission.
We also get a thumbnail autobiography of Wolfe in one story, that fleshes out (sorry for the pun there) Wolfe's early pre-NYC days a bit.
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