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Poison à la Carte

"Poison à la Carte" is a Nero Wolfe mystery novella by Rex Stout, first published in April 1960 in the short-story collection Three at Wolfe's Door (Viking Press).

"Poison à la Carte"
AuthorRex Stout
CountryUnited States
SeriesNero Wolfe
Genre(s)Detective fiction
Published inThree at Wolfe's Door
PublisherViking Press
Media typeHardcover
Publication dateApril 29, 1960

Plot summaryEdit

A group of gourmets, who call themselves the Ten for Aristology, invite Wolfe's chef Fritz to cook their annual dinner. Wolfe and Archie are included by courtesy. Twelve young women, one per guest, serve the food — they are actresses supplied by a theatrical agency, and are termed "Hebes," after the cupbearer to the gods in the Greek pantheon (later replaced by Ganymede). A member of the Ten, Vincent Pyle, is poisoned and Wolfe quickly concludes that arsenic was administered by a server. Pyle is a Broadway angel, and it's clearly possible that he knew one or more of the Hebes.

Plot devices used in "Poison à la Carte" appear in other Wolfe stories. For example, the list of possible murderers (here, the Hebes) gaining access to the victim one by one recalls Too Many Cooks, "Fourth of July Picnic" and The Silent Speaker. Then the murderer is trapped into making incriminating statements at John Piotti's restaurant, a location used for an identical purpose in Gambit. And Fritz cooks dinner for the Aristologists on another occasion, in The Doorbell Rang, an experience that leaves him considerably more chagrined than does the one described here.

The unfamiliar wordEdit

"Like all of us, Wolfe has his favorite words, phrases, and sayings," wrote William S. Baring-Gould. "Among the words, many are unusual and some are abstruse."[1]

Examples of unfamiliar words — or unfamiliar uses of words that some would otherwise consider familiar — are found throughout the corpus, often in the give-and-take between Wolfe and Archie.

  • Aristology, chapter 1. "The word has never become more than a marginal addition to the language, a source of obscure scholarly humour rather than a term of utility," wrote etymologist Michael Quinion. "It's best known from books by Rex Stout, in which his corpulent protagonist, Nero Wolfe, has a couple of encounters with a group of gourmets, the Ten for Aristology."[2] "The earliest citation in The Oxford English Dictionary is from 1835," wrote ABC NewsRadio. "This rare word turns up in one of Rex Stout's delightful mystery novels featuring the fat detective Nero Wolfe — in a book entitled 'Poison a la Carte'."[3]

Publication historyEdit

"Poison à la Carte"Edit

Three at Wolfe's DoorEdit

Contents include "Poison à la Carte", "Method Three for Murder" and "The Rodeo Murder"
In his limited-edition pamphlet, Collecting Mystery Fiction #10, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part II, Otto Penzler describes the first edition of Three at Wolfe's Door: "Orange cloth, front cover and spine printed with dark brown. Issued in a mainly green-brown dust wrapper."[5]:11
In April 2006, Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine estimated that the first edition of Three at Wolfe's Door had a value of between $200 and $350. The estimate is for a copy in very good to fine condition in a like dustjacket.[6]
The far less valuable Viking book club edition may be distinguished from the first edition in three ways:
  • The dust jacket has "Book Club Edition" printed on the inside front flap, and the price is absent (first editions may be price clipped if they were given as gifts).
  • Book club editions are sometimes thinner and always taller (usually a quarter of an inch) than first editions.
  • Book club editions are bound in cardboard, and first editions are bound in cloth (or have at least a cloth spine).[7]:19–20
  • 1961, London: Collins Crime Club, January 20, 1961, hardcover
  • 1961, New York: Bantam #A-2276, August 1961
  • 1995, New York: Bantam Crime Line ISBN 0-553-23803-5 September 1995, paperback, Rex Stout Library edition with introduction by Margaret Maron
  • 1997, Newport Beach, California: Books on Tape, Inc. ISBN 0-7366-4060-6 October 31, 1997, audio cassette (unabridged, read by Michael Prichard)
  • 2010, New York: Bantam Crimeline ISBN 978-0-307-75622-0 June 9, 2010, e-book


A Nero Wolfe Mystery (A&E Network)Edit

"Poison à la Carte" was adapted for the second season of the A&E TV series A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001–2002). Directed by George Bloomfield from a teleplay by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, the episode made its debut May 26, 2002, on A&E.

Timothy Hutton is Archie Goodwin; Maury Chaykin is Nero Wolfe. Other members of the cast (in credits order) include Colin Fox (Fritz Brenner), Bill Smitrovich (Inspector Cramer), R.D. Reid (Sergeant Purley Stebbins), Hrant Alianak (Zoltan Mahany), Carlo Rota (Felix Courbet), David Hemblen (Louis Hewitt), Dominic Cuzzocrea (Vincent Pyle), James Tolkan (Adrian Dart), David Schurmann (Emil Kreis), Gary Reineke (Mr. Leacraft), Jack Newman (Mr. Schriver), Michelle Nolden (Helen Iacono), Emily Hampshire (Carol Annis), Hayley Verlyn (Fern Faber), Sarain Boylan (Nora Jaret), Dina Barrington (Lucy Morgan) and Lindy Booth (Peggy Choate). Choreographer Vanessa Harwood appears, uncredited, in the introductory sequence.

In addition to original music by Nero Wolfe composer Michael Small, the soundtrack includes music by W. C. Handy (titles), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Felix Mendelssohn and Dick Walter.[8]

In international broadcasts, the 45-minute A&E version of "Poison a la Carte" is expanded into a 90-minute widescreen telefilm.[9] Boyd Banks, Christine Brubaker and Nicky Guadagni make uncredited appearances in the international version.[1]

A Nero Wolfe Mystery is available on DVD from A&E Home Video (ISBN 0-7670-8893-X).


  1. ^ Baring-Gould, William S., Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-Fifth Street. New York: Viking Press, 1969, hardcover, page 9
  2. ^ Quinion, Michael, World Wide Words: Aristology, August 15, 2009; retrieved June 1, 2012
  3. ^ ABC NewsRadio, retrieved June 1, 2012
  4. ^ a b Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, 1980. John McAleer, Judson Sapp and Arriean Schemer are associate editors of this definitive publication history. ISBN 0-8240-9479-4
  5. ^ Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #10, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part II. New York: The Mysterious Bookshop, 2001. Limited edition of 250 copies.
  6. ^ Smiley, Robin H., "Rex Stout: A Checklist of Primary First Editions." Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine (Volume 16, Number 4), April 2006, p. 34
  7. ^ Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I. New York: The Mysterious Bookshop, 2001. Limited edition of 250 copies.
  8. ^ W.C. Handy, "St. Louis Blues". Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, "Turkish March (Alla Turca)," from Piano Sonata No. 11; KPM Music Ltd. KPM CS 7, Light Classics Volume One (track 4). Felix Mendelssohn, "Spinning Song," from Songs without Words, Op. 67, No. 4; KPM Music Ltd. KPM CS 7, Light Classics Volume One (track 9). Dick Walter, "Pathos"; KPM Music Ltd. KPM 369, Cinema, Storytelling and Adventure – Part Three (tracks 32.1 and 32.2). Additional soundtrack details at the Internet Movie Database and The Wolfe Pack Archived 2013-05-14 at the Wayback Machine, official site of the Nero Wolfe Society
  9. ^ Sky Movies (UK) summary retrieved October 4, 2007; run length is recorded as 90 minutes. Program listings for Tuesday, November 9, 2004, broadcast on Sky Movies 8 records broadcast as widescreen format.

External linksEdit