Thursday, August 20, 2009

Casebook of the Black Widowers

Casebook of the Black Widowers
© 1980 Isaac Asimov
222 pages

Readers who have been with me since last summer know how delighted I was to find the Black Widower mystery series. In the year since, I have checked out of a library or purchased through Amazon every Widower collection I could find. With Casebook of the Black Widowers, I have come to the series' end for myself, having read the others before. This is not to say I won't be enjoying them in the future: I chronically re-read my books and Widower solutions are frequently esoteric enough that I can be puzzled all over again.

Although it is last for me, Casebook is actually the third of the collections that gather stories of the Black Widowers social club -- a group of intellectuals seven strong (including the waiter, Henry) who meet monthly at the Milano restaurant in New York. Every month's meal is hosted by a different Widower, and it is customary that he bring a guest. The guest is treated to a fine meal and an evening of "hopefully edifying conversation" for the price of an interview: after the meal is done, the host appoints an inquisitor who "grills" the guest. In the Black Widower tradition, the guest invariably presents a puzzle for the Widowers to reason out a solution. Someone may approach the seated six for help, like an aspiring author did here in "The Backward Look". At other times, one of the Widowers may spot an unanswered question in the lives of their interviewees, as was the case in "The Cross of Lorraine". Whatever the question, the Widowers will hash it out, exhausting all of the possibilities until everyone save Henry is stumped. Although the stories all follow this same formula, including Henry seeing the solution that no one else saw, they do not grow tiresome.

The stories are written with Asimov's characteristic wit and are happily followed by a short afterword. It was as ever enjoyable.

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