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Literature / Some Buried Caesar

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Wolfe nodded. "Astonishing. All about a bull. It might be thought you were going to cook him and eat him."
Pratt nodded back at him. "I am. That's what's causing all the trouble."

A 1939 mystery novel by Rex Stout, and sixth in the Nero Wolfe series. It is notable for being the first appearance in the series of Lily Rowan, Archie's on-off socialite romantic interest.

While travelling to upstate New York to display orchids at a farmer's exhibition, Nero Wolfe's car experiences a minor calamity. This, in turn, leads Wolfe and Archie Goodwin to have an uncomfortably close encounter with a bull in a nearby paddock while seeking help. After being rescued and recovering with the bull's owner, fast food magnate Thomas Pratt, they quickly learn that the bull is at the middle of a lot of fuss indeed — for the bull is Hickory Caesar Grindon, a champion Guernsey, and to the outrage of the local farming community Pratt intends to cook and serve him at a barbeque as a publicity stunt for his restaurants.

A particularly tense confrontation with Clyde Osgood, the son of Pratt's hated rival Frederick, leads to Clyde rashly betting Pratt $10,000 that Caesar will never eaten. When Clyde is found dead later that night in Caesar's paddock, apparently gored by the bull, the authorities are perfectly willing to write it off as an accident resulting from Clyde's misguided determination to win his bet. But Frederick Osgood suspects murder, and one man doesn't need to suspect — Nero Wolfe knows full well that it was...

Tropes in this work: (Tropes relating to the series as a whole, or to the characters in general can be found on Nero Wolfe and its subpages.)

  • Ambiguously Bi: On learning that she's a professional golfer, Archie Goodwin dismisses Caroline Pratt as one of "those". This is likely a veiled reference to the old stereotype of female golfers being lesbians which, given the time, would seem to make this fall under Ambiguously Gay — but later in the novel, it's revealed that Caroline had been engaged to Clyde Osgood before he broke it off to pursue Lily Rowan, which has left her rather bitter. The novel doesn't really go into the matter any further leaving it to the reader's imagination what if any spectrum of sexual identity Caroline may fall on.
  • Asshole Victim: Howard Bronson, a sketchy New York hoodlum following Clyde around to collect on a gambling debt, ends up being another victim. He was, of course, trying to blackmail the murderer.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Lily directs Archie to some fricassee prepared by a woman whose husband left her four times for her bad disposition but always came back because of her cooking.
    [T]he first bite, together with the dumpling and gravy, made me marvel at the hellishness of Mrs. Miller's disposition, to drive a man away from that.
  • Blackmail Backfire: Howard Bronson knew who committed the murder and decided, against Wolfe's advice, to try blackmailing him. Guess what ended up happening to him. Wolfe also speculates that Monte McMillan also murdered Clyde because he was trying to blackmail him for part of the money he conned Thomas Pratt out of.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Subverted; despite apparently goring Clyde Osgood to death, there's very little blood on Caesar's face or horns. However, it's heavily implied that there is plenty of blood elsewhere, which leads Wolfe to conclude that Caesar isn't responsible.
  • Both Sides Have a Point:
    • Monte McMillan comes in for a lot of criticism for selling Caesar to be barbequed by Pratt from the local farmers and the Guernsey breeding association, who view it as a crass and unworthy thing to do. However, while they do have a point about Caesar's value as a champion bull and the waste of barbequing him for a publicity stunt (as discussed below under Serious Business), when they get a bit too self-righteous with him over the subject McMillan explodes and and points out that not only is a single bull, no matter how valuable, utterly useless to him after pretty much his entire herd was wiped out by anthrax, but when he initially tried to sell Caesar to other local farmers they cynically offered him a price that was insultingly less than the bull's worth in a clear attempt to profit from his misfortune. While one of them later brushes off his arguments it's pretty clear that, for all their piousness about the purity of Caesar's bloodline and the honor of McMillan's actions, a large part of their real motivation in rescuing Caesar is financial.
    • Pratt himself also notes that, while his barbequing a bull might seem crass, the fact is that Caesar is a mature bull who has already sired a number of impressive offspring, and so there's no real loss to the Guernsey line by his stunt. Thus strengthening the point that the farmers and breeding association are apparently more concerned by the potential loss of future profits rather than any genuine outrage over the honor of his actions.
  • Busman's Holiday: Once again, a little getaway for Nero Wolfe turns into a murder investigation. It's little wonder the guy rarely bothers to leave his house.
  • Cool Uncle: Pratt has been taking care of his niece and nephew for most of their lives and, from what we see, is a charming and endearing guardian.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Of a sort, as we're a few books into the series at this point. However, up to this point Wolfe has mainly been seen eating fine (and expensive) gourmet cuisine, which might give some the impression that he's simply a raging snob on top of everything else. Here, however, he is seen digging enthusiastically into cheap chicken fricassee with dumplings served in a food tent at a public flower show and raving about it, thus making it clear that it's the quality of food that he values, not just the source or cost.
  • Exact Words: The terms of the bet. Everyone assumes that because he bet Pratt that Caesar wouldn't be eaten, that Clyde was trying to steal or replace Caesar. However, Wolfe notes that Clyde stated that specifically Caesar wouldn't be eaten, not "the bull in the paddock". This leads him to conclude that the bull in the paddock isn't Caesar at all, that Clyde had realised that, and that he was planning to reveal it.
  • Femme Fatale: Subverted with Lily Rowan, who is treated by numerous people in the story as if she was a manipulative seductress who ruined Clyde Osgood and is trying to get her hooks in Jimmy Pratt. However, she's actually pretty much harmless, and actually ends up helping Wolfe and Archie at a crucial moment.
  • Food Porn: The chicken fricassee with dumplings served in the Methodist food tent. Not a single character who eats it is disappointed.
  • Foreshadowing: In the confrontation between Pratt and the farmer's association at the beginning, an argument gets heated and after one self-righteous dig too many, Monte McMillan explodes and angrily points out that he'd previously offered to sell Caesar to several local farmers, only to receive offers that were insultingly and cynically low as they tried to capitalise on his misfortune. Or were they? Because as it turns out, the bull being barbequed and Caesar are not necessarily the same...
  • Framing the Guilty Party: The murderer has very efficiently cleaned up after themselves in a way that will be almost impossible to prove, so Wolfe manufactures evidence to prompt them into writing a confession. Using his memory of the bull he encountered and sketches of the relevant bulls as a basis, he produces a sketch of the bull he did while trapped by it in the paddock to "prove" that the bull in the paddock wasn't Caesar and has Archie convince Lily to back up their story, meaning that Monte McMillan can be found guilty of fraud at least if not murder.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Archie doesn't go into a lot of detail about Clyde Osgood's injuries, but we are left in no uncertain terms that he died a messy death by impaling.
  • The Great Depression: Briefly discussed; it is mentioned that Monte McMillan was hit hard by the Depression which, in addition to the later misfortune of his cattle herd being practically wiped out by anthrax, all but ruined him.
  • It's Personal: The reason Archie and Wolfe are even in upstate New York in the first place is a fellow orchid enthusiast spurned Wolfe's offer of swapping some breeding stock. They both developed their own lines of 'albino' orchids and Wolfe suggested they trade specimens to shore up the regrettably sickly genetics. His counterpart refused with some snide comments. Wolfe decided he was going to attend the same agricultural expo as his new nemesis, enter his own flowers in the appropriate show, and steal first place from him. Wolfe succeeds.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: The eventual killer has a speech about how losing his herd and his fortune to anthrax and the Great Depression have resulted in them committing actions that they would previously have thought themselves incapable of.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Lily Rowan is treated as a potentially suspicious femme fatale who may have had some involvement in Clyde's death or, at very least, some sinister intentions towards him when he was alive... which may come as a bit of a surprise to the reader more familiar with her later depiction as Archie's flirtatiously charming platonic love interest with Bourgeois Bohemian tendencies.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: Monte McMillan chooses to inject himself with the same anthrax he used to kill the bull rather than go to trial.
  • The Lost Lenore: Pratt was engaged to a woman who ended up jilting him for Osgood, and is mentioned as having never married or given any thought to it since while also repeatedly seizing upon opportunities to antagonize the Osgood family.
  • Minor Injury Overreaction: Sort of; the story starts with Wolfe and Archie getting into a minor car accident. It's basically established to be a burst tire, a few dents, and a bit of slight embarrassment on Archie's part. Much to Archie's annoyance, however, Wolfe acts like he's barely been pulled out of the jaws of death and will not stop bringing up how Archie crashed the car.
  • Mistaken Identity: The bull in the paddock is not Caesar, but a similar-but-inferior relation. Caesar was in fact the bull that died from the anthrax outbreak, but McMillan sold the survivor to Pratt under false pretenses. Meaning that even if he can't be convicted of murder, he can be convicted of fraud...
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Neither Captain Barrow, the chief of the local state trooper barracks, nor District Attorney Warren are exactly the finest examples of law enforcement to appear in the Wolfe canon. Barrow is not exactly a bad cop, but he is clearly a little in love with his own authority and prone to throwing his weight around, and hints to Archie that he's perfectly willing to use excessive force. Warren, meanwhile, is a rather craven and Poindexterish careerist who is clearly driven by political and personal dislike of Osgood to drag his feet and latch onto any excuse to close the book on his son's death, no matter how unlikely.
  • Old Retainer: Pratt's caretaker, who initially wants to detain Wolfe and Archie as trespassers when they arrive despite their being stranded by the bull.
  • Papa Wolf: Mr. Osgood is quick to hire Wolfe to investigate upon finding out that Clyde was murdered, and is upset at the perceived lackluster investigation into his death even before this.
  • Publicity Stunt: The main reason Pratt is going to barbecue Caesar is to make people more interested in his restaurants, and associate the taste of the food there with a champion bull.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Clyde Osgood wins his bet with Thomas Pratt that the barbeque doesn't go ahead. Shame it was because he was murdered.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: When the local farmers and the breeding organisation start getting a bit self-righteous towards Monte McMillan for selling Caesar to Pratt for his barbeque, McMillan angrily retorts that almost his entire herd got wiped out by anthrax, thus threatening his livelihood and making a single bull useless to him no matter how good his pedigree. Furthermore, the same people who are now piously lecturing him and hand wringing over Caesar's fate not only didn't lift a finger to help him, but in fact clearly tried to cynically profit from his misfortune by offering him ridiculously unfair prices for what was left of his herd. He then basically uses the polite 1930s equivalent of telling them exactly what they can do with their plan to use him as part of their proposal to save Caesar.
  • Running Gag:
    • A series-wide one; any time Wolfe is forced to go travel by some kind of vehicle, it is noted how he is bitterly certain that it is somehow alive and just waiting to create some kind of accident. In this novel, he is finally involved in a (minor) motor accident.
    • Related to the above, Wolfe will not stop telling people that Archie crashed the car.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Although Wolfe is a guest in this story, it nevertheless comes up; after accepting Frederick Osgood's commission to investigate his son's death, Wolfe makes a point of apologising to Thomas Pratt for causing him the inconvenience of a murder investigation (and taking a job from a hated rival) after having previously accepted Pratt's hospitality.
  • Serious Business: Pratt barbequing Caesar causes a lot of outrage from the local community. Now, this is actually somewhat justified on their part; Caesar is a champion bull, meaning that he could go on to sire both very good cattle (thus increasing the value of livestock) and other champion bulls (thus keeping his prized genetic line going), and killing him for food completely removes that possibility. Pratt, despite the crassness of his stunt, is aware of these considerations and even explains them to Archie. He follows up that Caesar, as a mature bull, has already sired a tremendous number of offspring of both sexes, many of excellent quality, and there will be no actual loss to the Guernsey breed. Nevertheless, the average reader without a lot of grounding in cattle breeding might at times wonder exactly what all the fuss is about.
  • Sherlock Scan: Wolfe realises that the crime wasn't an accident this way. He notices a lack of blood on Caesar's face, remembers seeing a group of men digging a barbecue pit with picks and shovels, and deduces that someone dumped Clyde in the paddock, gored him with a pick, smeared some blood on Caesar, and then washed the pick. Wolfe later investigates the digging site and finds a freshly-washed pick near a hose and a patch of wet grass, backing up his theory.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: The Pratt-Osgood rivalry is being driven a bit by this, with the Osgood's being proud old stockmen with a long history of being important figures in the community, while Mr. Pratt is a self-made fast food entrepreneur who used to work for them before striking it big.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: The two Pratt children and the two Osgood children were both romantically involved for a while. This ended prior to the beginning of the novel, although some sparks do reignite between Jimmy Pratt and Nancy Osgood.
  • This Bear Was Framed: Hickory Caesar Grindon is wrongly blamed for Clyde Osgood's death. Wolfe, however, notices that the amount of gore on Caesar's horns and face is a lot less than would be the case if he had actually gored Clyde, leading him to suspect foul play.
  • Title Drop: The title of the book is drawn from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Dave Smalley quotes the relevant section during the bull's cremation:
    "In one place it says 'I sometimes think that never grows so red the rose as where some buried Caesar bled.' Of course this Caesar's bein' burnt instead of buried, but there's a connection if you can see it."
  • Troll: After being arrested by the local sheriff, Archie starts up a mock union of the jail prisoners, starting a petition with a zany list of demands which he presents largely to annoy the sheriff.