Champagne for One

Champagne for One
Champagne for One  
Author(s) Rex Stout
Cover artist Bill English
Country United States
Language English
Series Nero Wolfe
Genre(s) Detective fiction
Publisher Viking Press
Publication date November 24, 1958
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 184 pp. (first edition)
Preceded by And Four to Go
Followed by Plot It Yourself

Champagne for One is a Nero Wolfe detective novel by Rex Stout, first published by the Viking Press in 1958. The back matter of the 1995 Bantam edition of this book includes an exchange of correspondence between Stout and his editor at Viking Press, Marshall Best. A letter from Stout to Best, dated July 1958, shows that Stout suggested as a title both "Champagne for One" and also "Champagne for Faith Usher." Best's reply states that Viking was quite satisfied with "Champagne for One."


Plot introduction

She danced cheerfully, and of course that was no good. You can't dance cheerfully. Dancing is too important. It can be wild or solemn or gay or lewd or art for art's sake, but it can't be cheerful. For one thing, if you're cheerful you talk too much.

Archie, missing a dancing partner as good as Celia Grantham, in Champagne for One, chapter 3.

Archie Goodwin sits in for a friend at a charity dinner dance for unwed mothers, and one of the guests drops dead on the dance floor.

Plot summary

Archie gets a phone call from Dinky Byne, who is expected at a dinner party that night, given by his aunt in honor of four young, unwed mothers. These women have recently left Grantham House, a home where expectant mothers receive support, room and board in the months prior to giving birth.

Dinky wants to beg off the dinner, saying he has a bad cold, and asks Archie to fill in for him. Archie agrees and, chatting with Rose Tuttle after dinner, learns that Faith Usher carries around a vial of cyanide. Apparently Faith wants to have it handy should she ever decide to commit suicide. Rose is worried, and Archie reassures her by promising that he'll see to it that nothing bad happens.

But something bad happens a few minutes later, when Faith suddenly dies, poisoned by cyanide later shown to have been in her champagne. Those present hope that Faith suicided, largely because they hope to avoid notoriety. But Archie had been keeping his eye on Faith and is certain that she put nothing in her glass – therefore, it must have been murder.

Archie comes under pressure from the guests, the police and the Police Commissioner himself to back off his position regarding Faith's death. Meanwhile, Edwin Laidlaw hires Wolfe to see to it that the investigation does not result in the discovery that he is the father of Faith's child. Wolfe agrees to identify and expose the murderer – if there is one – before the police learn of Laidlaw's role in Faith's life.

Sexual mores

The book reflects the transitional situation of American sexual mores at the time of writing, on the verge of the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Unwed mothers are a major issue in the book, and comprise a large part of its cast of characters. They are presented sympathetically, but still unwed motherhood is presented as "a problem" for which they need to be helped. The preferred solution is to provide a friendly and supportive environment during pregnancy and to have the baby given over to adoption immediately upon birth. The option of the unwed mother keeping and raising her child is presented as a far more problematic idea. Indeed — as it ultimately turns out — it has much to do with the circumstances that led to the murder being investigated.

In chapter 2 Archie Goodwin is rather shocked to discover that one of the young women, Rose Tuttle, had given birth outside marriage not once but twice. He recounts at length his moral dilemma at hearing this: "I had on my shoulders the responsibility for the moral and social position of the community, at least in part (...). To list my objections would have been fine if I had been ordained, but I hadn't, and anyway she had certainly heard these objections before and hadn't been impressed. (...) While it was none of my business if she kept on having babies, I absolutely wasn't going to encourage her."

On the other hand, in chapter 6 Archie is surprised to learn that Edwin Laidlaw seriously expects his bride-to-be to remain a virgin until their wedding night. His reaction to this is scathing: "Laidlaw turned out to have an old-fashioned streak (...) an old fogey at thirty-one."

The unfamiliar word

In most Nero Wolfe novels and novellas, there is at least one unfamiliar word, usually spoken by Wolfe. Champagne for One contains but one example, apart from the legalese respondeat superior found in Chapter 9. (In Chapter 2 the reader is also treated to a discussion of the derivation of protocol from the Greek proto, "first," and kollon, "glue".)

On page 202 of the 1996 Bantam edition, in Chapter 16, Wolfe says, "You have trimmed long enough." The word "trimmed" is not itself unfamiliar, but the usage may be.

Cast of characters

  • Nero Wolfe — The private investigator.
  • Archie Goodwin — Wolfe's assistant (and the narrator of all Wolfe stories).
  • Mr. and Mrs. Robert Robilotti — Mrs. Louise Grantham Robilotti is a wealthy heiress, who inherited the fortune of her first husband, Mr. Grantham, and later married Mr. Robilotti.
  • Faith Usher, Helen Yarmis, Rose Tuttle and Ethel Varr — Four honored guests at a dinner party given by Mrs. Robilotti.
  • Elaine Usher — Faith's estranged mother.
  • Austin "Dinky" Byne — Mrs. Robilotti's nephew.
  • Edwin Laidlaw — A publisher who is terrified that his prior relationship with Miss Usher will be exposed by the investigation into her death.
  • Cecil and Celia Grantham — Mrs. Robilotti's son and daughter from her first marriage.
  • Paul Schuster and Beverly Kent — Along with Edwin Laidlaw and Archie Goodwin, dinner partners for the young women at the party.

Reviews and commentary

  • Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor, A Catalogue of Crime — Archie and Nero shine, once again, on the question: Who slipped the cyanide into the glass of the girl attending the unwed mothers' annual party at the house of their benefactress? Two small queries: would the dead philanthropist write the odd letter of gift that provides no better control of large funds than someone's probity? And how was the poison actually administered? One can't buy ready-mixed KCN.[1]
  • Nancy Pearl, Book Lust — When Stout is on top of his game, which is most of the time, his diabolically clever plotting and his storytelling ability exceed that of any other mystery writer you can name, including Agatha Christie, who invented her own eccentric genius detective Hercule Poirot. Although in the years since Stout's death I find myself going back and rereading his entire oeuvre every year or two, I return with particular pleasure to these five novels: The Doorbell Rang; Plot It Yourself; Murder by the Book; Champagne for One; and Gambit.[2]


A Nero Wolfe Mystery (A&E Network)

Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin adapted Champagne for One for the second episode of the A&E TV series A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001–2002), a Jaffe/Braunstein Films coproduction with the A&E Network. The second of four Nero Wolfe episodes directed by executive producer and star Timothy Hutton, "Champagne for One" made its debut in two one-hour episodes airing April 29 and May 6, 2001, on A&E.

Timothy Hutton is Archie Goodwin; Maury Chaykin is Nero Wolfe. Other members of the cast (in credits order) are Bill Smitrovich (Inspector Cramer), Colin Fox (Fritz Brenner), James Tolkan (Mr. Hackett). Marian Seldes (Mrs. Louise Grantham Robilotti), Kari Matchett (Celia Grantham), Conrad Dunn (Saul Panzer), Nicky Guadagni (Elaine Usher), Kathryn Zenna (Helen Yarmis), Alex Poch-Goldin (Edwin Laidlaw), Robert Bockstael (Paul Schuster), R.D. Reid (Sergeant Purley Stebbins), Christine Brubaker (Rose Tuttle), Steve Cumyn (Cecil Grantham), Boyd Banks (Austin "Dinky" Byne), David Schurmann (Robert Robilotti), Michael Rhoades (Beverly Kent), Janine Theriault (Ethel Varr) and Patricia Zentilli (Faith Usher).

The episode's signature waltz is Jazz Suite No. 2 (Suite for Promenade Orchestra), VI — Waltz 2, by Dmitri Shostakovich, recorded by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Chailly. The soundtrack also includes music by Luigi Boccherini, Rick Krive and Antonio Vivaldi.[3]

In North America, A Nero Wolfe Mystery is available on Region 1 DVD from A&E Home Video (ISBN 076708893X). "Champagne for One" is divided into two parts as originally broadcast on A&E.[4]

"Champagne for One" is one of the Nero Wolfe episodes released on Region 4 DVD in Australia under license by FremantleMedia Enterprises. Nero Wolfe — Collection One (2008) presents "Champagne for One" as a 90-minute film with a single set of titles and credits.[5] In 2009 the film was released on Region 2 DVD in the Netherlands, by Just Entertainment.[6]

All three DVD releases present "Champagne for One" in 4:3 pan and scan rather than its 16:9 aspect ratio for widescreen viewing.

Publication history

In his limited-edition pamphlet, Collecting Mystery Fiction #10, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part II, Otto Penzler describes the first edition of Champagne for One: "Black cloth, front cover and spine printed with purple; rear cover blank. Issued in a mainly black dust wrapper."[8]
In April 2006, Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine estimated that the first edition of Champagne for One had a value of between $200 and $350. The estimate is for a copy in very good to fine condition in a like dustjacket.[9]
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).[10]
  • 1959, London: Collins Crime Club, September 7, 1959, hardcover
  • 1960, New York: Bantam #A2023, April 1960, paperback
  • 1961, London: Fontana, 1961, paperback
  • 1978, London: Penguin, 1978, paperback
  • 1992, London: Scribners ISBN 0356201082 1992, hardcover
  • 1995, New York: Bantam Crimeline ISBN 0553244388 December 8, 1995, paperback
  • 1998, Canada, Durkin Hayes Publishing, DH Audio ISBN 0886464560 January 1998, audio cassette (unabridged, read by Saul Rubinek)
  • 2006, Auburn, California: The Audio Partners Publishing Corp., Mystery Masters ISBN 1572705205 March 28, 2006, audio CD (unabridged, read by Michael Prichard)
  • 2009, New York: Bantam Dell Publishing Group (with Too Many Cooks) ISBN 9780553386295 April 28, 2009, trade paperback
  • 2010, New York: Bantam Crimeline ISBN 978-0-307-75576-6 July 21, 2010, e-book


  1. ^ Barzun, Jacques and Taylor, Wendell Hertig. A Catalogue of Crime. New York: Harper & Row. 1971, revised and enlarged edition 1989. ISBN 0-06-015796-8
  2. ^ Pearl, Nancy, Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason (Seattle, Washington: Sasquatch Books, 2003, ISBN 1570613818); p. 226
  3. ^ Dmitri Shostakovich, Jazz Suite No. 2 (Suite for Promenade Orchestra), VI — Waltz 2; London 433 702-2, Shostakovich: The Jazz Album (track 13). Luigi Boccherini, Minuet in A, from String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5; KPM Music Ltd. KPM CS 7, Light Classics Volume One (track 2). Rick Krive, "Go Big Daddy"; 5 Alarm Music, Swing (iTunes Store). Antonio Vivaldi, Nulla in mundo pax sincera, RV 630. Additional soundtrack details at the Internet Movie Database and The Wolfe Pack, official site of the Nero Wolfe Society
  4. ^ "Champagne for One" (disc 1), "Prisoner's Base" (disc 2) and "Over My Dead Body" (disc 3) are split into two parts as they originally aired on A&E. Three other telefilms originally shown as two-parters — "Motherhunt" (disc 5), "Too Many Clients" (disc 6) and "The Silent Speaker" (disc 7) — are issued by A&E Home Video as continuous films with a single set of titles and credits.
  5. ^ Nero Wolfe — Collection One, August 13, 2008 ISBN 9316797427038. Three-disc set includes "The Golden Spiders," "The Doorbell Rang" and "Champagne for One." Each 90-minute film is presented with a single set of titles and credits. Screen format is 4:3 full frame. Rated M (mild crime themes and mild violence) by the Commonwealth of Australia. (Retrieved January 1, 2011)
  6. ^ A Nero Wolfe Mystery — Serie 1, December 11, 2009; EAN 8717344739221. Three-disc set includes "The Golden Spiders," "The Doorbell Rang" and "Champagne for One." Each 90-minute film is presented with a single set of titles and credits. Screen format is 4:3 full frame; optional Dutch subtitles. Licensed by FremantleMedia Enterprises to Just Entertainment. (Retrieved January 1, 2011)
  7. ^ Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, New York: Garland Publishing; ISBN 0824094794), pp. 34–35. John McAleer, Judson Sapp and Arriean Schemer are associate editors of this definitive publication history.
  8. ^ Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #10, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part II (2001, New York: The Mysterious Bookshop, limited edition of 250 copies), p. 9
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I, pp. 19–20

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