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Tales of the Black Widowers (1976)

by Isaac Asimov

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Crime/mystery solver men's club. Meets once a month and discusses possible solutions to puzzle of the night. Fun little puzzles. OK book. ( )
  ikeman100 | Jun 2, 2020 |
The Black Widowers are an amusing (if chauvinistically all-male) group of bickering friends who meet once a month for dinner, with an invited guest to provide variety. Over the twelve courses presented, they (invariably Henry the waiter) develop a tradition of solving some problem or mystery for the guest. Some of the twists are better than others but the setting adds charm to the stories, all of which I found eminently enjoyable. ( )
  Michael.Rimmer | May 28, 2018 |
Fun little mysteries written in Asimov's approachable, friendly style. Not terribly deep, but one shouldn't crack open a book of short, formulaic stories expecting that anyway. ( )
  mrgan | Oct 30, 2017 |
Short puzzle stories rather than crime and detection tales, each resolved by Asimov's Sherlock Holmes, namely Henry the impassive waiter and confidante of members of the Black Widowers dining club. ( )
  NaggedMan | Dec 26, 2013 |
This is a review of the entire series of Black Widower books.

I'm a bit of a sucker for classic mysteries, so when I found out that Isaac Asimov, one of my favorite childhood authors, had published a number of short mysteries in the style of Agatha Christie, I immediately searched them out at the library.

His mysteries all follow the same short story format. The Black Widowers, a fictional men-only dinner club, meet monthly at a restaurant to dine, socialize, and interview the host's guest. The guest (or occasionally the host) presents a puzzle drawn from his personal or professional life, and the Black Widowers attempt some armchair detective work before Henry, the waiter, invariably deduces the solution. These are not forensics and footprints crime cases, obviously. In fact, in many instances, no crime took place. There was the story of a man whose wife disappeared from a restaurant and turned up at home safe and sound, one in which a man who is convinced that his lover has cheated at an academic exam, and several instances of guests who need to unravel a riddle to claim an inheritance from a deceased, idiosyncratic friend. Etc. Generally, the solution rests upon peeling away irrelevant information to reveal a simple, obvious explanation. Kind of like Miss Marple meets Encyclopedia Brown (historical facts and trivia have been the crux of the issue on many occasions).

However, it's the structure in addition to the (rather mundane) mysteries that makes these stories so appealing. The six (seven, counting Hentry) members of the Black Widowers are caricatures, but nonetheless solidly consistent in their characterization. (I wouldn't say that any of the regulars involve themselves in any sort of character arc or personal growth, but that's not really the point. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple never really grew, either.) My problem with them is that Asimov relies too much on the same idiosyncracies, such that a number of people are loud and opinionated, and as they all participate equally in all conversations on all subjects, it becomes difficult to differentiate between them. Nonetheless, their very presence is reassuring; when you read a Black Widower story, you know exactly what you'll get. The stories generally devote half their length to whatever subject Asimov feels like discussing, whether it's extrasensory perception or extraterrestrial life or English grammar, and I found that just as enjoyable as the puzzle-solving half.

Most of the stories were published in various mystery or science fiction magazines before being collected by Asimov in several 12-story anthologies. Asimov himself writes a little blurb after each one describing its history, and his comments are charming to read. The last book was published after Asimov's death and collects a few stories that were not anthologized in the previous volumes. It also contains a rather sappy foreward by Harlan Ellison, somewhat cluttered with in-jokes and personal references, reprints of the "best of" stories as selected by Charles Ardai, and two original stories not by Asimov. I actually haven't finished reading this last one yet. Once I do, there will be no more Black Widower stories, and they have been such superb comfort fare that I find myself saving the last few for when I truly need them. ( )
  genginator | Jun 1, 2009 |
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to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, to David Ford and to the Trap-door Spiders for reasons detailed in the introduction
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Introduction: Because I have a friendly and personal writing style, readers have a tendency to write to me in a friendly and personal way, asking all kinds of friendly and personal questions.
The acquisitive chuckle: Hanley Bartram was the guest, that night, of the Black Widowers, who monthly met in their quiet haunt and vowed death to any female who intruded—for that one night per month, at any rate.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This short story collection contains the first 12 Black Widowers stories, most of which initially appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

The Acquisitive Chuckle
Ph as in Phony (The Phony Ph.D.)
Truth to Tell (The Man Who Never Told a Lie)
Go, Little Book! (The Matchbook Collector)
Early Sunday Morning (The Biological Clock)
The Obvious Factor
The Pointing Finger
Miss What? (A Warning to Miss Earth)
The Lullaby of Broadway
Yankee Doodle Went to Town
The Curious Omission
Out of Sight (The Six Suspects)

Where EQMM chose different titles from Asimov's originals, he normally reinstated his own titles for book publication; in such cases, the EQMM titles are given in parentheses.
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