By Mike Archer. There isn’t much I can add to a discussion of Rex Stout’s famously large and wickedly incisive detective, Nero Wolfe, except to say that my world is a little fuller having read the latest Robert Goldsborough book over the holidays.
Rex Stout died in 1975. Fans of the series initially reacted with incredulity at Goldsborough’s attempts at continuing Stout’s stories, but, with the support of Stout’s widow and daughter he has established himself as a suitable stand in for Stout.
The only way I’ve heard anybody describe the Nero Wolfe mysteries follows the same pattern as the role the books have played in my life. Many of Stout’s most avid readers are not mystery buffs. I have never followed any other mystery author and it’s because of the characters that Stout managed to create.
When reading a Nero Wolfe story you are simply so pleased to be living in the old brownstone on West 35th st in New York and digesting the delicious relationships, tensions, conversations and deep humanity of all those who live and work in and around the large detective.
According to Wikipedia, reviewer Will Cuppy once described Wolfe as “that Falstaff of detectives.” Wolfe’s confidential assistant Archie Goodwin narrates the cases of the detective genius. Stout wrote 33 novels and 39 short stories from 1934 to 1974, with most of them set in New York City.
Wolfe’s residence, a luxurious brownstone on West 35th Street, features prominently in the series. Many radio, television and film adaptations were made from his works.
The Nero Wolfe corpus was nominated for Best Mystery Series of the Century at Bouchercon 2000, the world’s largest mystery convention, and Rex Stout was a nominee for Best Mystery Writer of the Century.
One of the aspects of reading a Rex Stout book which I have always enjoyed is that no matter what the story is about you learn something you didn’t know before you heard Nero Wolfe say it to Archie or to one of his clients.
Unlike Sherlock Holmes, who focus almost exclusively on the minutest of clues, Wolfe, who prefers a more sedentary life behind his desk, uses his incredible mind to think the problem through while Archie runs about trying to confirm or deny Wolfe’s suspicions and bring him the people he needs to interview in order to solve his cases.
As I said at the beginning, I can’t anything much to what has already been said about Nero Wolfe or Rex Stout. I just know that like most other fans, i own all of his paperbacks and always have one open (dogeared) on my nightstand.
What I can add to the discussion is a full ‘thumbs-up” to Goldsborough for his latest book. I must admit that, despite his notable talent at telling a Nero Wolfe story almost as well as Rex Stout, when I am really in the mood to get lost in a Nero Wolfe story I reach for a Stout original simply because nobody can talk or act exactly the way Stout’s characters do and, as in any homage, the imitations aren’t quite real enough.
But what Goldsborough has done in this instance is truly uncover new ground by writing a prequel. At various stages through the years of Nero Wolfe stories we are given hints about the way Wolfe and Archie met but little else.
Goldsborough starts us off before the two met and brings them together, true to all the hints we’ve picked up over the years, and in the process fleshes out some of the regular, minor characters. We learn how Archie met people like Orrie Cather, Fred Durkin, and Saul Panzer and just how those relationships began as well.
If you want an introduction to the wonderful world of Nero Wolfe, his orchids and his haute cuisine this book will give you the beginning of the story. If you’re intrigued and entertained enough and follow it up with the first Stout Nero Wolfe book – Fer de Lance– you will have started a story that I’m sure will be with you for years.
Archie Meets Nero Wolfe
Robert Goldsborough’s new book about the first time the famous detective and his sidekick met is available on Amazon.com
Note: There have been many TV series which have attempted to bring Nero Wolfe to the screen but the only one that came close, in my opinion, was the Timothy Hutton series available at Imdb.