Monday, July 8, 2013

Nero Wolfe Extravaganza, by Rex Stout

Thanks to my thoughtful friend Ruth, the commute has belonged to Nero Wolfe for the past few months:  The Rubber Band (1936),  Murder by the Book (1951), And Be a Villain (1948), Please Pass the Guilt (1973), Too Many Women* (1947), The Red Box (1937), Where There's a Will (1940), Might as Well Be Dead (1956), Over My Dead Body (1940), The Golden Spiders (1953), Fer-de-Lance (1934 - the first), Some Buried Caesar* (1939), The Mother Hunt (1963), Too Many Cooks* (1938), Death of a Doxy (1966), A Right to Die (1964), The Final Deduction (1961), Prisoner's Base (1952), Father Hunt (1968), Not Quite Dead Enough (1944), The Booby Trap (1944), Before Midnight (1955), Plot It Yourself* (1959), If Death Ever Slept (1957), Gambit (1962), Black Mountain (1954), The League of Frightened Men (1935), Black Orchids (1942), Cordially Invited to Meet Death (1942), Death of a Dude (1969), Second Confession (1949), The Silent Speaker (1946), In the Best Families (1950), Champagne for One (1958), *A Family Affair (1975)
*My favorites

Things I've learned about the Nero Wolfe series by way of this sample:

  • The relationship between Nero and Archie changed very little from the first.
  • Even though Nero and Archie don't seem to age, the context of the stories keeps pace with the times (depression, war years, LSD and civil rights, Watergate); 
  • Archie isn't above torturing, assaulting and robbing people, and urging at least one to suicide, though he hates it when Wolfe does so;
  • Nero isn't above manipulating fate; 
  • In only one book I've read did Stout use language about race to highlight differences in class and breeding  -- to interesting effect;
  • Archie is presented as the quintessential ladies man, but maybe he's not.  Constanza in Two Many Cooks makes him so nervous that he pretends to be married; Lilly Rowan is so forward in Some Buried Caesar that he must put her down repeatedly.
  • Earlier mysteries followed the mystery formula much less; it was perfectly possible for the killer and his/her motive to be introduced in the last several chapters of a book; by the 1960's, the book was salted throughout with clues pointing to the killer.
  • Stout has no problem introducing a sympathetic character and killing her (usually) off.
  • Archie and Lilly appear together off and on for 36 years, and in the final Nero Wolfe book, they conclude they don't really know what their relationship is either.  


  1. My DS (a librarian and professor) and I are also fans of Nero Wolf. Sounds like you have had a great time these past months. And yes, Ruth is the best! Do you also stitch like she does? Stitching and reading - a wonderful combination (although not possible at the same time unless you are on audio).

  2. She is indeed! I'm not a stitcher, but I love looking at her work on Musing Badger.