Today, as it turns out, is Rex Stout’s birthday and therefore, of course, Nero Wolfe’s. While I missed noting this last year, mostly I try to observe this date. I reprint my thoughts updated each time around…
Rex Todhunter Stout was born on the 1st of December, 1886. He was a writer, best known for his mysteries.
I’ve read, I’m moderately confident, every one of his Nero Wolfe mysteries. Certainly all thirty-three novels, and probably all forty novellas featuring the rotund detective and his faithful assistant, Archie Goodwin. I read most of them in the years I attended seminary. As much as I enjoyed the arcana of theology and closely related, these books offered much needed respite.
Stout’s novels are well written, although the Nero Wolfe stories pretty much have a single plot. The household needs money. Archie, Nero’s assistant, bullies the would be indolent Wolfe into taking a case. Archie gathers information while Wolfe wiles his time with his orchids (and the gardener Theodore) and annoying Fritz who is trying to cook. There are complications involving Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Stebbins as well as the independent contractors, Saul, Fred & Orrie. Archie also has a series of lovely women companions although in one of the few areas where there is evolution in the stories, increasingly that lovely and smart companion is only Lily. Finally, Wolfe has all the information he requires, sits down, closes his eyes, sucks on his lips for between three and five minutes and then has Archie gather the principals into his office for a dramatic conclusion. A wonderful ritual, and a delight for an evening after serious intellectual work.
Loved ‘em. Almost every one.
So, I was deeply saddened when we came to an end. Although in later years I was cheered by the official, that is approved by the Stout estate, and pretty darned good pastiches continuing the series for another half dozen novels by Robert Goldsborough. There have also been various adaptations to the screen, small and large. Many to be found at Youtube. None, in my view, have entirely captured the spirit of the books. But some have been fun, particularly the A&E adaptations.
Some years ago Jan & I, when in Manhattan, drove down West 35th street to sight the possible three-story Brownstone Wolfe and his household occupied in the novels. The biggest problem was Stout wasn’t always tight with continuity, so there were a variety of addresses to look for. As I recall there was no nine hundred block, his favorite for various reported houses, and of the two non-nine hundred addresses, one in the five hundred block, the other in the six hundred, the buildings were mostly warehouses…
But our imaginations ran wild…
If you haven’t read any of them, Fer-de-Lance is the first. You need not purchase it new, there must be a million copies floating around.
The best online source for used books, by the bye, is abebooks.com.