Favorite Author — Rex Stout
When I was in college, I majored in English and took a course called “Detective Film and Fiction”. Yes, it was a real course, and yes, it was a lot of fun because I was a mystery fan and a film buff.
I was introduced to the world of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin when I was assigned Too Many Cooks, which opens with how Archie feels about getting his employer, Nero Wolfe, onto a train when Wolfe rarely ever leaves his New York City brownstone.
“Walking up and down the platform alongside the train in the Pennsylvania Station, having wiped the sweat from my brow, I lit a cigarette with the feeling that after it had calmed my nerves a little I would be prepared to submit bids for a contract to move the Pyramid of Cheops from Egypt to the top of the Empire State Building with my bare hands, in a swimming suit; after what I had just gone through.”
Archie’s sarcastic narration hooked me, and I went on to read the whole series. Rex Stout began the Wolfe mysteries in 1934 and wrote them until his death in 1975.
As William G. Tapply writes in an introductions to The Second Confession, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are paired like “Sherlock Holmes meets Sam Spade”, British whodunit meets hard-boiled detective.
Weighing a seventh of a ton, Nero Wolfe is the brains of the pair, indulging his gourmet tastes as he sits in his custom-made desk chair in his brownstone and solves mysteries
Archie Goodwin is his employee, acting as legman, secretary, bodyguard, and nuisance. As the last, it’s Archie’s job to annoy Wolfe into working because the man has a lazy streak as big as his custom-made chair.
I never liked Wolfe. He may have Holmes’s brains but none of his eccentric appeal. I read the series because Archie’s first-person narration is so engagingly entertaining.
The character I found most intriguing is Saul Panzer, a free-lance P.I. who often works with Archie for Wolfe. We only pick up tidbits about his personal life but those little facts and Archie’s unqualified admiration for his professional skills makes me wish Stout had written at least one book showcasing Saul.
Next time, I will write about what I learned from the series.