Favorite Author — What I Learned from Rex Stout
I learned that an engaging narrator, once he or she grabs the reader’s attention, can lead a reader anywhere.
Mr. Stout wrote 46 books in the Wolfe-Goodwin series, many of them collections of short stories or novellas. The mysteries are decent, some better than others. My personal favorites are the novellas “Black Orchids”, “Die Like a Dog”, and “Kill Now – Pay Later”, the seasonal short stories in And Four to Go, and the first novel I read Too Many Cooks. But I didn’t work my way through the series for the plots. I forget a lot of them and can reread the stories, trying to figure out the clues like it was my first time through. What I loved was being carried away with Archie’s wry narration of events. He’s like a an old friend I can rely on for an entertaining visit.
Here are a few lines I enjoy:
“When I feel superior to someone, which I frequently do, I need a better reason than the color of my skin.”
Describing a fight he and fellow P.I. Saul Panzer get in with a suspect: “He kicked Saul where it hurt, and knocked a lamp over, and bumped my nose with his skull. When he sank his teeth in my arm I thought, That will do for you, mister, and jerked the Marley from my pocket and slapped him above the ear, and he went down.” From “Fourth of July Picnic”
In Too Many Cooks, he calls one woman, “the swamp-woman — the kind who can move her eyelids slowly three times and you’re stuck in a marsh and might as well give up”.
Since I write in first-person, I need to give my narrator a distinct personality, with a unique way of describing people and events. Giving him or her strong opinions also makes the narrator interesting. Archie has an opinion on everything. Because my narrator is a teenager, it’s easy to give him strong opinions, such as he hates country music, which makes him stand out in rural West Virginia.
Another of my favorite authors P.G. Wodehouse said, “Stout’s supreme triumph was the creation of Archie Goodwin.” Millions of readers would agree.
Here is a chronological list of the series. If you do find you like it, you don’t have to read it in order, except do not read A Family Affair until you have read them all. It has a plot twist unlike any other in the series and you don’t want to ruin it.