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Nero Wolfe

Writing Tip

crime-999066_1280Favorite 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.

 

 

Writing Tip

detective-1039883_1280Favorite 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

agent-1294795_1280Archie 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.

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