Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Review (Sort of): The Nero Wolfe Novels by Rex Stout

I almost exclusively read non-fiction. However, there are times when the brain craves something less challenging, like a good detective novel. So a few years ago I started reading the Nero Wolfe novels, written by Rex Stout. Unlike many characters in the detective genre, Wolfe isn't a hard-bitten tough guy or an ex-cop following a different career path. Wolfe in fact is a well educated, very literate man with a vast intelligence and, at least according to his right hand man Archie Goodwin, a vast girth to accompany it. Goodwin is Wolfe's eyes, ears, legs and arms. Besides being handy with a gun and bare knuckles, Archie also takes shorthand, types well and has almost total recall. He is also an unashamed womanizer; well, rather it could be said that he hasn't seen the light of female equality. Overlooking this character flaw isn't too hard, especially when you remember that Stout started the series back in the 1930's when a socially enlightened gumshoe would have been considered not up to the task. Archie is also the narrator of the books, a literary device that works splendidly in this series.

Wolfe and Archie can call on the assistance of the associates, headed by Saul Panzer, perhaps the best shadow man that Archie has ever known. Mr Parker is Wolfe's attorney on call, always ready to bail Archie out of the local lockup or work up the legal rational to assist Wolfe in tippy-toeing round the edge of the law. The law is ably represented by Inspector Cramer and his men; Cramer and Wolfe had butted heads for decades, but they still respect one another, although Cramer lives for the day he can put Wolfe behind bars and keep him there.

As you might tell, I am very fond of these books, having read pretty much every one I could lay hold of. Some of the books are full length novels, some are collections of three or four novellas. Some aren't quite as good as the others, but there isn't a stinker in the bunch. And if you can, look for some of the short story collections. The originals appeared in various magazines throughout the years and occasionally are re-issued in collections.

One more thing. After the passing of Rex Stout, his estate authorized Robert Goldsbourgh to use the characters and style to write more Nero Wolfe novels. I have read one (The Silver Spire) and found it adequate. I might explore others of his, sometime.

No comments: