Nero Wolfe: Reclusive Detective of Massive Genius
You've doubtless heard of Sherlock Holmes, and you may have heard of Sam Spade, but there's a good chance you've never heard of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin or of their creator Rex Stout. Nero Wolfe is a massive man - a "seventh of a ton" - with an even larger genius for crime solving. But he's also an obtuse recluse that doesn't like to leave his orchid's at home nor the food of his personal chef, Fritz. He doesn't even like to leave home for business, that's why he's got a full-time assistant, Archie Goodwin, who's the street-smart, sure-foot sleuth who does the legwork. It's a 20th Century Holmes and Watson but with more fireworks both between Goodwin and Wolfe and they and their enemies as it's set in New York City from the 30's to the 60's. There is also intense and amusing competition between Goodwin and Wolfe and the New York Police Department and the police, particularly Inspectors Crammer and Stebbins are always close at hand yet far behind the private detectives.
I read somewhere that one reads a single Nero Wolfe story and enjoys it but reads two or three and is addicted. I agree with this opinion. I recently read my first Wolfe novel, Death of a Doxy and enjoyed it thoroughly - it was good fun. It's the story of a straightforward homicide that Wolfe sorts through fairly easily. Then I read my second Wolfe novel, In The Best Families and this one really drew me in. It was great fun. Wolfe is really put to the test this time by the tangled mess of a homicide and a mobster. This is a fabulous story and I'm looking forward to more.
Wolfe and Goodwin are truly interesting characters and Stout draws them well. These are good stories, the characters are worthy and the dialogue is excellent. Wolfe himself really is fascinating. He's similar to Holmes but is more arrogant, more obstinate, more passionate when drawn out, but is even colder towards the fair sex than the occupant of 221B Baker Street. He also seems more human, he has other interests besides sleuthing, such as reading, his orchids, and his cuisine, and his stance towards the other sex is not merely cold business-like but rather seems driven by some past lost love. When it comes to his side interests his detective work seems a distraction from what he really wishes to do, but he must do it because he's so good at it and makes good money doing it (and his comfortable and sedentary lifestyle has a price). And when a mystery is brought to him he can't hardly help himself until he resolves it. And he resolves it by sitting around and simply thinking on it. When he figures it out, he only acts to prove it, he doesn't care to defend himself to others for he doesn't need their approval.
"I can give you my word, but I know what it's worth and you don't." - Nero Wolfe
Nero Wolfe is among the best of literary detectives - Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Ellery Queen - and if you like murder mysteries you'll find that this is very good stuff. And I'm not alone in saying so, Eugene Peterson, recognized author and translator of the Bible paraphrase The Message, recommends Wolfe, among 12 other mysteries, in his Take & Read book of recommended reads. Peterson says that for 30 years he has amused himself with the Wolfe stories, of which there are over 70. If you like detective fiction, you'll love Wolfe. Dig in and enjoy!