Friday, June 27, 2008

The minority report - Nero Wolfe

I've been recommending the Nero Wolfe novels to my buddy Rod Lott who run smy favorite book review site Bookgasm. I'm not the only one. LOTS of people have been recommending the Wolfes to him.

Well, Rod finally got around to reading the first two and he did not, to say the least, enjoy them. I love them but I have to admit he had me laughing out loud in places. Here are a few of his takes on those sacred books.


Fer-De-Lance / The League of Frightened Men
Author: Rod Lott

I’ve long been intrigued by Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, especially with comparisons that place the detective character alongside Sherlock Holmes or Perry Mason. With Bantam now reissuing the mysteries in affordable two-in-one trade paperbacks, starting with FER-DE-LANCE / THE LEAGUE OF FRIGHTENED MEN, I was able to see what the fuss was all about.

I’m no longer intrigued. Now I’m just perplexed. There may be dozens upon dozens of Wolfe novels out there, but I honestly can’t see how he became so popular. Let’s face it: The guy’s an absolute asshole. There, I said it.

Call me crazy, but aren’t protagonists supposed to be likable? Or at least get to that point before the last page? In his introduction to FER-DE-LANCE, Loren D. Estleman makes a big to-do about Wolfe never changing over the course of some 46 books; in that case, I look forward to never reading the other 44. Wolfe is a morbidly obese man who rarely moves from his chair, talks down to everyone else when he isn’t merely insulting them, and has his younger associate Archie Goodwin do most of his dirty work. (Don’t get me started on Goodwin, either; he has arrogance to burn as well.) In short-story form, that’s tolerable; in novels, not for me, thanks.

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Stout certainly couldn’t have known that seven decades later, America would be a fast-food nation that would make Wolfe’s weight commonplace. But remove even that from the equation, and you still have the problem of thoroughly unpleasant personalities. In real life, I wouldn’t want to spend two minutes in the same room with someone whose mood is so pompous and foul, so spending several hundred pages was a true struggle.

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I’m fully aware all of the above will strike some as sacrilege. For them, you’ll be pleased to know this special edition includes Stout’s character sketches and drawing of Wolfe’s pad in between the two novels. Eat it up! —Rod Lott

9 comments:

Dave Zeltserman said...

Ed,

The writing in Fer-De-Lance is stiff, and I don't think Stout started hitting his stride until The Rubber Band. About Archie Goodwin, hell, he's at least as likeable as Philip Marlowe. About Nero Wolfe not changing--Wolfe in the beginning was patterned after Stout's father, and at some point was patterned more after Stout. There were subtle changes, but still changes. And what made the books so endearing was the relationship between Wolfe and Goodwin. It's shame Lott's not going to read enough of them to enjoy what's a great series written by maybe the best pure writer to write in this genre.

Dave Zeltserman said...

but some of the comments left on Bookgasm are funny as hell, especially the one by Moist.

Bill Crider said...

I love the Wolfe books, and I remember that when I discovered them about 45 years ago, I read a lot of them one after another. I never got tired of them. Archie's voice is one of the most appealing (to me) in crime fiction. I'm sorry Rod didn't like the books, but he'd never persuade me to change my mind about them.

Randy Johnson said...

I've only read about half the novels, but look forward to finding the rest. Great characters.

JD Rhoades said...

Both Wolfe and Archie, in their own ways, are the Smartest Guys in the Room. Their major appeal is to people who think, however secretly, that they themselves are the Smartest Guys in the Room.

Dave Zeltserman said...

"Both Wolfe and Archie, in their own ways, are the Smartest Guys in the Room. Their major appeal is to people who think, however secretly, that they themselves are the Smartest Guys in the Room"---Archie, the smartest guy in the room??? Hardly. The appeal, at least to me, is the relationship between them, the humor, Archie's voice, and some of the best pure writing the mystery genre has seen. The actually crime solving/mystery aspect to the stories/novel is not of that much importance. But JD, thanks for trying to insult Ed, Bill, myself and millions of others who have enjoyed Nero Wolfe.

Jeff Marks said...

I love the Wolfe books. They are my ultimate comfort read. I'm going to be leading a book discussion on The Doorbell Rang on DorothyL soon.

Anonymous said...

The Wolfe novels are ritualized in form, and often involve deductive detection work, which I believe one can find in Sherlock Holmes. The distinctions of character are really meant to encapsule modes of thought. I never imagined Wolfe to be real, or anything like a real person. That's not the point of those mysteries. The other thing about them is Stout's use of what was then cutting edge psychology. Wolfe is something of a psychologist.

Richard Wheeler

pattinase (abbott) said...

Maybe you had to read them when they were written. Maybe you grew into him and it's not possible to do that now. He was an anomaly then, not being physically perfect and we expected our detectives to be larger than life in more ways than one. Many writers I enjoyed at the time seem hopelessly elitist, or racist or arrogant now.