CR3 #47: Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout

As far as I can tell, this is the first of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries (it’s tough to be sure, because there are so many and they are not labeled “Number 1 in the Series!” as they bloody well should be.) I had never read any of the previous books, but I greatly enjoyed the short-lived television show A&E put together a number of years ago (2001? Was it really a whole decade ago?) with Timothy Hutton as narrator Archie Goodwin and Maury Chaykin as the titular Wolfe.

The basic set-up takes place in the 30s, and has Nero Wolfe as the eccentric genius, and Archie is sort of his eyes and ears (and legs and arms–Wolfe is both hugely fat and somewhat agoraphobic, so Archie does pretty much everything that requires leaving the house.) In this particular adventure, a young Italian immigrant comes to Wolfe requesting that he locate her missing brother. Shortly after that investigation begins, a mysterious murder occurs on a golf course, and Wolfe suspects that the murder and the disappearance might just be connected. Archie (who narrates the tale) soon finds himself running all over New York, tracking down golf clubs and airfields and a number of other important clues.

The main draw of this novel is the narration itself. Archie is a great character, both witty and charming and frustrated and occasionally childish. His voice is very engaging, and I enjoyed following the mystery from his perspective. The character of Wolfe is not as developed, although his pride at being an “eccentric genius” is definitely kind of fun. The plot moves along at a good clip, and I never found myself bored or anxious to skip ahead. I will say that I figured out “whodunnit” rather before the book decided to make the reveal, but since it was not an “aha!” ending, that wasn’t such a problem.

I definitely enjoyed this, and will probably pick up other books in the Nero Wolfe series. It made a great summer read: not totally mindless, but definitely easier on a heat-melty brain than some of the things I’ve been reading this year.

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June 2011
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