Category: Nero Wolfe

Book Review: Archie Meets Nero Wolfe

When Rex Stout took paper to pen to write the first Nero Wolfe story, the house hold at the old Brownstone was all ready mostly established. On the heels of the Maltese Falcon prequel Spade and Archer, Robert Goldsborough, author of seven Nero Wolfe books from the 1980s and 90s sets down the account of the first meeting between Wolfe and Goodwin guided by clues Stout left in his novels.

Goldsborough anchors the story in the 1920s which is a departure as Wolfe stories have always been set in the “present” but a story of a beginning requires a certain timeframe.  The book begins when Archie arrives in New York, gets a night watchman’s job and has no choice but to shoot two thugs. Even though, his decision was appropriate, he was fired by upper management concerned about trigger-happy guards. However, Archie finds his ideal career when he snags a job at the Bascom detective agency.

Bascom is brought on a kidnapping case along with some other operatives including the ever-familiar Orrie Cather, Fred Durkin, and Saul Panzer. The initial goal is to merely ensure the safe return of the boy, who is the son of a wealthy New Yorker. But having done that, Wolfe is determined to catch the kidnappers. To facilitate this, Archie goes to undercover as the boy’s bodyguard in hopes of uncovering some information that Wolfe can use to solve the case.

The book’s strong point is its overall narrative that tells of the beginning of Archie Goodwin’s legendary career and his first encounters with some of his best known associates and foils include Cramer, Stebbins, and the the detectives who worked with Wolfe and Goodwin the most including the teers as well as the less used Bill Gore and Del Bascom. We get to see them a bit more than we would in a typical Wolfe yarn.  While the mystery is not earth-shattering, it’s fair and the resolution is handled well in typical Wolfe fashion.

The weak point in the story is that Nero Wolfe doesn’t sound quite sound like himself and Archie sounds nothing like himself. Usually, Goldsborough’s portrayal of Wolfe was close enough usually but a few times sounded dissonant. Perhaps, the most jarring section was when Wolfe made the statement that prohibition laws were wrong because they were attempting to “legislate morality.” However, you feel about “legislating morality,” it’s become a modern cliche and Nero Wolfe certainly never spoke in cliches.   In addition, one Amazon review points out that Wolfe used “infer” as a synonym for “imply,” something that Wolfe would never do.

It’s even worse with Archie Goodwin. It would be unreasonable to expect a 19 year old fresh out of Ohio to sound the veteran New York Private eye Rex Stout wrote about for 40 years. However, there wasn’t even a hint. This Archie Goodwin is a completely serious and respectful young man who helps to teach the father of the kidnapped the importance of spending time with this boy. To imagine this character developing into a wise cracking lady’s man seems almost beyond belief. Whatever can be said of the corrupting influence of a big city or a big city changing someone, the change necessary in Goodwin is too incredible.

Overall, the story lacked the fun of the Stout Wolfe books. However, it answers a lot of questions fans have had about the characters particularly the lesser known ones and provides some satisfaction and Nero Wolfe is still mostly himself. Overall, this could have been a great book if Goldsborough had done a better job of capturing the essence of Stout’s characters particularly young Archie Goodwin. As it was, it was only a fair-to-good one.

Rating: Barely Satisfactory

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Book Review: Three Men Out

It’s time to review another Nero Wolfe novella collection. “Three Men’s Out” was published in 1954 and contains three novellas published originally in 1952 an 1953.

“Invitation to Murder” -A man hires Wolfe to have Archie investigate the women who may be the next wife of his brother-in-law who was married to his deceased sister. He suspects one of them of foul play. In the middle of Archie’s investigation, he finds the client murdered and connives to get Wolfe himself to come and investigate. A decent enough story, though certainly not one of the bests with Wolfe leaving the house and an “okay” solution. Rating: Satisfactory

“The Zero Clue”-Wolfe declines a case from a man who puts himself out as being able to predict anything with mathamatics, though Archie goes to see him any way to see if he can get information to interest Wolfe. However,Archie ends up leaving without seeing the man. That night, Cramer arrives with news that the math whiz has been murdered and that he left a clue involving carefully arranged pencils and erasers that seems to point right towards Wolfe as having key information. Wolfe has a different take on the clue and will prove it if Cramer brings all the suspects to the Brownstone to be questioned.

This is perhaps the most problematic Nero Wolfe story I’ve read. Cramer agrees to the idea on the first night of the investigation which is something that seems unlikely the case had drug on for days and perhaps not for a week or more. Plus, the whole clue that was left behind was so improbable as to understand it required the use of Hindu mathematics  To add to that, the revelation of the murderer was unsatisfying and Archie’s personality is mostly absent. So I’ve got to give this one a resounding: Rating: Pfui.

“This Won’t Kill You”-Becaue a guest insisted on it, Wolfe is dragged to a decisive World Series game along with his guest. In the course of this, a murder happens and Wolfe investigates for the New York Giants Owner, a friend. The set up is (to be kind) somewhat hard to swallow particularly as this guest seems to disappear after conveniently having put Wolfe at the crime scene to investigate. The story is ultimately saved by some solid supporting characters in the form of an insane drugist and his niece plus a nice wind up that makes this story a: Rating: Satisfactory.

Unlike And Four to Gothe other Wolfe collection that contained a real stinker, there’s not one great story, let alone two great stories to save the volume. However, I’m loathe to give a thumbs down to a Nero Wolfe collection. And in this case, I feel that the other two are solid stories with “This Won’t Kill You” perhaps being more than average. So, rather than a Pfui, I’ll give the overall collection a:

Rating: Barely Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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You Ought to be on DVD: Nero Wolfe

Previous: Vintage Detective Movie Serials, I Heard it on Radio

If one great fictional detective has been slighted in terms of DVD and Home video releases, it is Nero Wolfe. The fine A&E Television series is available on DVD, but everything else isn’t. The following are missing:

Two 1930s Movies
1959 TV Pilot with Kurt Kasner and William Shatner as Archie Goodwin
The 1979 TV movie with David Thayer
The 1981 TV Series with William Conrad

It has been a challenge to adapt Wolfe stories into popular visual media, so many of these efforts have not worked.

However, it won’t do to say that poor quality should keep these adaptations off of DVD. After all, some fans may be right when they think William Conrad’s Nero Wolfe is off-base. However, the rest of us should be able to decide the question for ourselves. Even Galactica 1980 has been given a DVD release.

Perhaps, the one film that looks dreadful based on clips and ratings is 1937’s League of Frightened Men with a miscast Lionel Stander as Archie Goodwin and an equally poorly cast Walter Connolly as Nero Wolfe. The movie is only rated a 5.0 on IMDB which is the same as Henry Silva’s unthrilling 1965 thriller The Return of Mr. Moto. (Which by the way did it make its way to DVD.)

Beyond this, those fans that have seen 1936’s Meet Nero Wolfe (6.7), Thayer’s Nero Wolfe TV Movie based on The League of Frightened Men (7.0) and Conrad’s Nero Wolfe Series (7.3) have enjoyed them. And no doubt, a wider audience would enjoy them as well. They may not all perfectly match the tone of the books but even the A&E series doesn’t do that.

Another great opportunity would be to put the foreign Nero Wolfe programs on Region 1 DVD. Nero Wolfe movies have been made in Russian, Italian, and Germany. My particular interest would be in the 1960s Italian Series. A few clips have shown up on Youtube and the show looks very well done in classic black and white. Personally, I’d love to watch these films with subtitles to enjoy the cadence of the original actors while still knowing what’s going on. The best of that particular series is that of the ten stories they did, eight were not done by A&E, so it would make interesting viewing as would all of the unreleased Nero Wolfe material included the Kasner-Shatner pilot which hasn’t been seen in more than fifty years.

There’s a lot of Nero Wolfe that should be released and it’s about time for Hollywood to get started.

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Book Review: Homicide Trinity.

Homicide Trinity contained three Nero Wolfe Novellas originally published in magazine form in 1961 and 1962. Below, we take a look at each story.

“Eeny Meeny Murder Mo”

Bertha Aaron, the secretary to the Senior partner in a lawfirm comes to Wolfe’s office because she suspects one of the other partners of colluding with an opposing client against the interests of the firm. Because the opposing client is involved in a divorce case, Archie knows he’ll have a time convincing Wolfe to take the case.

Wolfe doesn’t want the case but finds himself involved when he and Archie return to the office to find Aaron murderered with Wolfe’s discarded necktie. Because it’s Wolfe’s necktie, the onus is on him to beat the police to the solution.

In some ways, this seems a variation on Disguise for Murder with Archie leaving a woman in the office and returning from the plantroom to find her murdered. They were so similar that A&E linked the two episodes for European syndication. Unfortunately, while this story has features, it’s just not as good.  Still I’ll give it a 

Rating: Satisfactory

“Death of a Demon”

Lucy Hazen shows up at Wolfe’s office and offers him $100 for an hour of his time. She wants to tell Wolfe that she wants to murder her husband and to secure Wolfe’s promise to report it to the police. Wolfe takes her upstairs to show her the orchids and while they’re upstairs, Archie hears on the radio that her husband was shot.

Lucy ends up being arrested and hiring Wolfe to find out who did it. As is the case in the best Wolfe stories, Stout creates a memorable cast of suspects in the case of the murder of the blackmailing husband and Archie finds them all at the scene of the crime looking for the box of blackmail materials.

The characters are solid, particularly for a novella, and Wolfe solves the case in true master detective fashion.

Rating: Very Satisfactory


“Counterfeit for Murder”

A woman named Hattie Anniscomes to Wolfe’s door looking quite disheveled and unlike the high value clients that Wolfe usually pays for and Archie’s not inclined to let her in. However, Archie’s willing to let her see the big guy because Wolfe is under the impression that he’s a sucker for a certain type of woman and Archie thinks it’ll be fun to show Wolfe up.  

Hattie has a stack of money that she found in her boarding house which shelters showbiz people whether they can pay their $5 a week rent or not. When Wolfe sends Archie to the boarding house to investigate, they find an undercover female Treasury Agent dead.

The cop-hating Hattie Annis is without a doubt Wolfe’s most interesting client so far. Her speech and personality (she calls Wolfe “Falstaff”) make the story one of the most enjoyable to read.

The mystery isn’t half bad either. Throw in some T-men and the NYPD in a turf war and there are Few Wolfe stories of any length that can beat this one for pure entertainment value.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

The last two stories are simply superb and as good as the vast majority of Wolfe novels. The first one is solid as well and so I’ll give this one a:

Rating: Very Satisfactory.

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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Book Review: Triple Jeopardy

Triple Jeopardy contains three Nero Wolfe novellas originally published in 1951 and 1952. Without any further adieu, let’s take a look at them: 

Home to Roost: 

A young man suspected of being a Communist but who had told his Aunt he was really an undercover FBI agent was murdered and his Aunt and Uncle believe Communist agents did it and want Wolfe to find out the truth. A less engaging story that still manages to pack a punch with a surprising ending.

Rating: Satisfactory

Cop Killer:

A classic Wolfe story that finds two refugees from the Soviet Union who are in the country illegally suspected of murder after fleeing the crime scene which is the shop of Wolfe and Archie’s barber.  They take refuge in Wolfe’s home without Wolfe fully understanding the police want them. Wolfe’s sense of hospitality won’t allow him to turn them over to the police and Wolfe and Archie have to find out who the real killers are.

This is a story with a lot of fascinating features with us seeing their Barber shop. Some great interactions, including the police entreating Archie for a help with a difficult manicurist and Wolfe and Archie snowing Inspector Cramer by telling him that the suspects were there but in such a way he wouldn’t believe them. Archie explained to the frightened migrants, “They (Hitler and Stalin) tell barefaced lies to have them taken for the truth, and we told the barefaced truth to have it taken for a lie.”

Rating: Very Satisfactory

The Squirt and the Monkey:

This one begins with some strained credibility. For once, Wolfe is willing to take a job and Archie doesn’t want him to. A big shot on the Comic Strip, Dazzle Dan wants to use Archie’s gun to help recover his own stolen gun. He’s willing to pay Archie $500 for the use of his gun. Despite Archie pointing out that the most Wolfe could clear after taxes and expenses was $45, he’s off to the strange house that produces Dazzle Dan complete with monkey and an unusual cast of characters.

Through a complex series of events, a man is murdered with Archie’s gun, the client lies about why he’d hired Wolfe, and Cramer informs Wolfe that his license will be suspended. Once again you have to suspend disbelief as we’ve seen Wolfe insist on getting in writing what he’s being hired for multiple times.

However, this is when the story gets interesting. Wolfe goes to work in earnest and has his lawyer file a lawsuit against the client for a million dollars and begins an earnest study of the Dazzle Dan comic to unravel the mystery of what goes in the house that created him. 

Overall, there is much about this story that makes it unique. Unfortunately, Stout, has a lot in here that’s hard to buy, so I can only rate it:

Rating: Satisfactory

The stories vary in quality but solidly clever solutions and some great settings in the last two stories make this a solid read.

Collection Rating: Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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