Friday, March 24, 2017

FFB: Homicide Trinity -- Rex Stout

When people ask me who my favorite writers are, I often forget to mention Rex Stout.  So let me say it right here: Stout is one of my favorite writers.  When I discovered his work 50 years or so ago, I immediately tracked down every book in the Nero Wolfe series up to that point and then read the new ones as they appeared.  I even helped John McAleer a little bit with some research on his bio of Stout.  That doesn't put me in the class with my friends Steve Stilwell and Art Scott, who have read the entire series so many times that I've lost count.  They're the experts as far as I'm concerned.

In my current situation, I find rereading old favorites is a comfort, so I naturally picked up a Nero Wolfe book.  This one is a collection of three novellas, "Eeny Meeny Murder Mo," "Death of a Demon," and "Counterfeit Murder."  In the first, a woman is murdered in Wolfe's own office with one of Wolfe's ties.  He is not happy.  In the second, a woman brings a revolver to the office and tells Wolfe she's not going to kill her husband with it.  And in the third, a landlady tell Wolfe that she wants him to make the cops "eat dirt."  

All three stories are told by one of my favorite narrators, Archie Goodwin, and all three work in some of the usual details about Wolfe's brownstone, its inhabitants, and Wolfe's habits and prejudices.  All three are resolved at the usual gathering of suspects in Wolfe's office.  Wolfe doesn't always have a lot to go on, and sometimes no evidence at all, but the results are, as always, satisfactory.

You can't to wrong with Stout, Goodwin, and Nero Wolfe.

18 comments:

Cap'n Bob said...

Your modesty becomes you. Everyone knows you're the living embodiment of Archie Goodwin.

Walker Martin said...

I agree with Bill about the Nero Wolfe series. I have them all in paperback and I also helped John McAleer a tiny bit on his Rex Stout biography.

Bill in his second paragraph starts off by mentioning that the Nero Wolfe series is a comfort to him due to his recent problems. I found out the same thing though I don't put my problems on the same level as Bill. Fifty years ago I was drafted into the army and immediately was hospitalized due to various health issues during basic training. The Nero Wolfe novels were a great comfort to me and helped me survive my two years of service.

George said...

You're right about Art Scott and Steve Stilwell being the Nero Wolfe experts. I've read all the Rex Stout books once and a couple (like THE GOLDEN SPIDERS) twice.

Gram said...

I just started re reading these books with The Black Mountain. I think my favorite is The Doorbell Rang. It's time for me to start at the beginning again after a break of many years.

Bill Crider said...

I love The Doorbell Rang. I've read that one more than any of the others.

Rick Robinson said...

I've read most, reread a few, always enjoy them a lot. Good pick, Bill.

Todd Mason said...

Stout scholars definitely should look at Martha Foley's THE STORY OF STORY MAGAZINE (I suspect McAleer mentions the book somehow) as she and Stout palled around in the pre-Wolfe days in Europe)...and the combination of Holmes and Watson and hardboiled detectives that Wolfe and Goodwin achieve is reasonably perfect...

Art Scott said...

There are some Wolfe novels that I don't reread constantly. They all have serious plot faults, &/or take Wolfe & Archie too far out of their (& my) comfort zone. I recently steeled myself to reread them all, first time in many years, and found my distaste for them intact. They are Please Pass the Guilt (the second last Wolfe & the very worst, Stout dragging in then-current topical material that now makes them seem more dated than the books from the'Thirties), The Black Mountain (really an espionage novel, not a detective story), In the Best Families (last of the Zeck trilogy, with huge plot holes), A Family Affair (last novel; not bad in spots but one of the long-time regulars gets a fate he didn't deserve for the sake of a least-likely ending), and A Right to Die (maybe the one I hate the most, not that it's a bad mystery, but Stout destroys the timelessness of the series by bringing back a minor character from an early book aged thirty-odd years, which would put Nero & Archie in their nineties & eighties at least; yet the reader is apparently not supposed to do the math & wonder why they're not getting around the brownstone with walkers). My advice to new Stout readers, pass on these until there are no others left unread.

Bill Crider said...

I'm not overly fond of THE BLACK MOUNTAIN and don't like A FAMILY AFFAIR for the reason you mention. Agree about PLEASE PASS THE GUILT. Read it once, and that was more than enough.

Don Coffin said...

Real fanatics should join The Wolfe Pack. (http://www.nerowolfe.org/)

Stout is probably my favorite mystery author, but no one's perfect. A Right To Die is the least good (worst?0 of the books, for the reasons Art Scott mentions. (Plus the solution is sort of a cheat.) I personally think that A Family Affair is a very good book. Written, as it was, right at the end of Stout's life, it seems to me t be a nearly perfect ending to the series. My five favorites:

The Doorbell Rang
Too Many Cooks
The Silent Speaker
Murder by the Book
Before Midnight

Death of a Dude is a close 6th...(all subject to change tomorrow...)

And the novellas are really good. Here's a website that discusses (and ranks--be prepared to disagree) them all:
http://www.speedymystery.com/rex-stouts-nero-wolfe-novellas.html

TracyK said...

Rex Stout is also one of my favorite authors and definitely my favorite author from that time period. I have read all his books multiple times. Even the non-Nero Wolfe books, although they don't compare. I sometimes wince at some stereotypes and sexism in a few of the books, but I have been reading them for too many years to let that bother me now.

Art Scott said...

Four of Don's Top Five would make or at least come close in my list (also subject to change). I'd swap And Be a Villain for Doorbell. Dude would be way down in rank; Wolfe just flounders around until he gets a telegram telling him who the killer is, to me more of a cheat than the crucial diphthong in Right to Die.

Max Allan Collins said...

I like every one of them, just because even the weakest puts me in the presence of these two. I think my favorites are TOO MANY COOKS and the particularly hardboiled GOLDEN SPIDERS.

Worst Wolfe is a novella, EENY MEANY MURDER MOE (if I'm remembering that correctly) -- the one about comic strips (probably done because there was a Wolfe strip at the time) and incredibly inaccurate about the world of syndicated comics and cartoonists.

Art Scott said...

Wrong title, Max. The comic strip one is "The Squirt & the Monkey", in Triple Jeopardy. I rate Golden Spiders high also, for the same reason, the scene in the basement of the garage - as you say, particularly hardboiled.

Mathew Paust said...

The Doorbell Rang is one of my alltime favorite mystery novels--by anyone.

Barry Ergang said...

While I admit to having read all of the Wolfe novels and stories only once, my (heretical) favorite remains--sorry, Art Scott--In The Best Families, precisely because it deviates most radically from this and previous titles in the series.

Max Allan Collins said...

You're right, I'm wrong -- SQUIRT AND THE MONKEY, terrible story. I can't think of another outright bad one, though. I've been through the novels more times than I can count -- a few times less on the novellas, but them, too. The Hutton TV show was excellent.

msNscene said...

No one's mentioned PLOT IT YOURSELF! It's the title I quote most often to my adult writers' workshop.