Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin, and the Devious & Dangerous Arnold Zeck – a little Escape Reading for Pandemic Season

Here are a few of the Nero Wolfe books on my hall shelf

Here are a few of the Nero Wolfe books on my hall shelf

I know pretty well what my field is. Aside from my primary function as the thorn in the seat of Wolfe’s chair to keep him from going to sleep and waking up only for meals, I’m chiefly cut out for two things: to jump and grab something before the other guy can get his paws on it, and to collect pieces of the puzzle for Wolfe to work on.
— Archie Goodwin in The Red Box, 1937

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{Note:  I usually blog about books that “matter” – business books, and books dealing with issues of racism and social justice.  Consider this a diversion post, about a different kind of book}.

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We are hunkered down, waiting, waiting, waiting…  We are waiting for the vaccines to arrive; waiting for the election to be decided.  Waiting to be able to resume “normal” life.

So, while we wait, we need to “escape” a little.

I escape with reading.  And, ever since I first discovered Nero Wolfe as a boy (I think during junior high school; no guarantee about the accuracy of my memory), I always go back to my Nero Wolfe books.  I own all of the ones written by Rex Stout.  And, I re-read them every few years.

In the last week, I kind of threw down my iPad, and went to my shelves of Nero Wolfe books again.  The last time I read through the whole corpus, I did it in chronological order.  This time, I started with the Arnold Zeck trilogy, and now I am going to read the rest of the books in reverse-chronological order:  his last book first, working backwards.

I am firmly convinced that Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin would find a way to outdo Jack Reacher, Orphan X, and maybe even Gabriel Allon.

So, a few words about Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe.

And here are a few more from my shelf...

And here are a few more from my shelf…

In 2000, The Nero Wolfe corpus was nominated Best Mystery Series of the Century at Bouchercon 2000, the world’s largest mystery convention. And Rex Stout was nominated Best Mystery Writer of the Century. By the way, for the Writer of the Century, Rex Stout and the other nominees lost to Agatha Christie; and for the Series of the Century, Nero Wolfe and other nominees lost to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

Rex Stout was a prolific writer, but his most-beloved and read series were his Nero Wolfe books.  He wrote well into his 70s (maybe his 80s), and he is read to this day.  There was one period during the 20th Century when there were more Rex Stout books in print than books in print from any other author.

And, here’s an inventive tidbit: Nero Wolfe’s biographer (of his fictional character), William Baring-Gould, “reported” that Nero Wolfe was the son of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler: Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-Fifth Street: The Life and Times of America’s Largest Private Detective. Mr. Baring-Gould was also the biographer of Sherlock Holmes:  Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street).

Rex Stout’s greatest creation, in my opinion and in the opinion of many mystery-loving experts, was the creation of Archie Goodwin.  Nero Wolfe “never left his house on business,” and seldom left it otherwise, so Archie Goodwin was the wise-cracking right-hand man.  Archie Goodwin was also the narrator for all of the Wolfe books.

As I mentioned, I just finished re-reading the Arnold Zeck Trilogy:

And Be a Villain (1948)
The Second Confession (1949)
In the Best Families (1950)

Arnold Zeck was the “Moriarty” for Nero Wolfe; a devious opponent indeed.  And in the final encounter between the two, Nero Wolfe was quite inventive in the way that he won the contest.

I’ve read plenty of other mystery and thriller authors:  from the Jack Reacher books, to the Orphan X books, to quite a few of the Grisham novels.  I am especially fond of some of the books by Anthony Horowitz (he is maybe best known for creating Foyle’s War, which we see in the U.S. on PBS).  And, my current contemporary favorite is Daniel Silva, and his Gabriel Allon books.  I have read all of these. In fact, I purchase Silva’s new one every summer on the day it is published: and I simply devour it.

But, after all of these, the only one I go back to re-read, and re-read, is Nero Wolfe.   This pandemic season, I am enjoying them as much as I ever have.

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There have been a few film and tv versions of Nero Wolfe.  Maybe the best is with Maury Chaykin as Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin.  You can actually watch a few of these on YouTube. Here is the link to The Doorbell Rang.  It comes quite close to capturing the Nero Wolfe character, and Goodwin’s also, along with his household, team, and overall approach.

 

 

It is worth perusing these Wikipedia articles on Nero Wolfe and Rex Stout and Archie Goodwin.  Here are the links:

Rex Stout

Nero Wolfe

Archie Goodwin

And, here is the link to the Boucheron 2000 nominees and winners: Bouchercon XXXI

 

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