Thursday, November 5, 2009

If it's 9 o'clock, then he's up with the orchids.

The Golden Spiders, by Rex Stout (1953)

It's always a lot of fun to spend some time with Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. The two play off each other so well. In fact, the two men do a remarkable job of combining the traditional whodunit with the hard-boiled detective genre.

The obese but brilliant Wolfe represents the traditional detective. "I have no talents," he once said. "I have genius or nothing!" So he becomes a private investigator, using his genius to earn often very high fees.

Archie represents the hard-boiled P.I. When Wolfe takes a case, it's Archie who does the footwork, collecting facts and interviewing witnesses. Archie is a skilled detective in his own right, quite able to make intelligent decisions while out on his own. But it's Wolfe who puts all the facts together and solves the case.

But it's the prose and the dialouge of the Wolfe stories that really make them the classics they are. Wolfe and Archie are also just plain fun to listen to. Wolfe's grammatically precise sentences, peppered with obscure words, nicely counterpoints Archie's cynical wit. And Rex Stout's excellent storytelling skills allow the sometimes complex plots to unfold in a staightforward and intelligent fashion.

Wolfe and Archie are perfect partners, but often get on each other's nerves. That's pretty much how they got involved in solving a trio of murders in The Golden Spiders. Wolfe had gotten into a snit when his personal chef unexpectedly changed a recipe for the main course at dinner. This leads Archie to decide that Wolfe needs to be taught a lesson.

So when a 12-year-old boy shows up on the doorstep, demanding to see Wolfe, Archie lets him in. But Wolfe gets back in turn at Archie by politely listening to the boy (who thinks he's seen a woman in danger) and obligating Archie to forgo a night out to take notes.

Everything gets a bit more serious the next day when the boy is murdered. A couple of other deaths follow and an odd chain of circumstances (and a $10,000 check) obligate Wolfe to investigate.

What follows is an expertly constructed mystery with a satisfying conclusion. The novel also includes some great scenes with some of the series' regular supporting characters, including the perpetually aggravated Police Inspector Cramer and the three independent private eyes (Saul Panzar, Orrie Cather and Fred Durkin) often hired by Wolfe when they need more help on a case. It all comes to an end, as it usally does, in Wolfe's study, with the corpulant genius explaining to a roomful of suspects and cops who killed whom. It's a great novel from start to finish--one of the best of the series.

Next month, we'll visit with P.I. Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler's The High Window.


  1. I don't think I have read this one. I will have to try to find it. Sounds like another good Nero Wolfe for me to pick up. I have several of them for the IPOD but not many are on audio.

  2. This one and "Prisoner's Base" are, in my opinion, the two best of a consistently great series.


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