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Archie Meets Nero Wolfe: A Prequel to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Mysteries (The Nero Wolfe Mysteries) Paperback – November 13, 2012
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So, I later bought and enjoyed Robert Goldsborough's seven pastiches, and although some parts didn't feel quite right (like Wolfe's almost fawning on several women characters in the earlier books), on the whole, they could have passed for something Stout had authored. But I thought that with "The Missing Chapter", which was about the murder of an author who continued a dead author's mystery series (and seemed to be a very big wink to the reading audience), that Goldsborough had hung them up, so to speak. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find, 19 years after that book, that Goldsborough had decided to write another Nero Wolfe novel. Below are my impressions of this book "Archie Meets Nero Wolfe", and note that I do not give any spoilers.
The book is well written and fits stylistically as a prelude to Stout's first Wolfe novel, "Fer-de-Lance". By that I mean the idiom and grammar fit to story's time frame (the late 1920's). While avid fans will undoubtedly notice discrepancies from the Wolfe "canon", I believe many of these were rational compromises made by the author to make the story work, and don't really affect the novel. With one minor exception, I enjoyed reading the book and it felt like I was reading something written by Rex Stout. My complaint, and it was an annoyance, not a critical flaw, is that Orrie Cather was portrayed as a big jerk, so much so that you have to wonder why Wolfe would bother using him. Orrie of course has his flaws, but at this stage of the game I think he should have been much more toned down in actions and demeanor.
But overall, I thought this was a very good book and will add it to my Nero Wolfe collection. It's motivated me to re-read all of the novels/stories again, and maybe this time I'll read that last novel, too, as nobody lives forever. In sum, I'm happy to have another Nero Wolf/Archie Goodwin book, and if Mr Goldsborough decides to write another Wolfe novel, I'm going to buy it. Four stars.
This is, frankly, a shockingly bad book. The "mystery" is pretty much nonexistent, its solution uninteresting, and is addressed principally by some dull, talky, repetitive legwork on the part of Wolfe's army of operatives (with Del Bascom a more or less central character, and Bill Gore joining Saul, Fred, and Orrie; can't imagine how he overlooked Johnny Keems and Dol Bonner). Wolfe's contribution is minimal (and despite his narration, Archie's isn't that much greater), and none of the suspects or other supporting characters are in any way interesting. As noted by others, Goldsborough really savages Orrie Cather, which is particularly disappointing as it more or less signposts developments that Stout took decades to refine until he made the character's flaws central to "Death of a Doxy."
But one doesn't read the Wolfe books for plot, and what's truly surprising is how utterly Goldsborough fails to get Archie's voice. Granted, that was never his strong point in his previous novels (his Wolfe was always better), but with barely a couple of exceptions, the reader would be hard pressed to know that this was Archie Goodwin, one of American popular fiction's great narrative voices, at all. Yes, he's young and inexperienced, but that shouldn't deprive him (or the reader) of his personality. Archie also shows a strong streak of sentimentality that Stout managed to avoid.
Goldsborough's grip on Wolfe also seems to have slipped since he brought his series to a halt a while back: most of the dialogue is purely (and barely) functional, with little sense of the enjoyment that Wolfe gets from using words. Again, as others have noted, it's really jaw-dropping that, out of all the grammatical slipups he could have had Wolfe commit, Goldsborough stumbles into a specific one-- the difference between "infer" and "imply"--that made the opening sequence of "Gambit" one of Stout's most memorable. And to have Wolfe's love of food reduced to his naming a couple of dishes, just so Archie can inform us that he's never heard of such grub, is really a wasted opportunity: wouldn't one of the great "first meetings" in this series be between Archie's stomach and Fritz's cooking?
It's clear that the book has worked for a lot of readers, many of whom appear, like myself, to know the original Wolfe canon nearly by heart, and while I'd never begrudge them their enjoyment, I really do find it to be just about incomprehensible.
If you only know the Wolfe books from the A&E TV series, or are in any other respect new to reading about these characters, I seriously doubt this will make you a convert. Grab just about any of Stout's vast corpus of novels and short stories about Wolfe and Archie instead.
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