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Fer-de-Lance (Nero Wolfe) Mass Market Paperback – January 21, 1997
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I've promised myself for the past decade that, when I finally retire, my first major project will be to reread the entire Nero Wolfe canon in chronological order, a worthwhile occupation if ever there was one.
Although entirely different and not nearly as literary as Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer series or the Philip Marlowe novels of Raymond Chandler, the Wolfe saga deserves to be ranked with them as among the finest series of detective stories ever written by an American. Fer-de-lance introduces the brilliant, idiosyncratic, and obese armchair detective to the world and, while it may not be the best book of the series, it provides a wonderful murder set on a golf course and a cast of characters and laundry list of eccentricities that are an integral part of each novel and novella.
Rex Stout has managed to pull off a feat unparalleled to this day: the perfect combination of deductive reasoning--as exemplified by the classic Golden Age writers such as Christie, Sayers, Van Dine, and Queen--with the hard-boiled attitude and dialogue of the more realistic tough guy writers such as Chandler, Macdonald, Hammett, and Robert B. Parker.
The toughness is brought to the books by Wolfe's leg man and amanuensis, Archie Goodwin. The structure and ambience of the books is, quite deliberately, very much like the Sherlock Holmes stories that Stout so admired. The house on West 35th Street is as familiar as the sitting room at 221B Baker Street; his cook Fritz pops up as regularly as Mrs. Hudson; and his irritant, Inspector Cramer of the NYPD, serves the same role as several Scotland Yard detectives, notably Inspector Lestrade, did for Holmes. Fair warning: It is safe to read one Nero Wolfe novel, because you will surely like it. It is extremely unsafe to read three, because you will forever be hooked on the delightful characters who populate these perfect books. --Otto Penzler
From the Publisher
As any herpetologist will tell you, the fer-de-lance is among the most dreaded snakes known to man. When someone makes a present of one to Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin knows he's getting dreadully close to solving the devilishly clever murders of an immigrant and a college president. As for Wolfe, he's playing snake charmer in a case with more twists than an anaconda -- whistling a seductive tune he hopes will catch a killer who's still got poison in his heart.
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Interestingly, and unusually, the TV series got a lot of the details correct. It was easy to picture Nero's home and every room in it. The story was a typical murder mystery, and by that I mean a case in which a corpse might or might not be the victim of murder, a select number of suspects/auxilliary characters appear, and after a few twists and turns the detective finally gets the actual culprit. However, Stout carries it off well. As a matter of fact, although this is the first novel in the series, the story jumps right in and begins with the familiar interactions between Archie, Fritz and Nero. I believe we're told that Archie had already been in Nero's employ for 7 years.
Having been published in 1934, the dialogue is a little dated. But it's very readable. Archie narrates, and we see Nero through his eyes. Nero is a genius, and Archie has a lot of respect for him, but he is also tempermental, arrogant, selfish and not a little bit mercenary. Nero solves the mystery long before Archie, but keeps the solution to himself, which understandibly annoys Archie extremely. The same happened in the Sherlock Holmes stories, except Archie's annoyance is a more natural reaction than Dr. Watson's abject and unalloyed admiration.
About the dated language, if you've read Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, you should have no trouble. My verdict? This book is an excellent first at-bat for Rex Stout's detective, and I'm looking forward to continuing with the series.
Most recent customer reviews
Loved Archie! Very humorous moments! It was a great read!