The second Nero Wolfe novel was published in 1935. I read the previous Rex Stout effort and so was really excited to get my hands on this book. I ordered it straightaway and read it through. I think I liked it just as well as the previous novel – but this one seems to be written better. I zoomed through the first couple of chapters right away and it was immediately fun to hang out with Archie and Nero again.
The voice of the narrator, Archie Goodwin, is very unique. His narration is interesting and helpful and seems consistent to his character. Also, every once in awhile Archie gives a turn of phrase that makes me read it twice because it is so quirky or unusual.
My first impression of Nero Wolfe was not that I disliked him, but that I felt a lot of other readers would dislike him. Or misunderstand him. I think he is a hoot – although I am still occasionally taken aback by some of the banter and sniping that he and Archie share. Nero Wolfe (after these two novels) is a bit of an enigma and a person one cannot help but be curious about. I also feel that Wolfe would say there is actually nothing to be curious about. Anyway, one of my favorite moments is the “trick” Wolfe uses with Spenser’s poem “The Shepheardes Calender” – and when Archie gets sarcastic later on with Wolfe about this “trick.” It’s so witty.
Descriptors that come to mind referencing Wolfe are easily “obese” and “smart.” However, I think a very necessary ingredient to his make up is a bravado/confidence. He is not really a person who is capable of false humility or insecurity. And it is this odd confidence found in an agoraphobic that really interests me qua reader.
“Don’t badger me. I read it because it was a book. I had finished The Native’s Return, by Louis Adamic, and Outline of Human Nature, by Alfred Rossiter, and I read books.” – Nero Wolfe to Archie, pg. 18; chapter 2
This semi-churlish quote from Wolfe amused me. But I, of course, had to look up the names of these. I am pretty sure other readers probably run right past them. I cannot let a book reference in a book go un-researched. Anyway, I discovered that Alfred Rossiter was a relatively famous and successful astronomer who married Ruth Stout. Ruth is Rex Stout’s sister. Kudos to Rex for planting this little reference in his novel!
I like the way Stout writes because I can be in the scene with the characters. Somehow, using Archie’s voice and Wolfe’s uniqueness, I can easily form images of the scenes in the novel. Everything is so clear for me to imagine. I contrast this with so many novels that, try as I might, I can only summon up some vague picture that may not really be accurate to the author’s conception. In this novel, I was right in the Wolfe’s office, in the roadster with Archie, and in the Inspector’s building.
Anyway, this is reputed to be a major example of a psychology-filled mystery. I think that is clearly accurate. There’s a lot of “psychology” going on in this novel – not just with the overall criminal. As far as “scientific psychological analysis,” that’s something different. But fiction-wise, this novel presents characters that are not just handed some flat and barren motive that allows the heroes to hunt them down. Archie and Nero are astute with examining people and describing the other characters in terms of psychological-driven ideas, mores, motives, and moods. It’s very well done and deserves most of the praise given to it.
However, I think this novel is a bit long. The mystery, that is. There are a lot of mis-trails and re-directions. They all seem connected and some seem needless. And maybe it is not exactly the most logically-precise wrap up of a mystery. But that is okay, because it is quite entertaining and a truly interesting read. Once again, mystery readers will not be disappointed whatsoever.