Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Golden Spiders: Rex Stout

I am getting ready to go on a trip to Alabama and I needed a short comfort read to fit in while I am preparing and packing. A Nero Wolfe mystery was just the right book to pick. I am a huge fan of the Nero Wolfe / Archie Goodwin stories, so no matter which book I picked, I would like it. A consideration in picking The Golden Spiders was that I want to re-watch the TV movie adaptation of this book, which was the pilot for the A&E series A Nero Wolfe Mystery, which ran for two seasons in 2001 and 2002.

In this novel, Nero Wolfe uncharacteristically agrees to work with a young boy from his neighborhood on a potential case of possible kidnapping. Before long, Archie and Wolfe and his pack of freelance detectives are investigating a group of people taking advantage of poor immigrants who are seeking help in getting settled in this country.

I don't want to describe the plot more because the joy in reading the Nero Wolfe mysteries is learning the story through Archie Goodwin's narration, and that applies even more in this case. 

This story seemed unusual to me because Archie, Fred, Saul and Orrie actually get into a gun fight with some thugs. Archie often carries a gun, but rarely uses it. The plot is very convoluted and the book is shorter than some Nero Wolfe novels. My copy was 150 pages. The first eight Nero Wolfe novels were all around 300 pages long.


The Nero Wolfe mysteries (all 74 of them) do not need to be read in any order. There is one trilogy that features Nero Wolfe's battle with Arnold Zeck, but even those do not depend on reading in order to enjoy them. I am sure that I read what was available in the library when I read the Nero Wolfe books the first time, in no particular order. The only other book that might not work well as a standalone is the very last one, A Family Affair.

The 74 Nero Wolfe mysteries consists of 33 full-length novels and 41 novellas. Most of the novellas were published first in magazines, then published in sets of 2, 3 or 4 in books. The first novel, Fer-de-Lance, was published in 1934; the last was published in 1975.

In my post on Fer-de-Lance, I listed my favorite Nero Wolfe novels and this was not among them. However, I am very fond of all of the stories of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, and this had some unique qualities. I enjoyed the discussions and arguments between Nero and Archie, and reading about the daily life in Wolfe's brownstone.

This has been more of a mish mash of my thoughts on this book and this series. I am a bit too much tied up in trip plans to do better than this. I highly recommend reading any and all of the Nero Wolfe series. It is not to everyone's taste but the books do have a lot of fans. At this page about Nero Wolfe, he is described as an armchair detective because Wolfe usually solves the crimes from his office. This paragraph describes Archie well:
By introducing Archie Goodwin into the stories -- beginning in the first novel Fer-de-Lance -- Rex Stout successfully combined the Armchair Detective with the more recent Hard-Boiled school. It is Archie who narrates the stories but he is a much more fully developed character than most "Watsons."
I have multiple copies (usually paperbacks) of almost all of the Nero Wolfe books. The three shown here are the editions I have of The Golden Spiders.


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Publisher: multiple reprint editions; originally pub. by The Viking Press, 1953
Length:  150 pages
Format: mass market paperback
Series:  Nero Wolfe
Genre:  Mystery





51 comments:

  1. Tracy, I hope you have a wonderful trip to Alabama. I have never read Rex Stout although I have heard of his Nero Wolfe mysteries, one of the glaring loopholes in my reading of fiction.

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    1. Prashant, I hope you try a Nero Wolfe story some day. I would be interested in your thoughts on them. I guess the earlier ones are better, although I am indiscriminate and like them all.

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  2. I have this one on my Nook and will perhaps read it for the Vintage Crime challenge as it sounds rather interesting. I've done the 'animals' category but it would suit 'book set in the USA'. Thanks for the rec.

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    1. Cath, I like all of the book in the Nero Wolfe series. I think this one has most of the interesting elements.

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  3. I have read quite a few Rex Stout books, and enjoyed them, but if he wrote 74 I've got a long way to go! I don't think this is one I've seen, so I've made a note of the title. Good luck with your trip.

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    1. Moira, over half are novellas, averaging about 70 pages each, and packaged together in books. So it isn't as bad as it seems. I have read all of them more than once, some of them four or five times.

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  4. Never heard of the Nero Wolfe series.... ! I wonder if my 'Dutch' library has any of the books. These books sound like a niece change of pace from the 'classics' !

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    1. Nancy, these are worth checking out. The only complaint I have heard about these is that Archie is sexist. I just see that as reflecting the times that they were written. And it is probably more prevalent in some books than others.

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  5. Tracy - Oh, I haven't thought of his one in a long time! Thank you for the reminder of a good story! And I know what you mean about getting ready for a trip...

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    1. Margot, this was an interesting story and a bit different for this series. And I had forgotten a lot of it, which was good.

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  6. Love the vintage covers, and I hope you have a good trip.

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    1. Thanks, Rebecca, and they are lovely covers.

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  7. Hope you have a great trip. Not read any Stout /Wolfe so I ought to put at least one tick in this particular box at some point.

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    1. Col, you definitely should try this series. Even though it may not be exactly your thing, Archie does bring a hard-boiled side to it. Not lots of violence, but does provide an interesting picture of the times.

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    2. Managed to obtain OVER MY DEAD BODY from a book-swap site over here. I'll see how I go when I get to it.

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    3. Over My Dead Body is a good one, if you like Stout's books. It will be interesting to see what you think of it.

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  8. I've never heard of these books but I absolutely love the vintage kitschy covers, they're great - I can totally see why you'd want to collect multiple copies!

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    1. One of the joys of reading vintage mysteries is the beautiful old covers. Some of the older books you can only get in these editions. Rex Stout has quite a lot in print, though.

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  9. Have a great trip, Tracy! You just reminded me that I need to read Rex Stout/Nero Wolfe. Love the vintage covers as well. Take care. I'll tackling George Simenon.

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    1. Thanks, Keishon. One of the books I am taking on the trip is Eleven Days by Harstad. Don't know how much reading I will get done, but if I don't get to it then, I will read it in the next month or so. I have read a lot of Simenon, but I want to reread some. I have forgotten the stories entirely.

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    2. Oh, I hope you enjoy reading Harstad and look forward to your thoughts on it. Thanks for telling me.

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    3. Keishon, I just finished reading the Harstad book and I did enjoy it very much. Although the subject matter wasn't appealing at all. I will go back and read your review again soon. My time for this kind of thing is limited while in Alabama.

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    4. I agree about the subject matter being less than savory but still I found the writing/story compelling. Glad you enjoyed it!

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  10. These are really good books, but they are not for all readers. It seems as if this is another series that has diehard fans and naysayers.

    I, for one, like the books, especially the banter between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. I have laughed my head off at times.

    Wolfe is very eccentric. He spends hours a day tending his thousands of orchids. He eats gourmet meals and gets mad at his chef if he uses 3 juniper berries and not 4, or if each ingredient isn't top quality. He also requires all suspects to come to his brownstone to be questioned and then for the denouement, where he holds court with everyone involved in a case -- and, voila -- he announces the killer(s).

    Yes, Goodwin is sexist. He has set ideas about women. Yet, so does Wolfe. He doesn't want women staying in the brownstone. He thinks little of women, and, in the main, doesn't respect them. There are a few exceptions.

    Also, the racist terms in the earlier books threw me for a loop. I didn't appreciate that. However, as the time passed, the later books didn't contain this element, and the attitude towards women changed a bit, too.

    All that said, there have been times that I needed a light, well-written and fun book, and this series has never disappointed. When I've needed a break between ponderous or nerve-wracking books, these books have been right.

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    1. You are right, Kathy, these books are not for everyone. Sometimes it surprises me who likes them and who does not. I haven't ever noticed the racist terms. And when I read the early books the first time through, the sexism was not noticeable to me because that was pretty much the prevailing attitude of the time anyway. Later I would read some of Archie's comments on women and take offence; but not for long, he is too much fun. And he was always written as young man, maybe in his twenties?

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    2. Kathy D thanks for sharing your insight on Stout/Wolfe. I had no idea about the racism and such. Appreciate it.

      I'll make sure to stick to your list of favorites Tracy. Hopefully I have one of them in my stacks. Thank you both.

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  11. Wonderful stuff (though i thought you might review the TV adaptation for the Book-to-TV Challenge :) Of course, the only thing I have against this volume in the wonderful Stout saga of Nero and Archie is the identity of the victim - as I get older I find it harder and harder to accept that sort of thing, even in fiction. Of course it is very much the point here, not least as it humanises Wolfe - however ... Believe it or not, this was one of several books adaptaed recently by Italian TV in which the two main characters spend a extended period in Italy - a bit weirdbut very enjoyable actually (and set int he 50s)

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    1. Sergio, I will definitely review the tv adaptation when I rewatch it, whenever I get that done. Even in rereading this book and knowing what to expect, the beginning is difficult to get through.

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  12. I've only read a few Nero Wolfe books back in my teens (this was one of them) but I just can't get excited about them. I know I'm in the minority. I often feel like I'm not really American because I fail to grasp the great appeal of Nero and Archie. And yet I go wild over other American mystery writers who were overshadowed by the "great ones" like Stout -- the *only* American mystery writer from the Golden Age whose books have remained in print since they were first published. No exaggeration there. Others have been reprinted intermittently, but only Stout's books have been *continuously* reprinted since the 1930s.

    I liked TOO MANY COOKS and THE LEAGUE OF FRIGHTENED GENTLEMEN but that's it for me and Stout. Oh! ALPHABET HICKS was good, too -- probably better known to most readers as THE SOUND OF MURDER, the alternate title it was given when it was reprinted in paperback. Nero and Archie are not to be found in that book, but it's got gripping unusual plot.

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    1. John, it is amazing that Rex Stout books have stayed in print so consistently over the years. Back before the internet, I really appreciated that when I was trying to read all the books in order.

      TOO MANY COOKS is a favorite of mine. I also like the Alphabet Hicks book. I have read all of the non Wolfe mysteries.

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  13. I love Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin too, Tracy. A perfect trifecta. I've reviewed a bunch of them and will probably continue to do so. They are the perfect comfort reading, You are SO right. In fact, I'm re-reading (for the umpteenth time) PLEASE PASS THE GUILT - it's my lunchtime reading. :)

    My favorite Wolfe: MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD. At least, that's my fave today.

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    1. Yvette, that is an interesting choice for your favorite. I had to refresh my memory. I don't remember much about that one, so a good candidate for rereading

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  14. In Too Many Cooks, several characters use racist language. Archie Goodwin is a bit less crude, but he still refers to African-American characters in a very insensitive way. Nero Wolfe is politer, but don't know what he thinks.

    Much of this language cleared up later on. However, reading this book made me cringe several times and get annoyed at Rex Stout. It limits the readership of these books, by the way even though there are fans.

    In general, I like the books, Wolfe, Goodwin, but I won't read another one with this language.

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    1. That is interesting, Kathy. I didn't have that reaction to Wolfe's speech in Too Many Cooks. That book is one I had been planning to reread soon anyway. I will try to do that.

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  15. It's not Wolfe who is espousing racist sentiments. It's other characters, and Archie Goodwin uses his own insensitive terms. Wolfe is more diplomatic, but we don't know what he is thinking.

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  16. I've only read a few Nero Wolfe books, they're not that easy to find in Scotland, but I have enjoyed the ones which I have read. I suppose that the language used in the book was par for the course for the 1950s. Often offensive words are used to make a particular character more loathsome I think.

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    1. Katrina, I would not want a steady diet of Rex Stout books, but I still can read them over and over.

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  17. Well, in Too Many Cooks, the offensive words were used against African-American workers but also in general. Archie has his own awful wording, too, different, but bad nevertheless, cringe-worthy.

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  18. This was the first Stout as I read--didn't like too much for some reason. Liked the film version with Timothy Hutton though (maybe it was Timothy Hutton ;) ).

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    1. Curt, I wish I could remember which book I read first. That is the problem with starting a series in your teens. I think I was in my thirties before I went back and read all of the Rex Stout books in order, and caught up on a few I had missed.

      Yes, Timothy Hutton can be very appealing in any role and he was the perfect person to play Archie.

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  19. I think I read a Rex Stout or two when I was in high school. I should re-visit him now. Have a great trip, Tracy!

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    1. Thanks, Peggy. I am safely back from the trip now (I don't like to fly). You should definitely give the Nero Wolfe series a try again.

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  20. The TV series with Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin is hilarious. For Wolfe/Goodwin fans, it hits the spot. But people have to get the scenario, the idiosyncracies, the characters.

    A friend who never read one of the books in the series didn't get it at all, and stopped watching it. It didn't resonate at all.

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    1. Yes, I would agree. I think by the time I saw the series I had read all the novellas and half the novels.

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  21. If you like the books, try the TV series. It really is fun. And it's got great lighting, art deco furnishings, lots of fast music and drum rolls. And if anyone needs a lift, see this series.
    And the cast is just perfect.

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    1. Yes, I love the TV series. I agree about the cast. I did miss one of the episodes, because our DVD was damaged. Need to get that one from Netflix.

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  22. I have this book, along with a few others of his, but I have yet to read any of them. Not sure why I've been putting it off.

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    1. Ryan, as you can tell, I am a big fan of Rex Stout, so I cannot be objective. It is even hard to advise on a good one to start with, readers have such different reactions. But I hope you try them someday and enjoy them.

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  23. Just a little tidbit about Nero Wolfe's attitude towards women, which Yvette at Yvette Can Draw posted, as she is rereading The Rubber Band.

    Wolfe is quite funny when expressing his sexism: He [Wolfe] sighed. "You understand, Miss Fox, this is something unprecedented. It has been many years since any woman has slept under this roof. Not that I disapprove of them, except when they attempt to function as domestic animals. When they stick to the vocations for which they are best adapted, such as chicanery, sophistry, self-adornment, cajolery, mystification and incubation, they are sometimes splendid creatures."

    So it's out there. It's so absurd it's funny. But if any woman is offended by this language, best skip it. Some of my friends don't like it, but I take it as parody.

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    1. Rex Stout's wife had a career, so I am sure he was not a sexist. I just see such comments as a part of Wolfe's character and a sign of the times to a certain extent. I have dealt with many men in my working life who did not deal well with women in the workplace. Less now of course than in my earlier working years.

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