Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Mother Hunt: Rex Stout

Rich at Past Offences proposed a challenge during the month of June: to blog about books from 1963. It turns out I had several books published that year. I reviewed Horse Under Water by Len Deighton here. The Mother Hunt by Rex Stout is my second book of 1963.


One of the many things I love about the Nero Wolfe novels is the beginnings. Usually the first paragraph or two provides a very good introduction.
When the doorbell rang a little after eleven that Tuesday morning in early June and I went to the hall and took a look through the one-way glass panel in the front door, I saw what, or whom, I expected to see: a face a little too narrow, gray eyes a little too big, and a figure a little too thin for the best curves. I knew who it was because she had phoned Monday afternoon for an appointment, and I knew what she looked like because I had seen her a few times at theaters or restaurants.
Also I had known enough about her, part public record and part hearsay, to brief Nero Wolfe without doing any research. She was the widow of Richard Valdon, the novelist, who had died some nine months ago drowned in somebody's swimming pool in Westchester and since four of his books had been best sellers and one of them, Never Dream Again, had topped a million copies at $5.95, she should have no trouble paying a bill from a private detective if and when she got one. After reading Never Dream Again, five or six years ago, Wolfe had chucked it by giving it to a library, but he had thought better of a later one, His Own Image, and it had a place on the shelves. Presumably that was why he took the trouble to lift his bulk from the chair when I ushered her to the office, and to stand until she was seated in the red leather chair near the end of his desk. As I went to my desk and sat I was not agog. She had said on the phone that she wanted to consult Wolfe about something very personal and confidential, but she didn't look as if she were being pinched where it hurt. It would probably be something routine like an anonymous letter or a missing relative.
In this case, in two paragraphs we know a good bit about the client, and have learned about Wolfe's reading habits and his "bulk." And the paragraphs illustrate another thing I love about the books, which is Archie Goodwin's narration of the story.

I know I am not alone in my love of Archie, having seen many reviews with the same views. Yvette at In So Many Words has a post celebrating Archie: The Wit and Wisdom of Archie Goodwin.

Lucy Valdon, the woman described above, has been caring, temporarily, for a baby that has been left in her vestibule. She has approached Wolfe to find the identity of the mother and determine if her husband was the father of the child. The hunt for the mother starts a series of events leading to a murder that Wolfe must solve.

This story is unusual in that Archie gets involved with the client. As far as I can remember, she is the only woman other than Lily Rowan that he gets involved with. He is attracted to a lot of women but it never goes far. The story also seems to me to be more complex than some of the novels. I have read all of the novels multiple times, and this one is in my list of top Nero Wolfe novels.

Since I am an unabashed, hard-core fan of Rex Stout and his creations Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, I can only say that this book is highly recommended. If you have already tried a few of the Rex Stout books, you will probably already know if you like the series. If not, you should try at least one of the books.

The other Nero Wolfe novels that I have reviewed:
Fer-de-Lance (the first Nero Wolfe mystery)
The Golden Spiders

I give more background on the series in those posts so I will not repeat it here.

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Publisher: Viking Press, 1963.
Length:    182 pages
Format:    Hardcover
Series:     Nero Wolfe
Setting:    New York City
Genre:     Mystery

22 comments:

  1. On a side note - I have gotten one of the Stout books now - Over My Dead Body. I don't think I'll be joining you in the whole series, but I hope I enjoy it.

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    1. Col, Over My Dead Body is a good one, although maybe not the most representative. On the other hand, for books spanning 5 decades, there probably is no representative novel. You probably won't fall in love with the Nero Wolfe series, but hope you enjoy the experience.

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  2. Tracy - What a good choice for this challenge! Of course, like you I love the Nero Wolfe series, but even so, I think this is a good entry into it. And you're right; Stout does a very effective job of getting readers interested in the story right from the beginning.

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    1. Margot, I agree, this one is one of my favorites. Very fun to read again.

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  3. This was the first Stout book that I read. Loved Archie's narrative style but can't say that I was too impressed by Woolf's detective skills or the almost meaningless motive for murder.

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    1. You are right, Neer, this one did seem to be a lot of leg work and little detection. At this re-read, the ending did seem a little anti-climactic although I don't remember that bothering me before. Still a fave for me though.

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  4. This is a terrific book, Tracy. There's also one titled THE FATHER HUNT, by the way. Rex Stout's sense of humor, I think. I can't be too sensible about Wolfe and Archie - well, you knew that. Ha. I love this series and reread the books all the time.

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    1. Yvette, The Father Hunt is another favorite Nero Wolfe mystery. I like the idea of looking for a parent but not for the usual reasons. I agree, I cannot be sensible about these books either. I want to re-read more of the novellas, I think I remember less about those.

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  5. Whenever I've needed a respite from serious murders, I've kicked back and read a Nero Wolfe book. Archie Goodwin's wisecracks are enough to get me out of the doldrums or being too immersed in violence. And the books are light in tone and a real distraction from the issues of everyday life. And when I need a laugh, I go to the West Side brownstone.

    I agree with your comments about the beginnings of these books, including this one. Already, the reader is pulled in and smiling.

    Although this wasn't a favorite or not one, I enjoyed it. If someone wants a real treat, try "The Doorbell Rang," when Wolfe angers the FBI. It's a doozy.

    And Wolfe/Goodwin fans must see the TV episodes with Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton. So much fun. But I think one must read some of the books first. A friend tried to watch the TV shows but had no idea what was going on because she hadn't read any of the books.

    Ah, yes, I must get back to some Wolfe/Goodwin repartee. Then I'll know life is going well.
    And even though my father started me on this series way back in my teen years, it is Yvette's blog that rekindled my heading of these books. Her reviews were just too witty.

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    1. Kathy, I have enjoyed watching the TV series with Chaykin and Hutton. I watched once on TV and re-watched on DVD. But the DVD with The Mother Hunt on it was damaged, so I haven't seen this episode in a while. Planning to get it from Netflix.

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  6. Wow, I'm impressed that you had books published in 1963 just sitting around. With the exception of well known classics, I don't read many books that old, but perhaps I should occasionally since I like some variety in my reading habits :)

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    1. Katie, I have way too many books of any year sitting around (and some stored in boxes) but I would guess a third of them or more are older mysteries from the 1930's up through the 60's and 70's. Some read, some waiting to be read.

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  7. After I've read Sherlock Holmes, I plan to read Rex Stout next. Could you start here? Asking for a friend....

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    1. Sure, this would be a fine place to start, Keishon. This one doesn't have a great ending but it definitely has the main characteristics of the series so the reader can tell if they are going to like the style of writing and the characters.

      Except in a few cases, the books can be read as stand alone books. I know I read them out of order the first time. The best introduction, in my opinion, would be Fer-de-Lance, the first one, but a lot of readers don't like that one at all.

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  8. I thought Fer-de-Lance was pretty good. It sets the scene in New York during the Great Depression. No doubt, Rex Stout developed his writing and characters as the years went on, but I think it's good to see how Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin began.

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    1. Kathy, Fer-de-Lance is my favorite mystery novel ever. Wolfe's detection, the plot and the characters are all perfect. I was totally surprised when I realized it was the first in the series because it felt like all the characters had been working together forever.

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    2. Actually, I have that one so I will start at the beginning. Thanks.

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  9. Every time you mention Nero Wolfe I think I must get going on some re-reading or futher investigation of this series. I love the opening paragraphs, you are right, that is an excellent way to start a book.

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    1. Moira... Now that I have read a couple of the Rex Stout books recently, I want to read more and revisit the TV series (on DVD). I hope you do read some more of them, I would love to see posts about them on your blog.

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  10. Tracy (and others) - let me recommend the Wolfe Pack's website, www.nerowolfe.org , which is packed with information about Wolfe, Archie, the 35th street regulars (and irregulars), Rex Stout and the Stout family, etc. If you or any of your readers are in the New York City area, you might enjoy the bimonthly book discussions (and there are Wolfe Pack offshoots in other areas as well) or the annual banquet in December. I'm a huge fan of the series and enjoy these regular gatherings of similarly-inclined readers!

    Les Blatt (your blog seems to want me to be "Anonymous" so I figured I'd add my name at the bottom anyway...)

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    1. Les, thanks for that suggestion. That is a great website and I have been using it for years, partly to track the covers for each title. I have a goal to collect all the paperback covers, I cannot afford the hardbacks of course. Believe me, if I was near to New York, I would be joining in.

      Sorry about the commenting problem, I have had problems commenting at other Blogger blogs recently, I don't know what is going on. I have wanted to comment at your blog recently but haven't figured out how. I will get someone to help me with that.

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  11. Hi. I'm a big fan of Nero Wolfe books. I have a pile waiting to be re-read.My local bookseller used to look out for these and Perry Mason for me.
    I read this a month ago but my copy was missing some of the last chapter. So if anyone can tell me the killer I would be delighted. I got no help on Goodreads.

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