Monday, May 18, 2020

Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Series

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

The topic this week is: Reasons Why I Love [insert your favorite book title, genre, author, etc. here]. I have never done a Top Ten Tuesday post. Until now.

So here are my reasons why I love the Nero Wolfe series. First a brief overview of the series.

Rex Stout wrote 33 novels and 41 novellas about the private detective Nero Wolfe and his assistant, Archie Goodwin. The series began in 1934, with Fer-de-lance, and the last book in the series, A Family Affair, was published in 1975, shortly before Stout's death.

1. The main characters:
Nero Wolfe is a lover of orchids and fine food, who supports himself as a private detective, charging exorbitant fees. Archie Goodwin, the narrator of the stories, is both his assistant and a private investigator, and he does most of the legwork. The series combines a genius armchair detective with a hard-boiled detective, and you get the best of both worlds. They complement each other. They disagree on a lot. But both of them look out for each other and will go to great lengths to help when the other is in trouble.

2. The "family" that lives at the brownstone:
I always enjoy the mysteries, but I read the books more to enter into the Wolfe household for a day or two. Wolfe is in his fifties; Archie is in his early thirties. Archie is Wolfe's employee, but he is also his own man. Throughout the series, the same group of characters inhabit the brownstone on West Thirty-fifth Street: Wolfe and Archie; Fritz, the cook; and Theodore Horstmann, the orchid expert (Wolfe has plant rooms on the top floor of the brownstone). All of them depend on Wolfe's talents as a detective to support the household. Archie is often the one who has to goad Wolfe into taking on a case.

3. Fred Durkin, Saul Panzer, Orrie Cather:
The team of freelance operatives that Wolfe uses when needed can be considered part of Wolfe's extended family. They each have their strengths and idiosyncrasies.

Archie describes them in Might as Well Be Dead:
Fred Durkin, big and burly and bald, knows exactly what he can expect of his brains and what he can’t, which is more than you can say for a lot of people with a bigger supply. Orrie Cather is smart, both in action and in appearance. As for Saul Panzer, I thoroughly approve of his preference for free-lancing, since if he decided he wanted my job he would get it–or anybody else’s.
4. Recurring characters I love:
Lily Rowan, Archie's friend and lover. They share a love of dancing. Lily is first introduced in Some Buried Caesar.

Inspector Cramer, in charge of the New York City homicide department, who alternately despises and admires and respects Wolfe.

Sergeant Purley Stebbins, Cramer's assistant. He is a good cop, tough and dedicated, and although they give each other a hard time, he and Archie also have a mutual respect.

Except for Wolfe and Archie, none of the characters mentioned in this post are in every book. Lily Rowan shows up much less than I remembered, but she is a special character for me. She has a long-term relationship with Archie with no strings attached, as Lily is a very independent and wealthy woman.

5. Archie's narration of each case:
Archie's first-person narration is what makes the series, in my opinion. He is a fantastic character. He gives his opinions, of Wolfe, of the victims and suspects and miscellaneous characters and he is very entertaining.

6. Wolfe's quirks and obsessions:
Wolfe is very interested in food and cooking. The tidbits about cooking in these stories are fascinating. He is attached to his orchids and will not miss his morning and afternoon sessions tending to them. He is a stickler for correct word usage, and often uses words the reader is not familiar with. He is very literate and frequently cites authors and books.

Nero Wolfe is well known for his extreme distaste for leaving his home. He is also afraid of riding in cars (or any other mode of transportation, actually). He doesn't trust any driver other than Archie, and he sits in the back seat and hangs on for dear life even when Archie is driving.

7. The main and recurring characters stay the same age throughout the series.
Over the forty plus years this series was published, the protagonists and other characters did not age at all, but they were always placed within the context of the time that the book was written.

8. Fer-de-lance does not read like the first book in a series.
From the beginning, Rex Stout had the relationships of Wolfe and Archie developed and recurring characters established. That is one reason that the series does not need to be read in order. The first time I read the books, I read them as I found them (at the library or loaned from my grandmother). Years later I took the time to read them in order, finding a few I had missed or did not own.

9. I love to reread the books. 
Like many fans of this series, I have reread all the books multiple times, and in most cases when I read them now, I know who the perpetrator is.  Thus I am not reading the books for the resolution of a crime but to enjoy the time with my favorite characters.

10. The TV Adaptations:
I enjoy the TV adaptations. Nero Wolfe and Archie have been portrayed in  films, but I have not seen any of those.  (See Wikipedia for a list of other adaptations.)

I have three favorite TV adaptations.

The most recent adaptation (2000-2001) starring Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin is fantastic. The episodes were set primarily in the 1940s–1950s and had wonderful production values.

In 1981, there was a TV series with William Conrad and Lee Horsley. It only lasted 14 episodes. I especially liked Lee Horsley as Archie.

The Italian Nero Wolfe series (2012), starring Francesco Pannofino as Nero Wolfe and Pietro Sermonti as Archie Goodwin, has eight feature-length episodes and each is based on a book in the series. I have only watched two episodes (one was Fer-de-lance), but I enjoyed both of them and look forward to watching the others. The episodes I have watched took more liberties with the story, and had a lighter tone.


pattinase (abbott) said...

This is a wonderful analysis on why people continue to read Stout.

Lydia said...

This series sounds lovely. I'd never heard of it before.

My TTT .

Carl V. Anderson said...

These do sound really great. I went ahead and ordered the first novel off of ebay, finding a paperback cover that I thought looked cool. I haven't read too many of these type of mysteries/detective novels in the past, but oddly enough I've enjoyed what I have read, so I have no idea why I haven't sought more of these out.

I started reading the Toff books, which you might also like, when I was a teenager and every so often I'll go back and pull out one to re-read or will track down one I haven't yet read. I've also collected books like this with Robert McGinnis covers over the years and will occasionally read one of those.

I look forward to reading this first book.

Margot Kinberg said...

I like this series very much,, too, Tracy, and for many of the same reasons. I especially like that Stout was able to blend wit and character development with the actual mysteries. As you say, the people at the brownstone add so much to the series, too. It's almost like a reunion to read done of these books.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Patti. It was good (and fun) to pull together all the reasons I love the series.

TracyK said...

Lydia, thanks for stopping by. I like the idea of your Top Ten... reasons why you love first contact stories. I like science fiction, just finished The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi. But I don't know that I have read a first contact novel. Movies of course, Contact and the Star Trek movie about first contact.

Deanna @ A Novel Glimpse said...

I hadn't heard of this series before, so it was fun to read your post.

Mary said...

I love the Nero Wolfe books and the TV A&E series. My husband I have it on DVD and rewatch it often. That brownstone is so gorgeous!

Have you read the Maeve Kerrigan mysteries by Jane E. Casey. It is my favorite contemporary series. I started with book #3 per someone's recommendation to start there. Finished the 9th book in April and can't wait until the next book is published. The mysteries in the book are great and so are the police department characters. It is set in London.

Poinsettia said...

I've never heard of this series before, but it sounds really interesting. Here is my Top Ten Tuesday.

TracyK said...

Carl, it is nice to hear from you. I am glad you are going to try a book in the Nero Wolfe series and hope you like it. I love the old paperback covers too.

I don't know if I have read any of the Toff books, but I did read many books by John Creasey when I was younger. Some about Inspector West, and the Gideon series, and maybe others. He wrote a lot of books.

I love paperback covers by Robert McGinnis and have a couple of art books about his illustrations, of books and movie posters.

TracyK said...

Margot, just writing this post motivates me to read another book in the series but I haven't reviewed the last two I read, so I have to hold off on that.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Deanna, I love to share my thoughts on the Nero Wolfe series.

TracyK said...

Mary, we also rewatch the Nero Wolfe A&E series. We have watched all of them three times, except for the episodes on one disc that is bad.

You are the second person that has mentioned the Maeve Kerrigan mysteries by Jane E. Casey recently. I have read the first one in the series but never read any more of them. I guess that is a sign that I should get the 2nd one and try the series again. I do like police procedurals.

Katrina said...

I've only read a few of these books but I really enjoyed them, mainly because of Archie. They don't often pop up in my usual haunts - secondhand bookshops in Edinburgh. I should use the internet to get them I suppose.

Susan said...

Welcome to TTT! It's such a fun thing to participate in. I'm glad you're joining in :)

I like that you mentioned how fun it is to be a part of a warm, inviting community - whether it's a fictional family, town, or friendship - even if it's just for a little while. That's one of the reasons I love series books. I feel like I'm visiting a favorite place or dropping in on old friends.

Happy TTT!


Cath said...

I read Fer-De-Lance a couple of years ago and never did get around to reading more even though I really enjoyed it. Must see what the library has when they finally reopen.

TracyK said...

Glad to hear from you, Poinsettia, and I enjoyed reading about the Mercy Thompson Series in your Top Ten.

TracyK said...

Katrina, I am always looking for copies of the Nero Wolfe books (alternate covers, etc.) and they are not easy to find here either. I am glad you enjoyed the ones you read, and I agree, Archie is the best part.

TracyK said...

Susan, thanks for commenting and I enjoyed your post on Top Ten Reasons I Love Goodreads. I use Goodreads too and like it a lot.

TracyK said...

Cath, if you liked Fer-de-lance, you should enjoy the other full-length books, although some people don't like the novellas as well. I hope the library is a good source.

Winny Jones said...

Who? Ned Wolf? Never heard of him. Is it a cozy? With lots of cats and cupcake baking? Brown stones so it must be set in the desert, right? I bet there's cactus 'n' stuff.

Rick Robinson said...

At last, after a tough day (Jeff & all) I have gotten to your blog. So, 33 novels and 41 novellas, eh? I think I've read most of them, but since I didn't go in order, except For de Lance after I found it was first, then whatever I came across. I like them a lot, and especially like the Arnold Zeck trilogy. Very nice summary of the series, characters, setting. I don't think of Lily as much of a main character as you, I guess.

Question: is your mental floor plan of the brownstone the same as the "official" one? Discuss. The last of the Wolfe books I read was those Zeck books, but I need to read more.

Neeru said...

Lovely post, Tracy. Haven't read much of this series but I do love Archie's narrating style. Read a later Wolf, The Mother Hunt, in which Archie was dating not Lily but another person.

Lectrice Vorace said...

Happy Top Ten Tuesday! Great first list. I haven't heard of this series before, but it sounds good.
Here's my TTT list.

Bill Selnes said...

Thank you Ms. TracyK. for a satisfactory 10 top reasons why you love the stories of my life. I expect it was a challenge to restrain yourself to 10 reasons. While not explicitly stated by yourself I believe part of the appeal of my character has been the strong and distinctive voice for myself narrated by Archie. You have to read but one of the stories, novellas or novels of one of my cases and my voice is imprinted upon you. At times Archie was impudent in recording my voice but I can attest to the accuracy of his transcriptions. I have always appreciated the breadth and variety of the words that make up the English language and prize their flexibility. Some have thought my speech ponderous, even pompous at times. I prefer to think of myself as upholding standards in a world far too casual in its use of language. Regards. - Nero Wolfe

TracyK said...

Rick, regarding Lily, I guess I just really liked the books she was featured in and magnified her role. But she is a favorite character for me.

Now the floor plan of the brownstone. I was never good with diagrams or floor plans, so no, I could never get it straight. At least in the Timothy Hutton Nero Wolfe show, the placement of rooms seemed to make sense.

The Zeck books were the last I read also, and I haven't reviewed the 2nd and 3rd books in the trilogy. I liked both of them better than I remembered. Memory is a funny thing.

TracyK said...

Neeru, I remember that book. I thought it was very good but I was irritated that Archie was so involved with the woman. I really like Lily.

TracyK said...

Lectrice, I enjoyed your Top Ten Reasons you love Reading. I do too. Thanks for checking out my post.

TracyK said...

Bill, that is a perfect note from Mr. Wolfe. It was hard to limit it to 10 reasons, but I ran out of time working on the post. I especially love the sentence about the use of language. That says it so well.

Thanks so much for that.

col2910 said...

It's great to see you articulate what it is about the series that you love. I guess I better try one!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I'm happy you love these books and this author so much. I can see your delight from here.

TracyK said...

Col, I am glad I took the time to do this. I knew I would put a lot of time into it but it was worth it.

You should read one just for the experience, I don't think this type of story is really your type though.

TracyK said...

Deb, thank you. Part of it may be comfort reading, since I have read them since my teens, part of it is reading about earlier times when everyone did not have computers and social media, but I do love the characters and I never grow tired of them.

Kathy D. said...

i, too, began reading Nero Wolfe books in high school because my fatuerh read them. I then began reading them about 10 years ago, but recently other books have taken up my time.

Also, I have to get large-print books; the small print paperbacks are impossible for me to read.

So, I have to fit in some of the Wolfe/Goodwin books I've missed.

And, yes, I love the TV series with Hutton and Chavkin. I did not know of the Italian series, but don't know how I'd get it here.

TracyK said...

Kathy, good to hear from you. I do remember that you are a Nero Wolfe fan and have been for years. Small print is an issue in paperbacks. Currently I am OK with it if I have a huge amount of light on the page.

Anonymous said...

There are a couple of other Wolfe videos available on YouTube

-- a 90 minute adaptation of The Doorbell Rang from 1979. Apparently it was a test for a TV series, but the actor playing Wolfe (Thayer David) died before it got any further.

-- a 30 minute pilot from 1959 that never went anywhere. The actor playing Archie was ...wait for it... William Shatner

Carl V. Anderson said...

I have a couple of the McGinnis art books as well.

I have confirmation that my Rex Stout book has shipped. I plan to dive right in when it arrives.

John Creasey did write a lot. I remember looking it up when I did a post about him years ago and was blown away. He was such a prolific author.

TracyK said...

Thanks for the YouTube links. I do have the first one (The Doorbell Rang) on the DVD set for the TV series with William Conrad and Lee Horsley... and I enjoyed watching it.

I have seen just a minute or two of that pilot with William Shatner, but I will have to check out the whole pilot.

TracyK said...

Carl, I hope you enjoy the Rex Stout book. I am a bit prejudiced, of course.

I am going to get the first Toff book or a later one if that is easier to find. I checked out your post (from 2007) and a review of the first book at another blog, and the series sounds like I would enjoy it.