Thursday, February 11, 2016

Wolfe brief

In the Best Families is an odd duck among Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books, and feels like a deliberate break from formula. Soon after Nero and Archie take the case of a woman who wants to know where her playboy husband's money is coming from, they also get a box of tear gas and a threatening phone call from recurring archenemy Arnold Zeck. Not long after that the client is murdered and the whole case falls apart.

The same night as the latter occurrence, but connected to both of them, Wolfe disappears, leaving instructions as to his house, staff, and orchids. This puts additional stress on Archie, including jail and a fight with Inspector Cramer. Wolfe seems like he might be out of the picture for good.

Of course he's not, but he is absent for a good portion of the short novel. This is a double-edged sword. Nero Wolfe himself is one of the main attractions of the series, and it's a big risk sidelining him. On the other hand, the uncertainty as to his whereabouts and what he intends to do creates a different kind of narrative tension. Overall it shows off the benefits of Stout's narrative freedom, freedom resulting among other sources from his choosing to have Archie Goodwin as the narrator rather than Wolfe himself.


susan said...

While we purchased a couple of them in Portland, the fact we no longer have all the Nero Wolfe books is one of the things I regret. Every so often I pick up one of these and marvel anew at how not a word is wasted, how complicated the relationship between Wolfe and Archie is, and how complex and yet simple the plots are. The thing about Rex Stout's series is it doesn't matter if I can remember the ending, it is the journey that is important. Maybe the library has this one.

Ben said...

One of the things I love about the series is that Wolfe isn't just selfish or eccentric. He is both of those things, of course, but he's also got a firm sense of honor. Archie respects that honor, while also working to make his boss a little more flexible (on all three of those traits, really.)

I hope the library in Halifax does have it. The Zeck trilogy is pretty acclaimed.