RARA-AVIS: Nero Wolfe recommendations

From: domer ( domer89@sbt.infi.net)
Date: 08 Mar 2000

Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series was one of my introductions to the mystery genre (after the Hardy Boys and Sherlock Holmes), and, as others have stated, they remain the one series with cozy attributes that I continue to read.

First, I agree with Jim Beaver that "A Family Affair" should be read last. It should also be preceded by "Death of a Doxy," which appeared seven years earlier. When it comes to last novels in a series, there really is no better example of serendipity than "A Family Affair," sort of like Lennon saying "I hope we passed the audition" to end the last official Beatles album (even though, I know, "Let It Be" was recorded before "Abbey Road").

Anyway, a good place to start with the Wolfe novels would be the Zeck trilogy, which was Stout's version of the Moriarity adversary. Those novels, in order, are "And Be a Villain," "The Second Confession" and
"In the Best Families." They certainly rank in the Top 10 of the series, and very high up, too.

Otherwise, a good way to read the Wolfe novels is by period. Stout didn't age his characters, but he did make them contemporary to when he wrote each novel, so the outside world is the 1930s in the first books and the 1960s and 1970s in the last books.

Of the books from the 1930s, "Some Buried Caesar" is the best, but it's not set in the brownstone (something that happens about once a decade in the novels and sometimes in the short stories).

The Zeck novels are from 1947 to 1950, but the 1940s also produced Stout's first anit-racism tract, a passage in "Too Many Cooks" (another one set outside the brownstone).

From the 1950s, I've always liked "Murder By the Book" and "The Black Mountain" (set in Montenegro, and the one where Wolfe identifies his birth place as a small house on a mountain side, which contradicts a comment he makes elsewhere about being a native American).

My favorite period, other than the Zecks, is the 1960s, which might be because it's as close to the time period I know (born in the 1960s) as Stout ever really got, but it might be because they were simply good. Another factor is that Archie became a Mets fan rather than switch to the Yankees after the Dodgers moved west, and I must respect that. Try
"Gambit," "The Mother Hunt," "A Right to Die" (where Stout finishes what he started in "Too Many Cooks" by setting it around the Civil Rights movement) and "The Doorbell Rang," which is the best in the series on one level while "A Family Affair" takes that honor on another.

My apologies about the length. Now that I've finished re-reading "The Golden Spiders" (not a bad one, but not top-of-the-line) and can watch this A&E movie, it's time to move on to "Freaky Deaky." Next post will be hardboiled.


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