Sunday, January 15, 2012

What's on the Kindle?: Fer-de-Lance - A Brief Appreciation of a Mystery Classic

I probably read about Nero Wolfe and his leg man Archie Goodwin long before I ever read a Wolfe story. Sherlock Holmes was plentiful in school libraries when I was a kid, but, despite creator Rex Stout's output, the Wolfe titles weren't as accessible.

Ironically, in the first story I encountered--a reprint in an issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine--Archie became embroiled in a case and actually convinced Wolfe to leave their Brownstone. Threw the whole armchair detective business into question for me.

Wolfe's rigid schedule and other eccentrics are entact in Fer-de-Lance, the first novel in the series from 1934. I read it recently on my Kindle, having purchased it a few months back. (At the moment it seems to be unavailable, not sure what that's about.)

Pricing on the Wolfe novels is unfortunately a little high for e-books, especially since the paperback editions can be had much cheaper, but I'm glad I bought the first title.

Everything from Archie's Panama hat, which Timothy Hutton duplicated in many of the A&E series adaptations, to Wolfe's orchid and appetite obsessions are in evidence along with a plot that twists as much as the Fer-de-lance of the title.

The Plot
Wolfe is drawn to the novel's core murder in a twisting opening that notes Depression era conditions and introduces a specially-designed golf club, one of those devilish devices so often found in classic mysteries.

Wolfe's faced not just with solving a murder but also with getting paid for his investigation, an effort that makes for a rollicking ride for Archie. He has to yank the chains of D.A.s and other public officials, provide Wolfe with an array of clues and face down life-threatening situations.

The title, incidentally, has a dual meaning, but the literal instance makes for an intense scene.

A few non-PC moments are found since this novel is from a different era, but it's generally a blast.  I read recently that Stout said he knew he was not a great writer, but that he was a great story teller.

The latter's definitely true here. 


Charles Gramlich said...

I don't believe I've ever read one of his books. I should to complete my education. Maybe I'll check bookmooch and see if I can find one.

Sidney said...

They come and go on Bookmooch so you should be able to find one without too much of a wait. They tried a few pastiches, I believe, but like Perry Mason, there are so many of the originals, I don't know that there's a demand for new ones by a different author.

They really are loads of fun.

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