This novel introduces the famous detective team of Nero Wolfe, an eccentric genius whose skill in detection is rivaled only by his fondness for orchids, and Archie Goodwin, his streetwise secretary. Although they live in comparative luxury, Wolfe and Archie have not been immune to the effects of the Great Depression, and they certainly won’t turn down any opportunity of making some hard cash. So when a worried Italian woman comes to their doorstep asking them to track down her missing brother, they are eager to take the case. Due to Wolfe’s obese build and strange fears of the outside world, he refuses to leave his home; so it’s up to Archie to investigate the man’s disappearance. He soon discovers, however, that the missing Italian man is just one piece of a much larger puzzle involving the sudden death of a prominent university professor. While Archie collects evidence, Wolfe applies his considerable talents to solving the mystery.
This is my first encounter with Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, but it certainly won’t be my last! I loved Archie as the narrator; his wry, amusing voice reminds me of the fast-talking banter of the great screwball comedies of the 1930s. It was great fun to see the investigation through his eyes, as he applies his own special brand of persuasion to the various suspects and interested parties. Nero Wolfe, by contrast, is significantly less interesting, since the inner workings of his mind remain largely mysterious. He did have some funny moments, though, and I liked his extremely formal patterns of speech. He and Archie make a nice contrast in that regard, since Archie is full of contemporary slang and has an almost aggressively casual tone. As for the mystery itself, it is quite well-plotted, even if the solution isn’t very surprising. The only thing I disliked was that the book keeps going after the culprit’s identity is revealed. For me, the fun of reading a mystery is trying to solve it; once the solution is discovered, I don’t want to read a long denouement about how the guilty party was finally caught. So I thought the end dragged a bit; but other than that, I enjoyed this mystery and look forward to reading more in the series.