Review: Fer-de-Lance

Fer-de-LanceRex Stout, Fer-de-Lance

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.

11 thoughts on “Review: Fer-de-Lance

  1. Major says:

    I must confess I found it more enjoyable than I expected since I don’t like mysteries that are more than about 250 pages. Although this was first of many books, I got the feeling that Stout had been living with the characters a long time. Archie often refers to cases Wolfe and he solved in the past and this imparts a faux familiar feeling to the reader. Recall that in the Holmes stories, Conan Doyle uses this device to tantalize the reader, making her think, “That would’ve been a cool story.” And like Holmes’ London, we are completely persuaded by Wolfe and Archie’s New York City in the Thirties.

  2. TracyK says:

    I am glad you liked this one. Some people don’t like this book as well as others by Stout, but it is my favorite, and I have returned to it many times. I hope you read more in the series.

  3. lesblatt says:

    Among the early Wolfe books, I’d recommend trying “The League of Frightened Men.” It has one of the most interesting characters in any of the books – Paul Chapin – along with an impossible crime situation and some nice surprises. I think you’d enjoy it.

  4. Bev Hankins says:

    Christina: I am making a dedicated effort to go back and take a peek at everyone’s reviews for the Vintage Challenge. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get here.

    Nero Wolfe is one of my favorite American detectives–and I adore Archie as narrator. (Re: Les’s comment above)–I just read Frightened Men this year–very good!

    • Christina says:

      Thanks for stopping by! I totally understand…I’m having a tough enough time keeping up with my own blog right now. Glad to hear another endorsement for The League of Frightened Men!

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