May 14, 2009 by Reader's Connection
Rex Stout, creator of the Nero Wolfe mysteries, was born in Noblesville, Indiana in December of 1886, and he’ll be returning to Indiana–in a manner of speaking–in October of 2009. The Bouchercon, the biggest of the annual mystery conferences, will take place October 15 – 18, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Indianapolis; and Stout’s memory will be honored there.
75 years have passed since the publication of Fer-de-Lance, the first Nero Wolfe novel; and by way of celebration–Nero Wolfe was a big, big man, and he liked good food–a banquet will be held at the Hilbert Circle Theatre on Monument Circle on Friday, October 16th.
Neither the Bouchercon as a whole nor the Nero Wolfe banquet is a library program, and neither is free of charge. For details about the conference see the Bouchercon 2009 website. For details about the banquet, see the Rex Stout/Nero Wolfe Banquet page of the conference website.
I hadn’t read any of Stout’s novels until now. I didn’t know Stout was from Noblesville, so I wasn’t deliberately being a disloyal Hoosier. (The family left Indiana before Stout was a year old, if you’re wondering.) These tales just didn’t attract me; but I have now finished reading Please Pass the Guilt, and am halfway through The Silent Speaker, and I can see how readers get hooked.
The stories are told by Archie Goodwin. He’s a hardboiled-New-York-private-eye-type who does a lot of the legwork. Nero Wolfe is the overweight, orchid-obsessed genius who stays in his brownstone house and figures out the puzzles. (I should probably call him “weight-challenged,” but I haven’t yet seen an indication that Wolfe could care less about his weight. Perhaps that’ll turn up in another book.)
What have I been missing all these years? In addition to the ingenious plots, there’s a great deal of humor.
John McAleer’s Rex Stout: A Biography was published in the 1977, a couple of years after Stout had died; and you might have expected its introduction to have been written by one of the popular mystery writers of that period. But humorist P.G. Wodehouse wrote the foreword, and here’s his first paragraph:
Nobody who claims to be a competent critic can say that Rex Stout does not write well. His narrative and dialogue could not be improved, and he passes the supreme text of being rereadable. I don’t know how many times I have read the Nero Wolfe stories, but plenty. I know exactly what is coming and how it is all going to end, but it doesn’t matter. That’s writing.
I think it’s appropriate that the creator of the Jeeves and Wooster series should have been a fan of the Wolfe and Goodwin series. There may not be any resemblance between the two pairs, but Archie’s storytelling does make me laugh.
In future blogposts, I’ll say more about the Bouchercon and about mystery-related events being planned at the library. (The theme of this year’s Summer Reading Program, Undercover Readers, was inspired by the coming of the Bouchercon.) For now, since I’m just a beginning Rex Stout reader, I’ll close with a link to The Wolfe Pack–the major Nero Wolfe website, from whence I have borrowed (with their permission) the Stout photographs on this post–and with the words that Harry Reasoner spoke on the ABC Evening News when Stout died:
The news today was as usual full of politicians and other movers and shakers. But the odds are overwhelming that when historians look at the bright blue late October of 1975 the only thing they will keep about the 27th is that it was the day Rex Stout died and the 28th was the day the death was reported. Rex Stout was a lot of things during his eighty-eight years, but the main thing he was was the writer of forty-six mystery novels about Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. A lot of more pretentious writers have less claim on our culture and our allegiance.