Thursday, August 8, 2013

{Review} Fer-de-Lance (Nero Wolfe #1) by Rex Stout

Fer-de-Lance (Nero Wolfe #1) by Rex Stout
Published by Bantam, first published 1934
Paperback, 199 pages
ISBN 0553249185
Genres: adult fiction, classics, detective fiction, mystery

5/5 stars: I was introduced to Nero Wolfe when A&E premiered its fantastic 2000-2002 television series starring Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin. It is fun, quirky, has great period costumes, makeup and sets, and (most importantly) employs intelligence and witty humor. It was only a few years later when I read my first Nero Wolfe mystery that I realized how perfectly the cast and scriptwriters have captured the spirit of the books. And what's more awesome? As great as the show is (if you haven't seen it, it's worth finding!) the books are even better. Fer-de-Lance, the first in a series of 47, does not feel like a debut in the least. The characters are fully realized and the plot is interesting, clever, and wrapped up with an original and unpredictable resolution. If mystery series are a regular part of your reading routine, you'll know this is pretty unusual. The first in a series has the responsibility of setting the scenes, establishing typical character behavior, habits and manners of thinking, as well as methodology in the solving of the crimes. Rex Stout does this seemingly effortlessly and while avoiding overloading the reader with information. Fer-de-Lance has an interesting array of characters, quite a few, in fact. With Rex Stout's great narration and descriptions, however, it's not difficult to keep everyone's identities sorted out and each one plays an essential role. Nero Wolfe and legman Archie Goodwin immediately take center stage and never leave it, their bantering, detecting and Wolfe's occasional philosophizing entertaining the reader from start to finish. They possess huge personalities, Wolfe so much larger than life that the reader finds it impossible not to be fascinated and more than a little jealous of his pertinacity and brimming repertoire of experiences and knowledge. Archie is full of life and energy and makes the perfect narrator, being the practical one, perhaps, whose often cynical approach to life balances Wolfe's unfailing confidence (which often awakens the urge in Archie to knock something heavy over Wolfe's very large head). In short, they complement each other perfectly, and each is indispensable. While it is perfectly believable that at one time they conducted their lives independently, as far as the reader is concerned there is no Wolfe without Archie and vice versa. It feels heretical to admit this, but honestly, I enjoy reading Rex Stout's mysteries even more than Agatha Christie's, and I've been a huge fan of hers since junior high. I adore Monsieur Poirot and Captain Hastings, Miss Marple and her various companions, but they really can't compare with the absolute uniqueness and perfection of Wolfe and Archie. If you are at all interested in reading a great detective novel, I highly recommend Fer-de-Lance or any other Nero Wolfe mystery, for that matter. While I haven't read the whole series (my goal!), I have read quite a few and have never been disappointed.

Mary Beth

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