"Wolfe wiggled a finger at me..."
-- Archie Goodwin
Nero Wolfe, in more ways than one, is one of our biggest detectives.
In the literal sense, he weighs "a seventh of a ton," or over 280 pounds.
In the metaphysical sense, Nero Wolfe, and his "Watson," employee and legman Archie Goodwin, have been among the very top of their class -- those few fictional detectives who have dominated the field during the "Golden Age" of detective fiction.
Really, the books are quite remarkable. Otto Penzler has said that it is impossible for author Rex Stout to write a grammatically incorrect sentence.
Another remarkable feat -- the Wolfe household was whole and complete from the first book. The household included, of course, the eccentric Nero Wolfe himself -- the famous armchair detective, who seldom left his brownstone at West 35th Street in New York City, who kept meticulously to his schedule, is a gourmet, drinks five to six quarts of beer a day, and dislikes women. (I find this ironic since most women I know who enjoy reading mysteries absolutely love the Nero Wolfe books!)
Nero Wolfe is not the first armchair detective in fiction. Poe, himself, began the tradition when he had the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin solve "The Mystery of Marie Roget." Sherlock Holmes's brother Mycroft appeared in two short stories. And Baroness Orczy wrote a series about "The Old Man in the Corner." But Nero Wolfe appeared in well over 30 novels and a number short stories and novellas.
By introducing Archie Goodwin into the stories -- beginning in the first novel Fer-de-Lance -- Rex Stout successfully combined the Armchair Detective with the more recent Hard-Boiled school. It is Archie who narrates the stories but he is a much more fully developed character than most "Watsons."
Archie is central to the books. Trained by Wolfe, he
does most of the legwork -- investigating and interviewing suspects, and
often dragging (or at least coercing) them against their will to the
brownstone so Wolfe can interrogate them directly himself.
Other members of the household include Fritz Brenner, who prepares and serves meals for Wolfe; and Theodore Horstmann, who helps Wolfe tend the orchids in the plant room (a greenhouse on the roof of the brownstone).
Outside the household, but relevant, are Saul Panzer (a private detective Wolfe often hires to help Archie or do other tasks); Fred Durkin is often hired by Wolfe to do surveillance and other mundane assignments; and of course Inspector Cramer.
Frequently the books end with the suspects being collected in the brownstone for a final interview by Wolfe -- then the denouement, where Wolfe explains all and identifies the murderer. This cliche is an earmark of classic detective technique during the "Golden Age" of detective, crime, and murder myster, and I love it, for here it becomes absolutely clear that Wolfe is in full command of the situation and has solved the puzzle. His masterful disclosure ties up loose ends and is very satisfying to readers like me who enjoy this convention.
Rex Stout wanted to write novels. He built a business so he could retire early and write. (If you were a student in the United States, you may have participated in a school savings program where you contributed money through the school for a savings account of your own, and you kept a savings passbook. This was developed by Stout. I remember the savings program in the 1950s and 1960s.)
Rex Stout biographer John McAleer candidly reveals "Some Thoughts on Being a Literary Biographer."
John Strother Clayton, Sr. has done some remarkable architectural drawings and floor plans of the Wolfe brownstone. His drawings are available here. (Just scroll to the bottom of Mr. Clayton's page and click on the links to various floors).
Collections with novelettes and/or short stories appear with bulleted lists. (To purchase a book, just click on the title.)
The League of Frightened Men (1935)
The Rubber Band (1936)
The Red Box (1937)
Too Many Cooks (1938)
Some Buried Caesar (1939)
Over My Dead Body (1940)
Where There's a Will (1940)
Black Orchids (1942)
Not Quite Dead Enough (1944)
The Silent Speaker (1946)
Too Many Women (1947)
And Be a Villain (1948)
The Second Confession (1949)
Trouble in Triplicate (1949)
In the Best Families (1950)
Three Doors to Death (1950)
Curtains for Three (1951)
Murder By the Book (1951)
Prisoner's Base (1952)
Triple Jeopardy (1952)
The Golden Spiders (1953)
The Black Mountain (1954)
Three Men Out (1954)
Before Midnight (1955)
Might As Well Be Dead (1956)
Three Witnesses (1956)
If Death Ever Slept (1957)
Three for the Chair (1957)
And Four to Go (1958)
Champagne for One (1958)
Plot It Yourself (1959)
Three at Wolfe's Door (1960)
Too Many Clients (1960)
The Final Deduction (1961)
Homicide Trinity (1961)
The Mother Hunt (1963)
A Right to Die (1964)
The Doorbell Rang (1965)
Trio for Blunt Instruments (1965)
Death of a Doxy (1966)
The Father Hunt (1968)
Death of a Dude (1969)
Please Pass the Guilt (1973)
A Family Affair (1975)
Death Times Three (1985)
There was a pilot for a television series in 1979 with Thayer David as Wolfe and Tom Mason as Archie. In 1981 another series appeared on television with William Conrad as Wolfe and Lee Horsley as Archie. Edward Arnold appeared in Meet Nero Wolfe (1936 ).
Below are the classic A&E series with Maury Chakin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin. This series is very faithful to the books and is a class act.
Nero Wolfe -- The Golden Spiders (DVD) (2000) with Maury Chakin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin
Nero Wolfe -- The Complete Classic TV Series (2001) with Maury Chakin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin
Nero Wolfe -- The Complete First Season (TV Series) (2001) with Maury Chakin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin
Nero Wolfe -- The Complete Second Season (TV Series) with Maury Chakin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin