Going for the Golden: “Fer-de-lance” by Rex Stout

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Rex Stout introduced us to his famous detective, Nero Wolfe, and his assistant Archie Goodwin in 1934’s Fer-de-lance. The first thing you will notice when you look at Wolfe is his size. At 1/7 of a ton, he weighed considerably more than the average person during the Great Depression. In The League of Frightened Men, Wolfe responds to Dora Chapin’s calling him a fat fool with, “Fat visibly, though I prefer Gargantuan. A fool only in the broader sense, as a common characteristic of the race….” The next thing you will notice is his love of gourmet food, and he even employs his own Swiss chef, Fritz Brenner, to prepare his three meals a day. And then there is Wolfe’s love of beer. In Fer-de-lance, Wolfe switches from his bootleg beer during Prohibition that he got in barrels to bottles, announcing he is going to cut back to five quarts a day from six, something that Archie, Goodwin his “man Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday” and the narrator of the books scoffs at. Finally, Wolfe loves his orchids, even employing his own full- time orchid nurse, Theodore Horstmann, to tend his thousand orchids in the plant rooms where Wolfe spends from 9-11 and 4-6 every day, when Wolfe is no longer a detective but a horticultural.

As Fer-de-lance opens, Fred Durkin, one of Wolfe’s operatives, comes to visit to ask a favor. His wife’s best friend, Maria Maffei, has a missing brother, Carlos, a metal worker. Through a stroke of genius, Wolfe makes an incredible deduction from a hole in Carlos’s newspaper that leads to the discovery of a sensational murder. They learn they are getting too close when someone dumps a fer-de-lance, one of the most dangerous snakes in the world, in Wolfe’s desk.

The book is filled with creative deductions throughout and plenty of humor. Archie is the ideal narrator, with quips all over the place that continue to make me laugh even after I have listened to the books available on audio dozens of times. A possibly apocryphal story tells of Dorothy L Sayers going to purchase the newest “Archie Goodwin novel” because she considered him to be the true hero of the books. Archie is a dapper, suave ladies’ man who will never end up getting tied down to a woman because he admires them all.

While Fer-de-lance is not the best Nero Wolfe book, and the details of the series are not fully developed yet, it is a creative and fun book well worth reading. It gives a great introduction to the series of 33 novels and 39 novellas. Throughout the books, Archie likes to use this case as an illustration of Wolfe’s genius in convincing others to trust Wolfe. This book is a lot of fun and very creative.

I highly recommend listening to these books, the ones narrated by Michael Prichard. This man embodies the role of Archie, the narrator, as he portrays the delightful character. Some have described Prichard’s gift as being able to make reading the phone book interesting. I have listened to other books performed by Prichard, sometimes selecting them just because of the narrator. I have long wanted to interview him, but sadly haven’t been able to locate his contact information.

I really do recommend reading or listening to Fer-de-lance. Any book in the Nero Wolfe canon is a joy, and this is a fun introduction to the series. I give the book five stars!

To learn more about Nero Wolfe, visit The Wolfe Pack, the official Nero Wolfe fan club, at www.nerowolfe.org.

To purchase this book for yourself, click here on Amazon.

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