Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: A FAMILY AFFAIR by Rex Stout

Pierre Ducos, a waiter from Rusterman's restaurant, arrives at Nero Wolfe’s brownstone after the great detective retired for the evening. Assistant Archie Goodwin answers the door and informs Ducos that Wolfe will not see him until eleven the following morning—a detail devout Wolfe readers know and additionally realize the man should be grateful because Wolfe doesn’t normally see anyone without appointment. After Ducos explains he is targeted for murder, Goodwin allows him to stay for the night and shows him to a guest room. Within minutes of being left alone, Ducos pulls a booby-trapped cigar from his pocket. The cigar explodes, taking half of his face with it. Nero and Archie investigate the horrendous murder and simultaneously probe into two related deaths: Ducos’ daughter and a Rusterman’s customer.

Of course, readers know the great detective will solve the case but the revelation of the murderer is genuinely surprising for longtime Nero Wolfe aficionados.

I would say the only downside to this 1975 final Wolfe mystery is how Stout weaves the Watergate scandal into the plot. While Nero and Archie’s adventures were always contemporary, this particular story takes them out of their cocoon and places them in the real world, and having Wolfe comment on Nixon’s America is a little jarring, akin to Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes battling the Nazis.

Still, Rex Stout’s skill as a writer as well as the fondness for these characters makes this book an enjoyable read.

Click on over to Patti Abbott's site for more Friday's Forgotten Books.

18 comments:

Scott Parker said...

I read the 1st NW book and didn't like it all that much. Now, I can't remember why. I'll have to try another NW book. I'm with you on the intrusion of reality in a series like this.

Just noticed your current book. I'm interested in Father Brown, too. I'll be reading some of his stories this year but I'm looking forward to your review.

David Cranmer said...

Father Brown is a real find. It has that 19th century (though written in the early 20th) feel going on. The plots are so-so but the character and G.K.'s writing are tops.

Randy Johnson said...

This one is among about half the Nero Wolfe novels that I've read. I've got about another dozen waiting for their turn. Sigh. You know the old saying, Too many books, not enough time.
I agree with Scott. Fer-De-Lance was the hardest of the Nero Wolfes for me. Take my word, the rest are a much easier read.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't remember ever having read a Nero Wolfe book. I've read several books, including a Koontz, that paid homage to Wolfe, though. I should get into a few of these books. Man, so much to read.

David Cranmer said...

Randy, I agree Fer-De-Lance was not the best. I've read a third of the Stout canon and dip back into the series a couple times a year.


Charles, I would say 1939's Some Buried Caesar or The Golden Spiders from '53 are among his finest. In some ways Wolfe is more satisying than Sherlock Holmes mainly because of Wolfe's sidekick, Archie Goodwin.

Todd Mason said...

David, are you keeping up with the Wolfe contest novellas that are being published in ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE annually?

David Cranmer said...

Todd, I tried my hand at writing a Stout style story for the contest last year but gave up halfway through because it just wasn't working. Maybe I will pull it out of mothballs now that you've reminded me.

Reb said...

It has been a very long time since I read any Nero Wolfe, but as soon as I read:

"a detail devout Wolfe readers know and additionally realize the man should be grateful because Wolfe doesn’t normally see anyone without appointment."

you reminded me how much I enjoyed them. I should see if any managed to survive the many moves I have made. Thanks!

David Cranmer said...

Reb, Wolfe is as good as you remember. It sounds silly but it's like visiting old friends.

Craig Clarke said...

Oddly enough, I first got into Nero Wolfe through Robert Goldsborough's revival in the 80s/90s. But once I read a Stout original, I knew it was where I belonged. These are really great comfort reads -- you know exactly what you're going to get no matter which book you pick up. And the novella collections are at least as good as the novels.

Lawrence Block's last two Chip Harrison novels are an example of a well-done "pastiche" (the steal is so blatant, he hardly needs to confirm it). The first two books were softcore sex romps, but Block liked the character and wanted to keep writing him, so he got him hired as legman to a corpulent detective. Just like the rest of Block, they're lots of fun (if you can get past the titles like "The Topless Tulip Caper").

David Cranmer said...

I'm glad you mentioned the Chip novels and gave a thumbs up. This is one of the last of the Block series I haven't sampled. He's such a damn fine author.

I was a fan of the Hutton A&E series but understand why it didn't last longer. Still it was an admirable attempt on their part. And I never read the Robert Goldsborough novels but would be interested in seeing how he picked up immediately following A FAMILY AFFAIR . However with so many Stout novels left to read it will probably be many years before I do.

Joanne Walpole said...

I'm not a pulp fiction follower but I love Nero Wolf. Mostly I've seen them on tv but I have a couple of the books on my bookcse as well. I'll have to dig them out and have a read.

David Cranmer said...

Joanne, I'm glad to see there are so many Nero Wolfe fans. Not a pulp fan? Please return and I will do my best to win you over:)

Joanne Walpole said...

I'll be around. Good luck. ;-)

Martin Edwards said...

I've not read much by Rex Stout, but you've encouraged me to try him again.

David Cranmer said...

Martin, There are so many titles to choose from but a good start is Some Buried Caesar. The opening scene of the portly Wolfe being terrorized by a bull is memorable.

Craig Clarke said...

Indeed. Not many of the Wolfe books are individually memorable (apart from The Black Mountain, which gets Wolfe out of the house and all the way to Serbo-Croatia!), but the bull scene certainly makes Some Buried Caesar one of them, and it has remained my favorite for that reason.

David Cranmer said...

Craig, You are right that these stories are very much the same but I just never tire of them. Stout's style makes all the difference.