To be precise, 3 stars for Fer-de-Lance and 4 for The League of Frightened Men.
Wolfe books are always a great pleasure to read, and the wonder is that
it's taken me so long to get back to them. There were always a bunch
around when I was growing up, but they aren't something I've returned to
as an adult as much as I have to, say, John D. MacDonald. As mysteries,
they're entertaining, but much of the pleasure lies in the world Rex
Stout creates for his main character, the insular haven to which people
must bring him problems, and which he rarely ever leaves.
course, for that he has Archie Goodwin, womanizing leg-man, who is sent
out on what seem to him nonsensical errands that somehow always lead
Nero Wolfe to the bad guy. Not that Wolfe is interested in catching the
bad guy for the sake of justice. Oh, no. For that, son, he's got to get
paid. In fact, in both these books, Wolfe makes deals that, if they
panned out the way they were offered, would shield a murderer from
justice, as long as Wolfe gets his money.
Of course, it never
works out that way, and he and Archie Goodwin teach the cops how to do
their business, in between daily orchid-tending and eating world-class
Of the two, Fer-de-Lance, the first ever published, is
decidedly the weaker, as the murderer is revealed fairly early on, and
the snake doesn't make an appearance till near the end. When the blurb
on the back promises me that in the midst of an investigation that some
unknown adversary will send Nero Wolfe a deadly snake, I wanted that
snake earlier, dammit! And to come with some mystery about who had sent
The second, The League of Frightened Men, was far better. The
mystery started to click, and the twists were less obvious. Threatening
(and terrible) poems are sent to a group of men, claiming
responsibility for unsolvable deaths, and threatening vengeance. The men
are certain they know who's behind it. But can Wolfe find the proof?
of course he can. What were you expecting? The real mystery is, what
could possibly entice Nero Wolfe to leave his home voluntarily?